Category: Editors’ Choice

Editors’ Choice: A Broader Purpose

The weather prevents me from being there physically, but this is a transcript of my remarks for “Varieties of Digital Humanities,” MLA, Jan 5, 2018.

Using numbers to understand cultural history is often called “cultural analytics”—or sometimes, if we’re talking about literary history in particular, “distant reading.” The practice is older than either name: sociologists, linguists, and adventurous critics like Janice Radway have been using quantitative methods for a long time. But over the last twenty years, numbers have begun to have a broader impact on literary study, because we’ve learned to use them in a wider range of ways. We no longer just count things that happen to be easily counted (individual words, for instance, or books sold). Instead scholars can start with literary questions that really interest readers, and find ways to model them. 

Read full post here.

Editors’ Choice: “Material and Digital Rhetorics: Openings for Feminist Action”

It’s time for our “Material and Digital Rhetorics: Openings for Feminist Action” blog carnival to come to a close…In October when we shared our CFP on topics tied to feminist theory and practice, digital rhetoric, and new materialism, we had two goals in mind: (1) to better understand current feminist digital rhetoric concerns and (2) to consider what feminist new materialist perspectives offer to how we think about and define the work of digital rhetoric.

At the heart of this call, we aimed to gain a stronger awareness of what openings for feminist action may be possible in attending to our digital/material worlds. As this carnival comes to a close, three openings stand out.

Find links to the posts in this roundup here: Wrap Up for “Material and Digital Rhetorics: Openings for Feminist Action”

Editors’ Choice: Distant Reading after Moretti

The question I want to explore today is this: what do we do about distant reading, now that we know that Franco Moretti, the man who coined the phrase “distant reading,” and who remains its most famous exemplar, is among the men named as a result of the #MeToo movement.

I feel deeply for his victims. But given the context of this panel, what I want to focus on, today, is how his actions might prompt us to revisit some more longstanding issues regarding gender, power, and distant reading (which, following Andrew Goldstone, I’ll use in the lowercase-d lowercase-r sense to refer to the subset of computational methods that derive from statistical modeling and computational linguistics that are most commonly applied to analyze texts at scale).

Because sexual harassment is a structural, as well as personal problem, as Sara Ahmed has recently observed. By describing it a structural problem, Ahmed calls attention to how sexual harassment is sustained not only by the harassers themselves, but also by the institutions that shelter them. She explains how the confidential nature of most institutional inquiries ensures that “people remain, networks stay alive, and structures and processes are not put under investigation.” This is in large part because no one outside of the individual actors gets to know what happened, and as a result, the structural nature of the problem never becomes visible.

Read the full post here: Distant Reading after Moretti | Lauren F. Klein

Editors’ Choice: Imaging the First Printed Edition of Euclid’s Elements

My last piece of work of 2017 was a treat, and worth resurrecting this blog for. Some time ago, Tabitha Tuckett in UCL Special Collections and I had a stimulating chat which sparked a handful of potentially intriguing projects. Today’s was to see whether we could find any interesting features associated with the printed diagrams in the margins of the first printed edition of Euclid’s Elements.

Euclid wrote the Elements in about 300BC and it effectively defined mathematics for the next two thousand years. He wrote it in Greek (some of it is probably a compilation of earlier works) and it was translated into Latin but it eventually became lost to Western Europe. Fortunately, it was translated into Arabic and found its way to a remarkable monk called Adelard of Bath who translated it (possibly three times) and other scientific works into Latin in the twelfth century.

The Gutenberg Bible was printed in the 1450s, but the earliest printing techniques were unable to reproduce the diagrams which were needed to accompany the text in the Elements. These are mainly lines, circles and arcs of circles. Text was printed with metal type, dropped capitals were added with carved wooden blocks and then the rubricator came and painted on the red (‘rubric’) highlights (I learnt a lot today!). That was all standard printing practice by the 1480s, but in the dedication to the first printed edition of the Elements, the printer (a chap called Erhardt Ratdolt) says that for the first time, he’d worked out how to print diagrams but wasn’t going to say how he did it. His methods are still unknown. It is believed that he used strips of metal which, as a printer, he would have had in his workshop, bent them to shape and embedded them in a supporting matrix such as wax. UCL Special Collections have a copy of the 1482 first edition (and the 1491 second edition and 400 others, many of which have been digitised).

