Unity Updates: It’s all about communication

In between working on other projects, like typesetting articles for Carleton’s Undergraduate Journal of Humanistic Studies and slowly filling a spreadsheet with lemma and definitions of Latin vocabulary, I’ve continued my Unity training. In this tutorial, I learned more about lighting, assets, and scripting. I also built my first game controller to manage score-keeping and UI (user interface) and added my first sound effects.

Adding the game controller created some logistical problems which, though I’m new to them in Unity, are very familiar to me as a programmer. Essentially the problem is that when different objects are separated out, their information and variables are private. Sometimes, for instance, the game controller doesn’t have a way of observing something that happened to the player object, but it needs to be able to act on that information. Setting up the objects so that they can communicate about events is essential, but it’s not always obvious in the beginning that they need to share information. Figuring out that aspect of scripting will be very important in scaling development from demo-sized games to the large Unity project for which I am training.

Use arrow keys/WASD and mouse to play my game.

Updates from the Workhouse: Mapmaking

A significant part of my work continues to be for Team Workhouse, including the work I did over winter break for Professor Susannah Ottaway ‘89. My earlier post detailed my process for determining the locations of parishes in England in order to better understand the use of workhouses for poor relief in the late 18th and early 19th century. I continued to find locations over break, and then double checked those locations I had found to make sure I hadn’t missed any parishes and so I was confident in the new locations. Finally, though, I finished that and reached a point where I could leave the spreadsheet behind and begin mapping! Of course, I quickly learned that you can never really leave the spreadsheet behind.

A map showing all parishes with access to a workhouse in England and Wales.

I quickly ran into a problem: I was working from home, so I only had access to ArcGIS online, which, while a great tool, is not as powerful as the desktop version. The online version will only take up to 1000 entries in a CSV upload at a time, and the database has a little over 3300 entries! I was able to get around this by splitting the spreadsheet into four separate uploads, broken up along county lines to make my life a bit easier. I finally got all four CSVs into ArcGIS online, double checking that all locations were in fact in the map document.

Once I had all the locations in, I was finally able to step back and look at the data as a whole (insert my rough map of all the workhouses colored by county). I soon noticed what looked to be another problem. Since the parishes were colored by county, there were some obvious outliers. In addition, I had imported a layer that showed the 1851 county boundaries, and many of these outliers did not match the county boundaries of that layer. I went through the counties again, looking at parishes that were at least three miles outside of the county boundaries, recording those that fell outside those boundaries to later check to see if the location was correct, and potentially correct it.

An example of the 1831 English counties and exclaves.

While I did find some incorrect coordinates, many of them were actually correct. As I dug into the parishes I thought were incorrect, I learned that many county borders had changed, and many had even had parts of their counties that were not continuous with the rest! Fortunately, I was able to find a layer file of the English and Welsh counties in 1831 courtesy of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure , when many of these exclaves still existed. Using this layer, it was much easier to visually check that parishes seemingly outside their counties were in fact within their boundaries. Once again, the county layer made my life much easier – instead of going back through my spreadsheet, quicker visual checks were now possible for what I thought were incorrect – and many did turn out to be correct.

A map showing the number of parishes with access to a workhouse by county.

Now that I’m confident in the parish locations, my next steps are to really dive into the maps and cartography. The data for the maps is all there, but the task now is to create polished maps for both print and online publication. Despite some of my struggles with both the technology and the content (I had no idea that counties could have exclaves!), the use of GIS was a valuable tool, not just for the cartography, but also for the vital step of confirming that parishes were actually where they were supposed to be.

Martha Says Hello

img_5824Hi! My name is Martha Durrett, and I’m a junior Computer Science and English major at Carleton College. Computer science and English! What? “Well those don’t overlap at all,” you might say. In some way you’re right…I certainly won’t be counting any of my CS classes for English credits. But in many ways that’s wrong – for example, digital humanities! Could I have found a more fun and engaging way to integrate my two majors?

As I learn more about digital humanities, I’m hoping to continue to break down that distinction between “English major” and “computer science major.” I want to discover fun and engaging new ways to integrate not just English and computer science, but any subject that piques my interest. Who says subjects need to be separate? (Finland doesn’t – check this out if you haven’t heard about Finland’s radical educational reform.)  Throughout the rest of the year, I’ll be thinking about how the digital world is changing expectations about how we’re supposed to learn about and interact with the humanities. If you ask me, the humanities (whatever that hefty term entails) have spent far too long hiding inside of textbooks, and it’s about time we did something new with them!

Workhouse Update – Elizabeth’s Ongoing Work

Gressenhall Workhouse in Norfolk, England
Gressenhall Workhouse, Norfolk, England

Most my work this term has been part of Team Workhouse, which is a research project that aims to create a digital reconstruction of the Gressenhall Workhouse in Norfolk, England during the 18th century in order to better understand the lived experience of workhouse inmates (my research this summer and presentation at the Midwest Conference on British Studies is also part of the Team Workhouse). This term, I’ve been working mainly on locating British parishes in the early 19th century. Our goal is to create maps and explore spatial relations of workhouses in England, based on an 1803 Parliamentary report. Professor Susannah Ottaway ’89 and others have already done significant work on finding the locations of the parishes and other places mentioned in the report. There are still many that don’t have locations, however, and that is what I’ve been working on. Although we ultimately want to know where the workhouses were, that information is not accessible to us at this time. We can find the location the churches, and often workhouses were very close to churches. In addition, the maps will be show larger areas, so individual parishes will be relatively small. As such, we have decided to use church buildings as approximations for the parishes and their poor relief.

