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DH Project Update Research Projects Undergraduate Fellows

Mapping the Scottish Reformation: Transatlantic Adventures in the Digital Humanities

[Please enjoy this guest post by Michelle D. Brock, Associate Professor of History at Washington and Lee University. Professor Brock has been a fabulous supporter of DH at W&L through the years and we’re thrilled to see this project take off.]

In the spring of 2020 (before the world seemed to change overnight), I spent just over two wonderful months as a Digital Scholarship Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh during my sabbatical from W&L. During this time, I pursued work on a project called Mapping the Scottish Reformation (MSR), directed by myself and Chris Langley of Newman University and featuring Mackenzie Brooks on our project team and Paul Youngman on our advisory board.

Mapping the Scottish Reformation (MSR) is a digital prosopography of ministers who served in the Church of Scotland between the Reformation Parliament of 1560 to the Revolution in 1689. By extracting data from thousands of pages of ecclesiastical court records held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), Mapping the Scottish Reformation tracks clerical careers, showing where they were educated, how they moved between parishes, and their personal and disciplinary history. This early modern data drives a powerful mapping engine that will allow users to build their own searches to track clerical careers over time and space.

The need for such a project was born of the fact that, despite a few excellent academic studies of individual ministers written in recent years, we still know remarkably little about this massive and diverse group. Many questions remain unanswered: How many ministers were moving from one area of Scotland to another? What was the influence of key presbyteries—the regional governing bodies of the Scottish kirk—or universities in this process? What was the average period of tenure for a minister? As of now, there is no way to answer such questions comprehensively, efficiently, and accurately. The voluminous ecclesiastical court records that contain the most detail about the careers of the clergy are not indexed, cumbersome to search, and completely inaccessible to the public or scholars less familiar with the challenges of Scottish handwriting. The multi-volume print source with much of this biographical data on ministers, Hew Scott’s invaluable Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, is not searchable across volumes and contains numerous errors and omissions. A new resource is thus necessary to both search and visualize clerical data, and we intend Mapping the Scottish Reformation to be that resource.

Our project began in earnest in 2017, when, thanks to funding from a W&L Mellon grant, Caroline Nowlin ’19 and Damien Hansford (a postgraduate at Newman University) began working with the Project Directors to pull initial data from the Fasti that could be used to test the feasibility of the project. Three years and a National Endowment for the Humanities HCRR grant later, we are in the pilot “proof of concept” phase of MSR, centered on gathering data on the clergy in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale—a large and complex region that includes modern day Edinburgh. As such, my time at IASH was spent almost exclusively going through the presbytery records from this synod region to collect data on ministers at all levels in their clerical careers. I have often referred to this as the “unsexy” part of our work—dealing with the nitty gritty of navigating often challenging and inconsistent records in order to gather the data that will power Mapping the Scottish Reformation. There was, of course, no better setting to do this work in than IASH, an institute in the heart of the very university where many of the ministers in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale were educated and near to the parishes where many of the most prominent of them served.

Throughout my fellowship period, two questions were at the forefront of my mind: Are there patterns, chronological or regional, that account for the great variance in ministerial lives and trajectories? Was any such thing as a “typical” clerical career at all? What Dr. Langley and I have learned over the previous months is that the answers to these questions are significantly more complicated than previously understood by both historians and the wider public.

As we discussed during a presentation given in January at the Centre for Data, Culture and Society, the clerical career path was far less standardized than scholars usually assume. The terminology generally applied by historians and drawn from Hew Scott’s work— of “admitting,” “instituting,” and “transferring” ministers — was one of a distinct profession. Unfortunately, by applying such terms to the early modern ministry, we may be transposing a system and language of formality that just wasn’t there or wasn’t yet fully developed. Thus, one of our central goals is to shed light on the complexity of clerical experiences and development of the ministerial profession by capturing messy data from manuscripts and turning it into something machine readable and suited to a database and visualization layer. In short, we hope to make the qualitative quantitative, and to do so in a way that can also serve as a supplementary finding aid to the rich church court records held at NRS.

