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Author Archives: Anastasiya

Report Back from Git and GitHub training by the GC Digital Fellows

On Tuesday evening, February 23rd, Mary Catherine Kinniburgh and Patrick Smyth taught a workshop on Collaboration and Writing Workflows with Git and GitHub. The workshop page is here. Follow the directions for signing up with GitHub and downloading Git on your computer. From there, follow the workshop here. There are explanations for the differences between Git (local repository) and GitHub (remote hosting service), glossary, and instructions on how to get started.

Mary Catherine and Patrick made this an excellent introduction to learning Git and GitHub workflows. Group learning provided a great opportunity to practice collaborative work.

On reading well, once again

I really enjoyed this week’s readings: Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy and select essays from Hacking the Academy: New Approached to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities, an edited collection by DanCohen and Tom Scheinfeldt. For me, the readings really made sense. What do I mean by that? Well, I think I got what DH is! It only took me a semester, but it finally happened.

If I had to name a common theme for the week, it would be “Journals Curators.” I like the metaphor, for each gallery space needs a curator. Journals can play this role now that scholarship is taking a digital turn. There is urgency to digitalize the work humanists do. And this does not mean uploading a pdf of your article to an online journal. This means uploading your work to an open and free journal in a format that allows for interaction between readers, reviewers, and the authors. This way, the article will be a constant work of progress that constantly improves as new perspectives are considered. Arguments strengthened, the total body of knowledge made healthier. Why would anyone object!? (But then again, would I really like my BA thesis to be a continuous work of progress after I submitted it to my adviser? Don’t think so.)

Michael O’Malley’s “Reading and Writing” was memorable because of the author’s humor. O’Malley’s stylistic choices make the hard love he’s giving humanists as easy to swallow as gummy bear vitamins. He points to the disconnect between the way we are taught to read and the way we are taught to write. As readers, we emphasize reading more in less time, at acquiring the skills of finding the main argument by reading a fraction of the book. Writing, however, is an art form that we must perfected, turning out draft after draft.

Dan Cohen & Roy Rozenzweig argue in the Introduction to Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web that our reading habits are interrupted now that the content is online. There are no pages to flip and, to me, it is much harder to assess the reading on the screen compared to a print out, for example. I recall the authors’ arguments by their geographical position on the page, which is impossible when scrolling down the endless page.

In writing, on the other hand, we must take things to the next level. Things that can be said in layperson language are translated into jargon, making the arguments inaccessible. Is it for building an air of credibility? Or, as John Unsworth claims in “The Crisis of Audience and the Open-Access Solution,” is the humanities scholarship intentionally obscure? Are some things impossible without the use of words for their third or fifth listed meaning in the dictionary?

And how do we heal the diametrical split in our approaches to reading and writing?

Workshop: User Experience with Samantha Raddatz

I had a lot of questions about user experience of digital tools and Samantha Raddatz answered them all during her User Experience workshop. Raddatz is a user experience consultant for the CUNY Academic Commons.

The workshop was divided into two parts: what good user experience is and how to do user testing. Not surprisingly, focus on the user is key for success of your tool. Therefore, user experience has to be as seamless as possible; the user should not have to think about how to use the tool. Not intuitive architecture, for example, can be frustrating and reduce the use of the app. Since the aim of the tool is to maximize the time a user spends on your page or program, the developer needs to spend the necessary time and resources testing throughout the development process. Raddatz listed the steps on the PowerPoint in a clear fashion, which was very helpful for my comprehension and retention. She spoke in an engaging and accessible manner and provided multiple recommended resources for further assistance. Overall, I found the workshop to be valuable for my understanding of digital tools development.

The main takeaway for me was that whatever you’re developing, do user testing frequently throughout the process. If you wait until the last minute, it might be too late to rework the architecture. And if you’re working with limited resources, do guerrilla testing in a coffee shop with cookies as treats for volunteers! 🙂

Teen pregnancy in NYC dataset

New York City has an incredible amount of data available on their website for the public to explore. They have annual summary reports, as well as interactive tools where one can select variables they are interested in seeing. The instantly available data is already crunched, but one can request “raw” data with an online request form. According to the instructions, it can take anywhere from two to four weeks for the files to be sent to you.

