Author Archives: Susanna Coleman

Digitorium: Approaches in Digital Pedagogy

This panel (Thursday, 3:30-4:45) was really interesting to me because it got me thinking about ways I can bring DH into my EN 103 courses I’m teaching in the fall.  In “UA Genealogies: Historical Archives and Storytelling,” Dr. Lauren Cardon talked about a fascinating 103 project she taught, in which her students conducted genealogy research on one branch of their family, then composed 500-word narratives with digital images and uploaded them to Word Press.  Thirteen of the best projects also went on display in Hoole.  Lauren talked about how the project helped students make personal connections to the campus community through working with the ADHC and Hoole, as well as taught students skills in archival research and digital gallery-building.
Historical Archives and Storytelling on the ADHC site

Dr. April Morris presented “Beyond the Book Report: Digital Tools, Undergraduate Engagement, and Intellectual Experimentation,” in which she described her experiments in bringing DH tools into her art history classes.  As exigence, she explained that the range of digital materials and technologies for presenting art is “exploding” and that students like and respond well to digital materials.  April showed us a series of art history course websites she had designed, which became successively more integrated into the class and involved more student input.  One of the coolest student projects is a “mortuary temple to Brenden Fraser” a current student is building in Minecraft.  (!?)  April stressed that students need a sense of ownership over their digital projects, as well as the importance of letting students present their research in class to build community.

Both presentations gave me inspiration for my upcoming courses, which will focus on visual pedagogy of World War II propaganda (including barrage balloons, of course).  I had already planned on having my students keep Tumblr blogs, but now I’m considering having them work on a course website instead (or in addition), as well as adding a digital component to their researched position paper.  I also plan to use DH resources (including ArtStor and other things I’ve discovered in this class) to give my students access to more media than is available traditionally.

Linked Drifblim Data

While reading Bizer, Heath, and Berners-Lee’s article, I decided to try out some of the linked data resources they mention.  I found links to some browsing and searching tools on and tried out LOD Cloud Cache search engine (since it allows traditional searches with words instead of URIs).  I did a search for my favorite Pokemon, Drifblim.

426 (2)

To be honest, I didn’t really understand the results.  The first result was Drifblim’s entry in “dbpedia.”  Dbpedia’s entry listed some subject/predicate/object triples about Drifblim, where Drifblim is the subject.  For instance, Drifblim (subject) is the the primary topic of (predicate) (object – Wikipedia’s entry on Drifblim).  I also got to see the “sameAs” predicate in use, where Dbpedia noted that Drifblim “is sameAs of” Grodrive (Drifblim’s French name).  Clicking on each type of predicate in Dbpedia gave me more information on it, although again I had a hard time understanding what the information meant.

Another linked data search result was to a “WikiData” page about Drifblim – what I assume is a wiki-based database of linked data, an alternative to Dbpedia.  This page had some different triples, such as Drifblim (subject) has the label or name (predicate) of Drifblim, Drifzepeli, Fuwaride, etc. (object – names for Drifblim in other languages).  It also included a “description” predicate which told me that Drifblim is a species of Pokemon.

Although I didn’t really know what to do with my results, I can see how they exhibit what Bizer et al. call “a more detailed interface to the user that exploits the underlying structure of the data.”  To me, the results seem almost mathematical – instead of saying “Drifblim is also called Grodrive,” it’s like a formula that reads DRIFBLIM = GRODRIVE.  This tells me the structure of the data, that the two pieces of data are equivalent, and it would definitely be more machine-readable than an English phrase.  I can see linked data being more useful for programmers and developers (and programs and applications) than for normal users like me.  The article’s section on “domain-specific applications” gives some good examples, such as Revyu which provides richer data to end users by querying for linked data behind the scenes.  (I searched for Drifblim on Revyu, but sadly found nothing.  Maybe it’s time to write a review…)  I think other applications which draw upon scholarly data, like Talis Aspire, would be great for DH projects.  I’m left wondering how much linked data has developed since this article’s publication (in 2009?).  From what I saw online, not much has changed, and I’m wondering how far along developers are getting toward making linked data useful for the average user, or toward “the ultimate goal of being able to use the Web like a single global database.”

