Send Help Seanna is Dying Over Here

So I’m prefacing this post with the fact that I’m now two weeks late and I have technically been working on it since the original assignment date, but that there is just sooooooo much work to be done that I then put this off. Coincidentally, I still have so much work to get done that this will be a brief post. (Yes, even more brief than usual heheh) Commence original post: (by the way, Daniel came up with the title of this post so I can’t even take credit for that heheh)

So we’re onto week 8 and last week was our designated data collection period, in preparation for the final project. Up to this point, we’ve been doing quite a bit of individual work, seeking out data and doing some preliminary organization before we really dig in, convening merely to bounce ideas off of each other and to discuss possible platforms on which our final project will live. We’re winding down now, and the pressure is on in terms of making this cohesive project actually materialize. Personally, my week of data collection was long and painful, but in the best way possible. The methodology with which I approached my specific project (the conversations on the overlaps in science and Christianity during Hitchcock’s career) was to go start by going through the tables of contents of publications in which Hitchcock himself had frequently published in an effort to gather a list of relevant names for a possible mapping and network analysis visualization. I found the publications which I would use through some secondary source research (again, thank you Stanley Guralnick for all of your footwork) and then went though the tables of contents for each, lifting the names of scholars specifically talking about things relevant to Hitchcock’s own writings. Some of Hitchcock’s own interests included the timetable of the Six Days of Creation, Miracles, and the deluge. His overall philosophy was that every word of the scripture could be somehow illuminated or proven directly through the exploration of natural science.

Edward Hitchcock Social Network Analysis (1)

Here is a not-as-intuitive-as-I-would-like preview of one of the visualizations that I created (in lieu of finishing this post on time, of course) I used Gephi to create this particular visualization, and it took about half an hour to get the nodes and edges (circles and lines haha) to appear, and then the duration of my day to get the labels to appear. Needless to say, I underestimated how long it would take and how difficult it would be get my desired results after gathering and mining my data. But then again, who WOULD anticipate taking almost six hours to make a few names pop up on a visual? Am I just the clueless one? I digress.

In any case, we’re starting to come back together now that we will need to have our website assembled VERRRRRRRYYYY soon. We’ve done some post-it note models of the information architecture and began discussing what times of information we will need to provide in order to give context and unity to our four smaller projects. It feels like quite a time crunch, but I am quite confident in our team and our ability to pull it together. In the meantime, I need to make these visualizations more comprehensible and pretty. So until the next post!


Reflections as We Move Into the Final Stages

We’re coming around to the homestretch of the Digital Scholarship Internship, and as we move into the final stages of the program, I can’t help but feel the need to reflect. Over the course of the summer, we’ve done numerous readings, workshopped tools and methodologies, critiqued and learned from individual projects which used them, and put these lessons into practice on a small scale in an effort to amass skills for a culminating project. But rewind back a bit more to before this phase of the internship, and what were we doing then? Let us go back in time to the first few weeks of the DSI.

In the beginning stages of the internship, we dedicated a lot of time to figuring out exactly what the Digital Humanities were. A LOT of time. We thoroughly examined readings upon readings and combed through blog posts upon blog posts in an attempt to answer the standing question of what constitutes digital scholarship. What are the Digital Humanities? (What is the Digital Humanities?) *cue painful memories of utter confusion and anxiety about whether or not to use “is” or “are” when discussing THE Digital Humanities* Are scholars simply putting a name on something which would one day be the standard? Is defining it as a discipline or practice redundant? Was it a digital take on the humanities or a humanist take on the digital? What qualifies as scholarship? Since a huge portion of what makes the Digital Humanities THE Digital Humanities is the facilitation of the exchange of information and peer review, accountability and validity also become increasingly important. (Let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to get published in a journal or to publish a book than it is to purchase a url and call it a project or exploration) So what is up? And where do we fit as some undergraduates trying to navigate the field and create good work in such a short amount of time?

