Daniel Fawcett

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  • Daniel Fawcett

    Alex, I’m really glad that you looked so carefully at Bogost’s piece. I was thinking about writing in response to that one, but… Bogost is an odd duck for me. I love his work, yet he regularly pushes me into a state of both fury and despair. His work is regularly brilliantly insightful while being simultaneously nonsensical piles of horse dung. I have this complicated love/hate relationship with the man’s work (and his Twitter feed), but I know that when I deal with him, I often fall down the rabbit hole.

    I do think that Bogost regularly writes to purge himself of his transgressions, as you interestingly put it. (I’ll bet the man has a Catholic upbringing. And, as a recovering Catholic myself, I know what to look for in others.) But it seems to me that, more than anything else, he winds up simply digging himself more deeply into the hole that he claims to want to get out of.

    I think that some of Bogost’s critiques are put forth more clearly and with a more coherent “call to action” in “Can Digital Humanities Mean Transformative Critique?” In particular, the authors directly address Bogost’s fear that we are a cloistered cabal when they write the following:

    What would digital scholarship and the humanities disciplines be like if they centered around processes and possibilities of social and cultural transformation as well as institutional preservation? If they centered around questions of labor, race, gender, and justice at personal, local, and global scales? If their practitioners considered not only how the academy might reach out to underserved communities, but also how the kinds of knowledge production nurtured elsewhere could transform the academy itself? These questions are not hypothetical. These digital humanities already exist. Here we offer a curated list of projects, people, and collaborations that suggest the possibilities of a transformative digital humanities: one where neither the digital nor the humanities will be terms taken for granted.

    And really, I’m not going to comment on that. I’m going to let their comment speak for itself.

    But I wonder what Bogost would say in response? It would probably be flowery and convoluted, however he responded.

    in reply to: Project Evaluations #198
    Daniel Fawcett

    The second project at which I looked was The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, hosted by The University of Oxford. This project is far more what I would call a “traditional” DH project, if such a thing actually exists. Maybe it doesn’t… I’m still trying to determine that. But this project allows people to explore the UK in WWI through the lens of poetry and poetic experience.

    One strength of this project is that it puts everything in an easy-to-access, intuitive framework. For example, if one were interested in the poetry of Robert Graves, all one would have to do is click on his well-marked picture on the project homepage. Following that link, one is led to a page with a biographical sketch, examples of Graves’ handwriting, etc.

    Far more impressive is the robust search capabilities. You can search the archives by poem titles, first lines, etc. and also search for images only, text only, or both. This allows for scanned newspaper and magazine stories, hand-written manuscripts, etc. to all show up in the search.

    Finally, the site also includes the full WWI context; there are archives of period music, film, photographs, and “war publications.” Understanding the work of the British poets of this period requires an understanding of their geopolitical context, more so than, say, the Romantic or Victorian poets.

    One of the reasons that this project is particularly suited to a DH mode of preservation is that the WWI British poets have been, by and large, lost to us. The Victorians are well-known, and post-war American poetry is still fashionable. But WWI British poetry is a bit difficult to tackle. It is often stilted and self-consciously archaic, full of outdated praise for the project of Empire and bravado, despite its war-weariness. WWI poetry has simply lost favor. As a result, publishing a traditional anthology would be fiscal disaster, and academically risky. But by archiving and curating the works of this important period in British poetic history, the project allows the period poetry of some extraordinary voices to be preserved despite the fickle winds of academic literary fashion. It also enables students of this poetry to understand just how important the context is to the work; it is possible to, for example, read a poem about Galipoli and then search the archives for news stories about the battle.

    in reply to: Evaluation Criteria #191
    Daniel Fawcett

    In my other post, I gave a quick evaluation of the Mapping the Republic of Letters project. And I indicted that it was a gorgeous, slick project with a lot of interesting things going on. But I also indicated that it wasn’t really a digital humanities project.

    Of course, as I am wont to do, I made that strong statement, and then back-pedaled a bit. Well, a lot. I said that it really was a DH project, but a project that used DH tools to accomplish a very traditional humanities project. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am of that stance.

    Part of my dithering comes from the “distant reading” idea that Matthew Jockers introduced to us (by way of Franco Moretti). The Mapping project certainly does give us a distant-reading approach to the work of several scholars. How in the world would it be possible to trace the connections between multiple thinkers and all of their intellectual networks in a pre-digital environment? This is of particular concern when we realize that many of these texts probably exist only in isolated libraries scattered throughout the world, and that the digital tools allow scholars who are more geographically bound to at least access the information and metadata, if not the texts themselves.

