End of Term Reflection – Communication!

I’ve known for a while that communication is really important when working in teams, but this term really drove home for me how crucial it is. I spent a good amount of time this term working on prepping and uploading archival images of workhouse documents from London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as part of the Virtual Workhouse project (you can see the fruits of our labors here!). Tyler and I were both working on these spreadsheets so there were a lot of moving pieces, with having to keep each other in the loop about our progress, checking in with Austin and Sarah about problems we were running into, and talking with Susannah about unexpected issues we came across (like an index in the front of two of the volumes!).

Trello, which is a new piece of our workflow this year, was very helpful for me. Tyler and I could record what we had done each time working on the spreadsheet in a shared place to keep track of our progress. I could tell him that I had finished the titles in Volume 3 but ran into problems with the dates, and he could tell me that he had finished the identifiers in the same volume and fixed the dates. This way we could keep track of what we had finished so neither of us was doing work the other already had.

A screenshot of the Omeka CSV Import Plus Plug-in that we used extensively in our work

Another aspect of communication that I found really important was communication with myself (essentially, documentation). Since we were dealing with the spreadsheets of six volumes of a workhouse minute book, there was a lot of data and a lot of images. I could not count on my memory to keep track of things. Even if I noticed that image 84 in Volume 2 had to be discussed, there was very little chance I would remember that. So I had to make sure to write it down for both myself and others and clearly state exactly why it had to be discussed. The same was true of meetings. I met with Susannah to ask about unexpected pages, and then brought that discussion to a meeting with Tyler and Sarah. Without my notes from the meeting with Susannah, I would not have been able to remember what we had talked about and what her suggestions had been. Likewise, I wouldn’t have remembered our decisions from meeting with Tyler and Sarah to implement them on the spreadsheets. While I’ve known for a while about the value of making good notes to communicate with both others and myself, the high volume of data that we have been working with for the workhouse minutes has driven home to me the absolutely critical nature of such documentation.

Failing to Map Historical Maps

Building off of Martha’s previous post, I’m going to discuss some challenges of mapping projects with old maps. Old maps pose challenges to digital projects. In particular, the spatial arrangements of many old maps don’t match modern day maps of the same area. A path made up of geographic coordinates (such as on Google Maps) is not guaranteed to be compatible with old maps. In addition, there is a fine line in many of these maps between maps and city views, especially in many early modern European prints.

One example of these map/city-view that is useful to think with is the woodcut of Rome from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle

A full page spread image of Rome
A woodcut image of Rome from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle

This woodcut image clearly shows Rome – in addition to the label (which I will expand a bit on later), there are many recognizable sites – the papal palace, the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. It is not a simple city view – the geographic relation between these sites shows the general layout of the city. However, trying to plot a path (or even just points) on a georeferenced version of this map is not feasible.

Georeferencing warps the map image, trying to get it to fit the points on the image to relevant points in the real world. Sometimes this warping can be very extreme, especially for certain kinds of transformations:

The map is warped beyond recognition in the attempt to georeference the map.
Mid-process attempt to georeference Rome
The map is warped beyond recognition in the attempt to georeference the map.
Mid-process attempt to georeference Rome

The control points (which link the image to geographic points) on this map do not line up well, since the spatial arrangement of the map/woodcut image do not line up with their geographic locations. This image shows the difference between the points on the 1493 map and the present day map, shown as blue lines.

Rome map georeferenced with visible control points that don't line up with the historical map
Rome map and control points

Another problem with a map like the Nuremberg Chronicle woodcut is that we don’t know what all the landmarks are. There are many church structures, but only a few are labelled. In addition, there are features that seem to be missing – for example, it is difficult to distinguish Tiber Island on the woodcut, which is a major landmark. Furthermore, the scale of the buildings pose problems. It is relatively easy to use the center of the Pantheon as a point on a present day map, but where on the woodcut image is the “center” of the Pantheon? In all, attempting to georeference and plot points on a map such as the Nuremberg Chronicle woodcut image of Rome is frustrating, inaccurate, and ultimately provides no additional insight. In fact, the extreme warping of the image makes it more difficult to understand the and the data represented in relation to it.