Throughout the summer, we’ve taken a number of pauses in order to stop and go back to the concept of what constitutes digital scholarship. We’ve looked at a great deal of projects, analyzing and critiquing their methodology and execution in an effort to learn from the mistakes and successes in order to make our own project as useful and productive as possible. Of course many of our critiques tended to fall into the category of consumer-side failures, such as browsing capability and its effect on the user’s experience with the site, presentation and aesthetic, usefulness or applicability of the material, etc. In our exploration, we unfortunately did not see any projects quite as dynamic as that which we hope to create. Most of the projects had singular focuses (foci?) and used one methodology or tool to make an argument about one small thing. For one thing, our project is seeded in the archival collection of one man and his wife (a not so popular name in history, I must add) a characteristic which inherently makes one ask the purpose of studying the collection so closely. Last year’s interns’ work dealt with a widely applicable and or at least recognizable topic pertaining to American history, as it was research related to a collection of Native American literature. Our collection is quite different, making part of the challenge of our project proving the value and the importance of the subject of the collection in question. Why should we care about Edward Hitchcock? If he were really that important, wouldn’t we know his name already? Wouldn’t the world? Each of us has a different idea about what makes the collection and more importantly the man important, and consequently we all have different ideas and different strategies for how to sell him.

Many of the projects which we’ve looked at already dealt with much larger but much more universal concepts. For example, visualizing the distribution of wealth in the United States is very admirable and relevant project given the intellectual moment in which we live. People are becoming more and more aware and vocal about social and economic inequality and injustice. Hence studying how such inequalities physically and geographically play out in our society makes for a project whose value is rather hard to dispute. Additionally, making a project solely visualizing these disparities can serve as a standalone project, which many of the projects we looked at did. However as I said, Hitchcock isn’t exactly a household name, so we bear the burden of telling a story to our audience as we make an argument about the story, which the average man or woman will probably not know. In a way the four different aspects of Hitchcock’s life which we hope to analyze tell this story, giving body and a narrative to what may otherwise come off as a snazzy book report on some scientist who lived at some point and did some things. For this reason, I must say that I have yet to encounter a project that does something very close even in principle to what we how to put into practice.

As for my portion of the project, I hope to visualize a network of intellectuals discussing the “Cross in Nature” as we’ve come to know it (we being the interns, although we did not coin the phrase ourselves) in journals and correspondences with Hitchcock. The scope is narrowed organically by the limitations to which publications can be accessed via an Amherst College computer, although this still doesn’t narrow the scope too much and I still have plenty of work ahead. A project which does a very similar thing to what I hope to express in my section is one that I’ve referred to before, the Society of Letters. The project maps correspondences on a map with a network analysis type of framework connecting the various points on the map. So essentially the same deal. I’m feeling confident that the work will get done. (although it would be nice if some magical work fairy did it for me) But until that happens, I’ll be gathering data for what will hopefully turn out to be a successful wing of a successful collaborative project.






Come Togetherrrr

So week 5 is now coming to a close, and we as a team are at a crossroads of sorts, in terms of how to proceed with our final project. We were given a week’s time after our July 3rd team meeting to put together a number of small project proposals using a variety of topics and jumping off points from the collection. We each chose a topic or two that (hopefully) captivated us, or that we saw an interesting digital humanities project emerging from, and took to writing up questions, brief prospective methodologies and creating deliverables or showing examples similar in style to our proposed projects. My proposed idea was examining an aspect of Hitchcock’s life which had initially shocked and intrigued us all upon first being introduced to religion, and that was his insistence on reconciling science and religion.

The idea which I presented had two very different possible outcomes, one being a textual analysis project using Hitchcock’s sermons and lecture notes/academic writings to see how his rhetoric concerning science and religion were consistent between the two different fields. This project stemmed from a paper by Stanley Guralnick, who the American National Biography Online database esteems as “the leading historian on Hitchcock’s religious thought.” Guralnick explains that while Hitchcock’s seemingly antithetical loves for both the natural sciences as a geologist and religion as a theologian was not particularly unusual for his time, nor was he unique in his philosophies. Therefore it is not a matter of why he often discussed the two together, but how he discussed the two that could lead to an interesting project.

