DH Project Update Trip Report Undergraduate Fellows

ILiADS 2017

As an incoming freshman last year, I never imagined I would have the opportunity to work as a research assistant by my second semester at W&L. During orientation week, I met Dr. Stephanie Sandberg and learned about her play, Stories In Blue, which tells the stories of six sex trafficking survivors in Michigan. Through the Digital Humanities Initiative, I was given an opportunity to work with Dr. Sandberg on the adaptation of her play into a website that is a resource for people to learn more about the intricacies of domestic sex trafficking as well as how they can help bring it to an end.

In the first week of August, I traveled with Dr. Sandberg, Associate University Librarian Jeff Barry, Digital Humanities Fellow Sydney Bufkin and Digital Humanities Librarian Mackenzie Brooks to the Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship (ILiADS) conference at the College of Wooster. As it says on their website, “ILiADS is a project-based and team-based opportunity for focused support of a digital project.” Making this conference unique, is the liaison model where each team is assigned an expert liaison who assists on different digital aspects of the project. Monday through Thursday were devoted to working as a team on our project, where we brainstormed what we wanted the structure of the website to be and then began building it as well as generating content. As a student with limited digital literacy skills, ILiADS provided me with an opportunity to not only take the research I have been collecting and turn it into synthesized articles, but to also learn more about what it takes to build a useable and informational website.

ILiADS is a great opportunity for students and faculty from different universities to come together for a week, work on digital humanities projects and compare what each of their institutions are doing to promote digital scholarship as technology becomes a necessity in higher learning. To be able to have this experience as a student was amazing for me because I not only got to see how important digital humanities is to our project at W&L, but how it is being used at other universities. Digital humanities is allowing the research done by students and faculty, that may otherwise get lost to the ages, to live on through easily accessible platforms.

Coming out of ILiADS, I will continue to work on research, but will also be writing more content for the website and entering my research into our hidden database structure that will make finding information easier.

Announcement Project Update Undergraduate Fellows

Work in Progress: Updates from Our DH Fellows

Join us on April 4th from 2-4pm to hear project updates from our current Mellon DH Undergraduate Fellows. If you’re interested in becoming a fellow next year, this is the perfect chance to learn what it’s all about!

Applications are now open for the 2017-2018 academic year.

We’ll be in the DH Workspace (Leyburn 218). There will be snacks.

DH Pedagogy Undergraduate Fellows UVA Collaboration

In, Out, Across, With: Collaborative Education and Digital Humanities (Job Talk for Scholars’ Lab)

[Crossposted on my personal blog and the Scholars’ Lab blog.]

I’ve accepted a new position as the Head of Graduate Programs in the Scholars’ Lab, and I’ll be transitioning into that role over the next few weeks! As a part of the interview process, we had to give a job talk. While putting together this presentation, I was lucky enough to have past examples to work from (as you’ll be able to tell, if you check out this past job talk by Amanda Visconti). Since my new position will involve helping graduate students through the process of applying for positions like these, it only feels right that I should post my own job talk as well as a few words on the thinking that went into it. Blemishes, jokes, and all, hopefully these materials will help someone in the future find a way in, just as the example of others did for me. And if you’re looking for more, Visconti has a great list of other examples linked from her more recent job talk for the Scholars’ Lab.

For the presentation, I was asked to respond to this prompt:

What does a student (from undergraduate to doctoral levels) need to learn or experience in order to add “DH” to his or her skill set? Is that an end or a means of graduate education? Can short-term digital assignments in discipline-specific courses go beyond “teaching with technology”? Why not refer everyone to online tutorials? Are there risks for doctoral students or the untenured in undertaking digital projects? Drawing on your own experience, and offering examples or demonstrations of digital research projects, pedagogical approaches, or initiatives or organizations that you admire, make a case for a vision of collaborative education in advanced digital scholarship in the arts and humanities.

I felt that each question could be a presentation all its own, and I had strong opinions about each one. Dealing with all of them seemed like a tall order. I decided to spend the presentation close reading and deconstructing that first sentence, taking apart the idea that education and/or digital humanities could be thought of in terms of lists of skills at all. Along the way, my plan was to dip into the other questions as able, but I also assumed that I would have plenty of time during the interview day to give my thoughts on them. I also wanted to try to give as honest a sense as possible of the way I approach teaching and mentoring. For me, it’s all about people and giving them the care that they need. In conveying that, I hoped, I would give the sort of vision the prompt was asking for. I also tried to sprinkle references to the past and present of the Scholars’ Lab programs to ground the content of the talk. When I mention potential career options in the body of the talk, I am talking about specific alumni who came through the fellowship programs. And when I mention graduate fellows potentially publishing on their work with the Twitter API, well, that’s not hypothetical either.

So below find the lightly edited text of the talk I gave at the Scholars’ Lab – “In, Out, Across, With: Collaborative Education and Digital Humanities.” I’ve only substantively modified one piece – swapping out one example for another.

And a final note on delivery: I have heard plenty of people argue over whether it is better to read a written talk or deliver one from notes. My own sense is that the latter is far more common for digital humanities talks. I have seen both fantastic read talks and amazing extemporaneous performances, just as I have seen terrible versions of each. My own approach is, increasingly, to write a talk but deliver that talk more or less from memory. In this case, I had a pretty long commute to work, so I recorded myself reading the talk and listened to it a lot to get the ideas in my head. When I gave the presentation, I had the written version in front of me for reference, but I was mostly moving through my own sense of how it all fit together in real time (and trying to avoid looking at the paper). My hope is that this gave me the best of both worlds and resulted in a structured but engaging performance. Your mileage may vary!

