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!

UVA Collaboration

Reconciling Shakespeare[’s texts]: Collation in a Digital World

[Enjoy this guest post by Sam Lemley and Neal Curtis, graduate students in English at University of Virginia. They came to W&L to give a workshop in Prof. Holly Pickett’s sprint-term “Othello, Ourselves: Race, Religion, and Reconciliation in Shakespeare” course through a Mellon-funded collaboration with the Scholars’ Lab at UVA. More information about this initiative can be found here. This post is cross-listed on the Scholars’ Lab blog.]

In some circles, collation is a word to conjure with. While we might all know what it means ‘to collate,’ the practice itself is too often confined to the rarefied world of bibliographical and textual analysis. In consequence, the word has come to connote a dark art. The OED fails to clear things up, telling us only what collation is rather than how it’s done: collation (that subtle science) is the “textual comparison of different copies of a document […] with a view to ascertain the correct text, or the perfect condition of a particular copy.”

During our recent visit to Professor Holly Pickett’s course, “Othello, Ourselves: Race, Religion, and Reconciliation in Shakespeare,” we sought to dispel this obscurantist view of collation. Working with Pickett and her students, we demo’d a suite of digital collating tools and instruments that anyone with a computer, two (or more!) texts to compare, and a little patience can put to use—often with startling results.

A course on Shakespeare is a fitting (and relatively safe) place to experiment with collation. In the 1940s, UVa graduate student Charlton Hinman developed an optical collating machine to assist in his comparison of extant copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623). In fact, modern techniques of textual collation could be said to originate with Hinman’s work on the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays.[1] The eponymous collator that followed Hinman’s early prototyping resembles an electrical ziggurat that (when switched-on) emits clacking sounds and flashes of light. It is, for want of an analogy, kind of like a heavy-metal R2-D2, albeit without the Lucasian droid’s endearing chirps, wobbles, and bloops (see figure, below).

Despite its intimidating aspect, however, in its inventor’s hands the Hinman Collator revealed something incredible: no two copies of the famed First Folio were exactly alike. When examined through the collator’s all-seeing binocular lenses, each copy presented its own assortment of variants—in punctuation, spelling, and even entire lines of speech. These variants offered students and scholars of Shakespeare fresh fodder in the never-ending project of making sense of the inimitable Bard. While the intervening decades have not been kind to Hinman’s invention (approximately fifty-nine Hinman Collators were manufactured; only a few are still operational), optical collation remains an important tool in the textual scholar’s toolkit. {Incidentally, one of the original Hinman Collators is still in use at the University of Virginia.[2] To see it in action (ably demonstrated by fellow UVa English graduate students James Ascher and Ethan Reed), see:}

For obvious reasons (its heft and bulk), we could not bring the Hinman Collator with us to Washington & Lee; happily, then, digital humanists have developed a number of text analysis and collation apps that bring robust collational methods to the familiar scale of the personal computer and smartphone. While recent experiments in digital optical collation, including the recently launched ‘PocketHinman’ app, hold promise, in Pickett’s course we decided to focus on the collation of transcribed text—that is, rather than visually comparing two copies of a printed page, we would be comparing raw letters and words, transcribed into easily manipulable .txt files. To do so as a group and to compare our results, we introduced Pickett’s students to an online collation engine called Juxta Commons.

We first asked Pickett’s students to visit and create user accounts. That done, we distributed two versions of Act 5, Scene 2 of Othello (a scene Pickett’s students had just read) in .txt format. One version was from the 1622 Quarto printing of the play, the other was from the 1623 First Folio. Though separated by only a single year, these two versions contain one of the most intriguing and complex variants in Shakespeare’s works. The folio reads,

Of one, whose hand

(Like the base Iudean) threw a Pearle away

Richer then all his Tribe.