To date, my co-Director and I have gone through approximately 3,000 pages of presbytery minutes and collected information on over 300 clerics across more than twenty categories using Google Sheets. Dr. Langley has begun the process of uploading this data to Wikidata and running initial queries using SPARQL to generate basic data-driven maps. The benefit of using Wikidata at this phase in our project is that it is a linked open data platform and is already used as a data repository for the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, which captured information on most of the parishes and a number of the ministers in our project. We are deeply grateful to the University of Edinburgh’s “Wikimedian in Residence” Ewan McAndrew, who met with us early in my fellowship period to explore opportunities for using Wikidata, which is now a critical part of the technical infrastructure of our project. Thanks to a recently awarded grant from the Strathmartine Trust, in the coming months we hope to collaborate with an academic technologist to build our own Mapping the Scottish Reformation interface, driven by our entries in Wikidata.

Though I sadly had to cut my fellowship period two weeks short due to the COVID-19 crisis, I had a wonderful and productive two months as a Digital Scholarship Fellow at IASH, thanks in no small part to the general sabbatical support from Washington and Lee. In this time, Mapping the Scottish Reformation progressed by leaps and bounds, thanks to the generosity and support of the Scottish history and digital humanities communities at the University of Edinburgh, as well as our colleagues at NRS. Our talk at the Edinburgh’s Centre for Data, Culture and Society, which drew an audience not only of academics but also genealogists and local residents, was a real highlight, allowing us to make connections with a wide range of people interested in the history of Scotland, family history, the Reformation, and the digital humanities. These connections, and the ability to make access to data widely available, are more important than ever on both sides of the Atlantic, and I am looking forward to continuing this work at home in Virginia.

Categories
Announcement DH Event on campus Speaker Series

Niall Atkinson and Team to Visit in March

We are excited to share the news that Niall Atkinson, associate professor of art history at the University of Chicago, will be visiting next week accompanied by his DH team member Carmen Caswell, Digital Humanities Research Liaison.

Professor Atkinson will deliver the Pamela H. Simpson Lecture in Art History on March 11 at 5 p.m. in Northen Auditorium.

In addition to the lecture, Atkinson and Caswell will visit classes and collaborate with members of the Florence As It Was team.

Learn more about their visit over at The Columns.

Categories
Announcement DH Event off campus

CFP: Chesapeake Digital Humanities Consortium

The newly-formed Chesapeake Digital Humanities Consortium will be holding its first conference on February 21, 2020 at William and Mary. The Call for Proposals is now live! Learn more on the CDHC website. Proposals are due January 6th, 2020.

Catherine Knight Steele, Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Maryland – College Park and Director of the Andrew W. Mellon funded African American Digital Humanities Initiative (AADHum), will be keynoting.

The Chesapeake Digital Humanities Consortium (CDHC) is an association of people and institutions committed to the cooperative development of teaching, learning, research, and community partnerships in the digital humanities. Because place and space shape collaboration, CDHC is focused on supporting digital humanities in the D.C, Virginia, and Maryland region.

CDHC has three guiding goals:

  • Identifying, developing, and communicating opportunities for members to pursue the digital humanities.
  • Building accessible, diverse, and equitable digital humanities communities.
  • Fostering sharing, collaboration, and innovation among people, places, and institutions.

Categories
DH Event off campus Pedagogy UVA Collaboration

DH Pedagogy Roadshow

Crossposted to the scholarslab blog and Brandon Walsh’s blog.

[The following post was co-authored with Mackenzie Brooks, Digital Humanities Librarian at Washington and Lee University. It follows up on a previous post on digital pedagogy and the Praxis Program. So if you’re just joining us, you might start there first. The first section below offers Brandon’s thoughts on a sequence of collaborative events with W&L, and the second section offers Mackenzie’s thoughts on the same.]