My attempt to chart a path on the Nuremberg Chronicle map

The closest point is the Colosseum – nothing else lines up very closely at all (the path is supposed to go from the Colosseum to the Pantheon, to one side of the Ponte Sant’Angelo, to the Castel Sant’Angelo, to the Vatican). The result is not illuminating and does not contribute any new knowledge, and in fact doesn’t serve either purpose well; it is difficult to interpret the Nuremberg Chronicle map, and it is almost impossible to know which landmarks are denoted by the path.

The path of points through Rome does not line up with the location of those points on the Nuremberg map
A path through Rome on top of the Rome Nuremberg Chronicle

Can we trust the labels?

In the Nuremberg Chronicle, no, we can’t! Rome is clearly correct – the sites confirm the label. Other cities are like this, including, for instance, Krakow, which gives specific labels of a part of the city and reflects the city layout. However, for more minor cities, the Nuremberg Chronicle often uses the same woodcut for different cities.

 

In fact, the same woodcut is used for nine images (see below). These images include: Napoli, Perugia, Mantua, Ferrara, Damascus, Bena (I’m not sure what city this refers to), a German province (not sure about this one either), Spain, and Macedonia. While Italian cities may have similar styles, I cannot accept that Napoli, Damascus, Spain and Macedonia literally looked like these woodcuts. Therefore, not only do these images provide difficulties in terms of spatial alignment, but we also cannot always accept them at face value, because they may be no more than a generic representation of a city than a visual representation reflecting an actual cityscape.

Sources:

The color woodcut images come from the digitized University of Cambridge Nuremberg Chronicle (CC BY-NC 3.0): (the page numbers are: Bena 80r, Damascus 23v, Ferrara 159r, Macedonia 275r, Mantua 84r, Napoli 42r, Germany? 284v, Perugia 48v, Spain 289v).

The woodcut image of Rome is from the digitized copy in Morse Library, Beloit College. Last accessed 16 October 2017.

RBMS/BSC Latin Place Names File provided help with place names.

To Map or Not to Map?

During this year’s fall DH training, the DHA’s got some practice using ArcGIS, an online mapping tool that makes it relatively easy to create your own customized maps in one sitting. This post discusses some of the pros and cons, advantages and pitfalls of mapping data. (Note that by mapping I am referring strictly to the use of geospatial maps, not to the more general application of the term that includes graphing.)

Why use a map? Mapping is fun and exciting, and it’s a relatively easy way to build a data visualization that’s interactive and easily facilitates instantaneous spatial comprehension of the data. For these reasons, people are often quick to jump on the “let’s map it!” train whenever there is spatially relevant data. But it’s important to stop and ask this question first: what will a map add to this project that other data visualizations will not? Sometimes, sparsity or lack of variation in your data should disqualify the map idea.

Take this example from Stanford’s Professor Martin Evans, which maps specific locations in and around London that are referenced in works written by authors from London. There’s an abundant amount of data in this data set, and the locations are spread all over London – mapping helps us understand the data, so mapping was a good choice. If, however, you were mapping only locations in London referenced by Sylvia Plath, you might think twice about whether the <10 data points clustered in one small location is worth putting on an interactive map.

Once you’ve determined that a map is worth your time, you might next consider what kind of spatial information you want to convey. Is the data represented well by points on a map? Or is there a path or order to these points? How can you visually differentiate between different paths or groups of points (hint: colors)? Try to create a map that accurately visualizes the story you’re trying to tell with your data. In this example, students at the Georgia Institute of Technology recreated the paths taken throughout the day by characters in Mrs. Dalloway. The smooth, continuous paths tell a better story than a series of sequential points would, and the colors make each path stand out from the others. Above all else, mapping should make it easier for your audience to understand your data, so think hard about how you’re transferring your data to your map. And use colors!