In, Out, Across, With: Collaborative Education and Digital Humanities

 It’s always a treat to be able to talk with the members of the UVA Library community, and I am very grateful to be here. For those of you that don’t know me, I am Brandon Walsh, Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Washington and Lee University. The last time I was here, I gave a talk that had almost exclusively animal memes for slides. I can’t promise the same robust Internet culture in this talk, but talk to me after and I can hook you up. I swear I’ve still got it.

 In the spirit of Amanda Visconti, the resources that went into this talk (and a number of foundational materials on the subject) can all be found in a Zotero collection at the above link. I’ll name check any that are especially relevant, but hopefully this set of materials will allow the thoughts in the talk to flower outwards for any who are interested in seeing its origins and echoes in the work of others.

 And a final prefatory note: no person works, thinks or learns alone, so here are the names of the people in my talk whose thinking I touch upon as well as just some – but not all – of my colleagues at W&L who collaborate on the projects I mention. Top tier consists of people I cite or mention, second tier is for institutions or publications important to discussion, and final tier is for direct collaborators on this work.

Today I want to talk to you about how best to champion the people involved in collaborative education in digital research. I especially want to talk about students. And when I mention “students” throughout this talk, I will mostly be speaking in the context of graduate students. But most of what I discuss will be broadly applicable to all newcomers to digital research. My talk is an exhortation to find ways to elevate the voices of people in positions like these to be contributors to professional and institutional conversations from day one and to empower them to define the methods and the outcomes of the digital humanities that we teach. This means taking seriously the messy, fraught, and emotional process of guiding students through digital humanities methods, research, and careers. It means advocating for the legibility of this digital work as a key component of their professional development. And it means enmeshing these voices in the broader network around them, the local context that they draw upon for support and that they can enrich in turn. I believe it is the mission of the Head of Graduate Programs to build up this community and facilitate these networks, to incorporate those who might feel like outsiders to the work that we do. Doing so enriches and enlivens our communities and builds a better and more diverse research and teaching agenda.  This talk is titled “In, Out, Across, With: Collaborative Education and Digital Humanities,” and I’ll really be focusing on the prepositions of my title as a metaphor for the nature of this sort of position. I see this role as one of connection and relation. The talk runs about 24 minutes, so we should have plenty of time to talk.

When discussing digital humanities education, it is tempting to first and foremost discuss what, exactly, it is that you will be teaching. What should the students walk away knowing? To some extent, just as there is more than one way to make breakfast, you could devise numerous baseline curricula. 

This is what we came up with at Washington and Lee for students in our undergraduate digital humanities fellowship program. We tried to hit a number of kinds of skills that a practicing digital humanist might need. It’s by no means exhaustive, but the list is a way to start. We don’t expect one person to come away knowing everything, so instead we aim for students to have an introduction to a wide variety of technologies by the end of a semester or year. They’ll encounter some technologies applicable to project management, some to front-end design, as well as a variety of programming concepts broadly applicable to a variety of situations. Lists like this give some targets to hit. But still, even as someone who helped put this list together, it makes me worry a bit. I can imagine younger me being afraid of it! It’s easy for us to forget what it was like to be new, to be a beginner, to be learning for the first time, but I’d like to return us to that frame of thinking. I think we should approach lists like these with care, because they can be intimidating for the newcomer. So in my talk today I want to argue against lists of skills as ways of thinking.

I don’t mean to suggest that programs need no curriculum, nor do I mean to suggest that no skills are necessary to be a digital humanist. But I would caution against focusing too much on the skills that one should have at the end of a program, particularly when talking about people who haven’t yet begun to learn. I would wager that many people on the outside looking in think of DH in the same way: it’s a big list of unknowns. I’d like to get away from that.

Templates like this are important for developing courses, fellowship, and degree-granting programs, but I worry that the goodwill in them might all too easily seem like a form of gatekeeping to a new student. It is easy to imagine telling a student that “you have to learn GitHub before you can work on this project.” It’s just a short jump from this to a likely student response – “ah sorry – I don’t know that yet.” And from there I can all too easily imagine the common refrain that you hear from students of all levels – “If I can’t get that, then it’s because I’m not a technology person.” From there – “Digital humanities must not be for me.”

Instead of building our curricula out of as-yet-unknown tool chains, I want to float, today, a vision of DH education as an introduction to a series of professional practices. Lists of skills might be ends but I fear they might foreclose beginnings.  Instead, I will float something more in line with that of the Scholarly Communication Institute (held here at UVA for a time), which outlined what they saw as the needs of graduate and professional students in the digital age. I’ll particularly draw upon their first point here (last of my slides with tons of text, I swear): graduate students need training in “collaborative modes of knowledge production and sharing.”

I want to think about teaching DH as introducing a process of discovery that collapses hierarchies between expert and newcomer: that’s a way to start. This sort of framing offers digital humanities not as a series of methods one does or does not know, but, rather, as a process that a group can engage in together. Do they learn methods and skills in the process? Of course! Anyone who has taken part in the sort of collaborative group projects undertaken by the Scholars’ Lab comes away knowing more than they came in with. But I want to continue thinking about process and, in particular, how that process can be more inclusive and more engaging. By empowering students to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, we can help to expand the reach of our work and better serve our students as mentors and collaborators. There are a few different in ways in which I see this as taking place, and they’ll form the roadmap for the rest of the talk.  Apologies – this looks like the sort of slide you would get at a business retreat. All the same – we need to adapt and develop new professional opportunities for our students at the same time that we plan flexible outcomes for our educational programs. These approaches are meant to serve increasingly diverse professional needs in a changing job market, and they need to be matched by deepening support at the institutional level.