Brandon’s Perspective

In my last post, I mentioned that the Scholars’ Lab piloted a unit on digital pedagogy for the Praxis Program this past year. Over the course of a few weeks, the students each drafted the materials they would need to deliver a low-tech workshop on a digital humanities method or concept relevant to their own interests. The unit gave the students the opportunity to explore their chosen topic in dialogue with one another as they felt their way through how they would go about teaching the material to a broader audience, and it also gave the program a chance to speak directly to each student’s own reasons for being in graduate school and for exploring digital humanities. I ended that last post on something of a cliffhanger – I had intended the unit on pedagogy to end there, with each student in possession of all the makings for a DH workshop of their own design. But the students wanted to go a step further – they wanted to actually use these materials and deliver these workshops. I wanted to honor this good energy, and I’ll use this monthly installment in the Scholars’ Lab year of blogging to write a quick note about how we did so.

At the same time that the Praxis Program was running, I was in contact with the digital humanities group at Washington and Lee University about an ongoing collaboration that brings UVA graduate students working in DH to W&L to deliver one-off workshops for undergraduate DH courses. For each of these visits, the students work with the relevant faculty member to design a workshop in line with both their own research interests and the course material. It’s a challenging program to coordinate logistically – for each of these visits, W&L’s DH Librarian Mackenzie Brooks and I have to align the schedules for faculty members and students while also making good matches between interests and course syllabi. In spirit, this collaboration seemed like it could be a good fit for the new set of workshops designed by the Praxis programs. But we were not quite sure how to make it work logistically. We didn’t have obvious course fits for some of the topics, and it’s difficult to coordinate a couple workshops a semester, let alone six.

So we decided on a slightly different approach. Rather than trying to spread the workshops out among six class visits, we consolidated them. As luck would have it, this spring semester Mackenzie and Sydney Bufkin, Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow at W&L, were co-teaching a small capstone course for W&L students minoring in Digital Culture and Information. As a part of the course, Mackenzie and Sydney were eager for their students to get broad exposure to a range of DH topics. Rather than coordinate six individual trips from UVA to W&L, Mackenzie and Sydney suggested bringing their W&L students to UVA. With this in mind, on two separate occasions, Mackenzie and Sydney brought a group of students to the Scholars’ Lab to take part in a series of workshop sessions by our Praxis students. Because these workshops fell under the purview of the workshop exchange component of W&L’s Mellon grant, we were able to pay the students a small honorarium to compensate the extra time required to prepare the workshops over and above what we would usually expect of Praxis participants. In conversations with our Praxis students I started calling the event the Praxis DH Roadshow.

We had a lot of conversation internally about how to handle invitations for these workshops. After all, while the Praxis students were eager to deliver their work and get feedback, they were still learning about the field. We worried that throwing the doors open to the general public would be unfair to these students who were, after all, teaching in public so as to learn. We wanted to construct a space that helped to mitigate these risks, so we settled on a partially open format, aiming for about fifteen participants total in each workshop. Besides the five participants from W&L, we also counted on about five participants from the Scholar’s Lab. For the remaining audience members, we selectively invited members of the UVA community: subject librarians who would be interested in the work being done by students in their departments, experienced and generous collaborators who we could count on to offer constructive feedback, and library colleagues who might simply be interested in learning about the method under discussion. We couldn’t invite everyone, but we hoped that these targeted invitations might give our students the chance to show off the work they were doing in the library in a supportive environment.