The second of the two outcomes proposed a data visualization approach to the subject matter, mapping and showing networks between Hitchcock and other scholars to make an argument about the intellectual climate and the conversations happening between Hitchcock and other scholars via journal articles and publications both domestic and abroad surrounding the topics of science and religion. This project fit a little more readily (or lot more) into the category of context, one of the classifications which we as a team have decided to use as a framework for our project. (The framework involving both historical matters to frame Hitchcock’s context, and impact as a way to assess his legacy)

As we presented our individual proposals, it became clear that the four of us still have very varied interests, and as one of our supervisors pointed out, very different styles and strengths. The task now is to try and create a plan for a cohesive project that doesn’t neglect anyone’s interests or strengths. While our projects were very different in terms of focus, a number of unifying principles and themes came through as we discussed them further and our aim since the meeting has been to make use of those themes and try to draw out the similarities in an effort to include all of our topical interests in the collection.

Thus far, although we have only just recently gone back to the drawing board in order to brainstorm for our collective project, a number of ideas in terms of presentation have arisen, although we are still looking for ways to articulate the aim and the relationship between our ideas. (see concept map #596879503924691 below)

I think we are in a good place right now. Again what the proposals showed me is that our individual interests are not as different and irreconcilable as we may have previously imagined. I myself have been drawing up things that look more like family trees than concept maps in order to try and visualize the overlaps and relationships between all or parts of our ideas and proposals and there are many, and probably infinitely more (maybe not infinitely, but you get the point) relationships and connections that could be drawn that I myself would never even think of. I’m sure the same would go for any of my fellow interns, which is exactly why we have yet again found ourselves concept mapping and re-talking through ideas, and then concept mapping again and then re-talking through ideas again. (wash, rinse, repeat)

I am excited for where our final project proposal will take us. I have some ideas about how to format our project now,but I don’t want to jump the gun before we have officially settled on a plan of action. Speaking of which, and this is entirely unrelated but, we had a project planning workshop yesterday during which we learned a little bit about what goes into writing for a grant application, and dear Lord I’d rather just go searching for a pot of gold.


The Answerable vs. The Unanswerable

An untimely trip home to see my doctor after prevented me from being able to tour Beneski with the rest of the cohort, however I’ve heard quite a bit about the visit and the tour itself. An anecdote which seemed to stick very well with my fellow interns was the story of the Oxbow courtesy of a Kate Wellspring, whom I have yet to have had the pleasure of meeting. The story, as it was related to me, goes that Edward Hitchcock was sitting on a hill somewhere, presumably contemplating life, death, rocks–the usual when he took special notice of a certain river. After a few days of observing this same, misshapen river change course due to erosion, Hitchcock’s perception of life and of the land were revolutionized.

I can hardly say that I feel like my views on any particular aspects of Hitchcock’s life have been revolutionized, although the convergence of concepts such as time, geology and Hitchcock’s psyche proved to give me and my fellow interns a shape, or umbrella if you will, that covered or touched upon each of our individual research interests in the collection. We’ve become familiar with a decent number of methodologies at this point and now we must refine. Iterate. Re-refine. We had a meeting yesterday during which some of the senior members of the team gave feedback on our research process/progress so far, and the primary concern that we had was with the concision of our research question. We discussed some of the pros and cons of simply having a research exploration? (I personally cannot fathom simple exploration. I feel like I would drown in a sea of Archival and secondary source information) A fellow intern referenced some fancy Harvard lit during the discussion, arguing in favor of having a question for the sake of focus. I agreed, as I believe that at this point in our program we need more data, but with such a large collection and no real focus or clear goal, further exploration of the collection would simply mean accumulating more surface-level insight into a lot of different aspects of Edward and Orra’s (but mostly Edward’s) lives.

