Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bringing the DH to the next generation

My thesis work is based on my observation of the need for digital humanities education in younger grades. Digital humanities, which can broadly be explained as “the application of computational tools and methods to traditional liberal arts disciplines,” is an observably large umbrella, under which are grouped tools and methodologies which can be applied to different fields in different ways.

Although the Digital Age is dated within the last few decades, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the average American home housed a desktop computer. Therefore, computers are still a relatively modern technology, particularly in schools. As recently as 2007, it was not required that a high school student have access to a laptop computer during the school day, and PC computer labs were still widely in use. More recently, however, school districts have switched to providing laptops to students, and more typing is done than writing on a daily basis.

All this considered, literary endeavors remain rooted in traditional close reading methodologies and digital technology is merely used for presentations and traditional research, with the rest of its powers delegated to STEM classrooms.

Average English majors stay within the four walls of the English department for the extent of their undergraduate career, where they are exposed to traditional literary criticism and creative writing outlets. Many continue through grad school without ever hearing of the digital humanities. Although interest in the field is growing fast, scholars and DH departments are scattered throughout the country, and across disciplines and, in order for a DH program to grow, cross-disciplinary collaboration is crucial. There is no simpler rationalization for this that the fact than most literary scholars are naturally not well versed in the technological intricacies that could aid their own work.

Although, as noted, the digital humanities can be a daunting field, this does not need to be the case. My mission for this paper is to unpack methodologies and tools within the field, in order to make it accessible to a person with average computer skills, while addressing the following problems.

First of all, I seek to discredit the traditional fear within the literary community that technology stands in opposition to the humanities. Technology, like our eyes’ ability to read, is just another tool in the arsenal of scholarship, and the digital humanities offer methodologies as helpful as the methodologies that are tried-and-true. If it is possible for a computer program to analyze information and deliver a report of word frequencies, or map the use of a phrase throughout an entire corpus, shouldn’t it be available to an inquiring student?

Second, I believe that, in order to build a field, it’s important to start from the ground up. When the digital humanities field is relegated to graduate work, it’s not accessible to students who might be interested from a younger age. For that reason, I seek to educate high school teachers in the use of methodologies and tools that are easily grasped, and therefore easily taught. Methodology categories will be focused on first- visualizations, mapping, distant reading and text analysis- and then broken down into programs that might be useful to the average teacher- such as Ngram, Voyant, and Hypothes.is.

Third, I believe this is important because it has the opportunity to serve cross-disciplinary purposes. People interested in the digital humanities span the academic spectrum, from computer scientists with an interest in coding, to historians, to literary theorists. If such a field is accessible from a young age, it may be possible to bridge the gaping divides between departments, and inspire students with cross-curricular talents.

I plan to tackle this project through the lens of dystopian literature, a genre I have chosen for a few reasons. In addition to being my personal favorite genre, books such as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World are often on school required reading lists, however they aren't as commonly required as Shakespeare or Jane Austen. In choosing these books, I choose stories that are familiar, although not overdone. In regard to theme, dystopian fiction is usually born from the fear of uprising, or technological or governmental control-- which I think it’s an interesting frame for a project that is often rooted in technological suspicion.

Ultimately, I believe there is validity in introducing technology to a younger generation in a way that is accessible and interesting, so that we may encourage future scholars to collaborate across departments and use available tools to their fullest potential.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Meet the Librarians

Librarians are significantly less harmful than Welcome to Night Vale would have one believe. However, I'm not taking any chances...


I didn't know what to expect from my meeting with one of the Kean librarians, so I went in hopeful that anything I might learn could be helpful. I have friends studying to be research librarians, so I am aware that a good librarian is a handy research partner. Was this the case at Kean? I have to admit that the lady I spoke with, Linda, was fairly helpful.

One of my questions for Linda was regarding copyright law in relation to the use of e-books, and she went above and beyond to give me an impressive amount of information regarding copyright policies. She admitted that she wasn't well versed in the matter, but she compiled an impressive amount of information on the topic. I also asked Linda to help me find sites upon which I could access free e-books, and she gave me a list of four different sites to explore, each of which linked out to several more sites worth of resources.

After we spoke about my questions, she showed me how to use the library website to access resources available both through the Kean library and through inter-library loan sources.