To my mind, the events were a success in many ways. The slate of workshops the students put together was broad and diverse:

  • Catherine Addington (Spanish) – Transcription and Digital Editions
  • Cho Jiang (Urban and Environmental Planning) – Sentiment Mapping
  • Emily Mellen (Music, Critical and Comparative Studies) – How to Cite and Work with Sound Sources in Writing
  • Eleanore Neumann (Art and Architectural History) – Digital Curation
  • Mathilda Shepard (Spanish) – Minimal Computing
  • Chris Whitehead (History) – Network Analysis w/ String

The lineup of topics was a tad scattershot to be sure, but the goal was never to cover the broad range of things possible in digital humanities. We engaged the graduate students where they were and had their interests set the agenda. To my mind, the workshops themselves were not really for the audience. They were a chance to offer the Praxis students a chance to teach with a safety net – an opportunity they don’t often have. It also gave the students a chance to watch each other teach – something that is even more rare. But I’m very pleased that we were able to turn this exercise for graduate students at UVA into something that could be of use to the group at W&L.

I’m so pleased that Praxis could become a supportive space for pedagogical growth this year, and I’m very thankful for everyone who made it possible. I’m especially grateful to the many library colleagues who attended and shared their constructive feedback with the students (with apologies if I miss anyone): Hanni Nabahe, Lauren Work, Abby Flanigan, Brandon Butler, Maggie Nunley, Regina Carter, Erin Pappas, Keith Weimer, and Sue Donovan. The events would not have been possible without the work of Mackenzie Brooks, Sydney Bufkin, Amanda Visconti, and Laura Miller. They were each instrumental in making sure that the events took the shape they did and that they proved productive for the students. And, of course, I am very proud of and grateful to the students for sharing their work with us.

Mackenzie’s Perspective

As one of the instructors of the capstone course that Brandon mentioned, I wanted to share my perspective on the workshop roadshow and its role in our course. At the Washington and Lee University Library, we are in our first year of offering a minor in Digital Culture and Information (DCI). Sydney Bufkin and I decided to design and co-teach the capstone course this year, before we had any declared minors, as a way to test out the structure and feasibility of an upper-level digital project-based course.

We embarked on this trial with two students, both of whom had some experience with DH projects, but not much coursework in DCI. Because it was such a small course, we were able to customize the schedule to fit the needs of the students and their projects. Katherine Dau ’19 was interested in building a web map to complement her honors thesis in art history and MaKayla Lorick ’19 wanted to design a digital exhibit to house an oral history project she began the previous summer. We quickly filled our 12-week schedule with the theoretical and technological grounding necessary for our students to meet their project goals. But we still wanted our students to get a sense of the breadth of DH work.

Moreover, I knew from previous experience with UVa graduate students that they could be a great model for our undergrads as they learned new digital modes of research. As part of our ongoing collaboration with Scholars’ Lab, I regularly bring in a UVa graduate student or two in my 100-level Data in the Humanities course to introduce a new methodology (text analysis or GIS for example) and share its use in their own research. It has been a great way for my students to see someone only a little bit older than they are engaged in scholarship and the kind of experimentation that often goes on at Scholars’ Lab. I try to schedule the visits when my students are beginning to form their research questions so that they can bounce ideas off the grad students and hear someone other than me engage with their ideas.

Therefore, I was delighted to find out that this year’s Praxis students had prepared workshops they wanted to deliver. Our small class size made for an easy field trip up to Charlottesville for two marathon workshop days. The visits fell in the latter half of the course, but I think they would have worked just as well in the earlier half when we were still surveying methods. Not only did we all learn a lot from each of the workshop leaders, but our students were (gently) forced to articulate their own work for a friendly and knowledgeable audience. By the sixth workshop, they were comfortable explaining Jekyll or the reasoning behind their project name. This is what I like best about our collaboration with Scholars’ Lab – it creates an opportunity for all the people involved to learn and grow in a welcoming, low-stakes space. The Praxis students even insisted on formal feedback from us, so we took class time to fill out an evaluation form and discuss the workshops. For us, this was just a continuation of an ongoing conversation about sharing your work. Both Katherine and MaKayla had been presenting their projects to various audiences throughout the term, but the workshops helped them see new possibilities for their own emerging pedagogical practice. Most capstones will involve some kind of public presentation, but this experience reminded us that there is room for sharing and reflecting on your work in incremental ways, not just at the end of a project.

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible!