So to begin. One of our jobs as mentors is to encourage students to seek out professionally legible opportunities early on in their careers, and as shapers of educational programs we can go further and create new possibilities for them. At W&L, we have been collaborating with the Scholars’ Lab to bring UVA graduate students to teach short-form workshops on digital research in W&L classrooms. Funded opportunities like this one can help students professionalize in new ways and in new contexts while paying it forward to the nearby community. A similar initiative at W&L that I’ve been working on has our own library faculty and undergraduate fellows visiting local high schools to speak with advanced AP computer science students about how their own programming work can apply to humanities disciplines. I’m happy to talk more about these in Q&A.

 We also have our student collaborators present at conferences, both on their own work and on work they have done with faculty members, both independently and as co-presenters. Here is Abdur, one of our undergraduate Mellon DH fellows, talking about the writing he does for his thesis and how it is enriched by and different from the writing he does in digital humanities contexts at the Bucknell Digital Scholarship Conference last fall. While this sort of thing is standard for graduate students, it’s pretty powerful for an undergraduate to present on research in this way. Learning that it’s OK to fail in public can be deeply empowering, and opportunities like these encourage our students to think about themselves as valuable contributors to ongoing conversations long before they might otherwise feel comfortable doing so.

But teaching opportunities and conferences are not the only ways to get student voices out there. I think there are ways of engaging student voices earlier, at home, in ways that can fit more situations. We can encourage students to engage in professional conversations by developing flexible outcomes in which we are equal participants. One approach to this with which I have been experimenting is group writing, which I think is undervalued as a taught skill and possible approach to DH pedagogy. An example: when a history faculty member at W&L approached the library (and by extension, me) for support in supplementing an extant history course with a component about digital text analysis, we could have agreed to offer a series of one-off workshops and be done with it.  Instead, this faculty member – Professor Sarah Horowitz – and I decided to collaborate on a more extensive project together, producing Introduction to Text Analysis: A Coursebook. The idea was to put the materials for the workshops together ahead of time, in collaboration, and to narrativize them into a set of lessons that would persist beyond a single semester as a kind of publication. The pedagogical labor that we put into reshaping her course could become, in some sense, professionally legible as a series of course modules that others could use beyond the term. So for the book, we co-authored a series of units on text analysis and gave feedback on each other’s work, editing and reviewing as well as reconfiguring them for the context of the course. Professor Horowitz provided more of the discipline-specific material that I could not, and I provided the materials more specific to the theories and methods of text analysis. Neither one of us could have written the book without the other.

Professor Horowitz was, in effect, a student in this moment. She was also a teacher and researcher. She was learning at the same time that she produced original scholarly contributions. Even as we worked together, for me this collaborative writing project was also a pedagogical experiment that drew upon the examples of Robin DeRosa, Shawn Graham, and Cathy Davidson, in particular.  Davidson taught a graduate course on “21st Century Literacies” where each of her students wrote a chapter that was then collected and published as an open-access book. For us as for Davidson, the process of knowing, the process of uncovering is something that happens together. In public. And it’s documented so that others can benefit. Our teaching labor could become visible and professionally legible, as could the labor that Professor Horowitz put into learning new research skills. As she adapts and tries out ideas, and as we coalesce them into a whole, the writing product is both the means and the end of an introduction to digital humanities.

Professor Horowitz also wanted to learn technical skills herself, and she learned quite a lot through the writing process. Rather than sitting through lectures or being directed to online tutorials by me, I thought she would learn better by engaging with and shaping the material directly. Her course and my materials would be better for it, as she would be helping to bind my lectures and workshops to her course material. The process would also require her to engage with a list of technologies for digital publishing.  Beyond the text analysis materials and concepts, the process exposed her to a lot of technologies: command line, Markdown, Git for version control, GitHub for project management. In the process of writing this document, in fact, she covered most of the same curriculum as our undergraduate DH fellows.  She’s learning these things as we work together to produce course materials, but, importantly, the technical skills aren’t the focus of the work together. It’s a writing project! Rather than presenting the skills as ends in themselves, they were the means by which we were publishing a thing. They were immediately useful. And I think displacing the technology is helpful: it means that the outcomes and parameters for success are not based in the technology itself but, rather, in the thinking about and use of those methods. We also used a particular platform that allowed Professor Horowitz to engage with these technologies in a light way so that they would not overwhelm our work – I’m happy to discuss more in the time after if you’re interested.

This to say: the outcomes of such collaborative educations can be shaped to a variety of different settings and types of students. Take another model, CUNY’s Graduate Center Digital Fellows program, whose students develop open tutorials on digital tools. Learning from this example, rather than simply direct students or colleagues towards online tutorials like these, why not have them write their own documents, legible for their own positions, that synthesize and remix the materials that they already have found?  The learning process becomes something productive in this framing. I can imagine, for example, directing collaboratively authored materials by students like these towards something like The Programming Historian. If you’re not familiar, The Programming Historian offers a variety of lessons on digital humanities methods, and they only require an outline as a pitch to their editorial team, not a whole written publication ready to go. Your graduate students could, say, work with the Twitter API over the course of a semester, blog about the research outcomes, and then pitch a tutorial to The Programming Historian on the API as a result of their work. It’s much easier to motivate yourselves to write something if you know that the publication has already been accepted. Obviously such acceptance is not a given, but working towards a goal like this can offer student researchers something to aim for. Their instructors could co-author these materials, even, so that everyone has skin in the game.