Don’t forget that an important part of mapping is the base map itself, not just the points you put on it. Much of the time, simpler will be better – if the story you’re trying to tell has nothing to do with the terrain of the area, don’t clutter your visual with a terrain base map. Humanities scholars are often excited about using historical base maps, which are historical maps that can be georeferenced onto a modern, digital map of the same location by matching specific points between the two locations. One common problem with historical base maps is that many historical maps are not geographically accurate, so georeferencing them can stretch and distort them to an unusable extent. For example, this 1853 map of Maine from the David Rumsey Map Collection is quite geographically accurate, and would work well as a georeferenced historical base map, but this 1935 world map of post office and radio/telephone services from the same collection is highly geographically inaccurate and would have to be significantly distorted to be georeferenced onto a modern 2-dimensonal map of the world.

Finally, consider how you will communicate the data for each point or path on your graph. Points and paths don’t always speak for themselves, and there will often be metadata or a paragraph of information that necessarily accompanies each data point. How will your user access this information? Is there a key that goes with the map? Do you click on a point to reveal the associated text? Does each point link to more information?

There are many ways to address the above issues and questions, facilitating lots of creativity and flexibility within each project. Above all else, no matter how you approach a mapping project, your map should always give a clear and intuitive answer to the question: what story is this map trying to tell?

Welcome Back!

Last week I arrived early on campus to participate in the fall term DHA training. I didn’t get to take part last year because I was abroad in the fall, so it was a new experience for me. There’s one difference between this year and last year that immediately stands out – since I was able attend the training this year, I had an opportunity to work with and get to know the other DHAs and new DH interns before the term officially started. This was my favorite part of training, and I’m hoping it’ll get us off to a great start this year. I find it so much easier – and more fun! – to work with others when we’ve already eaten deep-fried food from Jesse James Days by the Cannon River together.

At the end of spring term last year I attended the digital humanities conference that I had spent all of spring term helping to organize. Although I was one of only a few students who attended and felt initially intimidated by the sea of “real adults,” I became increasingly aware throughout the course of the conference that I knew what I was doing. I understood a lot of the jargon, I was able to intelligently contribute to conversations, and, most importantly, I felt like I deserved my place in those conversations. In short, it was really cool. A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. This year, I’m excited to build on that confidence as I expand my DH toolbox. Not too long from now I’ll have to leave Carleton to join the leagues of “real adults,” and I think some confidence will come in handy.

End of Week 1 Training!

After a week of training, I’ve found that a digital humanities project can come in many shapes. Just this week, while making a practice website for Defeat of Jesse James Day, we combined an online map, timeline, and exhibit into a single project. For each different project we take on, there are tons of online resources to help. For example, we’ve looked at websites that build custom timelines and maps that hardly require any coding on our side. Sometimes the process was as simple as inputting our data into a spreadsheet, and pasting an embed code onto the web page! As the term progresses, I’m excited to learn more about the digital humanities tools that already exist and how we might further customize them to fit our needs.

Tyler’s Introduction

Hello!  I’m Tyler, a sophomore prospective math major at Carleton.  Among other things, I’m interested in the ways that digital humanities projects process and manipulate data (I also enjoy the more math-y parts of math like proofs, but they make for less interesting blog posts).  As a digital humanities associate, I am excited to see how technology helps scholars analyze large amounts of data, while still making the result understandable to the average person.

After a day of training, I’ve realized just how much thought scholars put into the methods used to process and present their findings.  In digital humanities, sources that scholars interpret must be made readable by a machine- but the processed sources must then be put back into a form that people would want to read!  This year, I’m looking forward to developing a better understanding of the various methods digital humanities scholars use to produce their finished works.

3 Fantastic WordPress Plugins for Your Online Journal

Say, you’re in the middle of publishing your favorite paper to a WordPress website. You are stuck because creating all those footnotes links, formatting the pull quotes and inserting that complicated-looking table seems a daunting task. But don’t give up! Here are three plugins that will help you out!