I have to admit that I learned more than I expected to from the experience. In all honesty, I think that I could have done the same research and found similar resources, but it was really nice to get help from someone whose job is to do research and help students. I think that there are some thesis-specific things that I would need to research myself, considering that I am entrenched in the field and have a better understanding, but this meeting was good for getting help with a more general topic. 

All things considered, not bad. As I am fond of saying, menzamenz


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

An Adventure in Google Ngram

In these next few weeks, my plan is to use my blog posts to explore programs that I am considering using in my thesis work and, since I'm already familiar with Voyant and Hypothes.is, I'm going to start this week by researching Google Ngram.

In one conversation between Alan and myself, the topic of accessibility came up, and we tossed around the issue of how to determine if a tool is reasonably easy to learn. Between myself and my target group, few DH newcomers are going to have the time or expertise to learn the more complicated programs. As I discover tools that I'm interested in using, I'm going to have to come with with an accessibility scale, in order to determine the level of difficulty at which to rank each individual tool. I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to do this yet, but right now my standard is simple-- can Google teach me?

Not knowing much about Ngram, I decided to do as all good students do, and immediately check Wikipedia (I'm getting my Masters degree and it hasn't failed me yet, alright?). Here's how Wikipedia describes the tool:
An online search engine that charts frequencies of any set of comma-delimited search strings using a yearly count of n-grams found in sources printed between 1500 and 2008 in Google's text corpora in English, Chinese (simplified), French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, or Spanish; there are also some specialized English corpora, such as American English, British English, English Fiction, and English One Million; the 2009 version of most corpora is also available.
The program can search for a single word or a phrase, including misspellings or gibberish. The n-grams are matched with the text within the selected corpus, optionally using case-sensitive spelling (which compares the exact use of uppercase letters), and, if found in 40 or more books, are then plotted on a graph.
This seems to be quite a powerful tool! What interested me most in this blurb is that the search engine has been programmed to work with such an amazingly large corpus. Although much modern work is still within copyright, it's amazing to be that one program can harness books written over the course of 500 years-- that's astronomical! From this alone, it seems that Ngram will be quite useful to my work.

My next step was to Google "Google Ngram tutorial" and see what I could learn. The first result seemed helpful, so I clicked and this is what I found.

Following the instructions on the webpage, I went to Ngram viewer, typed in a few phrases, and chose a time frame. Because I'm sticking with my dystopian literature theme, I tried to use phrases that I thought would lead to helpful results, and made my time frame span from 1850 to 2000.

The following screen grab shows my results from messing around a bit with the program. It's quite interesting, although I'm surprised that my keywords aren't more successful-- although maybe I'm just not understanding the results. I'm going to tweet out the link to my blog and see if anyone with more knowledge of Ngram responds.

Here are the results from my first searches:


Just from these results, it's interesting to me that the phrase "utopia" spiked in the 1960s, and this is the kind of thing that would lead research questions. In the case of a high school student, this could be a spark that would lead to research for a paper topic. Already, there are good, useful reasons for a teacher to delve into this program.

Lifewire (see above link) also had helpful information for drilling down into more specific tag related searches, which I tried with the search term "Big Brother_NOUN" -- as to differentiate Orwell's all-seeing government from books about familial relations.


How cool is this?? 1984 was published in 1949 and, low and behold, the term spiked around that time period, before dropping off and slowly climbing again. So interesting!

I decided to play around a bit more, and in doing so I found another cool use of the tags feature. I searched "Orwellian" earlier and was less than impressed with the search results. However, this time around I searched "Orwellian_NOUN" and found much more to talk about. Quite interesting how the term has spiked in use in the past 30+ years...


In my browsing, I also found that Google's Ngram help page was useful in picking up some more tips and tricks about the program, such as the following search enhancers:

So much to learn! So much power to harness!
From Google's help page, I learned about the => modifier tag, which tracks term dependencies. For example, on the page the writer explains how the word "tasty" often modifies the word "dessert," there one might search tasty=>dessert. For my purposes I searched utopian=>society:


Strangely, I couldn't find significant results for "dystopian=>society" but the search continues!

