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.

 

Time Management, or the Eternal Struggle

It is no secret to anyone who has spent any amount of time at Carleton that life here is busy. Classes, workstudy, sports, rehearsals, volunteering, research and occasional sleep combine in elaborate ways which can make anyone dizzy and make planning ahead and keeping track of all the commitments almost impossible. I remember thinking when I was applying to be a DHA last year: “This job is so awesome! I get to schedule my own hours – that means I can just work on the projects whenever I have free time”. I was only partially right. The job is indeed awesome, except there is no free time. As weeks go by, the term gradually turns into an avaricious time-sucking wormhole – and finding time to work becomes a struggle, sometimes (almost) making me wish I had a set schedule.

My job as a DHA made me realize how inept I am at organizing my time. I can finally feel that I’m slowly but steadily getting better. Here’s what I’ve learned (by many a trial and many an error):

  • Having a planner is very useful and marking the hours I expect to have to work on DH projects at the beginning of each week definitely helps.
  • Even though there are no official hours, it’s good to set hours for myself as if there were, and adhere to the schedule as much as possible – if there’s a conflict in my schedule for that week, I can deviate from it.
  • Project logs are great! Better still if they are detailed and well-written. It has happened to me many times that I would jot down a quick note to myself about what I still need to do for a project or think that it’s so obvious that writing anything down is completely unnecessary. Unsurprisingly, next time I sat down to work on the project I’d be totally lost because I would no longer remember my own thought process. So yes, write down as much as possible.
  • Try not to put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Sounds simple but is surprisingly effective.

In this way my work as a DHA has inspired me to start an uphill battle with absent-mindedness and procrastination. It will be a long and tough one. But I have hope.

Knowing That I Don’t Know: Asking Questions

As I near the end of my second term as a DHA, it is a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned from this experience so far. Since starting in September, I have learned, been exposed to, and experimented with a number of digital tools. Although the major tool I have been using in my work is ArcGIS, being part of the DHA team and Team Workhouse means that I learn more every week from the work other team members have been doing. However, perhaps more importantly than learning digital tools, I have learned the importance of communication and asking questions.

For teams like the DHAs and Team Workhouse, communication is crucial. Just like the game objects in Bard’s Unity project that needed to share information in order to function, people on teams also need to share information in order to function smoothly. Uncertainty about who is doing what is not efficient or productive for teams. A particularly important part of communication is asking questions. While I have learned a lot about digital tools these last two terms, I know that there is a lot that I still don’t know. While sometimes it can be productive to struggle through uncertainty to figure something out, other times the process can be greatly improved by a quick meeting or email exchange.

One example of this was when I was helping to migrate our website to a new page (you can see our current website here!). In particular, I was struggling with moving media (especially videos) over to the new site. I spent time looking through Reason’s documentation and trying to figure it out myself, but made very little progress on my problem. Finally, I talked to Doug Bratland, Web Content Specialist, part of Carleton’s Web Services Group. He was incredibly helpful and in just a half hour was able to fix the problems I had been working on. Not only did he solve the problems I was having, but he also took time to explain why I had been running into problems and make sure that I understood what he did to solve them. I came away from that meeting with not just solutions to the website issues, but also a deeper understanding of how Reason CMS works. If I had not asked for help and questions about the problems I had with the website, not only would it have taken much longer to fix, but I wouldn’t have learned as much about how it works. Although just one example from my two terms as a DHA, it nevertheless illustrates the importance of asking questions about things I don’t know. And although I have learned a lot about digital tools in the past two terms, there is still a lot I don’t know. So, I will need to keep asking questions.

How To Do Your Job When You Don’t Know How To Do Your Job

The cool thing about this job is that I get to constantly be doing new things and jumping into new projects. The flip side to this, however, is that each project is unique and requires very different skills – skills that I (very often? most of the time?) don’t yet have. So this term, I’ve been getting used to the fact that not having a skill to do a certain job doesn’t mean I don’t do the job, it means I get to learn how to do it. The question then often becomes, “Where do I even start to learn how to do X?” The following are some tips and tactics I’ve been working on using when I’m faced with a daunting task that I’ve never done before:

  • Just ask. This seems obvious, but it’s often much easier said than done. People don’t want to risk sounding dumb by asking questions, but 1) people probably won’t actually think you’re dumb, and 2) isn’t it better to ask and learn how to do something correctly than spend all your time doing it wrong?
  • Google it, but be smart about it. Again, this seems obvious, but Google is a gift and a curse. Be wary of bad advice (you wouldn’t cite a Buzzfeed article for an academic paper, so why should you take serious advice from it?), and think hard about the search terms you use (be precise, try a variety of related terms, etc…).
  • Pretend that you know what you’re doing. I love this tactic. Sometimes I know that I don’t know what I’m doing, but I don’t know what I don’t know, so I just start working until I get stuck in order to figure out where the problem is. It’s a really great way to pinpoint exactly what you don’t know.
  • Use sites that were created for these situations, like Lynda.com. If you’re a Carleton student, you already have a subscription! Even if you can’t find a video to explain exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, it can help you to get a hang of the general terminology relating to the task at hand or the basic functionality of a tool you’re learning to use.
  • Look for existing examples. Chances are you’re not the first person to do anything, so it’s a great idea to find examples of best practices and conventions. This is true for pretty much anything, but particularly when you’re doing something totally new.

Of course, the best part about not knowing how to do something is that you get to learn how to do it and then a week later when one of your colleagues doesn’t know how to do the same thing you get to pretend that you’ve known it all along and teach them how to do it! Such is the cycle of life. Remember, everyone’s just trying to fake it ‘til they make it.