My typical process looks like this: I would have a parish name (for example, Dowley, Magna, Wellington Division, Bradford Hundred in Shropshire), and would begin on a genealogy website to find out some preliminary information about the parish. I can typically get a church name (for example, Holy Trinity), and I then look to the Historic England pages for more information on the church building. This is the Historic England page for Holy Trinity, Great Dowley, from which I know that the current building is from 1845, although the site is older. I find the church on Google Maps (with the map on Historic England to help me), and use the coordinates for the parish.

A document of notes on parish locations for the Workhouse Project
A document of notes on parish locations for the Workhouse Project

Some places pose more challenges and require more investigation. In London, many of the parish churches of parishes listed in the 1803 report were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and never rebuilt. For those parishes, I used this map, which shows London before the Fire. Even so, the streets have changed since then, so I had to estimate where the churches would have been. Another very common issue I have run into is name changes. “Warnslow” becomes “Warslow,” “Laytham” becomes “Layham,” and “Monythustoine” becomes “Mynyddyslwyn” (or “Mynyddislwyn” or “Mynydd Islwyn”). Some name changes are close enough that I am confident they are the same place, especially given the extra information, such as church name or county. Others, I find sources about the different names (especially that last one) to confirm that they are indeed the same place. For the most difficult parishes, I often had to resort to Google searches, old maps (there are many here!), and any other resources I could find on small parishes. I increasingly appreciate parish websites that have histories of their own parishes, which have been very valuable to me during this processes. It has taken many hours, but I have almost finished finding the unknown parishes, so before long we can move on to mapping the parishes and exploring the spatial patterns of 18th century poor relief.

A Stylin’ Term: an update on what Lydia did this fall

Hello! The end of fall term is near and the time seems ripe for another blog post. For the past few weeks, most of my digital humanities time has been devoted to developing and revising CSS quote styles for Global Religions in Minnesota, a locally hosted Omeka project that documents the lived experiences of members of various religious communities in Minnesota.

Because the research and content creation is primarily done by students enrolled in a Carleton religion class, it’s important that we make the backend user interface as intuitive as possible so that they can focus on research and writing. Eventually, the quote styles I created will be integrated into the WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) interface in Omeka so that applying the CSS only takes one click. So far, I’ve made some styles for varying lengths of block quotes, which are portions of texts quoted from other sources and contrast visually with the main text. Below are screenshots of sample styles I made for short, medium-length, and long block quotes. I tried to apply the most visually striking styles for the shorter quotes and used smaller font and minimal graphics for longer ones.

A short block quote:


A medium-length block quote:


A long block quote:


To get feedback on these styles, I used CodePen, which is a neat website that allows users to edit source HTML/CSS/Javascript code and see changes in real-time. Pens are shareable with other team members and with the general public, which makes collaborative web design and idea sharing really convenient. Even if you’re not currently working on a web development project, there is a lot of interesting animation and styling work to look at for design inspiration!

Conference Presentation on our Virtual Workhouse Project

Professor Austin Mason and DHA Elizabeth present their paper on material culture of the workhouse at the Midwest Conference on British Studies
DHA Elizabeth and Professor Austin Mason presenting at MWCBS

This past weekend I presented at  the Midwest Conference on British Studies (MWCBS) at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, along with two Carleton faculty members and three other Carleton students. Our presentation is part of a larger Virtual Workhouse project which utilizes digital tools such as serious gaming and 3D modeling to gain an understanding of the lived experience of workhouse inmates in 18th century England during the Houses of Industry period of poor relief. This past winter, I took a class co-taught by Professors Mason and Ottaway called Bringing the English Past to Virtual Life that brought these ideas into a classroom setting and allowed the students to research, model, and creatively construct new ways of exploring the lived experience of the poor.

Professor of History Susannah Ottaway, with two more Carleton students, presented a paper that explored spinning work in the workhouse, and whether it was driven by moral or economic objectives. Professor Austin Mason, Brittany N. Johnson ‘18 and I presented our paper, “Locating and Representing the Material Culture of the Poor” in the same panel. Our paper focused on the challenges of digitally reconstructing the material culture of inmates in the workhouse, based on the limited textual and material sources that survive. This past summer, Brittany and I spent two weeks in Norfolk, England, excavating workhouse objects from an old rubbish heap at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum. We found mostly objects of mid 20th century date, but the processes that determine object survival also apply to objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. We examined archival and archeological evidence of the Gressenhall House of Industry, in Norfolk, England, and explored the value of digital tools in that reconstruction, including SketchUp, Twine, and Unity 3D. Since evidence is limited, reconstruction is hard. Despite this, our paper argued that new questions emerge when using these digital tools that may not have been asked otherwise: What color is the cloth produced in the workhouse? What is the texture? What did the furniture look like? Where was it placed? These questions allow us further insight into the lived experience of the poor during the 18th century, which is difficult to get at through traditional historical methods. All these questions and more are born out of digital reconstruction, and while we don’t have all the answers, the exploration of these questions ultimately deepen our understanding of the past.