I’m definitely feeling some tension in our research process right now. Everyone wants to move forward with something, its just that nobody is one hundred percent sure of what that something is. And digging through the collection without any real focus or angle feels a lot like how this guy must feel. And again, simultaneously deciding upon a methodology and a research question feels difficult and unnatural, but I think back to the Trevor Owens post and realize that it is necessary to do so. During our team meeting we discussed a tactic that seems like the solution to all of my personal qualms with the research process at this point in time. One of the Research librarians brought up the idea of exploring a number of mini mock-projects, coming up with small proposals and dream-experiment like explorations of these topics. We are to come up with between 6-8 of these like project proposals, all on different aspects/research topics from the collection and pick the tools and the appropriate methodologies for each so that we can gauge how a larger version of each of these small projects would come to fruition. I thought that the idea was genius, and while the prospect of having a little extra homework typically doesn’t excite me, I feel that these projects will really help us jump over the proverbial brick wall that we’ve run into in our research process.

So the transition from (or lack thereof? Maybe more appropriately named the inevitable coalescence between or convergence of) skills and methodological training and research has been, confusing to say the least, but I think that making the jump will do us a world of good in terms of narrowing our scope. Woo progress! Woo courage! Woo confidence! Now to get to work.

Questions, Questions, Questions

We very recently completed week two of our quest for understanding the Digital Humanities, and it seems that the questions never end.  While week one begged questions like “what even is/are the Digital Humanities?” (the simple idea of whether to use the word is or are being a debate in and of itself) and is the field itself simply a precursor to a word whether all scholarship is digital, a field destined to a life of redundancy? But this week we stepped away from some of those more cosmic questions in order to ask a few questions of ourselves. From what I’ve gathered, the schedule of our internship is structured in such a way that we learn methodologies for digital scholarship (creating exhibits, mapping, text analysis, other fancy terms that I haven’t learned yet), put each into practice and then select one for our larger project involving the archival collection to which we’ve been familiarizing ourselves. During a workshop about asking research questions and building concept maps, I found myself at a loss. My prior experience with the research process can be credited to a seminar which I took this past semester, a class which one of the librarians working closely with our team co-instructed. Said instructor asked us to come up with a list of questions we could explore for our grande research project and had us build concept maps and I found myself asking, “about what?”

“what is this all about?’

“what is the larger significance?”

In my research seminar, most students came in with topics that they felt a pull toward, topics which evolved more or less from person to person, but still topics which were relevant to each student nonetheless. We developed lists of topic questions to familiarize ourselves with the terrain surrounding our topics and commenced a semester-long process of refining and refining and limiting scope and refining and limiting scope, etc. It took me up until the last few weeks to secure a concrete research question and even in writing my prospectus for the class I wasn’t entirely sure of the question and the claim which I was trying to make. So here we are drawing up concept maps for a collection with which we were only vaguely acquainted with at this point and I’m feeling lost.

Before long, we started having methodological workshops and creating deliverables, all the while trying to keep in mind which methodologies we feel can use for our grande finale. Based on some of our research questions of course. All the while I’m feeling like I barely know my topic. Sure I know his genealogy and that his sons down to the fifth generation are named Edward in his honor. But where’s the meat? Where is the stuff that I need?

I would be lying if I said that I was completely comfortable with the fluidity of the research process which we’re taking up. But I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what I would be doing even if I went through the same by the book process of the semester long research seminar I took either. The research process is strange and unique, in every field, in every attempt, in every question. In an interesting Trevor Owens post, Owens discusses the order of the research process–whether we must start with the question, the “stuff”, or the tool? In my not-so-extensive experience it only made sense to start with what I knew in order to come to what I what I didn’t know in order to figure out how to, well know it. But in this new scape of digital humanities things aren’t so concrete. Maybe its the tool that inspires the question. In a field where technology enriches scholarship rather than just serving as a reference point, it well (dare I say it) could make sense. And digital tools could help liven this archival collection in a way that answers questions like that about larger significance that a secondary source analysis could not.
So in short, I’m learning to get comfortable with that which has notoriously made me (and let’s face it, a signifcant portion of the human race!) uncomfortable.

And that’s the ambiguity and the uncertainty of not knowing. But I’ll just keep asking questions and getting the tools to help me properly do so in this field.