This model changes the shape of what collaborative education can look like: it’s duration and its results. You don’t need a whole fellowship year. You could, in a reasonably short amount of time, tinker and play, and produce a substantial blog post, an article pitch, or a Library Research Guide (more on that in a moment).

As Jeff Jarvis has said, “we need to move students up the education chain.” And trust me – the irony of quoting a piece titled “Lectures are Bullshit” during a lecture to you is not lost on me. But stay with me.

Collaborative writing projects on DH topics are flexible enough to fit the many contexts for the kind of educational work that we do. After all, no one needs or values the same outcomes, and these shared and individual goals need to be worked out in conversation with the students themselves early on. Articulating these desires in a frank, written, and collaborative mode early on (in the genre of the project charter), can help the program directors to better shape the work to fit the needs of the students. But I also want to suggest that collaborative writing projects can be useful end products as well as launching pads, as they can fit the shape of many careers. After all, students come to digital humanities for a variety of different reasons. Some might be aiming to bolster a research portfolio on the path to a traditional academic career. Others might be deeply concerned about the likelihood of attaining such a position and be looking for other career options. Others still might instead be colleagues interested in expanding their research portfolio or skillset but unable to commit to a whole year of work on top of their current obligations. Writing projects could speak to all these situations.

I see someone in charge of shaping graduate programs as needing to speak to these diverse needs. This person is both a steward of where students currently are – the goals and objectives they might currently have – as well as of where they might go – the potential lives they might (or might not!) lead. After all, graduate school, like undergraduate, is an enormously stressful time of personal and professional exploration. If we think simply about a student’s professional development as a process of finding a job, we overlook the real spaces in which help might be most desired. Frequently, those needs are the anxieties, stresses, and pressures of refashioning yourself as a professional. We should not be in the business of creating CV lines or providing lists of qualifications alone. We should focus on creating strong, well-adjusted professionals by developing ethical programs that guide them into the professional world by caring for them as people.

In the graduate context, this involves helping students deal with the academic job market in particular.  To me in its best form, this means helping students to look at their academic futures and see proliferating possibilities instead of a narrow and uncertain route to a single job, to paraphrase the work of Katina Rogers. A sprinkler rather than a pipeline, in her metaphor. As Rogers’s work, in particular, has shown, recent graduate students increasingly feel that, while they experienced strong expectations that they would continue in the professoriate, they received inadequate preparation for the many different careers they might actually go on to have. The Praxis Program and the Praxis Network are good examples of how to position digital humanities education as answers to these issues. Fellowship opportunities like these must be robust enough that they can offer experiences and outcomes beyond the purely technical, so that a project manager from one fellowship year can graduate with an MA and go into industry in a similar role just as well-prepared as a PhD student aiming to be a developer might go on to something entirely different. And the people working these programs must be prepared for the messy labor of helping students to realize that these are satisfactory, laudable professional goals.

It should be clear that this sort of personal and professional support is the work of more than just one person. One of the strengths of a digital humanities center embedded in a library like this one at UVA is that fellows have the readymade potential to brush up against a variety of career options that become revealed when peaking outside of their disciplinary silos: digital humanities developers and project manager positions, sure, but also metadata specialists, archivists, and more. I think this kind of cross-pollination should be encouraged: library faculty and staff have a lot to offer student fellows and vice versa. Developing these relationships brings the fellows further into the kinds of the work done in the library and introduces them to careers that, while they might require further study to obtain, could be real options.

To my mind the best fellowship programs are those fully aware of their institutional context and those that both leverage and augment the resources around them as they are able. We have been working hard on this at W&L. We are starting to institute a series of workshops led by the undergraduate fellows in consultation with the administrators of the fellowship program. The idea is that past fellows lead workshops for later cohorts on the technology they have learned, some of which we selectively open to the broader library faculty and staff. The process helps to solidify the student’s training – no better way to learn than to teach – but it also helps to expand the student community by retaining fellows as committed members. It also helps to fill out a student’s portfolio with a cv-ready line of teaching experience. This process also aims to build our own capacity within the library by distributing skills among a wider array of students, faculty, and staff. After all, student fellows and librarians have much they could learn from one another. I see the Head of Graduate Programs as facilitating such collaborations, as connecting the interested student with the engaged faculty/staff/librarian collaborator, inside their institution or beyond.

But we must not forget that we are asking students and junior faculty to do risky things by developing these new interests, by spending time and energy on digital projects, let alone presenting and writing on them in professional contexts. The biggest risk is that we ask them to do so without supporting them adequately. All the technical training in the world means little if that work is illegible and irrelevant to your colleagues or committee.  In the words of Kathleen Fitzpatrick, we ask these students to “do the risky thing,” but we must “make sure that someone’s got their back.” I see the Head of Graduate Programs as the key in coordinating, fostering, and providing such care.

