Author Archives: Michael Lambert

Linked Data and other Capitalized Terms

The first item that I read for today was the .pdf which covered the ways in which queries are executed in the various languages that are currently available. CouchDB seems to be an easy-to-understand means through which one might venture to create and search a database without the use of SQL, which happens to be the way that large-scale search engines like Google operate. I found this information to be interesting, useful, and completely accessible given the images and context. Also, the .pdf is HUGE—I’m relieved that we were only covering a short portion of the document. It gives examples of the various languages that are covered and was clearly written with students, and professionals, in mind.

The second article on linked data was no less interesting, but perhaps a little more difficult in terms of accessibility. The concept of Linked Data on the Web is pretty ambitious but reminds me very much of the way in which people make connections neurologically. Associating various “real-world entities,” to use a term from the article, with a field of tangentially related items is exciting because it mirrors the process that we use to create meaning and understand the world—only this variety of data is on a much larger scale and is operating at speeds previously unthinkable (literally[!]). The concept, again, is an exciting prospect, but I did feel at times left out of the conversation by the esoteric, technical terminology implemented. I’m sure that the authors of this article had a slightly different audience in mind than a graduate student like me, and it showed, which is by no means a criticism. I simply found this bit of information slightly less accessible than the previously discussed excerpt. That said, this also seems a fitting wrap-up to the conversation that has taken place within this course up to this point. All of the points connect. Huzzah!

While it was slightly difficult to navigate the terminology used to describe structured data on the Web, it brought to mind phenomena that already occur—I’m looking at you tailored advertising on Facebook, related videos on YouTube, and the like. With Linked Data, I pictured myself subjected even further down the proverbial rabbit hole of available and related information that one might experience, say, while cruising the interweb highways of Wiki pages. But, of course, it’s different than standard hypertext links. I’m interested in the concept, again, because I feel that it mirrors the way in which human beings think, but I’m also curious as to how this Linked Data apparatus might be used to benefit the classroom and further the conversation. Query based intellectual activity is fascinating and this type of field would be ripe for such an endeavor, no doubt.

Databases and Inquiry

The first thing I noticed about the two documents (one and two) that introduce and explicate the ongoing trend in the humanities to move from an exclusively “document-centric ideology” to include a “data-centric viewpoint” is the manner in which the information is presented. What was most likely intended as a quirky, fun mode of speech that was meant to relate to the target audience might also be construed as hubris-driven egoism. With a background in analyzing and deconstructing TEXTUAL OBJECTS (rather than, say, ahem, datasets), this piece of rhetoric is not without its own dilemmas.

While the documents tout a query-driven state of affairs within the humanities, they fail to present any viable questions, for example. The cheeky tone is on full display in its purposeful acknowledgment of copyright infringement, use of Simpsons cartoons, and the syntax and diction implemented. While admittedly, these concerns might be seen as non-entities in a didactic, elucidating document, it triggers my own radar in terms of questioning the rhetorical position of the text.

I also found instances wherein the textual choices were ripe for parody. The fact that the document which explains the move in the humanities from document-centric to include data-centric viewpoints was entirely textually oriented, for example, helps to show that this trend hasn’t exactly been put on display—again, while this is probably an unsound basis for argument within a document that is meant merely to highlight a trend and explain it to dilettantes like myself, it still seems worth noting.

No doubt, datasets and meta-data are extremely useful tools moving forward within the field of humanities. What one should refrain from nixing entirely from the conversation, though, are the basic tenets that have carried the field into its current state—namely, humanist concerns and rhetoric.


Text encoding is a language. Through the post-colonial lens, it is of interest that this language be construed as “universal” despite the fact that it is specifically designed to be constructed within English alphanumerics. After understanding the basic references, one is then able to implement and categorize various languages—French, for example, was shown in the Mueller introduction. Reading this introduction was a similar experience as reading an instruction manual, although I found much of the information helpful in laying the foundation for what TEI is and is capable of creating.

One specific point of interest in relation to this topic is the idea of digital decomposition. The introduction, itself, seems to have fallen victim to a lack of upkeep as some of the hyperlinks contained within the document lead readers to error messages, such as the following:
Screen shot 2015-02-16 at 8.53.09 PM

Despite this, I found the article to be insightful and a good reference for possible future endeavors within the TEI arena. Some of the other links, such as the First World War Poetry Digital Archive, did function, and provided necessary examples of the types of output that can be created by following the various steps listed. Digital upkeep is important and necessary when the only other available form of preserving literary texts is the costly and burdensome literal preservation of books as tangible objects.

The other somewhat revelatory tidbit of information that I gleaned from the text had to do with the somewhat poetic form of TEI. One is able to create elegant code. That is, code that performs its function while simultaneously appearing clean and extremely concise. This type of code is only functional once it successfully passes through the “Validator,” which is ripe for poetic/philosophical inquiry in its own right.

The second page we were led to on the syllabus was also very helpful and much more beneficial for would-be TEI encoders, in my opinion. Here we have a straightforward tutorial, complete with examples, tests, exercises, etcetera, that help to get those that are interested actually doing the task rather than simply talking about it. With any language, immersion is the most successful strategy for retaining and practicing the desired outcome. This is a great way of learning, at least at the basic level, TEI.