The question that Tabitha posed was whether we could detect and image depressions in the page which resulted from the printing process which might give clues as to the methods used to print the diagram.

Read the full post: Imaging the first printed edition of Euclid’s Elements | mainlymedicalphysics

DHNow: 2017 in Review


Digital Humanities Now will be taking a break until January 9, but before we go, we’d like to take the time to wrap up 2017. This November marked nine years of publication for Digital Humanities Now. Through the work of our dedicated staff and our generous community of volunteer editorsDHNow continues to build a new model for scholarly communication based on open scholarship, community participation, and attribution.

Our Numbers

Our statistics from 2017 testify to the continuing dynamism and value of open-access scholarship in the digital humanities. Over the course of the year, we featured an average of two to three Editors’ Choice pieces each week for a total of 104 published pieces. We also published an average of seven news items each week for a total of 311 items.

The DHNow community keeps growing. We had almost 33,000 users and nearly 100,000 pageviews on our site this year, and we now have just over 26,500 followers on Twitter.

Our Editors-at-Large are still the key to DHNow’s success. In 2017, a total of 83 people volunteered their time to serve as Editors-at-Large for at least one week and, on average, four separate weeks. Of our Editors-at-Large, 64 were new volunteers, and 19 were returning editors. Each week, DHNow had an average of seven Editors-at-Large nominating content for publication. We extend our sincerest gratitude for their time and effort.

New Staff and New Roles

Managing such a large publication also depends on the hard work and dedication of the staff at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM). This fall, new Digital History Fellows and a new Graduate Research Assistant began serving rotations as Editor-in-Chief. Bringing their own diverse experiences in digital humanities and digital public history, LaQuanda Walters Cooper, Greta Swain, and Caitlin Hartnett have all contributed fresh perspectives to DHNow. The role of Editor-in-Chief is essential for ensuring that DHNow remains a valuable resource for the field, and we thank all of our Editors-in-Chief for their expertise and enthusiasm.

2017 marked the departure of Managing Editor Amanda Morton, whose commitment and guidance helped expand and improve DHNow over the years that she worked on the publication. Joshua Catalano has stepped into her role, joining our other Managing Editor, Amanda Regan.

In 2017, Laura Crossley joined the DHNow staff as part of her second year of the Digital History Fellowship. Over the summer, she served as full-time Editor-in-Chief. She has also taken on the role of Site Manager, formatting content for publication, conducting correspondence, running DHNow‘s Twitter account, and taking care of other day-to-day administrative tasks.

Join us again in 2018!

On behalf of the DHNow staff, thank you for another great year. We look forward to publishing more digital humanities news and scholarship in January 2018. Don’t forget to join us again in the new year by nominating RSS/Atom feeds with relevant digital humanities content and by volunteering to serve as Editor-at-Large for a week.

Editors’ Choice: Stewardship in the “Age of Algorithms”

Creative Commons image by Conor Lawless via Flickr

This paper explores pragmatic approaches that might be employed to document the behavior of large, complex socio-technical systems (often today shorthanded as “algorithms”) that centrally involve some mixture of personalization, opaque rules, and machine learning components. Thinking rooted in traditional archival methodology — focusing on the preservation of physical and digital objects, and perhaps the accompanying preservation of their environments to permit subsequent interpretation or performance of the objects — has been a total failure for many reasons, and we must address this problem. The approaches presented here are clearly imperfect, unproven, labor-intensive, and sensitive to the often hidden factors that the target systems use for decision-making (including personalization of results, where relevant); but they are a place to begin, and their limitations are at least outlined. Numerous research questions must be explored before we can fully understand the strengths and limitations of what is proposed here. But it represents a way forward. This is essentially the first paper I am aware of which tries to effectively make progress on the stewardship challenges facing our society in the so-called “Age of Algorithms;” the paper concludes with some discussion of the failure to address these challenges to date, and the implications for the roles of archivists as opposed to other players in the broader enterprise of stewardship — that is, the capture of a record of the present and the transmission of this record, and the records bequeathed by the past, into the future. It may well be that we see the emergence of a new group of creators of documentation, perhaps predominantly social scientists and humanists, taking the front lines in dealing with the “Age of Algorithms,” with their materials then destined for our memory organizations to be cared for into the future.