Students and junior faculty need support – for technical implementation, sure – but they also need advocates – people who can vouch for the quality of their work and campaign on their behalf in the face of committees and faculty who might be otherwise unable to see the value of their work. Some of this can come from the library, from people able to put this work in the context of guidelines for the evaluation of digital scholarship. But some of this support and advocacy has to come from within their home departments. The question is really how to build up that support from the outside in. And that’s a long, slow process that occurs by making meaningful connections and through outreach programs. At W&L, we have worked to develop an incentive grant program, where we incentivize faculty members who might be new to digital humanities or otherwise skeptical to experiment with incorporating a digital project into their course. The result is a slow burn – we get maybe one or two new faculty each term trying something out. That might seem small, but it’s something, particularly at a small liberal arts college. This kind of slow evangelizing is key in helping the work done by digital humanists to be legible to everyone. Students and junior faculty need advocates for their work in and out of the library and their home departments, and the person in this position is tasked with overseeing such outreach.

So, to return to the opening motif, lists of skillsets certainly have their place as we bring new people into the ever-expanding field: they’re necessary. They reflect a philosophy and a vision, and they’re the basis of growing real initiatives. But it’s the job of the Head of Graduate Programs to make sure that we never lose sight of the people and relationships behind them.

Foremost, then, I see the Head of Graduate Programs as someone who takes the lists, documents, and curricula that I have discussed and connects them to the people that serve them and that they are meant to speak to. This person is one who builds relationships, who navigates the prepositions of my title.  It’s the job of such a person to blast the boundary between “you’re in” and “you’re out” so that the tech-adverse or shy student can find a seat at the table. This is someone who makes sure that the work of the fellows is represented across institutions and in their own departments. This person makes sure the fellows are well positioned professionally. This person builds up people and embeds them to networks where they can flourish. Their job is never to forget what it’s like to be the person trying to learn. Their job is to hear “I’m not a tech person” and answer “not yet, but you could be! and I know just the people to help. Let’s learn together.”

Project Update Undergraduate Fellows

In the Words of Jay-Z, “Allow me to reintroduce myself”

Dear internet,

It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, but hopefully we can get right back into the swing of things.

I joined the team in the Winter of 2016, working on a project called Lions, Jungles, and Natives. My project uses special collections materials to curate an online exhibit centered around a discussion of the misrepresentations of Africa. Click here for past blog posts.

My project was cut short by my decision to study abroad. I spent my fall term in England, studying in a small town about an hour and a half from London called Bath. The experience was super rewarding. I learned a lot about British culture and literature, and I also got to visit a total of nine European cities.

Here’s a photo of me in my favorite city, Madrid, AKA the home of my colonizers:

Oddly enough, my project hiatus was super helpful. It gave me a lot of clarity about what I want and how I want to execute it.

The biggest conclusion I’ve come to relates to theme and purpose. I want my website to be centered around the idea of tropes–how we think of Africa through images and themes, and how these tropes may contain inaccuracies. Moreover, I want this website to be an instructive tool. Largely inspired by my work with History professor TJ Tallie, I want this website to function as a teaching tool for classes like HIST 279 – Africa in the Western Imaginationt. Something that could be used to encourage students and others to think more about tropes snd how they affect our understandings.

With this in mind, one of the changes I’ve made to my project plan is a shift away from transcription and toward annotation. The website will house the pages of two diaries, one belonging to Thomas Hills’ wife and the other, his daughter. Originally, my plan was to use the Scripto plug-in to crowdsource transcriptions for the diaries. However, because of my shifting vision and the plug-in’s limited functionality, I’ve decided to transcribe the diaries myself and incorporate an annotation tool to allow others to identify the tropes at place.

Some of my original plans are staying in place. I’d still like to map the photos to provide a visual of the Hills family’s journey. I’d also want to construct an interactive spiderweb map that lets the user see the relationships between photos and tropes.

Nevertheless, all these ideas are secondary goals directed at constructing exhibits. The primary goal at the moment is to make the collections. To upload onto the website all the photos, diary pages, videos, and their corresponding transcriptions and metadata.

My hope is to have all these materials uploaded by the end of Winter or Spring term, while also spending some time to work on the website’s design and layout. By the end of my senior year, I would ideally like to have a completed website and a paper in the process of being co-written with Professor Tallie.

For a more detailed version of my project, visit my project plan page on github.

Maybe I’ll be able to get all of this done–then again, maybe not. Still, a girl can dream.

Hov Arlette

Undergraduate Fellows

Call Me Will

I’m the new guy. My name is Will Tucker and I’m currently a sophomore here at W&L. I come from Minneapolis, Minnesota (so I know what a cold winter feels like), and I’m currently the first Fellow to be admitted after 1st Semester–having not applied for the yearlong fellowship. I will be majoring in Politics with an emphasis in Political Philosophy, and while my minor has yet to be figured out, I hope to take a minor in German or even Digital Humanities–if DH gets approved as a minor in time for me to do so.

Politics and DH sound like an unlikely duo; however, I can assure you otherwise. The massive amount of data currently being demanded and processed by DC think tanks,  lobbying groups, the bureaucracy, the media, and the data that influences election-time decisions is at a high in this Digital Age. For example, one of the largest scandals of 2016’s election was the release of ~70,000 emails lifted from John Podesta (the campaign chair for Hillary Clinton) and published in full to WikiLeaks. What was inside the emails shocked many US citizens, and I am confident that the evidence of corruption put on WikiLeaks was on many minds inside the voting booths. My project this year will be focusing on this data, and I hope to be able to definitively say how corrupt the Clinton campaign really was. Perhaps the pandemonium induced by the emails actually carried more weight than the contents of the emails–or maybe the Clinton’s were just as corrupt as many thought.

