Becky Jenkins

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  • Becky Jenkins

    My contribution to the library is Alan Liu’s “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” The article is the final section of the final chapter (Part VI. Envisioning the Future of the Digital Humanities) of the Jocker book we’ve been reading, and from what I’ve read, Liu seems to be a superstar in the world of DH.

    The difference between Liu’s argument and the others that we read for this week is that Liu looks at cultural criticism with a wider aperture on his lens; instead of critiquing race theory in DH, gender inequality in DH, the feeling of exclusivity (“the cool kids’ table) to the field, or even user theory (is that a thing? if not, I totally just made a thing!) – (the idea that DH is elitist because tools aren’t properly shared or distributed, or only available to certain people) – Liu is making the wider argument that critical cultural analysis is missing from the Digital Humanities (as compared to regular, boring Humanities) as a whole. He writes that it is his “fear that this lack will stunt the growth of our field.”

    He asks what will DH contribute (methodologically) to the wider Humanities field – and argues that the gap between the two won’t be closed until we can move “seamlessly” between text analysis and cultural analysis. As partners, though, Liu also argues that the two fields can benefit from each other – with so many humanities departments on the fiscal chopping blocks, DH can bring new functionality and new work to these fields, bridging a gap between traditional scholarship and more interdisciplinary, technical, exploratory, or experimental DH work. (“The digital humanities can transcend their “servant” role in the humanities through leadership in advocating for the humanities.”) He says this could be DH’s “unique value” to the academy.

    He concludes with “Ultimately, the greatest service that the digital humanities can contribute to the humanities is to practice instrumentalism in a way that demonstrates the necessity of breaking down the artificial divide of the “two cultures” to show that the humanities are needed alongside the sciences to solve the intricately interwoven natural, technological, economic, social, political, and cultural problems of the global age.”

    I think this article does an excellent job of summing up a major role of DH and DH’ers within the wider context of Humanities. I also think Jocker’s inclusion of this piece as the final chapter of the book of DH debates positions it as a look forward to what is to come for DH – full integration of Digital Humanities into the academy, as a partner to many fields, from traditional humanities to science and biology to engineering and technology. To become more than a field-within-a-field, DH will have to expand its sights.

    Our conversations over the semester and these readings especially have convinced me that every DHer must know some coding to be successful. The Digital Humanities are born of both traditional humanities and computing science – to understand the field, one must understand how the building process works. I’m still not convinced that every DHer should be fluent in a dozen different coding languages, but I think an important part of any DH education should be programming theory and several basic languages. I think there is plenty of room for both beginner and expert level coders, and also beginner and expert level cultural thinkers. If the field is to remain truly interdisciplinary, we’re going to need many different voices guiding the way.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 1 month ago by Becky Jenkins.
    in reply to: Evaluation Criteria #210
    Becky Jenkins

    What criteria did I choose to use and why?

    For all of the projects and all of the sites, I provided background information, and evaluated the design, impact, and questioned the authoritativeness of each before coming to an opinionated conclusion.

    Under the category of design, I evaluated the navigation and search capabilities of the project sites, the overall aesthetic and overall usability for the projects, and ease of use, overall aesthetic and overall usefulness for the tools.

    Under the category of impact, I researched the reach and affiliations of the tools and projects. This included the amount of web traffic it received, the institutions they were affiliated with, and in general, how the information has been accessed.

    Under the category of authority, I questioned how rigorous in scholarship was for the projects and how rooted in scholarship the tools were. Offline scholarly work must be rooted in rigorous scholarship, and our tools should be held to the same standard.

