Category Archives: digital humanities

Migrating

Today, this blog is migrating to my new domain, kathryntomasek.org.

See you there!

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“Old Stuff”

It’s such fun when students’ affinities echo comments from various spaces in a professor’s life.  In one of my current classes, a student revealed during a recent introductory visit to the college archives that they like “old stuff.”  And this morning, I heard a colleague from the Wheaton College Department of Art and Art History interviewed in an NPR story about a local repository of “old stuff,” the Providence Athanaeum.

As I listened to my colleague and his partner describe the vintage items they were sporting as they attended an event at the Athanaeum, I discovered one reason the student’s reference to “old stuff” prompted my smile.  The affinity is one I share with many people in my life.  More than one member of my family feels a deep fondness for things that remind us of and connect us to the past.

Certainly, my own practices as a historian are firmly grounded in a sometime-fault that Jill Lepore once denoted the vice of “historians who love too much.” And on campus, my colleague from Art History is hosting a faculty salon focused on the place of the personal in our professional research and writing.

As these events converge with an opportunity I had last week to share my own pride and pleasure in the practices of digital scholarship at Wheaton College with visiting members of our Board of Trustees, I feel again sincere appreciation for the privileges that come with doing work I love.

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Browsing the Stacks: Braille, Code, and Digital Potentials

As I rode the elevator up to my classroom yesterday morning, I found myself staring unseeing at the Braille numbers on the panel, and I recognized the positions of the dots as a code.  Which is not of course, much of a discovery since Braille does indeed use a system of bumps positioned in particular ways to translate visual language into one readable through touch.  But even though Braille constitutes an example of code that is present in our daily lives, I would guess that many sighted people fail to recognize it as such.

So imagine my pleasure at seeing yesterday’s post on the blog of the Digital Public Library of America.  In “Redefining Reading,” Ben Naddaff-Hafrey notes that the pleasures of stack browsing have generally been denied to readers who lack the advantage of sight.  He writes about the Internet Archive’s use of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) to digitize a million books that apps can present as speech for print disabled readers.  He closes by noting that there is more to digital books than simply turning the physical into the digital.

I would add that whilst we often hear about how proponents of digital culture overestimate the potential of the world we are creating, I’m more impressed with how we underestimate it.  Recently I’ve spent a lot of time touting the learning potential for undergraduates in the processes of transcription and coding.  Since the elusive quality of “finished” products in digital scholarship are well known, we would do well to take into account the advantages we gain from including students in the process.  And I would echo Naddaff-Hafrey.  We who transform physical objects into digital ones cannot know the uses to which our “products” might be put.  That’s part of the joy of digital history.

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Inspiration and Call to Arms

Yesterday, I attended a “Tech n Talk” presented by LIS Humanities Liaison Pete Coco and Film and New Media Studies Associate Professor Josh Stenger.  Even though I usually spend Mondays working at home, I consider the time on campus well spent.

Pete demonstrated Creative Commons, whose licenses I use, and showed us the SPARC clause that authors can add to standard publication contracts.  I hadn’t yet seen a demo of a CC image search–or how hard Google makes it to search for freely available images.

Josh offered not only a brief history of copyright from the Constitution forward but also information about ways in which publishers and others interfere with the ways we use devices we have purchased, including but far from limited to protections against “piracy.”  I particularly appreciated his discussion of the way that new iterations of protections of intellectual property assume consumers are guilty without opportunity to prove innocence.

The presentations meshed well with two great pieces I had come across during my morning troll of the web:  Barbara Fister’s “Joining the Movement: A Call to Action” in Library Journal and a blogpost she referenced, Steve Lawson’s “Publishers Hate You. You Should Hate Them Back.”  Both of these pieces affirm my sense of the connections among scholarly communication, libraries, and digital scholarship.

And that change is gonna come.

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SOPA Protest

For information on today’s internet blackout to protest SOPA/PIPA legislation, follow this link.

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Aptitude

I’ve been thinking lately about the career aptitude test that my classmates and I took in  high school.  I remember the setting well: the high school cafeteria.  I sat at the second or third table down, on the far left side, facing the stage—roughly the place where my friends and I sat at lunch every day.  (How much of this is genuine memory?)

I have always tested well, so I have a generally positive memory of the test itself.  I remember kind of enjoying the variety of questions, though perhaps having been a bit frustrated with ones that required an ability to imagine how two-dimensional images would look once they had been folded into three-dimensional objects.

And I remember the results of the test, a recommendation that I should do work focused on organizing things, like being a file clerk.  Me and Harvey Pekar, right?

What interests me about this memory of the results (I wish I had the actual results, but I think they’re probably long lost) is how it could be read to be connected to the way that my interest in the kind of document markup I can do with TEI tends towards greater granularity.  I tend not to make use of those best practices for libraries that I mentioned last week.

And this reminds me of how I responded to a question Gerda Lerner asked in the first research seminar I took in graduate school.  She asked whether every person who had ever lived belonged in a dictionary of biography, and I said yes.  Which was the wrong answer because she was asking us to think about how, as historians, we would assess significance and apply that assessment to the formation of a research plan.  I didn’t like the idea of making those kinds of choices.

But one of the things I do like about the idea of what we are doing with the Wheaton College Digital History Project is that we are making available (eventually) documents that have not previously been known.  And I understand this activity to some degree as yet another positive answer to Gerda’s question.  In effect, we are saying that the fact these documents have not been used in the past is less a product of their insignificance than of chance.  Which is one of the things historians know about the documents we use as evidence anyway.  Whatever sources we have available to us come to us as a result of decisions that do not actually reflect their significance in some grand scheme so much as their significance to individuals for reasons that often have nothing to do with our research questions.

Sometimes, when my friends reflect on the work that I have come to be doing over the past seven years, they say that I could do this work as a librarian or an archivist.  (I’m not entirely sure whether I agree with them.)  And I wonder how close that means I have come to following the advice that resulted from that career aptitude test I took in the high school cafeteria all those years ago.

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