I found DH this past fall through the advice of my academic advisor, Paul Youngman. Dr. Youngman suggested around mid-July that a new class was coming to W&L in the fall. It was called “Intro to Data in the Humanities”, and after reading the description I thought I had found a fun, easy way to get my Science FDR credit. I was very wrong. Within the first week, I was hooked on the opiate of making large projects on my computer. I was almost instantly addicted to the satisfaction that comes from getting a program to work that has been giving problems, to the pride of seeing a finished project–one that I started. It was because of this class that I found out about the Fellows program, and I couldn’t wait to start. Instead of waiting until May, I asked Ms. Brooks if I could do it starting 2nd semester–and here I am.

Here’s to a good next two years of this Fellowship.





DH Undergraduate Fellows

Intro to Command Line: Mac Edition

Hacking on a Mac

Command Line According to Abdur

Hello and welcome to your introduction to command line on a Mac! If you have no idea what command line is, you’ve come to the right place. To clarify, we’re not actually going to be “hacking” into anything. But when you’re being especially productive in the terminal and flying along, it’s like you’ve unlocked the inner workings of your computer, and it kinda feels like hacking. If you don’t know what a terminal is or what any of this even means, don’t worry! All will be revealed soon.

To start, command line is an interface that allows the user to control features of a computer with text commands. Most people have only used the Graphical User Interface (GUI) to make their computer do what they want. The command line allows you to bypass the GUI and do everything directly and, in most cases, instantly. For example, say you want to move a file from one folder to another. The GUI involves dragging and dropping the file using the trackpad or mouse, or using the keyboard to copy and paste the file. Here’s a demo of the difference in the processes:

With the GUI, I’ll drag and drop the “Earth.txt” file into the Milky Way folder on my desktop.


Done. That was pretty simple.

Milky Way

With the Terminal, I can do the same thing with another file called “Mars.txt”. First, I started in my home folder on my computer. When working with command line, folders are directories, which is important to remember because the computer will only recognize certain commands. For example, to move into the Desktop directory from my home directory, I have to use

$ cd Desktop

This command stands for “change directory”. We can’t do “cf” for change folder. This is because Macs use the UNIX operating system and language to run. It’s probably arbitrary, but since it’s a specific language for communicating with a computer, it’s the standard way to do this specific task. It’s just how it works. From there, I made sure I had Mars.txt in my Desktop directory with

$ ls

which lists the directory’s contents. Once I know it’s there, I use

$ mv Mars.txt ~/Desktop/”Milky Way”


This command has three different parts. The mv is the actual command; it moves a file or directory. The two following parts are the arguments for the command. The first argument is the file and the second is the file’s desired location. Again, this is the standard on a Mac, and you should know the rules to move quickly through your directories.

So, that’s how you can accomplish one simple task with command line.

Milky Way

The app I’m using is Terminal, the default command line interface tool that comes with Macs. There are other command line apps out there, and they all come with different features. Whichever one you use depends mostly on personal preference, so I’m fine with Terminal for now. There’s a certain element of novelty when you’re using the Terminal to control your computer if you’ve only ever used the GUI to make your way through the folders and applications. On a Mac, I expected this process to be a bit difficult, but so far it’s been simple to install the various tools we’ve been using during the semester. Almost all the problems I had were because I made a mistake during the installation process.

However, there are a few reasons that computers these days are designed for GUI use. The main reason is user-friendliness. Command line can be clunky, especially if you’re new to it and are learning on your own. Commands aren’t always obvious and it takes some getting used. It’s a powerful tool once you know what you’re doing but first you have to learn. I was fortunate to have learned the basics of UNIX in my Intro to Programming class during my junior year. Coming armed with that knowledge of how to navigate directories and files meant I just had to relearn all the commands instead of memorizing them from scratch. Brandon made a very useful command line quiz that made the process even simpler. Of course, you don’t need to worry if some keywords fall through the cracks because it’s easy to look anything up, but command line is all about speed and knowing everything in your head makes it that much easier. The commands are intuitive once you get to know a few of them, and most of the time if you forget one, you can guess what it is.

Speaking of making it easier, one of the the most interesting parts of command line (to me) is Vim. Vim is an incredibly basic text editor that’s included in Terminal. For many people, it’s faster to open a .txt file or a .md file in Sublime or Atom instead of using Vim. I usually work with Terminal and a Safari window in full screen together so opening another application’s window means I can’t see my resources while I work on a file. For me it’s faster to open the file in Vim and edit it right there in Terminal rather than switch to a different text editing app. It took a while to learn because it is not intuitive at all, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a useful tool for basic files of code or text. You’ll probably hate it, and that’s fine! I know I’m in the minority when I say I like it, so I get it. All this is deeply customizable; you can change everything about your Terminal, or iTerm, or whichever app you use for command line tools. The beauty of command line is that because you’re not using the GUI, you aren’t restricted in what you can do on your computer, so you can also change everything about your computer if you want. To give you some insight, here’s a screenshot of my customized Terminal with Vim open on this blog post.


