The past weeks research was mostly protest related, which is the path along which I am strongly inclined. I dug through the moratoria papers, which in a nutshell is a collection of papers based on different moratoria (read day of dialogue) that have been held on campus to address concerns that had come up as a result of protests.
Moratorium: a temporary prohibition of an activity. Synonyms: embargo, ban, prohibition, suspension, postponement, stay, stoppage, halt, freeze, standstill, respite
So I learned that the day of dialogue isn’t a new thing, it has been proposed before on campus as a solution to some of the protests that have previously been held. Moratorium, day of concern, day of dialogue; same thing, different name. On top of that, the response to the day of dialogue as a solution hasn’t changed. The one that was held in my freshman year didn’t seem to bear much fruit, the same goes for the ones that were held 30 years ago. What this revealed to me is that I can take research on protests in a different direction. Rather than picking a specific time period, comparing similar protests that occurred at different points in time and seeing how they evolve over time, or how closely they mirror each other could also be interesting.
I also stumbled across the letter that President Plimpton of Amherst College sent to President Nixon of the U.S, to which President Nixon DID reply (albeit through his assistant). I’m also constantly finding random things in the Student which aren’t necessarily tied to protests but are cool, like for instance, the opinion sections where people weren’t afraid to blatantly express what was on there minds, and then googling the alums with the most controversial posts. I’m constantly finding cool things in the digging in process but at the back of my mind I feel like going through the archives is putting off actually having to start the project. I wouldn’t call it a dead end, but I really am not sure about where to start. Hopefully now that we have Gephi out of the way, I can channel all that energy to figuring out where.
Putting proposals together was more time consuming than I anticipated it to be. We realized that this was it. There’s more at stake now at this stage. We have to propose something that we can at least try to deliver. Still, it’s exciting that we get to sort of combine all that we’ve learnt and see how it applies to possible final projects. And while we occasionally take our research questions above and beyond, its safe to say that we are building skills of thinking outside the box.
Moving from individual projects to a group proposal is tricky. The collection is large, and we’ve somehow been able to identify specific subject areas which intrigue us. We’ve started sifting through the proposals in order to find keywords that will guide us in coming up with an umbrella subject which will enable us to pursue our initial individual interests within it. Its important that we each enjoy this process and no one gets forced into dealing with *cough*Gephi an aspect they do not particularly enjoy. Thus a concern is how can we go forward without having to make strong compromises on our personal interests. I’m not exactly sure how we will do this, also considering that there is a high probability that our interests may change as we engage more with the collection. Despite this, I’m hopeful that we will make it work as Amherst students constantly do.
The methodology workshops have definitely helped a great deal in understanding what we can do with the student publications. Though we do get hints and pieces of the collection from writing up abstracts, the workshops help us engage with it much differently and more thoughtfully. The deliverables for the most part have been crucial in guiding us through the tools. We’ve had enough practice by now to come up with a ‘system’. Mostly brainstorm on a google doc, vote, then proceed with identifying sources, digging into archives, regrouping and putting together our findings.
The digital exhibit and mapping workshops and deliverables were pretty straightforward. One of the problems we encountered working with both Omeka and Timemapper was having a standardized format with which to enter information so that the tools can yield a consistent pattern and results. But we figured it out and resolved it; though some brushing up on metadata fields is still much needed.
My relationship with text analysis is superficial and complicated. While initially drawn in by the visualization tools in Voyant such as cirrus and links, Ilater realized felt like there was nothing deeper beyond what it offered at a surface level. Perhaps there’s more to learn, but so far, the text analysis tool doesn’t seem strong enough to stand on its own as the main tool in a digital project, its more supplementary, rudimentary actually. I have to admit we struggled a bit coming up with abstracts for the text analysis deliverables, even having to move outside for inspiration.
However not all was lost. Topic modeling brought much more clarity to text analysis. I personally find it to be the most mind-blowing tool I have learnt about so far. First of all, MALLET a leading precedent for other forms of topic modeling software was borne in the pioneer valley, at Umass. On top of that, based on the project examples we looked at such as signs@40 and mining the dispatch , the uses are very versatile. Overall I would say one common thing about the workshops is that they reveal the research question doesn’t have to come first, it can come last. On top of that, the more I tools I learn about the more I notice that the research questions become open ended. We’ve shifted from asking what to why which opens up the possibilities for interesting research even wider.
I quite enjoyed working on Monday, where we pretty much had most of the day working on deliverables and digging through the archives on our own, so I am definitely looking forward to the project phase of the internship. I do expect however that I will run into mind-block situations similar to those that happened when working on text analysis as opposed to the other deliverables which have had much smoother brainstorming sessions. I also still don’t have any idea what shape or form my end project will end up taking but lets not come to that until we have to.
My usual research process varies depending on the subject. In economics, my papers usually start with a statement in mind, then my research is geared towards supporting that statement. In my humanities courses, I usually start with the research first, then draw a thesis from all I have gathered, then do further research to support that thesis. This is especially helpful if there is absolutely no background in the research matter going in. What I’ve come to appreciate so far is that research is circular, and with such a large collection, it can definitely go off in any direction at any moment of time.
This becomes even trickier when you aren’t quite sure what your goals are. The workshops have been quite eye-opening in the sense that they’ve sort of us given us hints of what direction we could take with the overall final deliverables of the internship. But the more I learn, the more I realize there’s more to learn. Which is exciting, but also kind of daunting for when it comes the time to align your goals and finally pursue a certain theme/publication.
I personally enjoyed the concept mapping most so far I had only come across it before in design thinking workshops and seeing it being applied in academia was something I hadn’t thought of before. The mapping examples we went through were very different from how I had encountered mapping before, which was through a more geographic lens, and not too much history embedded into it. Seeing it being used here opens up so much possibilities in my personal research aligned with my major here at Amherst, which I am excited about. On top of that the direction we took with the deliverables led us to shifting our focus to other publications which he hadn’t gotten a chance to look through yet, such as the Amherst Student. This again just reminded me of how not only the research guides the tool, but the tool can guide the research as well.
Update: Still unable to define digital humanities, but it is officially ingrained in my brain as a thing.
At this point in time I think I’m going to speak about what I know how I feel thus far (since I don’t feel like I know anything just yet). I think I have a better understanding of what digital humanities is/are today than I did last week, but a far cry from being able to articulate it to someone who has no idea what it is.