Read the full paper here.

Editors’ Choice: Institutionalizing Digital Scholarship

Creative Commons Image by Paul Lowry via Flickr

I recently gave a talk at Brown University on “Institutionalizing Digital Scholarship,” and upon reflection it struck me that the lessons I tried to convey were more generally applicable. Everyone prefers to talk about innovation, rather than institutionalization, but the former can only have a long-term impact if the latter occurs. What at first seems like a dreary administrative matter is actually at the heart of real and lasting change.

New ideas and methods are notoriously difficult to integrate into large organizations. Institutions and the practitioners within them, outside of and within academia (perhaps especially within academia?), too frequently claim to be open-minded but often exhibit a close-mindedness when the new impinges upon their area of work or expertise. One need only look at the reaction to digital humanities and digital scholarship over the last two decades, and the antagonism and disciplinary policing it is still subject to, often from adjacent scholars.

Read more here.

Editors’ Choice: Is Google Home a History Calculator?

An image of a Google Home

In their 2005 article in First Monday, Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig recount the story of a remarkably prescient colleague, Peter Stearns, who “proposed the idea of a history analog to the math calculator, a handheld device that would provide students with names and dates to use on exams—a Cliolator, he called it, a play on the muse of history and the calculator.” [1] Cohen and Rosenzweig took Stearns’s idea and ran with it. They set out to build the Cliolator in the form of a software algorithm called “H-Bot” which served as a history fact finder, scouring the web for information to answer questions about the past. Even with all its limitations and the limits to what was available online in 2004-05, H-Bot was remarkably accurate. It was especially adept at identifying dates and simple definitions. Where it fell short was in more complex questions, including “hows” and “whys”.

Since 2005, the web has grown well beyond the scale of information available to H-Bot, providing a much larger reservoir of data to crawl. And artificial intelligence and machine learning software have brought us much closer to the so-called Cliolator. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple have all developed quasi-artificial intelligence voice assistants that can parse natural language queries and supply answers drawn from the web… Are these the ultimate versions of the Cliolator? I decided to put one to the test to see how well this form of artificial intelligence could perform in my introductory Canadian history course.

Read full post here.

Editors’ Choice: Decolonizing the Digital Humanities

A comic cartoon with the following thought bubbles: An archivist saying "We can't help it that we only digitize white male authors! People of color didn't start writing until after the twentieth century!" Several other bubbles coming from a bookshelf say "The Mahabharata," "The Analects," "Phillis Wheatley's Poetry," and "The Straits Chinese Magazine."

This past week, I had the opportunity to give a talk as part of Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage’s new US Latina/o Digital Humanities (#usLdh) Incubator series. If you missed it, you can access our group notes on Google Drive or Storify. I’ve also started a Zotero Group with a growing bibliography related to US Latina/o Digital Humanities (which includes sources on DH, decolonial theory, postcolonial theory, and more). Feel free to join and contribute to the growing bibliography!

My talk and this blog post are not meant as an in-depth analysis of decolonizing DH, instead, my goal is to provide a brief overview of the relationship between coloniality and the archive as well as a discussion of decoloniality not just as a theory but also as a methodology. This is meant to serve as a springboard for further discussion on decolonial DH methodology.

Read full post here.

Editors’ Choice: Data for Black Lives

Every aspect of our social and economic lives. New data systems have tremendous potential to empower communities of color. Tools like statistical modeling, data visualization, and crowd-sourcing, in the right hands, are powerful instruments for fighting bias, building progressive movements, and promoting civic engagement. But history tells a different story — one in which data is too often wielded as an instrument of oppression, reinforcing inequality and perpetuating injustice. Redlining was a data-driven enterprise that resulted in the systematic exclusion of Black communities from key financial services. More recent trends like predictive policing, risk-based sentencing, and predatory lending are troubling variations on the same theme. Today, discrimination is a high-tech enterprise. In this opening panel, we discuss the role that data and technology can and should play in Black communities.

Watch the discussion here.