DAH Conference 2016

Digital entanglements: the post-digital present

On November 18th 2016 I attended the final Digital Arts and Humanities (DAH) conference held at the Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin. The conference’s main theme was ‘Digital entanglements: the post-digital present’. The keynote speakers were Dr. Steven E. Jones and Dr. Maria Chatzichristodoulou. The programme is available here.

The conference was structured as a series of keynote lectures followed by panels with different sub-themes assigned to each. This blog post will focus upon the initial keynote address by Dr. Steven E. Jones, entitled ‘Digital Humanities after the ‘eversion’.

Jones’ lecture started with a discussion of the ‘eversion’ that has taken place with regard to the digital network or the internet. This concept is further developed in his book, The Emergence of the Digital Humanities (2014). The ‘eversion’ as defined by Jones refers to the changes that have taken place within the digital network; this change can be defined as the difference between logging into a static virtual world and having that virtual world encompass our so-called ‘real’ world. Although this is a complex definition and indeed an incomplete one, it does give a sense of the changes that have occurred. The period of 2004 – 2008 is posited as the timeframe when the concept of logging into a virtual world became less relevant as the digital world enveloped daily life.

Examples of the eversion as defined by Jones include; Google Maps, QR codes and daily uses of web accessible technology in our day to day commercial and social  activities. Instead of logging into a digital network, we are now surrounded and immersed within it at all times. Formerly remote regions now have wifi.  Jones employed two examples, benign and malignant, to show the process of ‘eversion’ as it occurs today. Starting with the benign, Jones’ outlined the origins of Pixel Pour by artist Kelly Goeller which was an example of street art installed on a public water pipe in NYC. This piece of art resembles a 8 bit pixelated stream of water flowing from a water pipe, evocative of early Mario Bros. video games from the 1980s and 1990s. This artwork utilises a digital concept, that of pixelated images and creates a real-world version on a street in NYC. The malignant example of ‘eversion’ given by Jones is that of cybersecurity and certain online activities with real world impacts such as ‘doxxing’ and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. One example is the recent Comet Pizza controversy where an internet rumour about a child exploitation ring operating out of pizzeria in Washington D.C. led an individual to appear at the real world location armed with a firearm (ABC News). Although this example is extreme, it is part of a trend of increasingly violent and dangerous rhetoric which starts in online blogs and forums, then crosses over into the ‘real’ world.

Lev Manovich’s concept of augmented space outlined in his article, ‘The poetics of augmented space’ (2006), provides an interesting context to the concept of the ‘eversion’ as outlined by Jones. If we currently exist in a mixed reality that has everted, with aspects of digital artefacts existing in our ‘real’ world then Manovich’s argument that we are currently interacting with augmented spaces is an early precursor to the everted reality that Jones outlines. Manovich uses the example of Canadian artist, Janet Cardiff and her ‘audio’ walks (Manovich 226). It is interesting that both Jones and Manovich use artists projects’ as case-studies to illustrate real-world examples of the concept they are articulating. It shows that art, however one defines the medium, is able to act as a mediator to new concepts and ideas.

Following Dr. Jones’ discussion of the term ‘eversion’ and how it has affected the digital network, he discusses its impact upon the field of digital humanities and potential challenges and opportunities that this ‘eversion’ has presented to the discipline. Jones avoids the simplistic narrative of progress. His emphasis upon a balanced reading of our current environment as a discipline and the uncertain future for the humanities was a welcome component of the discussion.

Other elements of Dr. Jones’ lecture concerned his newly published text, Roberto Busa, S.J., and the Emergence of Humanities Computing: The Priest and the Punched Cards (2016). This text is an interesting history of an early humanities computer created by Father Busa; an Italian priest who created a humanities computer using punch card machines and funding from IBM. This history surrounding humanities computing was new to me as a recent entrant to the field of digital humanities, and I found the painstaking efforts that Jones went to recreating the punch card machines digitally particularly fascinating, and an example of the new types of approaches available in a our post-eversion era.

Overall I found this talk a refreshing and engaging lecture that informed me of some of the new approaches occurring within Digital Humanities. His exploration of the changes occurring within our shared digital culture posed interesting questions that have led to a series of reflections upon the theme outlined. The concept of the internet and how it has evolved from a shared digital network to an all-encompassing latticework that can at times penetrate every aspects of our daily lives. The concept of ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ are instructive in this regard; if we are free to use the internet and the engage with the shared knowledge within this network, are we also free from it? Is it possible to become unplugged and live, to use a cliché, off grid? Undoubtedly this is still possible and in large parts of the developing world inadequate infrastructure prevents a full engagement with the eversion as outlined by Jones. However Jones’ lecture specifically examined the relationship between the eversion and the digital humanities. Posing the same questions again as a digital humanist, it is not clear who can remain off grid or unaware of the eversion that has occurred. Its full relationship with the digital humanities is still to be explored, in part because the digital humanities is not a unified idea or structure. The freedom to exist as a kaleidoscopic community of intersecting centres, research institutes and in some cases factions, is an empowering aspect of digital humanities.