Luckily, I had success in my search for "dystopia" as the root of the sentence in this next example, in which I obtained results via the comment _ROOT_=>dystopia. As you can see: in 1994-1995, the topic of dystopia spiked:


Another command recommended by the Ngram info page was [entry]=>*_NOUN, which takes the entry you put in, and uses the * in order to fill in the top ten noun substitutions for the search. For example, I searched utopia=>*_NOUN and my results showed:


As you can see in this graph, the top ranking results is "utopia=>Morris", which spiked in 1977. Who's Morris? I have no idea, but this is the reason that this program is great for research!

Here are some more results for dystopia=>*_NOUN, with the graph settings adjusted slightly:


If you can't tell, I am extremely excited by this adventure into Ngram and am quite hopeful that this will be excellent for my thesis work!

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*Semi-unrelated aside:

Although my thesis work is based in literature, I was interested in the implications of using Ngram to track the intricacies of language. The very first sentence of the Lifewire link reads:
"A Ngram, also commonly called an N-gram is a statistical analysis of text or speech content to find n (a number) of some sort of item in the text. It could be all sorts of things, like phonemes, prefixes, phrases, or letters."
"Phonemes, prefixes" caught my interest immediately. Outside of literature, I am incredible interested in phonetics and the sounds and pronunciations that make up English, among other languages. Ngram may prove to be useful to me in other areas in my life, it would be cool to see how it could be used to trace language throughout the years. The above-mentioned Google link also had a great deal of information regarding how the program might be used to track language trends. Excuse the aside, but that's what I love about research and learning, you're never done falling down new rabbit holes!

Question for the Kean Librarians

If you aren't familiar with the podcast, Welcome to Nightvale, than the assignment to go speak to the research librarians at Kean's library is a perfectly innocuous assignment that will either end with helpful information or, at the very worst, an hour of lost time.

If you are familiar with Welcome to Nightvale, you should understand the following image.


And, if you're not familiar with Welcome to Night Vale, here's your homework: Episode 1.

Anyway, I've made my appointment to meet with Kean research librarian Linda Cifelli on Thursday, October 12th at 2:45 p.m. I've thought about what I want to ask her, and I emailed her the following question:
I would like to learn more about finding public domain books online and/or about the copyright laws surrounding the usage of copyrighted texts for research purposes. My thesis is centered around using computer programs/tools in order to analyze literature, so you can see why it's important for me to understand fair use, and to know where to find public domain texts.
I'm interested to see what she can show me, and I'm hopeful that the Kean library will prove to be a valuable resource!




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Gathering Inspiration

Hello again, readers. Let me start this blog off by saying that I am so grateful for the responses generated by last week's post! I received so many helpful ideas via tweet, comment, and email, and I am floored by the helpfulness of this community.

In the past week, I've gathered excellent resources for my project, and I'm going to list some of them here. First and foremost, I'm going to share my incredibly old-fashioned web of ideas that I made a few weeks ago, and which has been slowly growing in size.

Don't you feel like you're back in elementary school? 
This web actually helped me a great deal. I'm a huge pen-and-paper fan, and it helps me to compile all of my ideas into one place. That being said, last class we were introduced to a few compilation tools that I have already found to be helpful. 

First up: Evernote. Evernote has been great for me because it's a program, app, website, and Chome extension that help the user to compile links from all over the internet into one place, using tags and folders to categorize things. Here's a glimpse of my saves thus far:


Next up, Feedly. There is so much on the internet, and it's impossible to track it all, but Feedly has been incredibly helpful. I'm going to attach another screenshot below to show some my DH feed but to put it simply, wow. Feedly has led me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, in the best possible way. I've spent hours pouring over links that I've found through the syndicated blogs on my Feedly dashboard.


Since class last week, I've thought a lot about how I want to frame my thesis, and how I want to go about presenting my findings. As I've said, the most important thing in this project is going to be the presentation of my findings to an audience of educators in the most understandable way possible, and the programs I use need to reflect this. I'm considering breaking my thesis into sections based on the accessibility of the programs I talk about. Perhaps something along the lines of "accessible," "more advanced," and "advanced," based on the programs that I decide to include in my work.