“a web of things in the world, described by data on the Web”


by rumwik

Databases: Doc or Not?

After reading the two slide shows, I think I’m more confused about databases than when I began. I had always thought of a database the way it’s described in the second set of slides: sort of like spreadsheets where one doesn’t see the whole sheet at once and only pulls out the records needed for a particular task (the difference between databases and spreadsheets being that databases can interact with one another). In the first slide show, however, Quamen seems to view databases as pure data, not as documents, since he says both “documents and databases” can co-exist. Is a database sort of like Plato’s ideal solids, in that it doesn’t physically exist anywhere as a document? Is the spreadsheet comparison just a way for us humans to give a structure to something that is really only bits of data scattered over a server?

In the second slide show, the description of a database as “a high-quality representation of the real world” muddied the waters further for me. How can a collection of data represent the real world at “high quality”? To use the example database, a table of information listing species of birds could, I suppose, literally represent real birds, but I don’t see this representation as being high quality, or really anything above rudimentary. The table doesn’t even stand in for actual individual birds, just species. Likewise, the table of data about club members could be said to represent them, but a person’s name and phone number is such a tiny fraction of who s/he is, I take issue with it being either a high-quality or a real-world representation. I suppose I’m just arguing semantics, as I am when I question whether or not a database is a document or not. And I guess the answer doesn’t really matter as long as I understand how databases work, which I do.


Data culture privileges queries and treats answers as if they are ephemeral.

This quote reminded me of the part of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where, after millions of years of computation, the supercomputer Deep Thought calculated the answer to the question of the meaning of life: 42. It wasn’t until after Deep Thought announced the answer that anyone realized they’d forgotten to ask him what the question was.

Maybe the question is “Are databases documents or not?”

Boo-Boo the Barrage Balloon Meets TEI

I guess I’m officially a nerd, because TEI is exciting. Until this reading, I had never heard of SGML, much less that HTML originated from it. Since TEI is also a form of SGML, it and HTML must be siblings, or at least cousins (although HTML sounds like the black sheep of the SGML family). Fun! I also appreciate the explanation of XML, as I wasn’t really sure what it is. My only complaints about the reading were all the broken links (which made it hard to understand some of the instructions, since they referred to documents that aren’t there anymore), the typos, and the very 1990’s frame formatting. I’m guessing “A Very Gentle Introduction” is also very old in computer years.

I was interested in the idea that “preservation is a key problem for an emerging digital culture,” something I hadn’t really considered before this class. Our discussions on bitrot and other issues of digital deterioration have helped make me more aware of the problem, but I’m still a bit stuck in the mindset of “going digital means preserving.” Part of my impetus for my barrage balloon DH project is to preserve original photos and other balloon-related memorabilia in digital scans and to disseminate them online. Sharing the photos I collect is still best accomplished digitally, but could the actual photographs be better preserved than the digital images I make of them, despite the threat of fire, acid, vermin, etc.? To bring my questions more in line with textual documents, what about my very fragile copy of the World War II children’s book Boo-Boo the Barrage Balloon? What can TEI do for Boo-Boo and his compatriots Blossom and Bulgy?

After reading about TEI’s encoding options for various text elements, I can guess that TEI would let me encode the text of Boo-Boo the Barrage Balloon with indicators of quotations and formatting, milestone events (like when Boo-Boo saves London from the Nazis), a bibliography, and a header about the book itself. (Incidentally, I appreciate Mueller’s inclusion of hyperlinks in his TeiXBaby language to update TEI for the Web.) I could then use CSS to format the text of Boo-Boo to make it approximate the text in the book – though without the charming illustrations. Once I get the hang of TEI, I might take a stab at encoding Boo-Boo. I doubt he will be of much interest to scholars, but it will give me some practice!