Work Cited

“Alleged gunman in ‘Pizzagate’ cases pleads not guilty to all charges” ABC News abcnews.go.com/US/alleged-gunman-pizzagate-case-pleads-guilty-counts/story?id=44243444. Accessed 18 December 2016.

Goeller, Kelly ‘Pixel Pour’ kelloworld.com/pixel-pour-1. Accessed 18 December 2016.

Jones, Steven E. “Digital Humanities after the ‘eversion'” DAH Conference. Trinity Long Room Hub, Dublin City. 18 November 2016. Keynote Address.

Manovich, L. “The Poetics of Augmented Space.” Visual Communication, vol. 5, no. 2, SAGE Publications, June 2006, pp. 219–240.

“What doxxing is and why it matters” The Economist theeconomist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/03/economist-explains-9. Accessed 18 December 2016.

St. Andrew Records Project

St Andrew’s Records Project

(Copyright. St. Andrews Resource Centre and Trinity College Dublin)

 

This blog post is about a project I consulted on earlier this year. It was a collaboration between St. Andrew’s Resource Centre and Trinity College Dublin. It was a public history project that transcribed the national school records for St. Andrew’s National School, an inner city primary school closed in 1970.

Phase 1 of the project was focused on the period between 1900 and 1916. The result was a searchable web database that is currently hosted here. It is envisioned that this project will continue in 2017 and beyond into the Decade of Centenaries.

FSS1 – Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences

I enrolled in the module FSS1, Quantitative methods in the Social Sciences, as part of my doctoral program. The module is a three day workshop taught by Fionnuala Ní Mhordha from the Geography Department at Maynooth University. I was unsure of what to expect from this module but it turned out to be an in-depth introduction to the statistical program, SPSS developed by IBM.

The module was structured into three days of workshops. This resulted in three intensive session on statistics and training in the uses of the program SPSS. The workshop environment meant that there was opportunity for engagement between the tutor and the class. When learning a new program, this type of process has benefits and limitations. From my perspective, the classes worked very well and the workshop model allowed me to experiment with the program and get feedback from the tutor if I made any mistakes.

As someone studying digital humanities and starting a doctorate in history with an emphasis upon military records, this module proved invaluable and provided me with the necessary program (SPSS) to help interrogate one of my core resources, the Irish Army Census, 1922. To give an example of the workflow I developed from this module, I have outlined how it is being currently utilised in my PhD research.

As part of my PhD research, I’m currently transcribing the Irish Army Census, 1922 ; a census taken of men serving in the National Army in November 1922. It has been partially transcribed so far, and I am currently transcribing the full census with all fields into a database. This is currently stored in a FileMaker Pro database. I used 15,045 transcribed records for the assignment for this module to answer a series of initial research queries. The workflow for this started with my current dataset which is within a FileMaker Pro database. From my FileMaker Pro database, I exported a .csv file containing the information transcribed, all text with the exception of an age field and date field. This was then coded using SPSS into a series of numerical values. Listed below is a frequency table of the Marital Status of 15,045 soldiers listed on the Irish Army Census.

Frequency table of Marital Status

Using the auto code feature in SPSS I was able to take my text based data and transform it into a set of numerical values, in this case ranging from 1 to 4.

1 = Married

2 = Single

3 = Widower

4 = Missing (This means that the census return has no entry)

Taking the data that is already numerical, in this case age data, SPSS can create a well designed histogram that illustrates the data in an effective manner. In this example below, a frequency table of age and a histogram of age show that the majority of men in the dataset examined (15,045) are aged 18 – 24. A cumulative percent of 67.8%.

Frequency table of Age
Histogram of Age

This initial statistical frequency test will form the basis of further research on the age profile of the National Army. The initial results are provisional as this test was only done with 50% of the total servicemen listed on the Irish Army Census. However, it is a good example of some of the types of techniques that can be applied after participating in this FSS1 module.