Categories
DH UVA Collaboration

DCI Students Visit UVA’s Scholars’ Lab

On two different days during winter term, students in DCI 393, the capstone course for the Digital Culture and Information minor, visited the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia. The students, Katherine Dau ‘19 and MaKayla Lorick ‘19, were joined by Professors Brooks and Bufkin, who teach DCI 393, and Kellie Harra, DH Post-Baccalaureate Fellow. The visitors participated in three different workshops both days, taught by graduate students who were instructed to develop a session that incorporated DH tools into their respective research discipline. These graduate students study a wide range of fields, from History and Art History to Urban and Environmental Planning, and integrated the DH tools into their own work. This made for interesting discussions with helpful background information coming from the graduate students as they related the workshop activities to their own research. Since we don’t have the space to describe in detail all of the workshops we participated in, I’ve included a summary of two of the workshops that I found to be especially interesting.

The first was a workshop by Chris Whitehead on social networks and network analysis. Chris was a 2018-2019 Praxis Fellow at the Scholars’ Lab, with a research focus on the history of Native peoples. In particular, he looked into the kinship ties that bound or separated Native and European peoples in New France, New England, and New York during the 17th and 18th century. The audience quickly became involved in this workshop. Chris explained some of the concepts involved in a network, and then asked us to create our own network that connected the various members of the audience. After throwing out a few different ideas, Chris stopped us so we could discuss some of the things we had realized in our conversations: first, there are different variables that could be used to make a network, but we needed to identify the ones that would be most relevant in creating useful information; and second, that we should develop a method to identify not only connections, but the strength of those relationships. In the end, we decided that the three different types of string Chris had provided us with could be used to represent the frequency of contact between two people, thereby showing the strength of their connection. By the time we had finished tossing rolls of string across the table, down the table, and to our neighbors, we were able to see the relationship of all the audience members to one another. It was interesting to see how the group from W&L connected with the group from UVA and who the key people were, according to the network, in making connections between the two groups.

The second workshop I found to be intriguing covered digital editing and transcription and was taught by Catherine Addington. Catherine has been at the Scholars’ Lab for two years, first as the Makerspace Technologist from 2017-2018, and then as a Praxis Fellow during the 2018-2019 year. She studies colonial Spanish America, with a focus on transcription and the earlier editing of indigenous and Catholic religious texts by Spanish writers. Like with Chris’s workshop, Catherine quickly engaged the audience by beginning the workshop with a question: “How would you transcribe the first lines of the Declaration of Independence?” This was followed by a task: take out a piece of paper, phone, laptop, or anything else you can write on and transcribe those lines. As we finished, it became clear that a seemingly simple task quickly led to more questions: Do you include the (slightly odd) capitalization shown in the original document? What about the punctuation? Spacing? Line breaks? As the workshop continued and we began looking at other documents, questions like “Is that smudge in the corner important?” began to emerge. These types of questions became more and more difficult to answer, but they can still be important to the transcription process. We learned about the different theories behind digital editing (are you trying to transcribe the document as a whole – when the spacing and that weird smudge might be important – or just the text from a document – when perhaps only the capitalization is necessary) and the importance of identifying the audience most likely to be using the transcription. From there, developing a standard based on the audience’s anticipated needs is key. Creating a set standard and plan at the beginning, before any of the work is actually completed, helps to keep things consistent and prevent case-by-case decision making while transcribing the document.

The workshops, all vastly different from each other, provided for an interesting and unique learning experience for the audience and visitors. Thank you to the Scholars’ Lab students and faculty who allowed DCI 393 to participate in and learn from the workshops. We enjoyed our visits to UVA and look forward to future collaborations with the Scholars’ Lab!

