Alex Koch

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  • Alex Koch

    I should admit I don’t have much of a suggestion for fixing each of the problems brought up this week in the readings. And in many ways, the chapters seemed eerily similar to pieces/critiques I’ve read from other disciplines – it’s simply par for the course, pun fully intended.

    That said, the reading I found myself most drawn to was Ian Bogost’s ‘The Turtlenecked Hairshirt.” To be clear, I wasn’t drawn to it out of malice, but rather its devil’s advocate nature. Too often in the humanities I feel we fall into the trap of either agreeing with ourselves or doing too much talking and not enough doing. Bogost addresses the issue of centrality in the study of humanities, and how humanists too often look out the window rather than go through the door, so to speak, into the outside world. We are so concerned with being central, with being accepting, with being outward – and yet we spend most of our time speaking only with others who agree with us. This, naturally, doesn’t allow for much growth or outward focus. Bogost, if I’m reading it correctly, seems to say that this is the cause of the barriers existing around humanities scholarship, and that those barriers may possibly be broken down by further inclination toward digital humanities scholarship.

    Bogost’s article is, a bit pretentious. His language is flowery and over-the-top. He’s clearly a showoff, and this article only exists to expound his anger towards the community at large…but a community he is nonetheless a part of. One can assume Bogost feels a certain amount of guilt for being a part of the “fetid den of Lacanian self-denial,” he so describes, and likely wrote this piece in part to cleanse himself of his transgressions against the world. With this in mind, I took in this treatise with a grain of salt. But the heart of his argument still rings true: without a concerted effort to look outward, the humanities will shrivel into a hateful husk of a community, but luckily digital humanists are working to prevent such a future.

    In the same vein, William Pannapacker’s article ‘Digital Humanities Triumphant?’ is a warning against elitism in the digital humanities field, and echoes the concerns of Bogost. The reticence of digital humanities scholars to accept outsiders is certainly understandable. When one spends most of their career defending its legitimacy, they are bound to become defensive and insular. Particularly due to the competitive nature of federal funding… As “digital” becomes an ever-increasingly-used buzzword for the humanities (so that even the stodgiest, most “old school,” universities and departments have begun embrace this development) it seems only fitting that we’d see schisms and cliques form to keep the “powers that be” outside of the hip, new, academic world DHers have cultivated. But this attitude isn’t doing the field any favors. Pannapacker states that the humanities community at large has accepted digital humanities as a viable field, and no longer do they need to fight to prove themselves. But now, as Pannapacker points out, they’ve created an aura of exclusivity and even refer to digital humanists as the “cool kids table.” So, as Bogost also said, this leaves very little room for growth – especially as everyone looks to display their unique voice and/or approach.

    I return to Bogost because, even with scholars like Pannapacker – who are doing their best Santayana impression (“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”) – the academy continues to swallow emerging disciplines and fresh discourse whole…Spawning new versions of debates and critiques we’ve (as paying members of the academy) already taken part in. I don’t really know what to suggest to avoid this, because at the end of the day Academic Gatekeeping is all about the benjamins.
    Which brings me to the article I’m contributing this week…. I realize it doesn’t have much to do with academia, but Big Data and data mining are occurring in the public sphere as well. As someone with a background in communication, I’m interested in the way digital humanities affects the community as a group of users, not just from a usability standpoint, but how advances in technologies will impact their day to day lives. The WSJ article by Elizabeth Dwoskin titled “What Secrets Your Phone is Sharing About You” discusses a company called “Turnstyle Solutions,” a data mining company who sells information about customers to paying businesses. They mine customer data by tracking their movements on their phones, judging how the customer spends their time and then selling this information to businesses that might profit from understanding their customer’s consuming habits better.

    Where our parents’ generation worried about getting cancer from prolonged cell phone usage, we now have to worry if our phones are telling our local gym how often we’re visiting nearby fast food restaurants. Big Brother isn’t just watching us; he’s kind of judgy, too.

    Chris Glipin, Turnstyle’s founder, says: “We know there is more value to be extracted from this data…[b]ut we’re wanting to move cautiously and turn on the tap slowly—in a way that doesn’t offend customers.”

