Post-post Post: So long, and thanks for all the fish.

So the post-post post is where I return to the previous post after my instructor and I have met and address points of interest we may have discussed or areas in which I could have better identified what I gained from the posted information.

However, since ‘Analysis of Digital Humanities as Academic Output’ was the final post of this independent project I am attempting to anticipate what my professor may say about the previous post and the project as a whole, thus proving I listen to what he says and may even retain some of it.

Evaluating digital humanities was an interesting topic since it comes around just in time for my own semester evaluation, but I think it was the one I was most bored with, simply because I fail to see what is so difficult about evaluating digital humanities.

However, I suppose there’s the crux right there; ‘fail to see.’ In academic papers all the work you’ve done to achieve the product is gathered within the product, including a bibliography that proves you did the eye-work. However, digital humanities projects don’t have that benefit…the construction, research, and labor are all behind the curtain since the absolute output is ‘the wizard’ himself. For the recent post, I read several articles and familiarized myself with digital projects discussed within those articles. I crossed-searched and followed bread crumbs and took a nap, all in the name of getting as much information as possible. But you’d only know it because I’m telling you now.

It is in this post-post post reflection that I am beginning to understand the problem with evaluating digital humanities…before I had ever used Photoshop I thought digital art was ‘cheating’. I now realize and respect just how much work goes into creating something digitally. So, the issue with evaluating digital humanities does not lay within the projects themselves, but with those who refuse to acknowledge that there is more than one way to skin an academic cat. Just because a digital humanities project is not a monograph doesn’t mean it was easier to come by or less hard-wrought. It just means that it is less understood by a wider audience and therefore must work twice as hard to prove its validity in the academic community.

The Take Home

I think it’s a point of irony that I’m still not sure if this project falls into the realm of ‘digital humanities’ itself. I kind of think it doesn’t. I think this blog was a great way to dive into a pile of information and sort through it in a semi-public atmosphere, which does indeed impact the way a topic is approached and discussed.

But did I use this technology to discover new points of interest, analyze already combed over information, or create art? The answer is ‘no’. However, I will circle back to the beginning, in the ‘about’ post I referred to this blog as a digital commonplace book. And that’s exactly what I think blogs are: a digital place to keep stack, store,  sort, and narrate information that the blogger finds interesting or relevant.

Just because it’s created on a computer and lives in the ether of the internet does not make it ‘digital humanities.’

Thus concludes the independent study, but not the blog itself. I plan to keep it up, though perhaps not in a strictly digital humanities context. Soon I will post a course project I am particularly pleased with. It involves an 11th century manuscript, a UV light and some Photoshop.

I’m also attending a Rare Book School course this summer with Matthew Kirschenbaum and will likely post about that, if only to reinforce an understanding of the topic in my own mind.

So thanks to all of you who read who weren’t my teacher, my mom, or my mom’s friends…

The Twitch in the Void: Analysis of Digital Humanities as Academic Output

As the semester comes to a close, so too does this Independent Study, and doesn’t it seem right that the last topic to be covered would be how to best evaluate digital humanities projects in the academic arena?

There are two sides to this coin: evaluating digital humanities in the classroom and as a tool of educational progress (as exemplified in this blog); and evaluating digital humanities as tenure-based scholarly output (such as the Smithsonian’s Gettysburg site).

In January of 2011 Brett Bobley, director of the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities, made this statement about ‘digital humanities’ (which you will hopefully notice as being the same tune this blog has been humming) “digital humanities is really applying digital technology to doing traditional study and also trying to determine how do you use technology best in a classroom setting. So it’s really about both the research and the education” (emphasis my own).  Many universities, the University of Iowa included, have gone through a digital humanities hiring spree, with the express purpose of involving digital humanities in the classroom. But what does this look like and how can a students progress be measured?

The first project I’d like to point to is the Off the Map project hosted in 2013 by The British Library, Crytek, and GameCity. Curators at the British Library selected a set of antique maps held by the library. Teams of student were allowed to pick from the maps and create a digital rendering of the area. The trick was, that the area needed to be researched; to be historically accurate in color, atmosphere, shops, and props. The students behind the below example (and the winner of the contest) discussed their selection of  Pudding Lane, London, stating that the challenge was in recreating something that no longer existed; Pudding Lane was destroyed in the fire of 1666.

The below project is the result of not just savvy talent in graphic output, but of very concentrated research and historic analysis. For example, Pudding Lane had a lot of butcher shops. This was a feature of the area that needed to be taken into consideration when choosing the colors and props.

Anyone who has played the Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted video game series will know and appreciate the research that goes into the background design. What’s important to keep in mind while watching the below is that what you are seeing was not developed by paid artists, but by undergrads, who did the research and rendering themselves:

This of course is not the standard for digital humanities in the class room but merely an example of what can be achieved.  To bring digital humanities back to a more local and reasonable level, let’s next look at the Silk Road project discussed in Digital Humanities Quarterly. 

