Posts from the ‘general digital cultures’ Category
November 8th, 2013
Author: Sarah Lozier
As a humanities graduate student interested in looking at digital media, digital processes, and digital sociality, it is tempting to define myself professionally as a Digital Humanities scholar. But this definition isn’t particularly helpful, since it almost always elicits the response — “And what does that actually mean?” Indeed, being a DH professional seems to “mean” differently for different people, and these definitional slippages become increasingly problematic when it comes to those non-research necessities of being an aspiring academic (getting jobs, applying for grants, and teaching undergraduates). In an effort to think through some of these slippages and their politics, I’d like to look at one specific resource for DH professionalization — the University of Victoria’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) — to think about what this program suggests effective DH professionalization is and does.
The DHSI is “a week of intensive coursework, seminars, and lectures,” all focused around issues pertinent to the digital humanities. This year’s twenty-seven seminars cover a wide range of topics ranging from “Text Encoding Fundamentals” to “Electronic Literature in the Digital humanities,” but all twenty-seven are organized along a kind of divide between building digital skill sets — coding, software use, etc — and dealing with fairly traditional issues of humanities study applied to digital objects — “reading” electronic literature, applying “theory” to digital media, etc.
This divide strikes me as potentially indicative of the larger problem of professionalizing in DH, and that is the question of what a DH professional does. While these seminars cover topics dealing explicitly with navigating the Digital and topics dealing explicitly with navigating the Humanities, there aren’t any seminars that explicitly deal with digital AND humanities navigation, DH as one unit. They suggest that DH is still D and H, Digital and Humanities. The problem with this “and” is analogous to the problem of the hyphen conceived as the splice that Katherine Hayles discusses in the fifth chapter of How We Became Posthuman. That is, D (and) H imagines a “separate but equal” relationship between the items on either side of the and, even as it officially splices them together (DH) as one item. Scholars who do this thing called “DH” must actually do “D and H,” making the discipline a necessarily exclusive rather than inclusive one. In the hectic world of the modern academy, where tenure is disappearing and we are asked more often than not to work “for free,” today, being a DH professional is all but closed off to those who already have the time and resources to equivalently pursue D and H — established, funded academics. Until we can more effectively splice D and H into DH, this exclusivity and definitional slipperiness will continue to exist.
October 18th, 2013
by Sarah Lozier
On October 17th, 2013 I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion hosted by UCR’s History Department on the topic of Media in the Archives. In general, the panelists described various forms that archival work can take, whether one is working in an academically-supported research archives like the Huntington, a corporate pop-cultural exhibition-supported archived like that of NBCUniversal, or a digitized archive of material documents like the California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC). Given the range of archives presented, it is no surprise that there were many different strategies for navigating the challenges and perks of archival work. What was perhaps, more surprising, was that there were nearly as many similarities as differences presented, particularly among theoretical axes of authenticity and originality. Here, however, I’d like to focus on one archival issue in particular that did not get much attention, but that can be particularly provocative when material and digital cultures and archives collide—the issue of the User.
The User did enter the conversation yesterday when Brian Geiger described the invaluable role of the untrained, amateur user to correct errors in the text that occur in the digitization process due to the limits of computer-based text recognition. Dr. Geiger pointed out that allowing these amateur users this level of access to affect and change the archival material is a bittersweet affair. On the one hand, it frees up the trained, degree-holding archivists to spend time on work that requires the specialist’s hand; while at the same time potentially expediting the digitization process, and with fewer mistakes, due to an increased human labor force. (This introduces the problem never far from DH labor discussions of Crowd-Sourcing, but that is best saved for another post). On the other hand, the CNDC is still an institutionally accredited archive, and there are very real possibilities that this untrained labor force is introducing as many (if not more damaging) errors to the archival materials than the computer. Indeed, the untrained user could only get this kind of access to a digital archive; the very notion would be unthinkable for a material and physical archive like the Huntington or NBCUniversal’s Archives, where the “user” is either a trained researcher operating under the watchful eye of the archivist, or a spectator who is encouraged to Look-Don’t-Touch.
So who is the archive’s User? What does it mean to really use an archive? Can using be limited to accessing? Or can it be expanded to include interacting, as in the shift of replacing “reader” with “user” in conversations about e-Lit? What are the stakes and potential effects of this conceptual expansion, particularly given the slippery place of labor in accessing, using, and interacting? Are we, the institutionally-supported and access-granted DH scholars, the Privileged Users, willing to support this?