    I chose these criteria because I thought they were among the most important standards to judge the individual projects on. For the websites, design is the number one, most important aspect of a site. As with food, we first taste a website with our eyes, and we make many judgments based on our first look. Most academics are at least proficient in web surfing, and many have come to expect certain amenities and aesthetics when using an online resource. Basics, like easy search tools and a clearly navigable path aren’t always included on a site, so we should evaluate each site for this most basic criteria. The final criteria for the web site projects was the overall usability of the site to gain and share academic information – if you can’t find the information on the site, even if it’s there somewhere, it isn’t very useful.
    For the tools, the criteria had to be adjusted, but only slightly. The most important function of any web or DH tool is its usability – for a tool to be useful, it must be used. The overall aesthetic was important, like the web tools, because users have come to expect clean designs, and will distrust tools that look unprofessional. Finally, overall usefulness was considered – will this tool help create new knowledge or help create a new way to share information?

    What is fair to evaluate a project on?

    Design and usefulness are the basic evaluation criteria that would be fair to judge any project on. They go hand in hand, but any project or tool should be aesthetically pleasing (or at least not an eye-sore) and it should have a useful design or outcome. I also think the ease of extracting information should be evaluated – in other words, can I use this site or tool to do what I want or to get the information I need? The Salem Project’s lack of a comprehensive search tool is a good example of what I mean – the information is all there, but it takes more work than should be necessary to extract it. A more inclusive method of collecting available data should be provided.

    What should be off limits?

    As the web ages, many sites are being left behind in design and functionality upgrades. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a site based on contemporary standards, but all sites should have some degree of usability, even the really old ones like the Salem Witch Archive project. It’s reasonable to assume that not all projects have budgets or resources to update, even every few years. We should simply be glad the resources are still available!

    What’s important or trivial?
    If I had to choose a single criteria to judge any DH tool or project on, it would be the overall ease of use. Even bad design can be overcome with easy to use tools. If a tool is not useful, it’s a waste of resources and time for the developers and the users. It’s also important to maintain a scholarly level of work – maintaining scholarly standards for documentation and peer-review.

    in reply to: Project Evaluations #209
    Becky Jenkins

    The DH tool I am evaluating is Scalar, a content management system. For comparison, I am also evaluating two other content management systems, Mukurtu and WordPress.

    Background information:

    Scalar: A project of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (ANVC), Scalar is a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that is used to create dynamic media projects borne from multiple sources and media types.

    Mukurtu: This is a stand-alone CMS that can be mounted to a site via cPanel. You can also purchase hosted solutions for a fee. Born out of specific archival needs of the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Tennant Creek, Australia.

    WordPress: WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL, which runs on a web hosting service. Features include a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by more than 18.9% of the top 10 million websites as of August 2013

    Ease of Use:
    Scalar: Scalar touts itself as easy to use and as requiring little technical knowledge. Despite this, I found the interface to be difficult to use, and overly laborious to complete simple page creation. The help pages are well designed, but I still seemed to have problems getting pages and features to work.

    Mukurtu: Mukurtu is not easy to use. The interface seems reasonable, but using the content management features is difficult. The design is sort of “clunky,” and the features are not intuitive to use.

    WordPress: WordPress is the easiest to use of all three systems. Most cPanels have a one-click install for WordPress or come pre-loaded with it. It’s easy to use, and is the template for most online publishing.

    Scalar: The publishing aesthetic options are limited but customizable. It’s clean looking and seems to be fairly clear in navigation, when the options work properly.

    Mukurtu: The layout is clean looking and well organized, but navigation of the features can be tricky. I lost my place several times and had to start input over for media items. The aesthetic options are more limited than the Scalar options, making customization an issue.

    WordPress: WordPress is extremely customizable. Because of the enormous audience for the tool, customization options are almost endless. There are pre-built themes, tons of plug-ins and you can tweak your site in thousands of ways until you’ve reached something you feel is right.

    Scalar: The major drawback to Scalar is the inability to import the tool to your own web space. Your work remains on their servers, and you have to re-import all the materials you want to use. It forces you to start from scratch in creating a site, but if you’re starting fresh, that’s not such a down point. Not being able to use it in your own domain, though, might be a deal breaker. There’s also a news item on the page apologizing for a server breakdown and instructions for re-uploading lost media. For intricate, time-sensitive or low budget projects, this could be devastating.