A flowchart illustrating how objects survive into collections at museums, and how other objects are lost.
A flowchart illustrating how objects survive into collections at museums, and how other objects are lost.

It was an incredible opportunity to present at a conference with my professors and fellow students. The challenge and reward of preparing and presenting a paper that incorporates my own research was invaluable, as well as the chance to hear about and engage with other historians and their research in the wider academic world.

Getting the ball rolling on Unity

While my colleagues have been migrating content from our old website to our new not-yet-live one, I’ve been working on learning my way around the Unity game engine, a major part of Project Workhouse. I started from scratch with only a vague knowledge of C#, the language that customized scripts are written in for Unity. In the past week I’ve worked through the “Roll a Ball” tutorial and gotten started on importing assets like textures and materials and using them to good effect in a 3D game environment. – Bard

Here are some snapshots from my version of the “Roll a Ball” tutorial:

Lydia says, “hello world”!

my_faceHi! I’m Lydia, a senior Linguistics major at Carleton College interested in documenting and revitalizing endangered languages and in leveraging the power of tech for social change. I was led to Digital Humanities through doing linguistic documentation of Nukuoro, a Polynesian language spoken in Micronesia. Last summer, I was part of a team that contributed to Swarthmore College’s Talking Dictionary project. This work required me to think a lot about publicly accessible digital scholarship and data organization. (While working on this project, I also found some time to learn some sweet Micronesian weaving techniques, which you can see me demonstrating in this picture.) Since then, I’ve learned that there is a thing called Digital Humanities that lets me apply this type of process to other fields I’m interested in! You could say that I’m pretty excited to get started.

This past week was training week, a brief period of calm before the storm of fall term started. I learned more than I can possibly remember all at once, but the piece I remember most clearly was about metadata; namely, I learned that good metadata is both important and extremely difficult to write. Using Dublin Core standards, I and the other Digital Humanities Associates filled in metadata entries for a number of items that ranged from photographs of people to sacred texts. During this process, I found myself asking a lot of questions: is this a photo of an artwork or is it an artwork artwork? (Gosh, I love contrastive reduplication.) Relatedly, if this is a photo, is the relevant time period necessarily the time at which the photo was taken? How detailed should I be with the description? With the geographic location?

This small exercise that took all of ten minutes made me realize two things. First, the fact that we have online databases and metadata standards and functioning, searchable libraries at all is nothing short of a miracle. Second, data — and data about data — is rarely ever objective. Description is inherently biased towards who the writer thinks the audience is and constrained by how the item may be used. Who knew data could be so wacky? Stay tuned for more of Lydia’s data adventures.

Ana’s Introduction

photo-on-9-13-16-at-2-20-pm-1Hello! I’m Ana Yanes Martinez, a sophomore at Carleton College and still waiting for my eureka moment to realize what I want to major. In other words: I don’t know. I was introduced to Digital Humanities in a class I took during the fall of my freshman year, and I became really fascinated with the intersection of the humanities and digital world. Apart from my interest in the digital humanities, I have a passion for art, cultures, food and a semi unhealthy obsession with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am certain my Hogwarts letter was lost or stolen before it reached me.

I think a very important aspect of digital humanities I learned during training is the thought process given to figuring out what platforms and even software are better suited to specific projects. We looked into three different platforms: Omeka, Reason, and WordPress. I think each have distinctive features suited for specific type of projects. Omeka seems better suited for metadata and archiving, whereas WordPress seems to have more theme availability and design flexibility. Reason on the other hand, seems to be  administrator friendly, and so far the easiest to use. This could be the most comfortable to use for people who want a way to display information without having to learn much HTML and CSS or other programming languages. The downside is that Reason is limited in themes and may leave its users wishing for more. Considering the pros and cons of each platform is necessary at the start of each project as it can prevent the need to migrate between platforms halfway through the project and save time in the long run.

Qimeng’s introduction

I’m Qimeng, a junior math major at Carleton. As opposed to what you may assume about math majors – was how I wanted to start my second sentence, but I have to confess that I fit pretty much into all the common stereotypes. I like working with data, programming and writing (poking holes in others’) proofs. I also enjoy Hitchcock movies, Stephen King short stories and Sudoku.

It’s my second year working as a Digital Humanities Associate. Last year I worked mainly on two projects – JHNA (formatting articles to be published on Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art) and Image Management (exploring the world of metadata of graphical materials and testing various managing tools). I got the opportunity of working with students from different academic fields, ranging from Computer Science to Studio Art, which opens my mind to new ways of approaching problems.

My favorite part of our DH training is wandering on Lynda.com. Going through lists of tutorials for so many amazing software exhilarates me more than online shopping. Not only a wonderful source of knowledge, Lynda is also a reminder to me of the importance of consistently educating and bettering myself.