Footnotes

Plugin: Easy Footnotes

It not only lets you add footnotes throughout your WordPress post, but also compiles a corresponding ordered list of the footnotes at the bottom of your article. 

Nice features:

  • Shortcode enabled. A footnote can be inserted as easily as typing [note]Footnote content.[/note] where you want it to be.
  • Automatic numbering. It would have been a huge pain having to number a few hundreds of footnotes manually, especially when you realize that you’ve skipped number 7 somehow after entering the first 90 footnotes. The good news is that this plugin automatically add the number of the footnote where the shortcode is entered. 

Pull Quotes

Plugin: Easy Pull Quotes

The plugin name is pretty self-explanatory. It helps you create pull quotes in WordPress posts. After installing and activating this plugin, you’ll see an “Easy Pull Quotes” tab in your editing toolbar. By clicking it you’ll be directed to a text box where you can enter your quote and choose its alignment. 

Nice features:

  • The pull quotes can be easily shared to Twitter by the end user by clicking the Twitter icon.
  • If you’re familiar with CSS, you can easily create your own pull quote style by manipulating the code. (Here‘s how you can add pull quotes to WordPress posts without using any plugins. It’d probably be more time-consuming, but it’ll be fun to learn some HTML and CSS!)

Tables

Plugin: TablePress

After installing this plugin, you’ll be able to generate beautiful tables and embed them in your posts. You can learn more about this plugin from this website, where you’ll find a cool demo too. 

Nice features:

  • Shortcode enabled.
  • Tables can be imported and exported from/to Excel, CSV files.
  • With the help of additional Java libraries, it’s possible to allow your readers to sort or filter your tables.

I hope these plugins help! Have fun online publishing!

Neat things you can do with Neatline

I have spent a large portion of my worktime this term looking at mapping tools and ways of visually representing different kinds of geographic data. We used ArcGIS for creating a map of Bede’s England (you can read more about it here) and that worked really well for the purposes of the project: it allowed to denote different types of objects (e.g., a town, a monastery, etc.) with different symbols and link pages that alluded to those places and gave a clear visual representation of the objects. However, as much as I love ArcGIS (I think it’s really cool!), one can imagine wanting to do certain things with maps that it’s not perfect for.

This term I started working on the Carleton Guide to Medieval Rome to which students who go on the Carleton Rome OCS program contribute pictures and stories about different monuments and places in the Medieval city. The goal is for site visitors to be able to go on a particular “walk” and, while on that walk, learn about the pieces of the Medieval Rome they encounter along the way. So I have started looking for a platform that might be better suited for this goal than ArcGIS and found a really nifty one – Neatline, an exhibit builder that uses Omeka items to create interactive stories including timelines, pictures and georeferenced historical maps (I’ll explain what that means below). I have only started playing around with it but have already discovered a wide array of really great tools.

First, you can use actual historical maps (scanned images of old maps, that is) to overlay the basemap. That is a fantastic visual way of integrating the ancient or Medieval city into a modern one – and bring a historic map back to life! I used an 1830 map of Rome from David Rumsey map collection above (“1830 is not Medieval!” you might astutely observe. You are totally right – I picked this one as an example mostly because I liked how it looked). To do that, I had to georeference the map – a fancy term for identifying several common points on both maps – using a very straightforward online tool called MapWarper and then exported it to Neatline.

Then I added a couple of objects onto the map – in the screenshot above you can see the Temple of Hadrian, or Hadrianeum. I first created a new item in Omeka and then imported it into the Neatline exhibit – you can import all items with a certain tag which will be handy if a lot of images need to be added. Neatline places the point on the map for you if you include the coordinates in the metadata – that part turned out much more confusing than it sounds, however. It turns out that the coordinates need to be in a very specific format, WKT (or well-known text). Wikipedia told me that the format for a point is POINT(# #). Unexpectedly, when I entered the lat and long numbers, Neatline placed the temple of Hadrian…in the ocean off the west coast of Africa. After some frustratingly futile googling, I found out that the coordinate WKT uses coordinates in a coordinate system called Pseudo-Mercator, and the lat and long values need to be flipped (I’m still puzzled by all of that).