    Mukurtu: This CMS offers a variety of options for publishing, including a mobile publishing app for smart phones. The general layout of Mukurtu is easy to understand and navigate, but the “Roundtrip” feature is extremely confusing. It’s supposed to simplify the process of a sharing unique item data across platforms, but the interface needs simplification for novice users.

    WordPress: WordPress is THE content management system for most blogging type web publishing. The tools are intuitive, the navigation is clear – WordPress set the standard for content management system publishing. It’s by far the easiest of these three projects to use and manage.

    Scalar: Scalar is a fairly new tool, and is still gaining ground, but has active partnerships with such research institutions as the Critical Commons, the Getty Library and the Internet Archive.

    Mukurtu: Last updated in spring, 2013, “Mukurtu is a grassroots project aiming to empower communities to manage, share and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways. Mukurtu CMS is meant to be ‘a safe keeping place’ for cultural knowledge and a catalyst for ongoing dialogue about sharing, making and reproducing cultural materials and knowledge.”

    WordPress: WordPress is the most widely used content management system in the world. It’s been downloaded more than 20 million times and is used to run more than 60 million web pages.

    Scalar: Created as an affiliation to the University of Southern California and the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.

    Mukurtu: Development funds and grants provided by Washing State University, the NEH, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

    WordPress: WordPress is closely associated with Automattic, the company founded by Matt Mullenweg. On September 9, 2010, Automattic handed the WordPress trademark to the newly created WordPress Foundation, which is an umbrella organization supporting (including the software and archives for plugins and themes), bbPress and BuddyPress.

    Rooted in Scholarship?
    Scalar: Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the NEH, both prestigious peer-reviewed credentials.

    Mukurtu: The site lists advisers, research partners and the project team on the site, and includes support from dozens of university affiliated individuals and institutions all over the world.

    WordPress: Though free, WordPress is not affiliated with any educational or scholarly institutions.

    I think Scalar is a great idea, but needs to be expanded to make the tool independent. If I could install the tool on my own cPanel and publish from within my own framework, the options offered by Scalar would be great. The major downside is having to publish within the domain. Mukurtu is a niche CMS, and I didn’t have a lot of luck in using it. Designed with cultural knowledge preservation in mind, the site is data heavy, which surprises me, considering the site description’s dedication to artifacts. WordPress is the most popular and most versatile of all the options presented, but the publishing style is fairly limited to blog-type publishing. It would be useful to expand it to offer more media-centered projects.


    in reply to: Project Evaluations #208
    Becky Jenkins

    The project I am evaluating is the Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive and Transcription Project(SW). For comparison, I am also evaluating the Charles Darwin Library Project (CD) and the London Lives (LL) project.

    Background information:

    SW: A University of Virginia affiliated project, the material “consists of an electronic collection of primary source materials relating to the Salem witch trials of 1692 and a new transcription of the court records.” (Project Introduction)

    CD: This project is one part of the larger Biodiversity Heritage Library collection. From their “about” page, “The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.”

    LL: Full name of the project: London Lives 1690 to 1800 ~ Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis. Produced by affiliation of two UK universities (U of Sheffield and U of Hertfordshire), and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


    Navigation / Search:

    SW: The layout of the project is very simple, but it is lacking any comprehensive search tools. It is also lacking a site map feature. The landing page reads more like a table of contents than a dynamic information site; the information is divided into logical categories of records, maps, archival collections, and contemporary books. Each section is then subdivided into more specific research paths. Within each section, there is limited search capability, but only within the same section’s materials.

    CD: This site offers several navigation options, including a comprehensive search tool, an advanced search tool, and a graphic link guiding users to browse the site and materials by title, author, date, or by collection. Using the site is fairly intuitive to use and easier to navigate overall than the SW project site.

    LL: The site is dated April, 2012, and is the best design of the three projects. There is a comprehensive search tool, and various browsing options. The navigation is intuitive and the site is easy to move around, making random exploration possible.