October 14th, 2013
by Ian Ross
The pedagogical implementations of digital technology have been widely hailed, but are frequently implemented in the form of making traditional pedagogical procedures more conveniently accessible (online classrooms, digital office hours, etc.). However, there is a largely ignored degree to which digital production by students is helpful to composition, comprehension, and critical thinking in the classroom. Unfortunately, the primary roadblock to pedagogical digital production in curriculum centering around this production is the inaccessibility of coding as a means of that writing. However, if this process can be made more accessible, the constructed nature of binary code, as well as its inability to work with logical fallacy, has the potential to illustrate much clearer narratological and argumentative skills to novice writers.
In an attempt to work around this problem, I have enacted a classroom project based around the free and universally available program Inform7, an interactive text based video game production space designed to use English language “coding” to create digital spaces with which the audience can interact. The first attempt at this project involved individual students building games using a peer produced message board for guidance, produced limited results, and ended with most students circulating around an “expert” with previous experience. However, the second attempt was designed as a group project and guided by a greater amount of classroom instruction. Students in groups of four posted their games along with the code, and were asked to play the games designed by the three other groups before looking at the code that Inform7 translated into gameplay.
This structure created an identifiable divide between author and audience, and allowed for a direct discussion of narrative production, symbol, icon, and metaphor. The program uses binary logic (i.e. one thing cannot be two things) within an English language code to produce games. Giving “objects” (which are defined by description, portability, and/or their ability to contain other objects) names helped students understand the arbitrary nature of language and concepts like simulacra. For instance, a container is given size by the decoding audience: there is no difference between a “wallet” and a “bucket” unless the programmer provides a difference. Using language to define meaning, and illustrating the degree to which this takes place in everyday life is a central benefit to this project.
Putting the student in the position of the creator allows the student to more clearly understand how creation takes place as well. In my second attempt with this project, students worked around coding limitations in ways that were not apparent to their intended audience when playing. One group built a door called “the laptop”, locked it with “the flashdrive” and then named each attached room a different URL address. This created a user experience of interacting with a spatially static computer, while the translating program understood what was happening as geographical movement and location. Once students outside of the group both looked at the code designed to create this world and had played the game itself, they began to comprehend the degree to which
narrative can potentially step outside of perceived media limitations. Additionally, students who either built or played this specific game were then able to more clearly engage in close reading and authorship when they were confronted with the digital illusion of reality, as well as understand the benefits and meaning production of metaphor.
These were only a few of the ways integrating this process into classroom activity allowed for a deeper and more apparent discussion of the abilities one has access to as a writer as well as the methods of readership which take place invisibly around various socially constructed symbols. Allowing for programs like Inform7, and for the creation of more specialized programming in the classroom like it, is the first important step to bridging the digital divide in a way that will provide students with clear pedagogical connections to necessary comprehension and critical thinking skills.
For those curious, the links to Inform7 (the program used to build these games) and Frotz (the program used to play them) are below. Think of Inform7 as the software (i.e. videogame disc) and Frotz as the hardware (Console system) if the process seems confusing:
June 4th, 2013
Please join us for the Year-End Colloquium for Graduate Students in “BAM.”
Designated Emphasis in Book, Archive, and Manuscript Studies – http://bam.ucr.edu
Friday, June 7, 10:00am to Noon
English Department Conference Room (HMNSS 2212)
Presentations by Steve Anderson, Cori Knight, and Heather Van Mouwerik
Display of printshop projects by Rebecca Addicks, Ann Garascia, Cori Knight, Jessica Roberson, and Anne Sullivan
This will also be a celebration of the new Mellon Workshop Grant awarded to the Material Cultures of the Book Working Group – http://bookhistory.ucr.edu
May 12th, 2013
Cindy Keefer, Archivist, Curator & Director . Center for Visual Music
Preserving Visual Music : The Archives of the Center for Visual Music
THURSDAY . May 30 . 4:30 PM . INTN 1113 . Refreshments served .
Cindy Keefer, Director of the Center for Visual Music Los Angeles, will discuss and screen work by pioneers of kinetic art, abstract animation and pre-digital cinema from CVM’s archives. CVM is a Los Angeles archive dedicated to visual music, experimental animation and abstract media. CVM preserves and promotes films by Oskar Fischinger, Jordan Belson, Charles Dockum, Mary Ellen Bute, Jules Engel, Harry Smith and others, as well as contemporary artists. Keefer will screen work from CVM’s archives by Fischinger and Belson, plus Dockum’s Mobilcolor Projections, Bute’s Abstronics (an early oscilloscope film), a short Bute documentary, and more. She will also discuss Belson’s now legendary 1950s Vortex Concerts, CVM’s work with the Fischinger legacy, current preservation work, and Raumlichtkunst, the new HD 3-screen reconstruction of Fischinger’s 1920s multiple-projector performances, recently exhibited at the Whitney Museum, the Tate Modern, and scheduled for exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris in summer 2013.
This is the last event CDH will host for the 2012-2013 season. Please join us for this exciting presentation.