In 2010  University of California professor Ruth Mostern taught a course which was half “conventional history seminar” and half digital map design using Google Earth. The project included a ten page research paper, analysis, and visual interpretation of the information in the research paper. Below is an image of one of the projects as found in the DHQ article: 



“A screenshot from an atlas by Silk Road student Patrick Swisher. The student used Google Earth’s overlay feature to incorporate a title and a legend into his atlas. His atlas includes points of interest, routes depicted as vectors, and regimes depicted as polygons. The film projector icon on the left hand side of the map links to a fly-through animated version of the map and to the student’s term paper. Customized map icons distinguish locations associated with different events in the traveler’s journey, and link to pop-up boxes that describe the episodes that occurred at each place.”

The students were evaluated on the thesis, sources, and citations of the ten page papers that laid the foundation for the information visualized in the map overlay. They needed to have at least 15 places marked along their map and descriptions of each of the places and the likely route their traveler took to get there. They were lastly evaluated on storytelling and visualization.

Mark Sample, a professor who greatly encourages the application of digital humanities projects in the class room has this to say on the topic of combining essay with visualization:

“In addition to making student writing public, I’ve also begun taking the words out of writing. Why must writing, especially writing that captures critical thinking, be composed of words? Why not images? Why not sound? Why not objects? The word text, after all, derives from the Latin textus, meaning ‘that which is woven,’ strands of different material intertwined together. Let the warp be words and the weft be something else entirely. The student essay is a twitch in a void, a compressed outpouring of energy (if we’re lucky) that means nothing to no one. Randy Bass, a longtime collaborator of mine at Georgetown University, has said that nowhere but school would we ask somebody to write something that nobody will ever read.”  -Mark Sample ‘What’s Wrong With Writing Essays’

He brings up some very interesting points, the most distinct being that direct reading is no longer the sole way in which we receive information, so why should text be the only way we continue to project information? I have found personally through keeping up this blog that relaying information through image and sound can sometimes be much more effective than mere textual output.

Both of the above projects demonstrate the richness that digital humanities can bring to understanding a topic within a classroom setting. The content of both projects is emphasized and made better by the application of digital technologies to digital research.


Evaluating digital humanities takes on a different tone and meaning in the scholarly tenure based realm.  An argument is raging as to whether or not something that is not published can be peer-reviewed, and if it is not peer-reviewed then it is not academic.

In an article entitled ‘Electronic Errata’ Paul Fyfe states that “we need clearer plans for the obsolescence of academic correction… The ‘magic’ of scholarly prestige is produced by the business of publishing. By contrast, click an ‘Update’ button in WordPress and poof! It’s gone—and with it, all the social, disciplinary, or institutional credibility of our faith in the 5 percent”

The issue is this: if something is open-sourced, then that means the whole academic process can essentially become crowd sourced, and if there’s one thing you can’t trust in academia, it’s the crowd. Open access/open source, means there’s no longer a guarantee that academic peers and mavens of a given field are weighing in on, and verifying, scholarly output. So if it’s not verified, is it not valid? Further, how can scholars so focused on one academic area be capable of properly evaluating digital humanities projects which are by nature an interdisciplinary hydra?

The above classroom examples managed to establish fair and valid standards of measuring success and knowledge in the classroom, so why is it so hard to make the transition to evaluating digital  scholarly projects? Maybe the it’s just the old guard refusing to acknowledge that digital humanities is not going away, but they do so at their own peril. As their peers and novice academics keep moving forward with using digital technologies to enhance research, presentation, and audience base, those of the old guard will find themselves increasingly defunct in accurately evaluating, and therefore contributing to, new developments in their field.



Post-post Post: Impostor Syndrome and the Art of Self-deprecation

I had an interesting discussion with my professor after the previous post went up. We had agreed that instead of altering the actual posts after our meetings, I would begin doing a post-post post to amend errors and clear up any points of confusion, so as to better document the project and development of the independent study.

However, he did suggest a few edits in tone on this last post (which I have done) because it seemed as though I’d had taken my powers of self-deprecation to a whole new level, in regards to my knowledge of the topic. I mention this because I think it’s important to acknowledge the uncertainty that comes with learning about any new topic, especially one that requires a vocabulary and skill set that is very specific to the field.

There is a term for this and it is called ‘impostors syndrome’. The basic idea is that one feels as if one is very much out of their element, despite actually being able to interact with various facets and jargon within the field, and at any moment will be called out and exposed for the impostor they are. I suspect everyone has had this feeling at some point in their life, but the reason I mention it here is to acknowledge the learning curve that is involved in undertaking an independent study of digital humanities.

My goal in undertaking this project was not simply to refine my understanding of digital humanities but to also make the subject more accessible to people like myself; those aware of and interested in ‘digital humanities’ but having no clue as to how to approach the topic and where to begin in sorting through the deluge of information.