    But Todd Presner’s How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship is, I think, even more helpful in analyzing this particular site (as well as Terralingua, the other site I examined). Presner first asks us to evaluate the work “in the medium in which it was produced and published” (2012). In this way, my comparing the Mapping project to, say, other attempts to situate thinkers in a context in non-DH contexts is like comparing apples to submarines. The Mapping project is an attempt to situate the thinkers in a large, data-rich, visual context, and this is something that the Web is simply better at doing than print. On the other hand, Greil Marcus’ book Lipstick Traces, another attempt to situate various thinkers and artists within their context, simply must be evaluated as a book because that is how it was written. They were attempting to do different things. If the Mapping project had wanted to be a traditional humanities project, it would have been published as a book.

    But I still can’t help shaking the notion that there is something… “traditional,” I suppose, about the mapping project. In that way, I think it falls short of Presner’s criteria of “risk-taking.” The project seems a bit mundane, just enhanced in size.

    Those are simply some initial thoughts. I hope that we can discuss them further in class.

    in reply to: Project Evaluations #187
    Daniel Fawcett

    For the purposes of evaluating a project, I chose the Mapping the Republic of Letters project out of Stanford University. I found this particular project most interesting because it examines a question that I have been wrestling with, too: what is the difference in social and information networks between pre-computing culture and modern, computational culture?
    The project is so slick, well-designed, and visually appealing that it is easy to get distracted from the main problem: it’s actually not a digital humanities project at all! It claims to be one, and it certainly is pretty. It’s fancy, with all kinds of great links and nice looking design. But there’s a serious flaw with good design: it can mask systemic problems.In this case, the flaw is not in the project (which is actually very interesting), but in calling it a DH project.

    I’m actually being overly harsh here. It IS a DH project, but more in the sense that it is using digital technology to solve a straight-forward humanities inquiry. The “digital” part of this project is in the ease of gathering the data and in the publishing format for it. (But, more on that in the other forum.)

    Fundamentally, the Mapping the Republic of Letters project seeks to gather data on the letter-writing networks of great thinkers, such as Voltaire, Locke, and Galileo. The project gives information on the number of letters written by these thinkers, to whom they were written, when they were written, etc. The project then seeks to find nodal points, connections, and patterns in the letter-writing networks.

    As I indicated previously, it looks spectacular. It’s a nice project to look at, and it’s fun to play around with the site. But, in the end, it is a project that is simply a “bunch of stuff”… maps, graphs, and charts. It’s not really terribly interactive. For example, it is not possible to click on a particular place on the map and see a list of all the respondents, but also the networks in which the respondents were enmeshed. Instead, the map is just a map. Static.

    However, this project is absolutely visionary alongside the Terralingua site. In fairness, Terralingua doesn’t claim to be a digital humanities project. Instead, it is a project that is screaming out for DHres like us to re-imagine it.

    In short, the Terralingua project looks at the problems of diminishing biodiversity and diminishing linguistic diversity, and suggests that they are symptoms of the same problems. This idea is fascinating, and could lend itslef to many DH applications: GIS displays that explore the world’s linguistic “hotspots” and “danger zones,” sound files that welcome people to each page and/or give some insight to the languages in question, or even active pages that track an estimate of language loss per day.

    in reply to: Theorizing the Digital Humanities #141
    Daniel Fawcett

    Katlin made an interesting point, writing, “Yes, having the privilege to hold a Civil War letter is way more enriching than seeing a scanned copy of it, but it is enriching nonetheless.” This returns me to Walter Benjamin. (But, really, what doesn’t?) In his “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin writes quite a bit about this “enriching” experience, calling it the “aura” of a work of art. For those who haven’t read it (I don’t know if anyone in class hasn’t read it, but just in case…) this loss of “aura” is something that happened when art stopped being the province of individual craftspeople and became something industrialized.

    But where most people get Benjamin dead wrong is in thinking that he was lamenting the loss of the aura. In fact, it is something to celebrate. After all, when art loses its “aura,” we can understand the role that politics, modes of production, and class struggle (among other things) play in the production of art. We can see art in a context when we aren’t concerned with its “aura.”