For the dataset project, I am interested in exploring the teen pregnancy rates in the five boroughs. I will start playing with the data and see what correlations stand out to me when I visualize them using various visualization tools. Perhaps I will notice something beyond the correlation between economic status and unplanned pregnancy and discover something new for me. On Wednesday, I went to the Digital Fellows office hours and talked to Patrick Smyth, Hannah Aizenman, and Stephen Zweibel about my options. They suggested I start with Excel pivot tables and then move on to Gapminder and Tableau to see what I can do there.

Special shout-out to Davide for his post on the Data Visualization workshop 🙂

On reading

Several things stood out for me from Stephen Ramsay’s essay “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books.” The most significant of them was the fascination with where is the anxiety to read everything coming from. Ramsay says it started in the 15th century, around the time of the introduction of the Gutenberg press to Europe. Since then, there have been many philosophers who agonized over the ever-growing number of books that they could not possibly read. Referencing Margaret Cohen and what she calls “the great unread,” Ramsay pokes fun at the way we talk about the literary canon and its supposed inclusivity and representation of the field: “But in the end, arguments from the standpoint of popularity satisfy neither the canoniclast nor the historian. The dark fear is that no one can really say what is “representative” because no one has any basis for making such a claim.”

Ramsay proposes different options. He quotes Martin Mueller and his suggestion to “stop reading” once you’ve identified the location of the book in the network of transactions “that involve a reader, his interlocutors, and a ‘collective library’ of things one knows or is supposed to know.” Responding to Mueller’s quote, I jotted down in bright blue pen “but don’t you miss nuance!?” On my second reading of Ramsay’s essay, I noted, “What is the point of reading—is it to just locate the book in the network of transactions and to talk about it to others or is it to learn and enjoy?” Is intricate detail of a human story of any interest to us when we read only up to the point of locating the books in its network of transactions? For example, once we learn that the lead character Sally has favorable chances of hooking up with her object of affection Mary, then should we just stop reading?

Another option is to read books from compilations such as “Top 100 novels of all time.” And although the feasibility of canon is questionable, many do follow these lists as a way to combat this anxiety of missing out. So much so, that NPR run a story titled “You Can’t Possibly Read It All, So Stop Trying” where the guest Linda Holmes recommended strategies and coping techniques. But I have a question. Whom do we regard as authority over what makes it on the canon? In class, a colleague bought up that editors do the sorting for us when they accept or refuse manuscripts. But who are the editors and what are their standpoints and biases? Following the network associations, are the manuscripts closest to culturally dominant network of transactions more likely to become books?

Yet another option is Franco Moretti’s approach to simultaneous reading of thousands of novels assisted by computer technology. Except that there won’t be reading per se, but counting, graphing, and mapping. Since we cannot read even a fraction of all the books out there, why not analyze them and see what stands out? Matthew Jokers also came up with a way to identify “six, or possibly seven, archetypal plot shapes.” Although his methods were questioned on the public forum, his laborious attempt at condensing thousands of novels into six or seven plotlines demonstrates the strength of desire for reading it all. I wonder, are these questions being brought up by folks who have been around prior to ubiquity of computers and actually read many books cover to cover, so now they don’t mind missing out on the nuance?

Then again, why is there so much anxiety over reading it all? The shame of being “caught unaware” of a book’s plot while mingling over wine and hors-d’oeuvres? Because if it was to achieve a shared knowledgebase for meaningful participation on the public square, then wouldn’t reading the books in K-12 and college be sufficient? Nowadays it seems most of our knowledge comes in the form of visual media or lists of top things curated by BuzzFeed or our Facebook network.

Ramsay eloquently concludes, “Your ethical obligation is neither to read them all nor to pretend that you have read them all….” but to appreciate the process of discovery. Agreed!