Google Maps: 19th Century Concord Digital Archive

I have a confession to make: I’ve never used Google Maps for scholarly purposes.

I’ve used Google Maps to look up directions and, once, before I went to Paris, to “see” the University where I was dorming. Therefore, I’ve never used Google Maps for “scholarly purposes.” Until tonight!

This week in class we will be learning about Google Maps and mapping technology–how to make them, how to use them, how to learn from them, etc. Appropriately, this week’s create assignment is to either play around with Google Maps or explore a successful use of Google Maps. Since I wouldn’t know where to begin in creating my own “map” (can you even create your own Google map? I had no idea…!), I decided to search the internet for some successful uses of the technology. While I was doing so, I thought of The Willa Cather Archive and its successful use of mapping technology. We talked about The Willa Cather Archive’s Geographical Chronology in class a few weeks ago and most (if not all) of us were extremely impressed by its use of the technology. I personally love the feature that allows the user to click on a location and then find Willa Cather’s letters that were sent either to or from that location. I thought the map was easily navigated, too. It was a successful use of the technology because it added new ways of looking at Willa Cather’s life and writing.  Because I was so impressed with their map, I decided to measure the Google Map I studied against it. Meaning that The Willa Cather Archive’s map showed me that a Google Map, when used aside or to support scholarship, should be easily navigated and enlightening in some way.

That being said, I studied The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive’s “Google Map Overlay.” In order to do so, however, I had to download Google Earth onto my computer. It was easy to download (the archive gave instructions), but it was a bit inconvenient. I would have much rather looked at the map on the archive’s actual website. I’m not sure why the map can’t be viewed on the website though; there might be a reason for this.

The map itself is of Massachusetts, specifically Concord. There is also a map of 1852 Concord over the Google map. In order for the overlay/1852 map to be read, however, the user needs to zoom in extremely close to the overlay map.Once this is done then both maps can be read together. For example, one can find Walden Pond on the overlay map and then see pictures of what the area looks like today. The pictures, especially for Walden Pond, are visually stunning. That being said, all of the pictures of Concord are great. In order to see the picture of a particular place, the user can click on any of the many picture icons on the map. Each icon has a title and is paired with an address. Some even have multiple pictures of one address so the user can get a wider view of the particular area.

Overall, I think the map is successful because it pairs two maps–today’s and one from 1852. Comparing the two allows the user to visualize Concord in 1852 and in 2014. Although I think its use of map is successful, I have two suggestions of how to make the archive more successful.

1. Parts of the overlay/1852 map are hard to read, even if the user zooms in. This takes away from the viewing of the map. Even though I am able to see the pictures of Concord today, I am not able to read some parts the map from 1852. If I were able to see both, I might be able to compare where a particular place is now and where it was in 1852.

2. For a digital humanities student reading the map for class, I am able to appreciate its use of technology. However, I wonder how the creators of the map can show me (and all the other users) the significance of each area. For example, the map in The Willa Cather Archive noted if there was a letter that was sent to or from a particular point on the map. I wonder if something like that can be done on The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive’s map. Is there a location that exists today that was significant in 1852? If so, why?

I’m intrigued by The Willa Cather Archive, The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive, and the general use of Google Maps for scholarship and knowledge. Google Maps are just another example of how technology is changing the way we learn and share knowledge.

I’m sure you haven’t heard the last of me on this topic!

Discussing “Challenging Gaps: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities”

In keeping with the collaboration theme in my last few posts, I decided to share with you an overview of my class discussion for Amy E. Earhart’s “Challenging Gaps: Redesigning Collaboration in the Digital Humanities.” There are three important points in her essay that I found most interesting and plan on sharing with the class. They are as follows: collaboration as a science laboratory, challenges which collaborative work presents to the humanist, and graduate student participation in collaboration.

1.  After expressing the important difference between interdisciplinarity and collaboration, Earhart states a way collaboration can be seen in the digital humanities: like a science laboratory. Collaboration in the digital humanities is analogous to a science lab because both work in similar ways. For example, according to Cathy Davidson, labs are “built around the process of discovery” (31). In other words, the purpose of a lab is to experiment, test, and discover the new. However, at the same time, labs are also a place which research is shared across generations and various fields and disciplines (31). Therefore, labs are places which past knowledge is used and embraced and new knowledge is sought after. Most importantly, in the lab, “no solitary thinker—no matter how brilliant or creative—could think through a complex problem as comprehensively as a group of thinkers from different fields…areas of expertise…intellectual generations” (31). Like a lab, multiple participants/authors/contributors are necessary in digital humanities project collaborations. The knowledge that the participants have is vast; they often come from different fields, experiences, training, and educations. Therefore, each participant has something unique to offer the project. Because the participants have something unique to offer, they are able to contribute more to the project than an individual, on his or her own, would.

However, Earhart uses the analogy of the lab loosely, claiming that the science lab contains hierarchies. (Hierarchies are not welcome in collaborations; if there are hierarchies then collaboration would not exist because collaborators are equal players.) First, there is a division between “technical and intellectual labor” (31). In other words, intellectual and technological labors are not equal players in a scientist’s lab. However, in a digital humanist’s lab they must be equal because both are equally important contributors to the project. She also claims that the science lab has a history of excluding women and minorities from their research, which also indicates an unequal players.