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t worry about how art does or doesn’t serve as an “enriching” force on our lives. But we can see the way what we call “enriching” aspects of an artifact are enmeshed in social, productive, political, environmental, and geographic realities. What we see as “enriching” is very much an aspect of our social place and our relative positions within social structures.

    We, as DHers, are perhaps in a new and important position relative to Benjamin’s “aura” and Katlin’s “enriching.” We can examine the technical forces that exist that bring the art to the public, and we can help interrogate the objects that consumers of media actually use in a way that always exposes the matrices of power, technology, etc. in which they are enmeshed.

    Huh. Maybe the digital humanities are all about “resistance,” after all.

    in reply to: Theorizing the Digital Humanities #133
    Daniel Fawcett

    A few posts in, and I think the problems are coming into focus. I like that Shane is really getting at the heart of the question… it’s not really “what is scholarship in the digital humanities?” Instead, the question should be “what is scholarship in the new university?” Especially since, as Shane points out, the university is in “the petri dish.” The university is still shaking out, thanks to online classes, MOOCs, TEDtalks, etc.

    But is this really any different than it has been all along? I grew up in a home with a college professor, and I can remember listening to many conversations long into the night between my professor father and his graduate students, where they discussed “non-traditional students” in much the same way as we discuss online education.

    But we can go back even farther than the mid-80s. For a moment, I want to think about Ramsay and Rockwell’s “Developing Things,” where they write the following:

    A book with a bibliography is surely scholarship. Is a tool for keeping track of bibliographic data (like Zotero) scholarship? A literary critical article that is full of graphs, maps, and trees is also scholarship (if, perhaps, a little unusual). Is a software framework for generating quantitative data about literary corpora scholarship? A conference presentation about the way maps mediate a society’s sense of space is unambiguously an act of scholarship. Is making a map an unambiguous act of scholarship?

    This made me think of Walter Benjamin. Much of his scholarly work was done either outside of the academy, or while his relationship to the academic world was tenuous. And yet, his Arcades Project is seen as a new type of scholarly archive, influencing critical theorists, philosophers, archivists, and DHers. While his massive archive of fragmentary information was not well-understood at the time, it is now seen as an innovative form of scholarly practice.

    So, perhaps we in the digital humanities must spend our time developing new methods, knowing that we are likely to be misunderstood in our moment. (Of course, that’s easy to say in our increasingly privatized, neoliberal political climate). In this way, what I am proposing is a view more in line with Scheinfeldt’s view, when he wrote the following:

    Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholarship was dominated not by big ideas but by methodological refinement and disciplinary consolidation. Denigrated in the later twentieth century as unworthy of serious attention by scholars, the nineteenth and early twentieth century, by contrast, took activities like philology, lexicology, and especially bibliography very seriously. Serious scholarship was concerned as much with organizing knowledge as it was with framing knowledge in a theoretical or ideological construct.

    Of course, as a part-time philologist, that point of view makes me happy. But as a budding digital humanist, I find that view even more exciting. After all, theory is great and necessary. But eventually, you have to have something that the theory can help you to do. Without that, we are all just pontificating.`

    in reply to: Theorizing the Digital Humanities #126
    Daniel Fawcett

    So, I guess I will keep this running.

    I’m not going to directly address the reading (yet… I’ll get back to it). Instead, I want to further complicate this by pointing us to this blog post. I think that many digital humanists, and humanists in general, are conflicted as to what we, as humanists, actually do. According to this blog post, we as DH scholars should be concerned with “resistance.”

    But “resistance” is not necessarily what we do. I doubt that anyone would argue that Harold Bloom or Stanley Fish are “humanists,” and neither give a pair of plumber’s patooties for “resistance” as part of their academic practice.

    Of course, the blog is arguing that we DH scholars are better poised to engage in resistance than even traditional humanists are. But what are we “resisting?” I know several scholars (some of whom are instructors at BGSU) who have argued, essentially, “activism is great… but keep it separate from your pedagogy.”

    I think it’s hard for us to figure out what the digital humanities are supposed to be if we can’t even come to a solid definition of what the humanities are in the first place.

    Of course, I don’t want to suggest that we shouldn’t try to figure out what the digital humanities are just because the problem is hard. The hard questions are the ones worth asking. But considering that there are significant questions as to what our scholarship is and should be in the first place, maybe we need to push the question back even further.

    I’ll actually connect to the reading here in a bit, after I’ve composed my thoughts. I just wanted to get that out there.

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