Gewgaws: false dichotomies in scare-tactic journalism

The very first thing I noticed in reading the Carr article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” was the fact that the editors missed an end quote in the second sentence. Pity. While I read the article, my mind immediately jumped to categorize Carr as a Luddite—a point he touches on very briefly near the conclusion as a means to dismiss such a category. My largest concern, though, comes from passages such as, “When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws…” Well, first off—nice use of the term “gewgaws.” Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what this statement contains that is subject to critical deconstruction is the implication that the “Net” is at all separate from human thought or action. Carr grants that the “Net” influences the way in which we think, but he fails to recognize that the human hive-mind creates the content and structure that “It” operates within. To speak of the “singularity” is another topic altogether and would slightly change the thesis I might offer.

Going back to the Luddite business—of course there have been skepticisms in relation to a vast variety of new technologies as they are implemented throughout history. One, in particular, that Carr mentioned is the transition from oral traditions to the written word. It would be foolish at this point to argue that the Internet has not drastically changed the way in which human beings interact and process information. The question that remains is whether the change is an improvement.

The second instance of Carr’s tendency to present the Internet as a separate entity from those who founded, wrote, and continue to grow the Net is a line like, “Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today.” Here again, I would suggest that the separation between our thoughts and the Internet is a false dichotomy. While the Internet continues to exert an influence over our mental processes, it is very much a product of those same mental processes.

Of course, striking fear into the common reader is one tactic that one might employ in order to sell a newspaper. What this article does not seem to offer is any variety of suitable alternative or solution to the wolf cry which it seems to offer. But, Carr takes it even further when he vilifies those who are working to create the next development of the human psyche by qualifying their efforts, “Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one, for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ.” Ultimately, while I thought that Carr brought up interesting points and was published (online) at a venue I respect, it fell short of what I would consider a revelatory read.

Is the medium the message?

In reading the various materials covered this week in relation to post-colonial literature and the ever-evolving visage of the publishing realm, a number of inferences seem to float to the surface. One of which is the importance of the platform or channel through which one receives a given set of data or information.

Both post-colonial articles can be found on the blog, which discusses specific concerns in relation to the broader subject of the digital humanities. While the post, titled “Founding Principles,” is perhaps an attempt to calibrate readers and bring them up to speed in regard to the areas they wish to explore, the presentation and reading is slightly less pleasurable than one might imagine the experience of reading content from a larger publisher like the LA Review of Books. While I found the content amusing and important, the medium in which the site operates seemed less interested in reaching a broad audience. The smoothness of the platform should not necessarily dictate ones interpretation of the credibility or quality of a given content. Though, on an editorial level, the content contained spelling mistakes and was geared towards an audience that already understood the ongoing conversation. The beauty of academic, peer-reviewed content is that one is able to grant a certain amount of trust and credibility to the authors given the schematic that it operates within. One of the major points within the conversation in regard to the dystopian future of the death of print journalism is this same notion—without credibility, one is left in a world without fundamental truth or rigor. The democratic notion of equality between all mediums of information acquisition equates to tabloid news being presented alongside academic research being presented alongside pornography. Is this the ideal?

The Johanna Drucker article, on the other hand, is succinctly written, invites a broad spectrum of readers, and is, generally, pleasurable to encounter. Editorially, no spelling mistakes or odd syntactical choices make the reading less so, and the institution from which it springs forth is generally considered to be well researched and reviewed by those in the profession. According to Drucker, “Scholarship, good scholarship, the work of a lifetime commitment to working in a field — mapping its references, arguments, scholars, sources, and terrain of discourse — has no substitute.” What I found lacking in the previously mentioned source was this good scholarship, rigor, and focus on quality content. Ultimately, my reading experience was formed by the platform and its implications. Blogs do not necessarily equal well-funded and heavily edited journalistic output. Slightly ironic, then, for the content of this supposed criticism to appear on the platform for which such criticisms might be applied.

“If a bit of fun is had along the way, so much the better”

“If a bit of fun is had along the way, so much the better” (Schnapp, et al), taken from the first page of the latest iteration of “The Digital Humanities Manifesto,” might, if taken out of context, be mistaken for the manner of conversation which takes place prior to cliché filmic stereotypes of baseball coaches and their pedagogical ilk. These voices, found in somewhat lesser venues than those typically associated with the academic realm, can be at times difficult to take seriously. Any “manifesto” in which the first and foremost instruction is: “Don’t Whine” (Schnapp, et al), may or may not be construed as less nuanced than other pieces of academic output, for example. Whether or not one agrees with the ideas presented in any piece of writing, media, or technology, the way in which the information is presented is paramount in importance to the analytical mind. Here, we are given a profound idea—that of a conglomeration of thought and, more importantly to the authors of the manifesto, practice, between the historically combative schools of science and humanities which could spark a revolution that is, theoretically, already taking place both in terms of the ways in which information is found and shared and also in terms of all of the intellectual possibilities and implications linked with contemporary phenomena such as Wikipedia and Google—in the voice of a child. Therefore, those who wish to form a conglomeration with a common aim treat their audience and readers didactically. Misguided methinks if its aim was to reach the academic audience who would no doubt also be repulsed by such choices.

That being said, the Porsdam article speaks to the echoes of this failed marriage between the thinkers in the sciences and those in the halls of the humanities. The Snow and Leavis debate is, of course, still occurring (despite the friendly mawkish tone of those who would call to arms both sides of the debate) but in many ways, the dichotomy is superficial. Technological advances will continue to influence the way in which individuals consume literature, share ideas, and exist in the information age. So, too, will the ideas that emerge from the humanities influence the imaginations of those who engineer and manufacture technology. If the Digital Humanities is a means for those who identify with either camp to effectively communicate and share ideas, then I would say it is an inherently good thing. “We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many [sic] use technology rather than be used by it” (Porsham 44) concludes the article and serves as a reminder to keep one’s humanness while the phenomenological world of technology constantly changes.