    The value is clear – businesses would certainly benefit from being able to more accurately target current and potential customers. And don’t we, as consumers, want to be more specifically catered to? It would certainly make our consuming experience more personal and efficient. But at what cost? With mobile device usage becoming more common, and endless amounts of personal data streaming constantly, companies such as Turnstyle will have access to heaps of information most people would never willingly volunteer. There seems to be no sphere of privacy surrounding mobile data, and some argue that perhaps there should be. And unless you’re a technical juggernaut, you’re likely unaware of how to lock down your own data. It’s going to be an ongoing argument for quite some time to come, but I think the discussion of ethics in digital humanities is an interesting, and important, one. I’d love to hear everyone else’s reaction to this article, and see how you would approach ethics in the digital humanities field.

    in reply to: Evaluation Criteria #200
    Alex Koch

    I failed to mention in my previous post that these non-tech oriented, super-computer-less DHers would count for 4 of the 6 categories outlined by James Smithies.

    in reply to: Evaluation Criteria #199
    Alex Koch

    Dan’s post touches on one a key aspect of the evaluation process in the Digital Humanities: context of the work. Just as Presner was quoted above, virtually every evaluation guide I came reviewed, refers to examining the content in the form of which it was intended. My question is, when does that stop?

    For example if this is a web database or interactive online map, I think we all agree that a screenshot is not going to accurately depict the project’s purpose or how the project might possibly assist other scholars – meaning an evaluation committee should at least open a web browser before submitting their review. However, one of the review guides I found [which I believe I have linked to already, but if not it’s in one of the 25 tabs I currently have open on my browser and I apologize] goes on to say that if it is a web-based project, the elevator is expected to also use the preferred web browser, install any necessary plugins, etc – in order to display the project “as intended.” Now perhaps this is the Communication courses of my undergrad talking, but if we’re to be evaluated on the usability of the project, how much responsibility should be placed on the audience to get the site to work properly? In some cases, the site might even work properly – but fails to illustrate the information in an easily readable format. For example, the 1st runner up for the Digital Humanities Award of Best infographic or visualization was e-Diasporas Atlas is an impressive project with beautiful visuals and a ton of information cited, but I cannot for the life of me cannot get the graphs/visuals to appear any larger than the average Ad banner on a website. There’s an offer to download the source file, and although some of the intended audience may be fairly tech savvy, they may not know how to open a .gexf file. In fact, I’m certain there are plenty of digital humanists not familiar with XML or Gephi.

    I suppose what I’m getting at is that there are potentially any number of users, even those that consider themselves digital humanists, who may not be able to adequately use the features of certain projects. And while the notion that these projects aren’t valid or strong examples of DH scholarship because we all may not have the knowledge or the computer power to adequately evaluate or even use these projects seems unfair or absurd to those doing the research – it also feels counter intuitive to the spirit of the digital humanities. Additionally, it seems counter-productive for the scholar in question as many of the evaluation guidelines refer to other scholarly cross-promotion via links or peer review.

    So does it fall to us to make the content fool-proof, in order to get the reviews and evaluations we need… or is the responsibility on the evaluation committees and the academy?

    in reply to: Project Evaluations #194
    Alex Koch

    Reviewing Digital Humanities projects without having a specific project in mind, was a bit of a crapshoot. As a result, my review focuses on couple of sites I spent the most time examining from a few days of reviewing a number of projects. A quick Google search pulled a number of “projects to watch” from a wide variety of blogs, some of which were dedicated to the DH discourse – while others’ examinations started and finished with “check out this cool graph!” While some universities’ DH websites featured their ongoing work, others linked to DH projects that weren’t affiliated with the university in the slightest – highlighting the inclusive nature further showcasing the inclusive Big Tent nature of the discipline. While attempting to draw up my own evaluation definitions, I found myself struggling – not because of the sites’ differences in techniques or presentation, but due to the wealth and depth of the information presented (while setup exceptionally well, the volume of entries is staggering at Founders Online, a project from the National Archives)… this was the case even after the data was placed into infographics and/or visualizations (one of the more forgiving examples I found on Illustrations for Six Degrees of Alexander).