As for programs, it was brought to my attention that something as accessible as hypothes.is could be incredibly useful to both students and teachers for the sake of annotating texts, working in groups, having text-based discussions, and tagging things that might be important later on. One Twitter user, @dr_jdean, sent me this link to a project that was done using hypothes.is, which I found quite interesting. I have personally used hypothes.is to annotate articles both for class and for personal use, and I used it to edit a friends eLit thesis project, which was an incredibly seamless experience (and, as a nod to her excellent thesis, you can check it out here. In addition to being online electronic literature, she published it on Amazon, isn't that cool?). I think this could be a great tool to talk about in my own thesis work.

Programs like Voyant and Wordle have also come to my attention as things that would be exciting to show students as examples of simple text analysis by way of word frequency. When I was first interested in DH, I was fascinated by word clouds. I think this would be interesting to any student, and could lead to interesting discussions and writing prompts. 

Google Ngram viewer would also be an interesting text analysis tool, as it harnesses the data of all of the books on Google books to search for word frequencies. This could be a great tool for text analysis, or for researching authors or themes in literary genres. I am still new to Ngram, so exploring this will be a learning experience for me.

It has also been suggested to me that Google Maps is a tool that could be used to track the lives of authors or locations in texts, in order to present a visual representation of a written story. In considering this option, I thought about authors like the Beat poets, whose lives would make for a very interesting interactive map. Recently, my fiancĂ© and I took an incredible walking tour around NYC, guided by a guidebook called The Beat Generation in New York City and, although it's a great guidebook, it occurred to me that it would also make for an excellent DH project, as it could help bring literature to life for students. 

I would consider the use of programs such as Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel for the sake of text analysis to be more difficult, but I'm still toying with the idea of including such options in my work as an advanced method of DH that might interest students who are more tech savvy. I'll have to try to learn it first myself, before deciding if it's an accessible method for my thesis.

In terms of the texts that I'll be using as basis for the research in my thesis, I've come up against the issue of copyright laws, fair use, and public domain. Many new works of literature are firmly guarded by copyright, so it would be difficult to obtain text files for research purposes. This has led me to consider options that aren't copyrighted, both new and old. The dystopian novels I'm currently considering, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World, are no longer within copyright, so I would turn to sites like Project Gutenberg in order to obtain their text files. However, this also opens up the possibility of exploring works that are recently published and not protected by copyright laws-- something else to consider in the shaping of my work. 

Last but not least, I'm awaiting the arrival of two books from our great god, Amazon: Distant Reading by Franco Moretti which, as a student interested in DH, I feel the need to own, and Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby Dick in the English Classrom by Henry Jenkins, which was recommended as a helpful resource in my endeavor.

I'm getting more and more excited for this project! This was a particularly good week for research, and I can't wait to see how much more comes of my idea. As usual, comments and suggestions are always welcome!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

#DigitalHumanities community, can you help me?

Happy Wednesday everyone!

So, today I come to the research and Digital Humanities communities looking for help/direction with my thesis work. As you can learn from my first post, I have an idea of what I would like to do with my thesis. To recap:
I still consider myself very much a newcomer to this field, however I believe that this status puts me in the unique position to be a newcomer speaking to other newcomers-- that is, teachers who have not yet fully incorporated digital methodologies into their classrooms. I'd like my thesis to be an introductory walk-through of 3 (or so) Digital Humanities methodologies that a high school English teachers might utilize in their classrooms, in order to introduce their students to the field, alongside the traditional lessons in close reading and text analysis. I believe that the modern student's work can be enhanced by the DH. To narrow down the scope of potential tools, I am most interested in visualizations and text analysis. 
I plan on choosing a handful of books to accompany my walk-through of DH methodologies and to serve as examples throughout the thesis. DH methodologies could be applied to unpack any genre of literature, I could use Shakespeare or Dickens or Austen, however, this is where I would like to tie in another subject I am passionate about: dystopian literature. In addition to my love of 1984  and Brave New World, and my personal interest in unpacking such texts, I think that dystopian novels introduce an interesting lens to my project. Considering how dystopias are often crafted on advanced technology, fear, and control, this might suggest something about how us traditionalist "liberal arts-types" feel about bringing the digital into our text based work.
The first important tenant of my idea is that the methodologies that I work with need to be easily accessible and understandable to anyone who is new to the field. My talents, unfortunately, do not extent to Python and other such programming languages, but I still believe that I, and others like me, can use pre-built programs to lead our students into the 21st century of text analysis.