– Kellie Harra ’18, Digital Humanities Post-Baccalaureate Fellow

Categories
DH

Amnesty International Hackathon

In March, Amnesty International hosted a Hackathon, led by Co-President Mohini Tangri ’19. While Hackathons usually provide participants with a broad problem and give these participants a fixed time period of 24-48 hours to code a solution, Amnesty International’s Hackathon supported a specific goal: “to create a website for community sponsorship that can be added to Amnesty International USA’s national website that had an email list form creator and an interactive map for refugee resettlement.”

Map featured on Amnesty International’s Hackathon website.

The motivation to do a Hackathon came from the enthusiasm of a first-year. Tara Kakkaramadam ’22 wanted to bring an event to campus that could join STEM students together for a human rights purpose, which in many ways, encompasses Digital Humanities at W&L.

Tangri and Kakkaramadam then began working with Amnesty International regional directors to brainstorm events the W&L chapter could host. This is how they reached the idea of a website with an interactive map that tracks refugee resettlement.

“They needed a website, and we made it!”

-Mohini Tangri ’19

Because they hadn’t done a Hackathon before, the students had to figure out the best way to accomplish their goals, and they did their research. They talked to professors and Computer Science majors in order to learn how to organize a Hackathon. Unlike most Hackathons, students participating in Amnesty International’s Hackathon applied and received assignments for roles within the Hackathon to keep everything organized and help it run smoothly.

Despite not knowing exactly what it would be like, the Hackathon went very well. The students almost finished the website. Struggling with disorganized data, of which they did not know before the Hackathon started, the group needed more time to work through the data and create the map. According to Tangri, “We would absolutely do it again. In all honesty we were a little surprised by the enthusiasm of the participants–we loved it, of course, but when we were coming up with the idea we were unsure of how many students would be willing to dedicate a full Saturday to something unrelated to school.” Luckily, they found themselves pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of W&L students and their dedication to applying the skills and concepts they learn in class to real-world scenarios and issues.

According to Tangri, Amnesty International “[needs] more excited STEM majors who are interested in the intersection of human rights and technology to do more things like this in the future!”

If you’re interested in getting involved, you can contact either Mohini Tangri or tangrim19@mail.wlu.edu or Tara Kakkaramadam at kakkaramadamt22@mail.wlu.edu to learn more about Amnesty International and its Hackathon.

This post was written using an interview with Mohini Tangri ’19.

-Jenny Bagger ’19, DH Undergraduate Fellow

Categories
DCI DH Event on campus Undergraduate Fellows

Capstone Presentations and DCI Celebrations

Join us on April 2nd for capstone presentations from the students in DCI 393. Over the course of the semester they have worked to develop their own projects, which also include digital tools that are integrated into and essential to presenting their work. Katherine Dau ’19 will be presenting her project titled “The Atlantic Current” and MaKayla Lorick ‘19 will be presenting about “The Black General.”

We will also be coming together to celebrate the (almost complete) first school year of the DCI minor! If you are a DCI minor, taking any DCI classes, or are interested in learning more about DCI and the types of projects completed through DCI classes, we would love to have you come join us. We will have snacks!


DCI 393 Presentations and DCI Minor Celebration
Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
2:00-4:00PM
Digital Humanities Workspace (Leyburn Library Level 2)

Categories
DH Event on campus

Recapping the Women and Technology Forum

The Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology initiative held a forum on March 1-2 at Washington and Lee University to bring together speakers from a variety of disciplines to talk about how their work intersects with technology. The six women spoke on everything from how technology can be used to tell stories to addressing the wage gap to the role technology has played in promoting social justice. Throughout the two days, many W&L students, faculty, and staff dropped in to hear from the speakers.

Chelsea Barabas delivers the keynote address at the Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology Forum
Photo Credit: Shelby Mack

The forum began with a keynote speech by Chelsea Barabas in the evening of March 1. Chelsea’s keynote, which was titled “Dodging Silver Bullets: Understanding the Role of Technology in Social Change,” covered some of the research she has done investigating algorithms purportedly created to help increase equality in the tech industry. She also discussed the pervasiveness of the idea that tech is meritocratic and therefore any disparity between the number of tech-focused workers of different genders or ethnicities is simply due to ability rather than bias. The keynote was well-attended by both W&L students and faculty and staff who stopped by Northen Auditorium to hear her speak. If you missed Chelsea’s keynote, you can watch the livestream or read more about her visit here.