Here Othello (metaphorizing after murdering Desdemona) likens himself to a ‘Judean’. In place of Judean, however, the earlier Quarto reads, Indian. This variant is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the question of correctness is open to debate. Semantically at least, both ‘Judean’ and ‘Indian’ fit, though each colors Othello’s speech differently: is Othello Jew-like, or like a Native of the ‘New World’? Hence the beauty of these seemingly innocent textual variants; they force us to hold in mind multiple readings simultaneously, deepening our appreciation of the play and Shakespeare’s art. We’ll leave the interpretive heavy-lifting to Pickett’s brilliant students—our demonstration merely aimed to show both the speed with which variants can be detected using Juxta and the value of visualizing these variants with Juxta’s suite of tools. These tools—including theside-by-side viewer, which highlights points of variance between two textual ‘witnesses’, and histogram tool, which visualizes the relative density of variation in each witness—contextualize variants to assist in their interpretation. While discussing why a single word might have changed between the Quarto and Folio, we stressed that Juxta could be used to find similar scholarly cruxes elsewhere. Once found, these cruxes might complicate or add textual depth to students’ readings of a particular moment in any one of Shakespeare’s plays. We also encouraged Pickett’s students to view the words on the pages of their modern editions as the product of recent editorial choice rather than authorial fiat. This kind of textual skepticism—the refusal to take Shakespeare’s heavily-mediated words at face value—can be intimidating. Naturally, students want editorial certainty; they crave the ‘correct’ version to simplify an already complicated text. But textual variability and openness also hold vast promise: the detection of variants and errors reveals something about Shakespeare’s meaning, audience, and culture that modern versions often take pains to cover up. Juxta makes the discovery of these hidden clues easy, even (we think!) fun.

In short, the lesson we hope to have imparted during our time with Pickett’s students is simple: while expertise in Shakespeare’s world and words comes slowly, the familiarity of this technology (particularly to students who navigate web apps with ease) opens new and newly-accessible ways of reading. Reading Shakespeare for the first time can be an exhausting slog through archaic syntax and Elizabethan humor. Juxta and similar tools put the proverbial ball back in the students’ court. We hope, then, that these tools will become increasingly common in literature seminars—their availability spurring students to treat historical texts like datasets ripe for creative recombining and analysis.

We close by thanking Professor Holly Pickett (and her students!) for having us, Brandon Walsh of UVa’s Scholars’ Lab and Sydney Bufkin for facilitating, and the Mellon Foundation, whose grant program for digital humanities made our visit possible. For more information on Juxta—and a more detailed tutorial—see

Sam Lemley

Neal Curtis

[1] See Steven Escar Smith, “‘The Eternal Verities Verified’: Charlton Hinman and the Roots of Mechanical Collation,” Studies in Bibliography 53 (2000): 129–61. Hinman estimated that his work on the first folio would have taken decades of constant work without the aid of the Hinman Collator.

[2] For a census of surviving Hinman Collators, see Steven Escar Smith, “‘Armadillos of Invention’: A Census of Mechanical Collators,” Studies in Bibliography 55 (2002): 133–70.

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


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 or Tara Kakkaramadam at 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

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
Digital Humanities Workspace (Leyburn Library Level 2)

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


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.

DCI Event on campus

Report from Women and Technology “Coding 101” Workshop

[Enjoy this guest post by Jenna Marvet ’21, who attended the Winter Workshops held as part of the Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology initiative.]

On February 9, a group of young women from across W&L gathered in the IQ Center to learn together at the “Coding 101” workshop. Using a presentation based on the Netflix original series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Professors Mackenzie Brooks and Sydney Bufkin started with the basics, answering questions like “what is code?” and “how do I use Python?” After that, we were eager to get started coding for ourselves.

Beginning with the classic program printing “Hello, world!” many of the women wrote their first Python program on From there, we moved onto variables, arithmetic, and string methods. Then came our first challenge: write a Mad Libs program. The user would input four words: a verb, a noun, an adjective and a curse word. The program would insert those words into a customized story, and it was necessary that we use string methods to ensure the curse word was in all capital letters and the first letters in the sentences were capitalized. Proud of their work, many participants swapped laptops with their neighbors to show off their final product.

Following a delicious lunch, we moved onto loops and conditionals. We tried out for and while loops, as well as nesting conditionals. As a final challenge putting everything we had learned during the workshop together, we programmed a Potion-Curse-Incantation game with rules based off of Rock-Paper-Scissors. We were engrossed in our work, trying to figure out the most efficient and effective way to code the program.

As the workshop came to a close, we reflected on how much we had learned in such a short time. Many of the students had coded for the first time. The support from the other women, Professors Brooks and Bufkin, as well as visiting computer science students, gave us confidence to try.

