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Author Archives: Ashleigh Cassemere-Stanfield

Terrorism Data pt.2

For my data project I used Processing to create a simple interactive animation of data I downloaded from the Global Terrorism Database. (My application file can be found here.**) For the sake of early draft ease, I limited the information that I pulled to all recorded global incidents from 2011 to 2014, which was still in excess of 40,000 incidents.

The motivation for this project was to create a dynamic display of information that I find difficult to contextualize. To that end, the app displays location, date, mode of attack, target, casualties, and motive, alongside an animation of frenetically moving spheres. The number of spheres is constant, but their size is scaled to the number of casualties. Thus as more people are injured and maimed the more overwhemed the screen becomes. The slider across the top of the window allows the user to move forward and back through time, while the displayed information and the animation updates to the data associated with her new position.

** It requires downloading the whole folder first and then clicking on the app icon. If you try to click through in Drive it will just show you the sub-folders that make it up. Also, for reasons that escape me, the file keeps breaking somewhere between upload and download. I’ll keep trying to fix this, but if the zip gods do not smile upon me, I’ll present with my laptop and run it from there. **

Reflections On Volumetric Cinema and Digital Surrealism

I meant to post this last week but it got away from me. Re: Kevin’s work: Looking at his sums of Disney films reminded me of Jason Salavon’s work with old master portraits where for four artists he averages the bulk of their work and thereby “reveals the hidden norm lurking within” (Met Online). Also, and perhaps more tangential, Kevin’s 3D stacks had me thinking of films as sculptures that are carved further and further into as time and the story progresses. This reminded me of some of the work of Alberto Giacometti, who made these very existential sculptures that are very thin and appear to have been carved almost to nothing. I am told, and I don’t know if it is true or apocryphal, that these sculptures come out of Giacometti being so traumatized post-WWII that he would carve compulsively and often would do so until his work was completely turned to dust. Left only to his own devices, even the sculptures that survive would have been completely ground down. (A bunch of his stuff is up at MoMA. I’m thinking of Tall Figure III, Man Pointing, and Standing Woman.) Anyway, with this story and Kevin’s work in mind, it’s interesting to think of the movie viewer’s gaze as compulsively carving into the film. In that case, the progression of time in a film is a measure of the observer’s destruction, before which the unfolding of plot becomes almost incidental.

Terrorism Data

Hi all,

I am interested in studying the history of domestic terrorism in the U.S., so I went looking for datasets to that effect. What I was hoping to find was a comprehensive repository that covered most, if not all of U.S. history, and included incidents like the Oklahoma city bombing, alongside attacks on abortionists, hate crimes, and lynchings in the post-Civil War era (In the best of all possible databases, the decimation of Native American communities and cultural practices would also be included, even though the FBI defines terrorism as requiring illegal acts, and often enough the crimes against these communities were legally-sanctioned). Additionally, I was hoping to find basic information on who the victims and perpetrators were (at least with regards to incidents from the last few decades), as well as historical context for each incident. Perhaps I went looking in the wrong place, but as of now it appears that such a comprehensive database doesn’t exist, which is odd and upsetting. However, I did find smaller, though still formidable, datasets that tackle parts of the problem. One of these is from the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland, which provides information on terror attacks worldwide. Granted, their information only goes back as far as 1970 and it neither includes hate crimes nor legally-sanctioned terror against ethnic groups. That said, their dataset is still the most informative and usable of what I’ve found so far, because it consists of the raw data behind their charts (i.e. information on each and every incident counted). More often than not in my search I found well-meaning organizations that provided aggregate counts rather than the specific data that went into those aggregates, so I was very grateful to find Maryland’s GTD.

I am going to use it to a) mine its listings of domestic terrorism in the U.S. and b) to compare incidences of terror – both domestic and international – in the U.S. with terror in the Middle East. Over the course of this semester, I would like to work towards making animated visualizations of what I find in here. I am excluding events from the rest of the globe outside these two areas just for the sake of manageability.

— Ashleigh

Learning to notice and critical making

Hi All,

Re: Last week’s section on critiquing and theorizing DH, I would add Patrick Murray-John’s “Theory, Digital Humanities and Noticing,” and Roger Whitson’s blog post “Critical Making in Digital Humanities: A MLA 2014 Special Session Proposal.” Both pieces deal with the distinction between hacking and yacking, and address why this distinction is misguided.

In the former case, Murray addresses the perception that through DH, computer science is invading the humanities and laying waste to its traditions (i.e. yacking). He argues that the very opposite is happening: the humanities are invading comp sci and bringing with them questions and modes of thinking that can “help us identify why we are writing the code in the first place and help us recognize what promising directions or ideas are available.” (Granted, he also acknowledges that humanities’ practices risk (though don’t necessitate) making comp sci projects bloated and untenable.) Furthermore, he states that the hack v. yack conversation itself is a result of unfamiliarity and the fact that high theory trains one to read specific kinds of rhetoric, but not code, much like how traditional computer science trains one to read C, Java, Python, etc., but not Joyce. Thus, from within either camp, the intersection of the two may look like bad practice, when in fact it may just be different practice, which, through increased familiarity and emergent theory born out of DH projects themselves, will make more sense as a simultaneously self-critical and immediately practical endeavor.

In the latter case, Whitson gives a brief survey of “critical making” in the digital humanities and in the process he argues that “[b]uilding or making can take many different forms, all of which are critically and theoretically engaged. As Jean Bauer has argued, databases are ‘steeped in theoretical implications,’ and [], so are programming languages, data models, interfaces, algorithms, and the heads, spindles, platters, motors, and plastruders found in hardware and printers. In short, methods, tools, and applications exist in recursive relationships with discursive practices.” In other words, there is no tool that does not always already contain horizons for critical engagement, and to explore these horizons can take the form of explication through rhetoric, but it is just as possible and just as valid for this exploration to be folded into the project itself. For an example from the arts, I could write about Francis Bacon’s Crucifixions, or I could just as productively look at them and visually consider what arguments about the substantiality of paint, the limitations of representation, etc. are already folded into the works themselves. This is likewise the case for any well-thought-out DH project; at least some critical self-reflection will be embedded into the work itself. Consideration of the limits, strengths, distortions and implications of one’s tools is inherent in any mature practice.

— Ashleigh