Speaking of encoding, the reading’s instructions for encoding TEI were a bit confusing to me, although familiarity with HTML helps (especially with containers like <head>, <div>, and <p>, which are the same in HTML). I expect it will make more sense once I actually start encoding, and I’ll learn the language as I go. I can’t wait to get started!

I Can’t Brain Today. I Have the Dumb.

I read Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” last Wednesday, on a day when I couldn’t brain. It was one of those days when I couldn’t articulate my thoughts, when I had to sit and stare at something I’d written before it made sense… and unfortunately, it was a day I taught two composition classes. I felt sorry for my students as I struggled to explain the rhetorical situation in a way that made sense. I posted the above meme on my Facebook, as I do on all days when I have the dumb. (The plush in the meme is Styx, a handmade Drifloon [a Pokémon] plush I bought on eBay. His facial expression sums up how I felt.)

The one thing I was able to process was Carr’s article, and it presented the first argument against DH with which I could agree: “The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration” (par. 19). I found his claims to be well-supported and his tone far more measured than that of most of the authors we’ve read, both pro- and anti-DH. I also appreciated his balance of personal and anecdotal experience with hard research—and that he offered a counter-argument: “Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine” (par. 31). (And I loved his references to Hal. Since I was a kid, I’ve been defending Hal’s actions and his humanity when he was ordered to act against his protocol in keeping the true nature of the mission to Jupiter secret from Dave and Frank. But that’s another blog post.)

Still, I don’t think Carr is just a worrywart, although I only have anecdotal evidence: my own experience reading and teaching. I myself don’t have trouble concentrating on and processing long printed texts (not yet, anyway). I can concentrate on books and articles just fine. However, I experience Carr’s description of drifting concentration when reading online. I get distracted by other Firefox tabs, or my eyes jump over the page. I think this reaction is the main reason I prefer to print out articles and read them on paper. I’ve also noticed how television has come to mimic the Internet, which Carr points out in paragraph 20. I had never connected the infuriating text crawls and lists of which segments are coming up next with the Internet, but now it makes perfect sense.

As for teaching, I can’t vouch for how my students read, but I’ve seen the Internet creep into their writing, from texting abbreviations like “u” turning up in academic essays to entire papers which seem to be typed on cell phones judging from odd, “auto-correct” style substitutions for words (not to mention the complete lack of capital letters). Much composition theory has turned to multi-modality, coming up with ways to use texting, Tumblr, Facebook, and other forms of Internet composition to teach. I tout these methods as a way to use students’ extracurricular writing strategies, and others embrace multi-modality as a way to make composition easier for students of different abilities. But Carr makes me wonder if we’re just old media playing by the new media rules (par. 20). Is composition’s real reason for adapting our teaching to the Internet that we want to stay relevant?

PCDH Site Critique and “Founding Principles”

“What are the postcolonial digital humanities?”

To be honest, I didn’t know. Coming from a composition background, I only have a vague concept of what the various flavors of literary criticism entail, so after reading the “Founding Principles” of the PCDH website, I go looking for the answer. The mission statement of the PCDH website describes the field as “interrogating the ways postcolonial studies has evolved through different phases of internet culture,” but that doesn’t tell me what postcolonial means, so next I turn to the site’s glossary… only to find it under construction. So. On to Googling “postcolonial.” Eventually I do find out what postcolonial studies are, but my search led me to question the effectiveness of a site that won’t tell me what its title means. Of course, it may be an issue of audience (part of the rhetorical situation): maybe the authors don’t expect someone to visit the site if she doesn’t “do” postcolonial studies. Still, it couldn’t hurt to reach out to that unexpected audience. The missing glossary reminds me of last class’s conversation: DH work is never finished. (However, I wonder just how “soon” I should “check back.” The site seems to have been launched in March, 2013, and the most recent blog entry was posted in April, 2014. If the glossary hasn’t been finished in almost two years and the site not updated in almost one, I don’t have high hopes for “soon” being “soon.”)