I told you that command line was fun, but I’m sure all of this may not sound all that fun to you. That’s ok! The fun part comes now: Github. Aidan wrote a post about Github from his perspective which you should read to get an idea of how it works on a PC. There are some differences in getting it to work, but the process is the same. Github consists of repositories for mainly code but all sorts of data can be hosted on it. For example, the original code used to launch Apollo 11 is hosted in a repository on Github for anyone to look at. Github uses Git, a sort of programming language but simpler, to communicate with computers. After developing a long document of code or a blog post, you’ll have to push it to our Github repository. I had to look up how to do it the first few times, but the process is extremely satisfying. It’s fun to work on a project on your computer and instantly see it on the internet as soon as you’re done. I’ll be writing another post about Github soon, so don’t worry about the details just yet.

Hopefully this provided some insight on how command line and Terminal work on Macs. The resources linked in the post should help on your journey through learning all about command line tools, and if not, feel free to email/Slack me if you’d like. Happy hacking!

Conference DH Undergraduate Fellows


The Icebreakers - the 2016 version of the annual band photo.
The Icebreakers – the 2016 version of the annual Bucknell band photo.

It’s been just over a week since I went to my first academic conference (!) and I’m ready to share my experience. I went to BUDSC 16 over the weekend of October 28 – 30th with Mackenzie and Brandon.

The Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference, is held at Bucknell University (duh) in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania every year. This year, Mackenzie and Brandon graciously inserted me into their presentation about writing in the context of digital scholarship and digital humanities. More on that later. Overall, the conference was an extremely interesting and enlightening experience. It was also a lot of fun and I’m thankful that my professors/supervisors are great people to go road tripping with. Besides the endless icebreakers and a wrong turn in Pennsylvania, there was a lot to take in during the days of the conference. Here’s a brief rundown of what I participated in during the conference:

  • Arrived on Friday night, too late for conference activities, so we got dinner and prepared for Saturday.
  • Saturday morning: I attended a panel about “Reframing Art History Through Digital Approaches.” To me, it was pretty classic DH work. The panel included presentations by Bucknell University Art History students who explored collections in the Packwood House museum in Lewisburg and used Omeka to archive the most interesting collections, and a presentation about digital tools and using them for pedagogy, specifically for art history and teaching resources for art history.
  • After a break, Mackenzie and I went to panel called “Re-Envisioning and Reclaiming History”. This one started off with a great exhibition of a project from Middlebury College. You can watch it for yourself at It was an incredible multimedia website with an animated movie, newspaper articles, photographs, and other archival data to present the history of the Collinwood School fire in 1908. I highly recommend you check it out, especially the video. The latter half of the presentation was about using digital scholarship in the humanities to engage various audiences outside of academic environments.
  • The conference picked up for me at lunch. Safiya U. Noble, a professor at UCLA, gave the keynote address about “Power, Privilege, and the Imperative to Act in the Digital Age.” Her talk had to do with how digital applications and technology can perpetuate negative stereotypes and serve to reinforce oppressive ideology and history. Professor Noble brought up Google’s search results, the human and environmental impacts of the latest iPhone, and the sustainability of a programmer’s code. Everything was thought-provoking and made a lot of sense to me. It wasn’t necessarily enjoyable to listen to, but it was definitely something that many people needed to hear.
  • Next, Brandon and I went to a workshop that introduced visualizing data on social media such as Instagram and Twitter using websites such as Netlytics and Socioviz. Good to know if I intend to do any data mining for a future project.
  • Our presentation! The other two presentations before ours were also about the role of “Digital Scholarship in Higher Education.” Brandon and Mackenzie discussed and presented the uses of writing as a digital humanities method. Writing for the digital humanities, such as for blogs or to communicate in public (much like how I’m doing now) is very different from writing for an academic setting. I spoke for a bit about my perspective on how DH writing and blogging are different from writing that I’ve done for essays and/or literary analyses in my classes. I also discussed my honors thesis and how I’ll be incorporating DH writing into the notion of a traditional thesis.
  • Cocktail hour – students and professors presented about their various projects with posters and Powerpoints over hors d’oeuvres. I had the pleasure of meeting students from Lafayette College and their professor, and their presentations. And that was it for Saturday.
  • Sunday morning was almost as eye-opening as Professor Noble’s keynote. The first presentation was a little different from the two after. Dr. Heil presented about the pedagogy of large-scale digital scholarship. The next two were more about using digital scholarship to break down borders (the theme of the conference) in ways that may not be obvious. Sandra Nelson discussed the inherent phallogocentricity of programming and coding languages, while Emily McGinn talked about the Western and English-dominated aspects of digital scholarship.

Overall, BUDSC 16 was a worthwhile trip and a great opportunity for me. I thought my part of the presentation would be a bigger part of it for me, but the rest of what I learned and observed was much more valuable than a few minutes of speaking time. There are a couple more conferences this year that I might have the pleasure of attending, and presenting at, and I’m looking forward to them.