    SW: This project site is dated 2002, and it shows. Exploring the site, it is clear that there are a lot of information and media materials available to review. My complaint, though, is that the design is completely static, and feels boring to the user. Because the site has such an old feel, the information feels dated (no pun intended).

    CD: This project site is dated April, 2011. Compared to the SW project, the site has a better first impression / initial appeal, but it also has a streamlined, simplified look that feels unfinished and underdesigned.

    LL: The site looks fresh, but feels a bit cluttered. The design is easy to navigate, though, and the information in the site is easily accessible for random browsing. It is easy to make discoveries in the information stacks without knowing exactly what you are looking for – a bonus over the other project sites.


    SW: I am not impressed with the organization of the site. Again, a comprehensive search function is sorely needed to improve usability of this site. The user, to gain any useful information, has to know exactly what he or she is looking for to track down the information. Useful information could be easily missed or overlooked.

    CD: The landing page offers general information on using the site, including screenshots to help guide the user to the specific parts of the site he or she will find particularly useful.

    LL: Overall, this project has the best usability factor. The landing page gives you an instant feel for the type of information that is available to the user, and clear navigational tools give the user instant access to the archives. The word cloud feature in the search results leads the user in new and unexpected directions for research.



    SW: The project introduction page offers a genealogy of the project. It offers names of leading project researchers and affiliated libraries and historical organizations that contributed to the research. It received a 2.61 (out of 10) web reach score through google analytics, a number that is generated based on view count, unique visitor count and unique content data.

    CD: This project received a 2.86 (out of 10) web reach score through google analytics, placing it slightly above the SW project in visibility and reach.

    LL: This project received a 1.95 (out of 10) web reach score through google analytics, placing it below both the SW and the CD projects.


    SW: The landing page of the project lists partnerships with the scholars’ Lab of the University of Virginia Library and the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities. On the project support page, the project lists the NEH, the IATH, and the ECAI as financial supporters of the project.

    CD: On the landing page, the project clearly lists its sponsors and affiliation list, including the NEH, the JISC, and the London Natural History Museum. A fully foot-noted and cited article explains the evolution of the project and the goals and methodology.

    LL: Produced by affiliation of two UK universities (U of Sheffield and U of Hertfordshire), and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


    Rigorous in Scholarship?

    SW: The project’s credentials are prestigious, and the project has been awarded multiple national grants and fellowships, proving the materials have been peer reviewed. The site was created under the guidance of several Ph.D. level experts, and has rigorous documentation for all of the materials it provides.

    CD: The credits for the project include references to the American Museum of Natural History, Cambridge University, the London Library of the Natural History Museum, and the original, handwritten documents of Charles Darwin. That’s pretty authoritative.

    LL: The project was produced by the creators of the Old Bailey project, a prestigious DH work. The London Lives project also resulted in several awards, including the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Prize for Digital Resources, and co-directors Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker were awarded the Longman-History Today Trustees Award for their “major contribution to history over the past year or years” with the Old Bailey and London Lives projects.

    Of all three sites, the London Lives project had the best design, the best search and discover features, and regrettably, the worst rated impact overall. All three projects were authoritative and had clear genealogy and documentation for all of their sources and materials. Overall, though, each of the sites could use work to make them more accessible, more useable and contribute more effectively in the advancement of DH knowledge.

    in reply to: Tool and Project Links #193
    Becky Jenkins
    in reply to: Getting Started #156
    Becky Jenkins

    My project involves historical photos (the date range is 1860 to 1930) from Scioto County, Ohio, where I was born and where my parents still reside.

    The project started with an album my mother found at an estate sale – a leather bound book with ten tintype images of an African American family. I’ve scanned all of the photos and cleaned them with a photosafe cleaning agent. Here’s a link to the exhibit.

    I’ve requested books from the library for more information on identifying the photographer and coming to a better date range, based on the clothing, props and backgrounds in the images. I’m learning that there is very little information about identifying specifically African American historical portraits.