 

The City and the Rising – A 3D Spatial Humanities Project

images
(Copyright. Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)

This spatial humanities project is a recent example of a public history project. It was created for Dublin City Council (DCC) by Noho Ltd and was launched as part of the 1916 Rising Centenary programme of events. It was featured in a recent talk given by John Buckley to MA students as part of the module AFF624. The project is currently hosted at the following website. The first issue encountered when viewing the project was the usability of the website. The need to switch between a 2D map, 3D (where possible) and pop up text boxes creates a confusing visual experience for the viewer if they are using a 13” laptop. Three different devices were utilised for this evaluation; an iPhone 6, an iMac 5K 27” and a MacBook Pro 13”. The resolution differences between these devices raises significant questions about accessibility. The best viewing experience was achieved on the iMac which presented the information in a clear and concise interface, allowing the user to interact and explore the website with ease. The worst viewing experience was on the iPhone 6, this suggests that mobile viewing was never considered during the design stages of the project. On the MacBook Pro 23”, the resolution scaling resulted in a cluttered and crowded screen, resulting in a limited user experience. The limits the potential of this project to desktop or large screen (15”+) laptop users. The project’s navigation tool is a detailed topographical map of Dublin city. Locations of significance during the Easter Rising are highlighted in different colours; red icons indicate texts boxes and blue icons indicate that a 3D visualisation is available. Some of these visualisations are simple 3D buildings superimposed on the 2D topographical map. The locations with 3D interactive representations are; Sackville Street, St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Castle.

City and the Rising Front Page (Copyright, NOHO & Dublin City Council)
City and the Rising Front Page (Copyright, Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)
Four Courts. Text box with picture. (Copyright. NOHO & Dublin City Council)
Four Courts. Text box with picture. (Copyright. Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)

The 3D representations generate within the website utilising the WebGL protocol and the process is relatively smooth, although the images are heavily compressed. This is particularly evident on a 5K resolution iMac screen.

Sackville Street - 3D Representation (Copyright. NOHO Ltd. & Dublin City Council)
Sackville Street – 3D Representation (Copyright. Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)

In addition to the 3D representations, the project has a separate Oculus Rift element called the Virtual Museum. This is limited to those who use a Windows computer and have access to the relevant VR technology. This further limits access, as non-Windows users are only able to utilise a portion of the project.

Virtual Museum (Copyright. Noho ltd. & Dublin City Council)
Virtual Museum (Copyright. Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)

The 3D representations of key buildings and areas of Dublin city are the most emphasised parts of the project. For example, when one hovers a mouse over the Dublin Castle icon, the text reads ‘Rebels attack Dublin Castle Gates’ but the 3D view shows an empty and clean representation of Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle Gates Attacked by Rebels text box (Copyright. NOHO & Dublin City Council)
Dublin Castle Gates Attacked by Rebels text box (Copyright. Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)
'Dublin Castle Attacked by Rebels' 3D Representation (Copyright. NOHO & Dublin City Council)
Dublin Castle 3D Representation (Copyright. Noho ltd & Dublin City Council)

This is a repeated flaw throughout this public humanities project; the inability to represent even in a minimal sense human involvement. The empty world model that is shown is photo-realistic but is removed from the historical reality that is being told. In a way this disconnect is inevitable with this type of project as 3D representations with avatars are harder to create and more expensive. It is important to reiterate that this is a public humanities project paid for with funding from a public institution. Therefore added functionality that is expensive is less likely to occur as budgets of public institutions are highly scrutinised. A quote on the project by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Críona Ní Dhálaigh, stated that this project was a form as ‘edutainment’ (TechCentral 2016), this may be the most accurate way of explaining its contradictions. The historical narrative outlined in this project is clear and doesn’t indulge in overt nationalist themes and rhetoric unlike the 1966 commemorations. The images of key persons and destroyed buildings are useful to help visualise the events of the Easter Rising. However the main element of the project, feels like playing the game ‘Myst’. Visually striking and highly detailed but without context, and providing minimal historical augmentation. Unlike the Gettysburg project which sought to engage with the discourse on the Battle of Gettysburg, this project seems to lack a centralised research question or statement. If the 3D elements of this project were supposed to show Dublin prior to the destruction caused by the Easter Rising then this would not be an issue, however the stated aims of the project are a recreation of Dublin during the Easter Rising.

Overall the project is interesting and ambitious in scope and scale. However by de-emphasising the historical record and by presenting a clean, aesthetically pleasing representation, it is unclear what research question is guiding the project. This is unfortunate as the project could be utilised to help bring a new and more interactive experience of the Easter Rising to academics and the general public. However the final product is none of these things, it has potential but it is limited. It fits within the larger issues raised by the recent 1916 commemorations where simplistic and in some cases false assertions about Ireland’s past were disseminated by public institutions.