Day two began with a welcome breakfast, allowing speakers, students, faculty, and staff to mingle together while enjoying a healthy breakfast. The day truly began a short while later, with the first panel titled “Technology and Social Justice.” The speakers on this panel included Chelsea Barabas, Sydney Boles, and Stephanie Stelter, and it was moderated by W&L accounting professor Megan Hess. The three speakers discussed topics including how their work fosters social change, the role of technology in creating that change, tech skills they feel would be useful for the audience to know, and ways that people can promote social justice even if their current job does not directly lead to social change.

The next panel, “Making History,” included Logan Jaffe, Stephanie Stillo, and Diana Williams. This one was moderated by W&L history professor Molly Michelmore and included conversations on how each speakers’ work engages with history, the current state of history in our culture today, and the ways technology can be used to connect people to history.

The two panels were followed by a networking lunch, during which students were able to sit and eat lunch with a speaker. This allowed smaller groups of students to have more intimate discussions with the speaker they were sitting with. Some W&L faculty and staff also joined in for the lunch, which helped to create discussions that covered a diverse range of topics.

After the lunch, attendees got to hear from all six speakers as they discussed “The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Gotten.” The panel was moderated by Kellie Harra, Post-Baccalaureate Fellow in Digital Humanities at W&L. The speakers covered everything from the best career advice they had received (or wished they had received) to addressing the wage gap in the workplace to activities they do in their free time that help with relaxation to overcoming the intimidation of learning and using technology. The audience was especially involved during this panel, asking questions throughout.

The day finished off with a panel on “Technology and Storytelling” which involved Sydney Boles, Logan Jaffe, Stephanie Stelter, Stephanie Stillo, and Diana Williams, with W&L professor Toni Locy, from journalism and mass communications, as the moderator. During this panel, the speakers talked about who they consider their audience to be and how they make that decision, the process that leads to stories being told, and the hardest stories they’ve had to tell. Throughout these conversations, the use of technology was discussed in relation to the types of stories being told.

The forum came to a close on Sunday morning, March 3, with some of the speakers, plus a few students, faculty, and staff members attending a breakfast at Niko’s Grille in Lexington. This allowed for one final opportunity to review the discussions from the previous two days and learn more from the speakers about their life experiences.

Throughout the three days of the forum, students were actively involved in the conversations, frequently asking questions of the speakers. The synergy of the speakers also worked to create a fun yet serious atmosphere, where learning and reflection could take place. We are especially grateful for the willingness of the speakers to join us and for helping to make the forum an exceptional event.

Report on Rewriting the Code by Annie Echols ’21

Rewriting the Code is made possible by support from: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Class of 1963 Lecture Fund, University Lectures Fund, Digital Humanities Cohort, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Dean of the College, Dean of the Williams School, Department of History, Department of Computer Science, Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, and University Library.

– Kellie Harra ’18, Digital Humanities Post-Baccalaureate Fellow

Categories
DH

Illuminating Technology’s Blind Spots: Report on the Women and Technology Keynote Address

“Dodging Silver Bullets: Understanding the Role of Technology in Social Change” with Chelsea Barabas

Chelsea Barabas gave the keynote address (live stream available here) of the Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology Forum on Friday, March 1. The Forum focused on exploring careers in technology, humanities, social change, communications, and the arts. It took place on Saturday, March 2 and included several panel discussions, such as Technology and Social Justice, Making History, The Best Career Advice I’ve Ever Gotten, and Technology and Storytelling.

In her keynote address, Barabas, a research scientist at MIT, spoke about the social implications of technology and how technology can be used to make the world a better place.