– Jenna Marvet ’21

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
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.

DH People Project Update

Seeing W&L from a New Position

For eight months I’ve held a new title, no longer “Student” at Washington and Lee but now “Digital Humanities Post-Baccalaureate Fellow” in the W&L Library. In this position, I’ve contributed to the development of a new initiative called Rewriting the Code: Women and Technology, aided in the promotion of W&L’s new Digital Culture and Information (DCI) minor, and explored the university’s decision to adopt coeducation in the mid-1980s.

Rewriting the Code is a cross-departmental, collaborative effort which aims to inspire women at W&L to pursue majors, careers, and interests at the intersection of technology and the humanities. We started with two fall workshops, one covering HTML/CSS and the other on Python. After receiving double the number of applicants (60!) as spots available, we decided to host a second round of these workshops during the beginning of winter term. Coming up, we will be hosting a forum that includes a keynote presentation on March 1 and panel discussions on various topics, plus a mentoring lunch, on March 2. I have spent a significant portion of my work time aiding in the planning and execution of these events.

My work for DCI has primarily involved encouraging students, through the use of social media, to sign up for DCI classes. The goal is to have some of these students declare the minor after trying out the classes. In both the fall and winter terms, we have seen most DCI classes nearly full or at maximum capacity (and a couple with long waitlists, too!). It is exciting to see the enthusiasm students, and especially the underclassmen, have for DCI classes and the valuable skills they get to learn.

Researching the coeducation decision has allowed me to explore the vast holdings of W&L’s Special Collections. I have learned that it is very easy to begin skimming through documents in a folder, realize it is unlikely I will find any information related to coeducation within those documents, but be so intrigued by what I’m reading that I continue looking through it anyway. Nonetheless, the (re)discoveries that are made related to coeducation as I search through our collections is exciting for me and the other staff members who work in Special Collections. Although this project still has considerably more work to be completed before my one-year appointment comes to an end, before I leave I expect to have a website created with digital facsimiles of a variety of different types of documents related to coeducation and the experience of women at W&L more generally.

So, what is a post-baccalaureate fellowship? These types of positions are typically open to graduating seniors or recent graduates (those who graduated within the past one to three years) and are relatively short in duration (one or two years). Post-baccalaureate fellowships provide a great transition for students and recent grads because they offer the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience as well as mentorship from colleagues. For myself in particular, I believe that this position has been able to provide me with valuable experience as I transition from college life to the working world. Although I worked over the summers while in college, I didn’t have the “traditional” W&L internships, especially before my senior year. Instead, during the summer of 2017, I helped my mother remodel our house and equestrian property before selling it later that year. In my spare time, I worked for the government, visiting farms in the area to talk to farmers and collect data about their crops and livestock. While I felt that I had a productive summer in my own way, the feedback I received in interviews during my senior year was often along the lines of, “It seems like you are capable of accomplishing many things, but we don’t have enough solid examples of your ability.” This position allows me to demonstrate my skills through the projects I’m completing. While I did have a work study position as a student, I have considerably more responsibility now, aiding in the planning, organizing, and promotion of our various events and other projects on campus. Unlike with my work study position, I am able to be a part of these projects from start to finish.

Further, this type of position also benefits current students who get to participate in the events that are occurring through my work. For example, Rewriting the Code is a brand new initiative this year, yet over 60 women will have been impacted in some way through the workshops we held. Even more will benefit once we hold the forum in March. The coeducation project is also involving students to research issues important to them. Currently, a student is aiding in the development of a background story and oral histories on Asians, Asian-Americans, and exchange students (with a focus on women) to add to our collective knowledge about the impact of coeducation.

I also have discovered this fellowship to be an easier transition to life after college, as I’m already in a place where I am comfortable. Although at times it feels strange being an employee at W&L while still having friends who are students, much of the culture that I became accustomed to as a student is the same. This has made it easier to focus on my work tasks without being concerned about adjusting to a new company culture.

Although I have yet to decide where my path will take me after this fellowship ends, I feel confident in the skills I’ve gained and demonstrated through my position. I’m also excited about the impact of my work, in particular with the Rewriting the Code initiative. In the future, I hope to see more opportunities for other students to have experiences similar to mine.

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