Notably, she uses the Walt Whitman Archive as an example for the digital humanist’s lab, claiming that the archive is treated “as a laboratory” that “generates collaborative scholarship” and “trains future scholars” (31). In other words, she views the archive like a lab because the website’s contributors collaborate to create new scholarship at the same time their archive influences future Walt Whitman (and digital humanist) scholars. I find her discussion on the laboratory to be an interesting one because it uses an essential element of the sciences and attaches it to the digital humanities. In essence, it bridges the gap between the two fields, suggesting that the digital humanities lab is a technological one.

2. Another aspect of Earhart’s essay that I found enlightening is her discussion of the challenges which collaboration presents to the humanities, specifically the way humanists approach scholarship. Humanists generally work alone. When they are finished working, they present their finished product, not the process of achieving that product. Therefore, collaborations or “project partnerships” “run into problems that boil down to differing opinions of the position of the product or process to the project outcome” (34). For example, when humanists and technologists work together, their goals can clash. Earhart states that the humanist often “focus[es] on [her] immediate goals” (34) or results.  The technologist focuses on the “application” (34). Earhart states that collaboration in the digital humanities is not necessarily about the finished product. Instead, the humanist should take a point or two from the technologist. The process of getting to the “final” project (if the project could ever be considered final) is “key to the discipline of digital humanities” (34). Failure is fine in the digital humanities. Failure can “produce more interesting results” or produce information that is interesting to publish (34). Thus the humanist, when working in collaborative digital projects, should value experimentation.

I find this discussion on the challenges for the humanist interesting because it implies that the humanist is somewhat of a perfectionist. The humanist conducts research to complete a specific end. The humanist values the end goal, the result. Collaboration in the digital humanities values the result, as well as the cause, the process. The humanist needs to be more like the technologist and accept failure. Failure is a possibility in the digital humanities; one can learn from failure. I like the idea that failure is useful.

3. Finally, I am interested in the way in which graduate students can use collaboration in their own education and research. Earhart claims that graduate students are “the future of digital humanities” (40) and because of that they should understand and participate in collaborative projects. Earhart returns to the idea of collaboration as a laboratory, claiming that it is helpful to think of the graduate student and digital humanities in that context. The digital humanities laboratory gives the student room to decide how she wants to involve herself in a project. It also gives the student the power to decide create her own “piece” of that project (40). In other words, the lab not only teaches a student how to participate in a project but allows her to decide how she wants to participate in that project. Importantly, the laboratory model creates a different relationship between faculty members and students. In a collaborative project, the parties are interdependent; they share scholarship and exchange ideas (40). In essence, they teach and learn from each other. This kind of laboratory and relationship can only occur if there is a collaborative environment in education.

I am interested in this idea because it relates collaboration and the digital humanities back to us—graduate students. It gives us a hint—but only that—of what collaboration could look like in higher education.

 My questions regarding this reading are:

  1. Last week we discussed the setbacks of the Walt Whitman Archive, specifically the colorless website, the difficulty maneuvering through and finding information, and its similarity to a printed book. Considering this, do you agree that the Walt Whitman Archive is an example of a digital humanist’s lab which generates “collaborative scholarship” and trains “future scholars” (31)? Can the Walt Whitman Archive be an example of a laboratory when it is difficult to maneuver and is more like a printed text then a digital one?
  2. At the conclusion of her essay, Earhart states that the end goal of the digital humanities should be to create “a discipline where digital is represented within the term humanities” (41). What does her goal imply? Can we imagine what that kind of new system can look like? Would there be any similarities to the system in place or would that be completely erased?

Earhart on Voyant

This week’s “weekly create” is to play around with a tool of our choice. Since I wasn’t too thrilled about Docuburst (see Docuburst is Bursting with Information?) I decided to play around with a tool that is much more comprehensible and helpful.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Voyant!

Voyant is a tool that allows you to copy and paste text or upload a document. Voyant takes the text you give it and creates a word cloud from it. The word cloud contains the words that are repeated most throughout the text. The larger the word, the more often the word appears in the text.

I have to be honest though. This wasn’t my first time using Voyant. I’ve looked at Voyant before and created one or two word clouds to test it out and see how it worked. However, it was my first time using Voyant for academic purposes and that is what I want to talk to you about.

Allow me to explain…

For class this week I am leading a discussion of Amy E. Earhart’s “Challenging Gaps: Redesigning Collaboration in the Digital Humanities” (see Collaborating in the Humanities to Create the Digital Humanities). I used Voyant to help me understand Earhart’s main points and to help me plan my discussion. Here is the word cloud Voyant gave me:

Earhart on Voyant

The first thing I noticed was that to, and, that, of, & in are used the most in her work. While knowing this information has the potential to be helpful, it wasn’t the kind of information I was interested in. If I had time (and the patience) I could have gone through her work and deleted every to, and, that of & in. Doing that would have narrowed my search results to the important words, the words that express her main ideas. Instead, I worked with what I had and looked for the words that were slightly smaller in the word cloud. Those words included humanities, digital, project, work, and collaboration. Since Voyant not only gives the user a word cloud, but a list of how many times a word is used in the work, I was able to see that although collaboration is the main idea of the work, it is only used 38 times whereas the word “humanities” is used 84 times. Interestingly, the word “we” is used 58 times, which suggests the author’s openness to collaboration and teamwork within her own work.