Work Cited
The City and the Rising. Dublin City Council, www.cityandtherising.com

“The City and the Rising website gives fresh view of 1916.” TechCentral, www.techcentral.ie/the-city-and-the-rising-website-gives-fresh-view-of-1916/

What could General Robert E. Lee see at Gettysburg? – A 2D Spatial Humanities Project

What could General Robert E. Lee see at Gettysburg?

This project is a good example of an initial academic research idea becoming the basis of a larger spatial humanities project. In 2008, Dr. Anne Knowles, a historical geographer utilised Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS) to interrogate pre-existing concepts and narratives surrounding the Battle of Gettysburg, a seminal event during the American civil war, in her essay “What could Lee see at Gettysburg?” in Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship (ESRI 2008). Her essay re-examined the physical location of Robert E. Lee during the Battle of Gettysburg and using ArcGIS created a digital composite map of the battle from a number of historical maps including John Bachelder’s Gettysburg maps created in 1873 (Codex99 2013).

What could Robert E. Lee see?
Map showing Robert E. Lee’s line of sight  (Knowles 2008)

As shown in the topographical map above, Lee was positioned within a clocktower at the Lutheran seminary which provided him with a wide line of sight from which he could direct his army in the field. This map is not interactive but is highly detailed, a simple colour code shows the areas where Lee could see and the areas he could not. However the map is of the opening position of a three day battle. The emphasis upon line of sight is important as during the nineteenth century, physical eyesight was often decisive in the planning and organisation of one’s army for an upcoming battle. In addition to good intelligence filtered to the command level by scouts, spies and acquired local knowledge (maps, local sympathisers etc.)

In 2013, Dr. Anne Knowles and a team of researchers were asked to create a larger project on the Battle of Gettysburg for the Smithsonian Magazine. This project is currently hosted here. This public humanities project was created during the U.S. sesquicentennial of the American civil war which ran from 2009 to 2015. The Smithsonian project should be viewed as the continuation of Dr. Knowles initial research but with a greater emphasis upon the general public. As a result the maps created are more interactive while remaining topographical maps. The entire three days of the battle have been mapped and the positions of the armies and units are colour coded. Each day can be displayed by a slider that allows for a chronological examination of the battle.

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-02-04
Day 1 – Battle of Gettysburg (Copyright. Smithsonian Magazine)
screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-04-47
Day 2 – Battle of Gettysburg (Copyright. Smithsonian Magazine)
screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-09-53
Day 3 – Battle of Gettysburg (Copyright. Smithsonian Magazine)

The focus upon the general public is indicative of the needs of the hosting institution, in this case the Smithsonian Magazine. The project is, as of the writing of this blog accessible and has not become abandon-ware, however the functionality of the interactive map is problematic. Firstly the map is not full screen and sits within a window, framed by an article describing the project and its significance. Secondly although a user can scroll through the different days of the battle, the ability to focus upon a given area is limited, for example it is not possible to focus upon Cemetery Hill during the three days of the battle exclusively. This would seem to be a major flaw with the project as the ability to narrow the field of view to one area or unit that took part in the battle was the basis of the original concept underpinning this project, namely the field of vision that was available to General Robert E. Lee.

In conclusion this spatial humanities project is a good example of the problems that arise when an academic essay is transformed into the basis of a public humanities project. Although the final product works well and is useful for researchers as well as the general public, the initial essay with its simple research statement presented much more useful information and added greatly to the discuss of the Battle of Gettysburg. The public humanities project does add new details and provides a more distinctive way of viewing the battle but with the level of specificity and the ability to track an individual unit or area of the battle, the level of granular detail provided by Dr. Knowles initial research is lost.

There are a number of websites and articles that contain parts of the project and provide some of the background information like the types of maps utilised. I have listed all the website below that contain relevant information for the project, starting with the initial topographical maps for Dr. Knowles essay and ending with the Smithsonian Magazine. It would have been more appropriate for the Smithsonian Magazine as the host of the public humanities project to have collated this information into a side website that gave a viewer the full context of this project.

Website articles containing relevant information for this project are listed below

‘Gettysburg’ Codex 99

‘A second cutting edge look at Gettysburg’  Smithsonian Magazine

‘General Lee’s Birds Eye View’ Kenneth Wong Cadalyst

Work Cited

‘Gettysburg’ Codex99 www.codex99.com/cartography/gettysburg