In addition to adding points on the map, you can also add lines and geometric shapes. Lines of different colors and points could be used to represent different walks across the Medieval city of Rome – I’m excited to try that and see how it turns out!

 

Learning about NLTK

In the past couple of week I’ve been helping to update the curriculum for a fantastic project called DH Bridge. This curriculum includes a one-day programming bootcamp for people with no computer science experience (and particularly those who are also involved in the humanities) to learn some basic Python skills. I’ve had so much fun doing the tutorial along the way because it focuses on text analysis using the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK), which I wasn’t previously familiar with, but includes some really cool tools for natural language processing. You can download NLTK for free and use the many Python libraries it has available to do text analysis day and night! Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • NLTK has a built in method for getting word frequencies, and it’ll spit out the n most common words in a text (you decide what n is) along with the number of times that each word appears, in order from most to least frequent. Nothing too complicated – but it’s a great (and very useful) starting place.
  • Want to see the context in which a certain word appears throughout a text? This method takes a single word as a parameter and prints out each instance of that word within its surrounding text. For example, here’s every instance of the word “trial” in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

This is a great way to get a sense of how a word is being used throughout a text without having to Control+F your way through the whole thing.

  • This one is my favorite because I think it’s so cool. You give it a word and it returns the twenty words that are “most similar” to that word in the text. I haven’t looked too far into how it works, but the method somehow determines which words are most often used in a similar context to the given word. For example, here are the results for the word “trial” in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Some words, like “court” and “newspaper” are pretty self explanatory, but we may question why a word like “family” is so closely associated with the word “trial” in this novel.

Even with these very simple searches, it’s already easy to see the kind of information you can get out of a text that the human eye wouldn’t necessarily be able to see. Yay digital text analysis!

Testing the Guide to Set Up WordPress Locally with WAMP

A local server environment will make testing themes and plugins of WordPress much easier. One of the ways to achieve this to install WAMP on your PC. I found this great blog post titled How to Set Up WordPress Locally for PC/Windows with WampServer by Raelene Morey. I installed WAMP on my PC and set up WordPress following this guide. Here is a summary of what I did and found, including a few details which are emitted from the guide.

Install WAMP on your PC

  • Go to http://www.wampserver.com/en/
  • Choose the version that matches up with your system
    • You may be unsure about downloading the 64 bits or the 32 bits version. You can check your system type by typing “System” in the search box. Look for the “System Type” field which tell you if your system is x64 or x32.
  • Click “download directly”
  • Follow the installation instructions

Set-up Wordpress on WAMP (things emitted from the guide)

  1. Before downloading WordPress, you need to set up a database first. This requires you to login to phpMyAdmin. You don’t actually need to enter the username nor password in order to login. If clicking “Go” button doesn’t lead you to a new page, try entering “root” as the username and leave the password field blank. 
  2. When you’ve downloaded WordPress following the guide, you’ll need to tweak the wp-config-sample.php file. To edit the .php file, you’ll need a text editor. The one I used was notepad++. You can also try TextWrangler, Brackets and other text editors. (Here is a list of options.) After downloading notepad++ from here, you can right click the .php file and choose “Edit with notepad++”. Here’s how the .php file looked in notepad++ before and after edited.  (before)  (after)

 

Test WordPress Plugin (Juxtapose) on WAMP

  1. Go to http://localhost/wordpress/ in your WAMP server. Login to your WordPress account.
  2. Search for plugins that you’d like to test.  I chose Juxtapose for this experiment.
  3. Upload images to be juxtaposed to “Media” first. Then in your blog post or wherever you’d like to use this feature, paste in this shortcode –  [juxtapose]<image1><image2>[/juxtapose]. Replace “<image1><image2>” by inserting the images you’d like to be juxtaposed.
  4. Results: now you can compare the two images by sliding the vertical bar. Images of different dimensions may not work as expected. This plugin also works for pairs of images of any size, except thumbnails.