Lexicon of DH

Last Thursday’s GC Digital Fellows Workshop, “The Lexicon of DH,” as the title suggests, provided attendees with a great overview of tools and terms to better understand DH and possible DH projects. Jojo Karlin’s presentation began with a simple parsing of the term “Digital Humanities” as follows:

Digital Humanities projects use

digital methods of research

that engage humanities topics in their materials


interpret the results of digital tools from a humanities lens

Among the attendees, I saw some of my classmates from DH Praxis alongside PhD candidates in Art History, Sociology, and Education. I was surprised to find some faculty in attendance from Literary Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. All this is to say, it was a pretty diverse group who came to the workshop with a broad range of digital skill sets, questions, and concerns. 

Jojo explained that data for humanists is “constructed, interpretable, processable (digitally), and can have evidentiary value.” Without data, digital humanities projects would not be possible and Jojo provided us with several sources such as databases (NYC Open Data, Digital Public Library of America) institutional collections (Digital Scriptorium, NYPL Digital Collections) and other digital projects (Around DH in 80 Days). She also gave us tools and techniques we could use to collect data with audio/visual (TANDEM, CUNYcast), web scraping (Scrapy), text analysis (Python, MALLET, R , AntConc) text encoding (Text Encoding Initiative), and geocoding (Mapbox, CartoDB, OpenStreetMap, QGIS). I appreciated that Jojo spent some time discussing APIs. Her definition of APIs as a way to communicate with websites, made them more approachable instead of intimidating. Jojo emphasized that “digital things” often have documentation, keys that allow them to be accessed. She also encouraged us to register for Zotero in order to easily save, access, and cite all the tools and information we come across during our research. 

A heated discussion arose regarding ethics in response to Lev Manovich’s “Selfie Project,” which involved gathering images from thousands of Instagram users’ selfies. In the age of big, rapidly accessible data, where do we draw lines based on privacy? How does a digital humanist deal with personal information when it is possible to acquire from social media?   The IRB and their scrutiny of human subject research was invoked as a possible model. Some pointed out that Manovich’s project is a creative and artistic project and not subject to IRB guidelines. We did not come to a concrete resolution but I do believe that “the human element” is an important thing to consider in designing DH projects.

Early on in the workshop, we did an exercise which involved talking to the person seated next to us about their background, digital skillsets, and research interests. This exercise helped cement the social and collaborative aspects of DH. One sentiment expressed by Micki Kaufman’s presentation and echoed by “The Lexicon of DH” workshop is to consider what information you might need for a project and to let that be a guide. Mastery of DH tools are certainly helpful but, for those who do not possess it, resources exist to have at least working knowledge in order to execute one’s project. For example, the GC has upcoming working groups for mapping and Python. Jojo’s post, Helpful Hints, has more on this.

Attending the “Lexicon of DH” workshop, we did not leave with a single easy definition of DH. However, from the examples presented and the myriad of research interests the attendees had, we left with a positive sense of DH’s potential possibilities and how we can tap into them.

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One Comment

  1. Claire Balani
    Posted October 5, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I also appreciated Jojo’s explanation of APIs! I also would like to hear more in the future about the ethics of the Selfie Project and other examples of the usage of personally identifiable information in digital humanities projects.

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  • Welcome to Digital Praxis 2016-2017

    Encouraging students think about the impact advancements in digital technology have on the future of scholarship from the moment they enter the Graduate Center, the Digital Praxis Seminar is a year-long sequence of two three-credit courses that familiarize students with a variety of digital tools and methods through lectures offered by high-profile scholars and technologists, hands-on workshops, and collaborative projects. Students enrolled in the two-course sequence will complete their first year at the GC having been introduced to a broad range of ways to critically evaluate and incorporate digital technologies in their academic research and teaching. In addition, they will have explored a particular area of digital scholarship and/or pedagogy of interest to them, produced a digital project in collaboration with fellow students, and established a digital portfolio that can be used to display their work. The two connected three-credit courses will be offered during the Fall and Spring semesters as MALS classes for master’s students and Interdisciplinary Studies courses for doctoral students.

    The syllabus for the course can be found at cuny.is/dps17.

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