Nevertheless, question #2 in the “Founding Principles” struck me as important not just for “poco” but for all of us. “How can/should the goals of [insert field here] shift to adapt to digital changes and challenges?” Barrett’s blog post addresses one facet of this issue for poco in questioning the ethics of PCDH projects funded by the state; Barrett asks if DH work is “meaningfully indebted and structured” by national institutions since these institutions provide much of DH’s funding – a very good question, although I think one not only applicable to PCDH but to all university-sponsored poco work. Yet, I think question #2 should be asked for every field engaging in DH. For me, this question becomes “How should composition adapt to the digital?” While composition has had its foot in the digital door for quite some time, longer than most other humanities fields, we still have not fully adapted. With a little tweaking, the subquestions below #2 can also apply to my field. The concerns of the PCDH site lead me to consider and question my own work in the light of DH, which I hope to embrace.

A Familiar Manifesto

I was excited by the two versions of the Digital Humanities Manifesto because what they espouse is so familiar. Most of what the authors value about Digital Humanities are things my two fields of interest—composition and fan studies—have been doing for years.

To begin with composition, Schnapp et al. proclaim, “Process is the new god; not product” (1.0, par. 13). “Process not product” is a mantra often heard among comp theorists, although it’s not exactly a new god; Donald Murray published his seminal article “Teaching Writing as a Process, Not a Product” in 1972. For us, “process not product” means we should value the steps our students take in producing writing, not only the finished papers they turn in for a grade. We use teaching methods such as brainstorming, rough drafts, peer review, and workshopping to pay attention to our students’ writing processes. I hadn’t thought of this key concept as part of Digital Humanities, however, and I look forward to applying this familiar composition stand-by to digital work.

My primary research interest connects even more directly to DH than does comp. “Fan studies” refers to the analysis of fans (of television shows, movies, books, etc.) and the artifacts they create and produce related to their interests: fan fiction, art, crafting, videos, music, and more. In particular, I research the intersection of digital rhetoric and fan studies, performing rhetorical analysis on fan products and theorizing/practicing how to use this form of extracurricular composition in the classroom. The Digital Humanities Manifesto is clearly a fan’s ally: “Copyright and IP standards must, accordingly, be freed from the stranglehold of Capital. Pirate and pervert Disney materials on such a massive scale that Disney will have to sue… your entire neighborhood, school, or country. Practice digital anarchy by creatively undermining copyright and mashing up media” (1.0, par. 8; also 2.0, par. 13). Fans have been “pirating and perverting” canon texts from the first print fanzines publishing Captain Kirk/Mr. Spock “slash” romance fiction in the 1960s. “Furry” artists display their “cease and desist” letters from Disney with pride, and I myself sell handmade Pokémon plushies on Etsy—without a license of course. Apparently, we’ve been taking “strong (guerrilla) action” all along (2.0, par. 17). (For more on fan work’s relationship with copyright, see the Organization for Transformative Works.)

Lastly, curation—for me at least—blends the two fields. I loved version 2.0’s treatment of “the scholar as curator and the curator as scholar” (par. 45). I pride myself on my fan curations, both physically and digitally. And often, these two areas cross, as in my blog The Drifarmy which displays my Pokémon collection and in my wiki The Sonic Wings Wiki which curates information (as well as my physical collection) on an obscure video game series. Such fan-produced texts are precisely what I most love to study rhetorically, yet I believe they also have a place in pedagogy. Schnapp et al. write, “Curation means making arguments through objects as well as words, images, and sounds” (2.0, par. 45, emphasis original). I believe that anything—including an object—can be an argument, and my current EN 102 assignment has my students performing rhetorical analysis of objects—specifically items related to Alabama football to bring in a hint of the fannish.

These connections between Digital Humanities and my areas of interest—both academic and extracurricular—led to my enthusiasm for the Digital Humanities Manifesto, and I look forward to seeing how such familiar concepts play out throughout the semester.