“Because the data is not going to visualize itself”


Having spent so many hours gathering raw data, formatting spreadsheets, planning a presentation and creating websites, there is no way I can be unhappy with how my final project turned out. That being said, I don’t think I can be satisfied with it either. Beyond the many aesthetic or presentation improvements I could make to the website and final network visualizations, the nature of my project never allows me to be satisfied them. My project is derived from information in the archives and the archives will never be complete. There will always be a new organization overlooked or events missed. More work can always be done.

I’ve been surprised by something at all turns this summer, but nothing has surprised me than seeing how applicable so many of skills I’ve learned from doing research in the Digital Humanities are to doing research in the sciences. I want to both create and complete an interdisciplinary major in cognitive science. Working as a Digital Programs Summer Fellow has helped bring me closer to that by introducing me to extensive research projects and the many trials, tribulations and triumphs  that arise from working one alone.

When I first began working in the Archives and Special collections, I was awestruck by how immense the entire collection seemed. Having spent an entire summer gleaning through several collections for specific information, my eyes are now open to how incomplete the archives really are. I am going to be the B.S.U Historian in the fall and want to do my best to at the very least help the B.S.U Collection be less incomplete.

I can honestly say that I’ve constantly been excited to tackle new challenges at every step of this fellowship. Although I was excited in the beginning of the summer, I had a vague idea of what I wanted to get out of this fellowship. More important than the wide range of skills I acquired, I’ve been inspired.

Closing In

During these past two weeks, I’ve begun to narrow my attention on two topics and the specific digital humanities tools and archives I would need to complete them. I’m very happy to finally be in a place where I can clearly see the directions I have to take to complete either project. Despite this, I’ve come across problems in pursuing both avenues of scholarship.

The first project I’d like to complete is a network analysis based project that maps out and visualizes a wide range of activities and events co-sponsored or accomplished by Amherst College affinity groups working together within the past 50 years. The ultimate goal of this project is to allow students to see the many ways their organizations have accomplished together. The main problem I’ve encountered thus far has surprisingly not been collecting data on co-sponsored events, but has been in visualizing them using the limited range functions of available in the network visualisation tools I have used thus far.

The second project I’d like to complete is text analysis and topic modeling project focused on Black Men of Amherst by Harold Wade and Black Women of Amherst by Mavis Campbell. The problem in completing this project has not been in visualising the information with the tools I’ve been given or interpreting the information I’ve received by  running these books through software. It has been navigating the stories and controversies surrounding the publication of Black Men of Amherst and deciding what I’d like to say or contribute regarding the two texts.

I am confident that I’ll be able to solve these two problem during the time I have left, but I am still unsure about what the final project will look like.

Initial Thoughts on Self-Directed Exercises

Overall, the self guided exercises have been very helpful in introducing me to not only how to use a tool, but also its benefits, drawbacks and history. Although I have enjoyed reading about the history of some of the tools, I find the debates and analysis of their uses more interesting and engaging. The most beneficial aspect of the exercises is the are the different tools I’m given the complete the same tasks in slightly different ways and layouts. A good example of this is the mapping exercise that introduced me to many different G.I.S tools and methods. This exercise showed men how these different tools could be employed to create a diverse range of G.I.S projects. The exercise also encouraged me to critique G.I.S projects examples by listing their benefits and limitations. I also enjoyed how the exercise directly relates to me and a project I might choose to do by showing me examples of different projects done by past digital program summer fellows. These really helped me see the scope of what I can do if I choose to do a G.I.S project.

I also enjoyed the text analysis exercise because of interesting articles about text analysis and the simplicity of using the text analysis tools. The articles attached to this exercise were especially helpful in my research process because they taught me about different research methods, a past intern’s research process and project, how to analyze outputs from text analysis tools, and different misinterpretations that can hurt a text analysis research project. Ngrams and Voyant were both very easy to use and helped me consider different text analysis projects I can do with the outputs I got from using them. By using Voyant on Black Men of Amherst and  Black Women of Amherst, I was able to come up with several project ideas that interested me. More than any tool thus far, text analysis has been the one that has prompted the most ideas.

Libs and Arcs

Beyond learning about and becoming acquainted with the many wonderful people and resources that the library has to offer, I’ve also begun to learn more about the Frost library’s philosophy. I had already known that Frost library was much more than a warehouse for books, and that it was a location for mild socializing and studying, but I had not realized how much the services it provides students diverge from what I had assumed a stereotypical library would. The scope of the library’s focus  isn’t simply limited to books and their importance, but is expanded to incorporate learning and the imparting knowledge through any medium a student finds useful to their education. This is expressed most emphatically though library staff who devote their time towards becoming experts in a vast array of fields, and research and publication techniques for the sake of students who might be in need of that assistance.

Archives are not something I’ve had the pleasure of exploring as much as I would have liked to throughout the year, but through this fellowship I’ve slowly become more acquainted with the criteria for the things that are stored within them and the kind of work the people working in the archives do. While talking to some of the archivist, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for how they are able to gather important historical documents within the archives and manipulate them to be useful for almost any historical project related to the college. I also hadn’t considered the politics and strategy that goes into the work archivist do. Until recently, I hadn’t thought about the power of deciding what documents are preserved and which ones are not. The archives are quite literally the greatest remedy to institutional memory that a college can have.

First Week Thoughts and Shenanigans

Although I feel like I’ve gotten a grasp on several important debates within the Digital Humanities and am beginning to form a working definition of what the Digital Humanities are, I would still greatly appreciate more information on the various techniques and areas of study that encompass it. Despite enjoying a very productive week of learning general knowledge about two areas of study that deeply interest me, I don’t feel significantly or substantively closer to finding an overlapping area of study that would allow me to expand my knowledge in both. While I have really enjoyed learning important events within the history of Amherst College that pertain to black students, and this topic would easily lend itself to research in the digital humanities, it would not allow me to focus on computer science or neuroscience to the degree that I want. Cognitive Science, which is an interdisciplinary field that is largely comprised of study in neuroscience and computer science, is what I intend to study in college, but after extensive searching this weak and reading into topics within this area that interest me, I’ve found that it exhibits little to no intersectionality my other topic of interest and does not lend itself as easily to study in the digital humanities… in fact, it doesn’t seem to lend itself to humanities at all (hopefully I’m proven wrong about this).

I am really looking forward to conducting a research project this summer. Not only because of the novelty of having the opportunity to do a research project (which I have little experience in), but because of the opportunity to explore a topic of MY interest which I am already passionate about. The biggest thing I hope to get from this summer, which I am already so appreciative to have gotten is the TIME to STUDY and LEARN about something of my choosing.