Next in importance is my reason for being interested. When I was in school, we had a computer lab filled with clunky PCs on which made Power Point presentations with word art, and learned to type using Mavis Beacon (and somehow I still don't type correctly). Now, kids have ChromeBooks in every classroom, and type more than they write. Even so, DH is a relatively unknown field to the younger generation

The first I heard of the DH was in my Masters program, and I believe strongly that kids should learn about such possibilities sooner. Just like schools are developing and pushing STEM programs, I believe we need to be introducing the DH in our English classrooms but, to successfully do this, we need to train teachers who might not be steeped in knowledge of computer programming-- and that's okay! High school is the time to whet kids' appetites for future work. I believe that they deserve to know that there is merit in the Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out that they do online. Close reading is not the only way to mine a book for ideas and, additionally, I believe that such work could also lead to cross-curricular interests, and a kid who excels in computer science might find parallel interests in literature.

That being said, can anyone help me? I'm looking for programs like Voyant that aren't terribly difficult to learn or teach, but provide a solid jumping-off point for the DH. Digital Humanities community, are you out there?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

NetSmart and the start of a new semester

Source

I can't believe the summer flew by so quickly, but I'm glad to be entering the start of my thesis work, and the beginning of my last year in my Masters degree journey! Hello all, you know me but, if you're reading this and you don't know me, my name is Marissa Candiloro. This blog is going to be dedicated to my first semester of thesis work, which we are calling #ResNetSem, and will be filled with my thesis research progress, along with responses to readings and the events of the semester.

I'll start by talking about my interests and goals in regard to my thesis. First of all, my intention post-graduation is to find a teaching job in a private, classical, Catholic, or Christian high school. I am passionate about teaching English (literature and writing) as well as the atmosphere and mission of such schools. My goal in writing my thesis is to tie my interests into a marketable project that I can show to future employers.

As for my interests, in my time at Kean I have been introduced to a group of fairly new methodologies that are aggregated under the title of "Digital Humanities" or "DH." The DH field includes many different methodologies such as mapping, text mining, and visualizations, to name a few. These methodologies serve as vehicles with which you can examine data in ways that go beyond human capabilities. My favorite example of anything done using DH methodologies is the following chart:

Read about it here
Last semester, I did an independent study that I called Intro to the Digital Humanities, wherein I read,

blogged, and learned about the field and it's methodologies. I even got to attend THATcampDC 2017, which was a great experience. You can read about my independent study here.

I still consider myself very much a newcomer to this field, however I believe that this status puts me in the unique position to be a newcomer speaking to other newcomers-- that is, teachers who have not yet fully incorporated digital methodologies into their classrooms. I'd like my thesis to be an introductory walk-through of 3 (or so) Digital Humanities methodologies that a high school English teachers might utilize in their classrooms, in order to introduce their students to the field, alongside the traditional lessons in close reading and text analysis. I believe that the modern student's work can be enhanced by the DH. To narrow down the scope of potential tools, I am most interested in visualizations and text analysis.

I plan on choosing a handful of books to accompany my walk-through of DH methodologies and to serve as examples throughout the thesis. DH methodologies could be applied to unpack any genre of literature, I could use Shakespeare or Dickens or Austen, however, this is where I would like to tie in another subject I am passionate about: dystopian literature. In addition to my love of 1984 and Brave New World, and my personal interest in unpacking such texts, I think that dystopian novels introduce an interesting lens to my project. Considering how dystopias are often crafted on advanced technology, fear, and control, this might suggest something about how us traditionalist "liberal arts-types" feel about bringing the digital into our text based work. I need to work through my ideas, but I'm excited to see where this idea takes me.

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Regarding this week's reading, I am so excited to see Howard Rhinegold's work pop up again! I have read some of Net Smart, and I have an immense amount of respect for his work. I think it's fascinating that Rhinegold dove, head first, into the digital world when it was in its infancy, and it's amazing to read his thoughts on how far it has taken us into the future.

Bringing the DH to the next generation

My thesis work is based on my observation of the need for digital humanities education in younger grades. Digital humanities, which can broa...