Striving to understand the role of technology in social change, Barabas discussed technology’s diversity problem. The prevailing theory for the “pale and male” look of the homogeneous technology workforce is that there are not enough diverse workers with the required skills to be hired. However, research shows that the “unemployment rate for Black and Native American engineering graduates double that of their peers” and “women make up 39% of the science and engineering graduates with only 15% employed in a STEM career, a rate that is half that of their male peers.” Because these diverse potential hires have the required skills but are still not getting the tech jobs, this homogeneous workforce is not due to a lack of skills issue.

Chelsea Barabas Keynote Address
Chelsea Barabas giving the Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology Keynote Address on March 1
Photo Credit: Jenny Bagger ’19

In response, algorithmic recruitment platforms popped up and attempted to solve these hiring, recruitment, and retention issues by creating a comprehensive database of coders, building an algorithm on top of that database that provided hiring recommendations and functioned as a search engine for recruiters, and serving as a solution to the information processing problem of recruiting and hiring predominantly white males. These platforms seemingly allowed firms to more efficiently and more accurately find talent where they were not already looking.

However, these algorithms posed many questions, which Barabas raised: How are these algorithms developed? What ends up fueling these recommendations? How do we create a measuring stick to evaluate talent? Who ended up visible and invisible under this algorithmic gaze?

Most of the time, the factors that were the most relevant to this algorithm were the same as those the recruiters previously used when scoping out new talent. These factors include candidates’ universities attended and professional pedigrees. By reflecting the decisions recruiters made in the past, this technology is simply a reinforcement of the old practices but behind this “veneer of scientific objectivity and neutrality,” as Chelsea put it. Often, people view technology as objective tools that are free of people’s biases, but in reality, this is not the case. Maintaining this view in error increases the risk of obscuring the discriminatory practices of society’s past behind this mask of scientific objectivity.

“AI is like a child. It absorbs the default assumptions about how the world works, unless we teach it otherwise.”

Chelsea Barabas

Therefore, we must teach it otherwise. The perceived objectivity of technology creates the risk of legitimizing the biases of those who program it. Because technology inherits the blind spots of those who create it, we must expand the diversity of its creators. This means cultivating a heterogeneous workforce and embracing the necessity of diverse programmers.

“There are no silver bullet solutions to these social problems. If a technology solution seems too good to be true, it probably is. If people on your team are trying to build something and can’t see the holes in it, then your team probably isn’t diverse enough.”

Chelsea Barabas

Babaras concluded the Keynote Address with this dose of reality and call to action. Technology can provide solutions to social problems, but finding and selecting a diverse team of coders to create this technology is a social problem within itself that technology has proven unable to fix.

Barbaras’ Keynote Address kickstarted an enriching weekend of women discussing, learning from each other, and sharing their own experiences with the intersection of technology and the humanities.

-Jenny Bagger ’19, DH Undergraduate Fellow

Chelsea Barabas’ visit was sponsored by the Class of 1963 Fund.

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DH Event on campus Speaker Series

DH Speaker Series: Gabriel Dance

We are excited to welcome Gabriel Dance back to campus in a few weeks! You may remember Dance from his visit in 2015. This time, Dance will visit classes and give a talk on Monday, February 25th. Join us for his talk on two stories: The Follower Factory and Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night, and They’re Not Keeping It Secret.

Monday, February 25, 2019
Stackhouse
4:30 PM


Finding Fake Followers and Watching the Watchers: New Approaches to Investigative Journalism

Dance is a journalist and editor working at the cutting edge of news. Based in New York City, Dance is currently deputy investigations editor at The New York Times. Previously, he was a managing editor at The Marshall Project, a non-profit investigative journalism startup focusing on crime and punishment in the United States. He was also the interactive editor for The Guardian and worked on a team of journalists with whom he won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for coverage of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency. His work has also won two Emmy awards for New Approaches to News and Documentary, an Alfred L. DuPont award, a World Press Photo award, and several others.

This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Digital Humanities Cohort.