The information Voyant gave me was helpful because it highlighted what I should pay attention to in Earhart’s work. It also provoked questions about Earhart’s work and ideas that helped shape my discussion. In essence, it practiced “distant reading” so I could close read better.

Collaborating in the Humanities to Create the Digital Humanities

For class this week I am in charge of leading a discussion on Amy E. Earhart’s essay “Challenging Gaps: Redesigning Collaboration in the Digital Humanities.” Because I found the piece to be enlightening in terms of digital humanities work, especially collaboration, I decided to share a brief summary of her work with you.

Earhart begins her discussion on collaboration in the digital humanities by explaining why collaboration is important for the digital humanities. She states that at many universities in the United States, specifically Texas A&M, are creating a “master plan[s]” (27) for “research, teaching, and service … that makes explicit that our scholarly production addresses the ‘grand challenges of society'” (27). In other words, universities like Texas A&M are beginning to set goals for themselves that will determine the ways in which their research, teaching and service connect to the “bigger picture,” or society. Collaboration, Earhart claims, is a part of these master plans. In fact, not only is it one part, it is the “key criterion” (27) which suggests that it is necessary for these universities. In order to understand collaboration and how universities may use it, Earhart expresses an important difference between “interdisciplinarity” and collaboration; interdisciplinarity is not the same as collaboration. To say that a project has multiple disciplines and multiple authors is not always the same. Importantly, Earhart notes that interdisciplinary studies are currently “alive” or exist within the humanities whereas collaboration is not as widespread. Also importantly, Earhart refers to collaboration as a “looming issue” (29). It is not an “open and shut” case because it can occur in so many ways, yet contain so many challenges.

There are specific parts of collaboration that Earhart addresses in her essay. Specifically, she addresses a main concern of humanists when it comes to collaboration: ownership. She refers to the question of ownership as an unresolved tension in collaboration. How does ownership in collaboration work? In the current academic system it is often the case that more than one author to a work doesn’t seem “scholarly.” She implies that if the current system was replaced with one that rewards joint work then it may ease (or erase?) the tension. Notably, Earhart claims that the traditional humanists who reject digital humanities,also reject collaboration because of the question of ownership. The question of ownership may also be eased if collaboration were seen as analogous to a laboratory model. The laboratory model is helpful in terms of collaboration because it emphasizes new discoveries at the same time that it emphasizes research that is shared throughout multiple generations. However, Earhart warns us to not rely too heavily on this model because sciences often don’t include women and minorities in their research. She cites the Walt Whitman Archive as an example of a collaborative/lab model in the digital humanities.

She then touches on the issue of funding in collaborative digital humanities projects. There are two ways that digital humanities projects can be funded. Institutional centers that give support such as funds, skills, and equipment (33) is one way. For those who do not have access to institutional centers, there are project partnerships. However, these project partnerships can pose problems for the humanist. For example, humanists and technologists approach research and scholarship in different ways. The humanist may focus on the goal of the project or the project’s outcome, while technologists may be interested in the technological application in which the project takes place. Earhart notes that the project partnerships will be successful if both parties focus on the process of the project. After all, the process is what makes a difference when it comes to the digital humanities. Humanists that are working within the digital humanities should focus on experimentation.

Importantly, Earhart wants to “restructure” the collaborative group to include those inside and outside academia. In other words, one does not always have to collaborate with those inside the academic system. There are two external partnerships that can take place. One incorporates the academic project with business and museum/library interests. Her example is the 19th Century Concord Digital Archive. Another is the open source community. The open source community can be helpful because it invites participation from the open source community (which in other words, refers to those knowledgeable within the community but are not considered academic professionals). Earhart suggests that help from open source communities can and should be taken. She compares this to Richard Miller’s idea of “boundary objects” (37). An example of an open sourced collaborative project is BBC’s Backstage movement.

What is most important to Earhart’s discussion is her belief that a professional working on a collaborative project should be knowledgeable about the fields of the other professionals with whom she is working. Earhart says that the professionals collaborating should be “equal players” (38). If the professionals are equal players then they will be able to understand how the disciplines affect the project and therefore understand the project better. Also, the professionals must not only be able to share knowledge, but share project space.

Finally, Earhart concludes her essay by thinking about collaborative projects and the graduate student. She states that collaborative projects may be helpful to college students. A lab collaborative project can allow the student to decide how she wants to participate in the digital humanities project at hand. As Earhart states, it can “give students power to develop their own piece of a project” (40). Therefore, students will not only help with the project, but they can contribute to the project as well. Importantly, if the graduate student is involved in a lab collaboration, then a new relationship occurs between the student and the faculty member. Their relationship becomes a interdependent one; they learn from each other.