    I’ve also contacted the National Portrait Gallery’s research staff, and they’ve given me information about some further databases and resources for searching.

    I know the name of the woman whose estate these came from, and i’ve attempted to “friend” her adopted daughter on facebook for more information. Through county-specific facebook history group pages, I’ve been able to find some people that knew Mrs. Cavanaugh, and I’ve learned some about her life. I plan on using the university’s account to maybe identify the names of the subjects in the photos.

    While researching the Facebook forums, I uncovered a wealth of information about my home town, including some gorgeous portraits from around the area. I decided to expand the focus of my project to historical portraits from Scioto County, not just the Cavanaugh tintypes. My favorite part of this side of the project is the Millbrook Park page – you’d never know it if you visited now, but the Portsmouth area once was home to a beautiful amusement park with a half mile roller coaster – these photos are from that area.

    I also had some people mention they had photos that “looked similar” to the Cavanaugh tintypes, so I’ve included a section for comparison of these images, and also of a friend’s family – all taken around the Scioto County area.

    I am going home next weekend, and plan to spend a few hours in the library, checking out their photo archives for more source material.

    This is the most fun I’ve ever had researching a project!

    in reply to: Theorizing the Digital Humanities #136
    Becky Jenkins

    If our peers in the DH are “scholarly editors, literary critics, librarians, academic computing staff, historians, archaeologists, and classicists,” I believe it’s their duty, as is with any scholar, to progress their field by using any skills they can apply. Ramsay and Rockwell point to digital libraries, the “deep encoding” of literary text, 3-D models of Roman ruins, linguistic advancements, instructional applications and the writing of software that solve academic work flow problems as examples of exactly how this process should be (and is) working. I think that any pursuit, traditional or cutting-edge, that has as a goal the advancement of scholarly knowledge should be considered an applied scholarship.

    Manovich says (something to the effect of) “a prototype is a theory. Stop apologizing for your prototypes.” A decent pop culture example of this (just go with me here!) is Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy. In the beginning, Marty (Michael J. Fox’s character) goes back to the 1950’s to tell Doc Brown that his “theory” finally worked, that he is there from the future. Doc Brown is clearly an educated man, and uses his knowledge of many fields – physics, engineering, chemistry, etc. – to build a revolutionary machine that would, if a reality, change the world. Not only would a DeLorean Time Machine super cool, it would be ground-breaking to the fields of physics, engineering, chemistry, etc. His work would advance scholarship in each of these fields – scholars would be replicating and improving his work for years to come. I think this is parallel to the work that Digital Humanists are doing, minus the time travel. (Sadly.) Just because Doc Brown didn’t conduct his work in a traditional university research lab, it doesn’t make his work any less radical. Just because Digital Humanists are moving away from the traditional book or journal format for advancing scholarship doesn’t mean that it’s any less valuable as scholarship. In fact, like Doc Brown, I think much of the work that is happening in DH is just that – radical, innovative, and a breath of fresh air for the humanities in general.

    I would argue the same point for the questions that Dr. Schocket is asking – Is editing scholarship? Is organizing a conference scholarship? You’ve already heard my opinion on the “traditional” formation of theories: if Doc Brown can do it, so can we. Organizing conferences brings together scholars and advances scholarship by creating a space for conversation. By my original definition (a duty to progress a field with any skills available), organization of conferences or even editing work to improve it should be considered scholarship. If we limit the definition of scholarship to strictly articles and books, we’re missing out of a lot of opportunities for learning and advancement in every field.

    I also agree with the idea that “we must shift to a new idea of digital scholarship that’s made, something that’s useable, something that is transformed by the digital.” Ramsay and Rockwell’s example of creating 3-D models of Roman ruins, for example, fits all of these criteria – it’s useful and advances scholarship because it allows researchers access to the ruins in new ways. New insights are bound to be born of the 3-D model creation. In addition, scholarship in computing and modeling were probably advanced in some ways, too. Digital humanities – always willing to lend an interdisciplinary hand.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 3 months ago by Becky Jenkins.
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