[It] wasn’t until the advent of Big Data in the 2000s and the rebranding of Humanities Computing as the “Digital Humanities” that it became the subject of moral panic in the broader humanities.

The literature of this moral panic is an interesting cultural phenomenon that deserves closer study…. We can use the methods of the Digital Humanities to characterise and evaluate this literature. Doing so will create a test of the Digital Humanities that has bearing on the very claims against them by critics from the broader humanities that this literature contains. I propose a very specific approach to this evaluation.

This visualization explores the ups and downs of the Bible narrative, using sentiment analysis to quantify when positive and negative events are happening:Bible sentiment analysis


Sentiment analysis involves algorithmically determining if a piece of text is positive (“I like cheese”) or negative (“I hate cheese”). Think of it as Kurt Vonnegut’s story shapes backed by quantitative data.

I ran the Viralheat Sentiment API over several Bible translations to produce a composite sentiment average for each verse. Strictly speaking, the Viralheat API only returns a probability that the given text is positive or negative, not the intensity of the sentiment. For this purpose, however, probability works as a decent proxy for intensity.

Right now Latent Semantic Analysis is the analytical tool I’m finding most useful. By measuring the strength of association between words or groups of words, LSA allows a literary historian to map themes, discourses, and varieties of diction in a given period. This approach, more than any other I’ve tried, turns up leads that are useful for me as a literary scholar. But when I talk to other people in digital humanities, I rarely hear enthusiasm for it. Why doesn’t LSA get more love? I see three reasons.

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The point of visualization is usually to reveal as much of the structure of a dataset as possible. But what if the data is sensitive or proprietary, and the person doing the analysis is not supposed to be able to know everything about it? In a paper to be presented next week at InfoVis, my Ph.D. student Aritra Dasgupta and I describe the issues involved in privacy-preserving visualization, and propose a variation of parallel coordinates that controls the amount of information shown to the user.

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Guy Massie and I recently gave a talk at the Carleton University Art Gallery on what we learned this past summer in our attempt to crowdsource local cultural heritage knowledge & memories. With the third member of our happy team, Nadine Feuerherm, we wrote a case study and have submitted it to ‘Writing History in the Digital Age‘. This born-digital volume is currently in its open peer-review phase, so we invite your comments on our work there. Below are the slides from our talk. Enjoy!

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The purpose of this ebook is to provide a brief overview of the Ruby programming language and consider ways Ruby (or any other programming language) can be applied to the day-to-day operations of humanities scholars.  Once you complete this book, you should have a good understanding of Ruby basics, be able to complete basic tasks with Ruby, and hopefully leave with a solid basis that will allow you to continue learning.

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For our third interview, I am thrilled to have a chance to chat with Brett Bobley, the CIO and Director of the Office for Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities. I wanted to catch up with him on how some of the work NEH is supporting under the Digging into Data grants might connect with issues around the preservation and access of digital content.

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Like cognitive literary studies, digital humanities must draw on other disciplines, using methods and tools that many humanities scholars aren’t comfortable with. And digital humanities has witnessed similar debates about the extent to which we must immerse ourselves in these other disciplines. Do we, as Stephen Ramsay suggests, have to know how to code, and build things? Do we have to be trained statisticians so that the our text-mining results are “statistically significant? Are we more or less rigorous than the proponents of culturomics, whose work many humanities scholars seem skeptical about? These are questions about method, and interdisciplinarity, and collaboration. And they’re not particularly new questions.