DH Research Projects Undergraduate Fellows

Markdown and Manuscripts

What I’m Currently Working On:

The Commissione of Gerolimo Morosini is a late 17th century manuscript that
serves simultaneously as a letter of appointment, a professional code of
conduct, and a list of legal actions and precedents. It was issued to Morosini,
a Venetian noble from a prominent family, by Doge Marcantonio Giustinian, whose
short reign of four years helps to accurately date the work. Currently housed
in Washington and Lee’s own Special Collections, working with this text offers
me a rare opportunity in several ways:

  • Commissioni are unique, as no more than two copies of each were ever made,
    meaning little, if any, research has already examined this piece
  • Transcribing and translating the text allows me to apply the Italian I am
    learning in class this year
  • Working with an item such as this might normally happen in graduate school,
    but I’m beginning this project as a sophomore

Needless to say, I’m extremely excited to have this chance to make some really
cool discoveries. But the problem with transcribing a manuscript, regardless
of its age, became apparent the very moment I began. How closely should I
replicate the appearance and context of the original text? In a poetic work,
elements such as enjambment and line breaks have an impact on the reader’s
perception of the work, and therefore ought to be preserved. Prose lacks these
restrictions, and may be rendered in a less restrictive format, but the issue
of chapters, titles, page numbers, and more can still pose a problem. No two
projects are identical, and it is up to the researcher to decide how to
approach the text.

Because the manuscript I am working on was written in prose and not verse, and
the text lacks page numbers and other identifying features, I have decided to
transcribe it in a manner as close to plaintext as possible. To this end I
have made use of Markdown, a simple way to format text without all the
complexity of a markup language like HTML or XML/TEI. It’s also very easy to
export to these formats later on, so Markdown presents the best option for me
to start transcribing as quickly and painlessly as possible.

While plaintext is great for its simplicity, it still helps to have a few more
features that Notepad lacks. Using the text editor Atom allows me to keep
track of particular elements by highlighting Markdown syntax, as seen here:


Items in orange are bold and indicate important sections of text, such as
passage headers/titles. Items in purple have been italicized by me, indicating
a word whose spelling or transcription I am not 100% certain of. I’ve used
dashes to indicate a hard-to-read letter and the pound symbol (not a hashtag!)
for headers to indicate recto and folio pages for my own ease of use.

As I spend more time working with the manuscript and studying Italian, I’ll go
back and edit the text appropriately. The ultimate goal for this project is to
have the entire commissione transcribed and then translated into English,
with both the Italian and English versions encoded using TEI/XML and made
publicly available.

– Aidan Valente

DH Undergraduate Fellows

Third and Final Fellow Intro: Hayley!

Hi all! My name is Hayley Soutter and I’m the most recent student to join the Digital Humanities Fellowship program. I want to start off by saying that, before I was offered a spot on this team, I really wasn’t sure what it would entail. I thought I might be required to code (which I did not know how to do whatsoever) or design a webpage all on my own. But because I am a Mass Communications and Art History major, I figured I would apply for the program to see if it would combine my humanity-driven interests with my desire to learn more about digital media.

I have always been a student who favored the humanities. I was never very good at science or math growing up. In high school, I was heavily involved in the photojournalism department; I worked as both a reporter and an editor for our yearbook- writing stories, designing page layouts, taking photographs or proofreading copy. While I loved working for my yearbook during high school, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to continue my passion at W&L. I knew early on that I didn’t want to pursue a degree in journalism, but I wanted something that combined writing, creativity and technology under one umbrella.
This past summer, I was an intern at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia. During my eight weeks there, I enjoyed working on many social media and technology-related projects. I wrote Instagram and Twitter posts for the museum, in addition to enhancing their Tumblr presence. I also helped the digital technology team redesign the museum’s entire website. I loved the digital media aspect of my internship and I wanted to develop my technological skills further once I got back to school. I learned of the DH Fellowship through an outreach to the journalism department and thought it sounded like the perfect opportunity for me! I’m only a few weeks in, but so far, the internship has been a great experience and I have learned a ton already (including how to code a little). I know the skills I am learning will help me when I enter the “real world” in just a few short months by opening up more opportunities for me in my prospective career path. The DH team is awesome, and I’m so excited for the projects and collaborations to come this year.

DH Undergraduate Fellows

DH Fellows Intro: Aidan V.

Hello! I’m Aidan Valente, a sophomore from Sanford, Florida and the second of the three Mellon Fellows this year. I’m a Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Art History double-major who fell down the rabbit hole that is Digital Humanities rather recently, but I’ve enjoyed the crazy and decided to stay.

When I first entered W&L, I thought I would declare a Computer Science major (mostly due to my belief that it would ensure a viable career four years later). I have since then “seen the light” and dedicated myself to the humanities, preferring Italian art and manuscripts to dry lectures on writing code. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy programming—I do, just not to the extent that a CSCI degree requires.

I first discovered Digital Humanities by chance rather than through any concerted effort on my behalf. As I looked through the course catalog for Winter ’16 classes, I noticed a 1-credit course entitled “DH Studio: Text Encoding.” The description, though somewhat vague, piqued my interest enough for me to sign up for it; what I didn’t know was that the course acted as a co-requisite for another class I was completely unaware of. Despite this initial registration faux pas, I stuck with it and learned about XML, TEI, and digital humanities in general under Mackenzie Brooks. My experience indirectly led to an amazing summer opportunity with Special Collections, which in turn has allowed me to set the groundwork for my work this year on several DH projects I have envisioned.

What I enjoy most about DH are its collaborative nature and the applicability it has in so many areas, both in and out of the classroom. Many of the professors I’ve had utilize DH projects as part of their research, and several of my friends spent this summer working on initiatives such as the Ancient Graffiti Project. My own project ideas involve a number of Italian manuscripts and early print books found in Special Collections. As an MRST major with Professor McCormick for an advisor, I also hope to contribute to his Huon d’Auvergne project in the near future. I’ve still got a lot to learn, both in terms of code and humanities studies, but I hope to continue my DH experience throughout the rest of my college career and, hopefully, long after I graduate, too.