    Some sites seemed focused on an academic audience, others aimed to for a wider viewing public. More often than not these sites featured tools we’re already utilizing on our own pages (Omeka and/or WordPress powered sites abound) or other freely accessible tools thanks to Google – though some more effectively than others. Two sites which heavily relied on Google Maps data, that I spent some time with were Cleveland Historical and Radio Aporee. While very different projects, the strengths of Cleveland Historical’s page, are due to the general organization and layout of the website overall. Granted, the Radio Aporee site appears to be the result of an unofficial group of hobbyists so a lack of funding is to be expected (especially compared to CH), but entering from the “Maps” page (which is how I was directed from UNC’s DH page) it took me awhile to determine what exactly I was sifting through, what the goal was, and who was doing it. Their accompanying apps feature similar organization discrepancies…though CH’s layout was clunkier than I expected (especially considering the app developer had created similar apps for 18 other regions), with the integration of the map lost after selecting an entry. This was also the case with Aporee’s was possibly even more unclear than the website. Here I was ready to participate in their project and upload my own geo-tagged recording on the fly, but was hung up due to tracking issues! That said, Aporee’s database of sounds was impressive, albeit difficult to navigate at times, but with the support of Internet Archive will likely continue to grow.

    Based on Aporee’s organizational issues, I wondered if having an easier point of entry for users to contribute content to these databases correlated to the organization and display of their projects overall. Our Marathon – a digital archive focusing on the Boston Marathon bombing – allows users to submit their own content on the front page of the site. The submission page looks similar to Omeka’s backend “Add an Item” feature, and likely only relies on a plugin since the site is powered by Omeka. Although the theme has been modified, I did notice several layout issues, some of which we discussed last class appear to be inherent in some of Omeka’s free layouts – if a user clicks on the main flash slideshow it takes you to an item page and you’re unable to examine much else… but if you use the “explore” tab in the upper navigation you’re brought to a “Browse by Topic” page, which to those of us who have explored our own Omeka pages will recognize as a listing of Exhibits. Although the items feature geographic information there’s no way to examine multiple items on a map at once – which would have been interesting to see how close in proximity these items were.
    So based on a limited examination, one which I’ll explore further in the evaluation post, it does not appear that a community-fed project is doomed to organizational chaos, rather the project website’s limitations is likely due to where the site is hosted and how it’s powered.

    in reply to: Theorizing the Digital Humanities #129
    Alex Koch

    This group of readings intrigued me – as I found debating (aloud and alone) Ramsay/Rockwell’s case and I still feel caught between both sides. To me it appears DH’s identity and evaluation issues largely stem from those fixed atop academia’s hierarchy – which I believe we touched on during our discussion of Macroanalysis a few weeks ago. Backtracking a bit further, I recall nearly all of the pieces in Part 1 of “Debates in DH” referenced the MLA conference as THE moment Digital Humanities arrived…yet Ramsay and Rockwell seemingly chalk this up as the first offense.

    “How dare they expect me, the code-changing, data-mining, app-building, mastermind to document my work?! Can’t they just appreciate the results?!”

    My answer, once again, is yes and no. While irritating to DHers and those of us chasing tenure-track positions, this is decidedly a step in the right direction as it at least presents an opportunity for digital scholarship to be evaluated in what remains traditionally controlled discourse. Additionally, it seems if one doesn’t like documenting their process – they could simply look for grants. One might contest, that traditionally scholars didn’t have to dedicate additional time to grant proposals for their work to carry weight. Then again, the vast majority of them are/were not non-traditional scholars, so it’s simply a matter of playing the game. If grant money seemingly equates to credibility (which may continue to be further embraced as we see more university administrations become populated with bean counters), then it’s on Digital Humanists to play the game. So although traditional scholarship still carries a bit more weight I think all of us can recognize this is a liminal period, and progress has / continues to be made. Though as Matt addressed, this is something that could be occurring at a quicker pace if the old guard would be more comfortable holding a tablet instead of their favorite monographs.

    Digital scholarship, like “digital humanities,” seems like an umbrella term – which unknowingly features a comically large umbrella. This could include digital tools or traditional textual analysis of digital media, both of which are equally large umbrellas. Yet regardless of the medium, I think Drucker is wise to remind us that “the role of humanities scholars is crucial in the production and interpretation of cultural materials.” So while I may be sidestepping Dr. Schocket’s original question a bit, I think this does lean on what Dan was getting at in his post – we need to focus on the mission of work and how it relates to the larger discourse, rather than burying our heads in the HTML sand.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 3 months ago by Alex Koch. Reason: Fixing a format issue
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