The last post was very difficult for me since I do not know much about art theory, but also do not feel confident in discussing software and technology with any kind of authority. But the thing is, I’m not and authority and more importantly, I don’t need to be. I did the research and the leg work to write a post about how art and the humanities are executed within the realm of the digital, but cannot reasonably expect myself to know everything there is to know about the subject. Although I don’t know, and probably never will, how to use Maya or Mudbox, I still have enough of a basic understanding  of the processes to appreciate the time and talent that goes into the work. And so, I am here by extending that kindness to myself, and also to those who are likewise in need of giving themselves a break. Teaching yourself something new sure isn’t easy, but I’m not doing myself any favors by peppering the post with language that walks a fine line between levity and naivety.

So as I begin wrapping up this independent study, I want to encourage continued confidence in anyone attempting to develop an understanding in an unfamiliar area of interest; to not allow ones natural curiosities to be thwarted by a fear that if one does not understand a topic in its entirety, then one does not understand it at all.

The Humanities…in the Digital

Hopefully at this point in the blog it’s been clear that the operating definition of ‘humanities’ is the scholarly analysis of a given cultural genre, the study of which leads to new information and new questions on the given topic. Thus, ‘digital humanities’, in regards to the above definition, means that the tools used and actual output of scholarly analysis, are digital. However, I’d like to take a look at how ‘the humanities’ are impacted by digital technologies, namely, how culture, art, and literature are taking advantage of digital formats. This post will (hopefully) help make a distinction between ‘digital humanities’ as analysis and ‘humanities in the digital’ as creation.


Vector by fernandomoralez
Vector by fernandomoralez

I’m aware that the above looks like photo of some bottles and you’re thinking that I have a terrible eye for ‘art’. And normally, you’d be correct. However, what is important to point out is that the above may look like a photo but is actually a digitally drawn and digitally rendered image, no photography involved.

This may not be news to some of you but it was an item of interest I recently learnt about in my now-year-long attempt to figure out Photoshop. There are two different types of image graphics. I put that in italics to emphasize how cool I though this was.

The two types of imaging graphics are vector and raster.

A friend of mine is a master of Adobe Illustrator and her explanation of vector vs. raster is what really helped me understand the differences. And since she also makes and posts tutorials, I’ve posted her brief tutorial explaining the difference between vector and raster imaging:

The overall point is that raster images are made up of pixels and thus have a low resolution (appear fuzzy when zooming in), where as vector images are mathematically based and not pixel dependent and thus create a cleaner, more defined line.

So now that you have an absolute grasp on vector imaging, let’s look at some of the art work that can be produced from those that do-do the voodoo that they do so well:

22in Kicks by ~KLRbee
22in Kicks by ~KLRbee
Evegniy Ivanov
Evegniy Ivanov


Although the above may seem unimpressive, I find them absolutely stunning in that it’s all graphically drawn and digitally rendered, yet looks so much like the item intended that one may mistake it for a photograph. So now that you have an idea of what can be accomplished at a basic level let’s look at just how far digital technology can push art.

There are, of course, many artists out there working with a variety of digital technologies to create digital art. A few of the tools I’ve learnt about in compiling this post are: Mudbox and Maya; Vray; Knald.

All of the above are 3D modeling and rendering software, some of which is used for video game development and movie effects. What is interesting about the below images is that they are a mash-up of various images, digital drawings, and software platforms as discussed by the artists in the forum CGSociety, which is an amazing site to browse.

Below are two images I find absolutely breath taking and my understanding of what is involved in each image/how it was created:

Dan RoartyHappy Birthday Nana



Again, let me repeat, the above is not a photo of a lovely old lady. It is a digital 3D sculpted and textured model created in the 3D rendering software Mudbox and Maya. The hair and balloons are created using Knald and the background behind the balloons is a 2D image.

I don’t definitively understand how Mr. Roarty pulled this off, I do have a notion of the time and effort involved in creating something as detailed and realistic as above. Knowing the tools involved, even if I have no idea of how they work, makes the image all that more impressive.

The next image is not something that could be mistaken for a photo but is an incredible piece of artwork, again involving several types of software and images.

Marek DenkoRooftops, Rockets and Adventures Beyond


Mr. Denko worked on this as a side project for two years as a gift to his three children. He explains in the CGsociety forum that the above was created “in 3dsmax 2012 and rendered with Vray” while the sky and mountains are a “combination of photographs” over-painted in Photoshop. The hair of the children are photos as well.

Because Denko is an amazing artist and all around good guy, he posted the below in the comments section of the forum, allowing us all a peek at the wizard behind the curtain:


The title image at the top of the page is by CGI artist Rafael Vallaperde and instead of going further into the rabbit hole that is 3D rendering I think the below video will demonstrate just how much time, effort, work, and imagination, goes into digital art:

CG Challenge-Ten Drunk Aliens from Rafael Vallaperde on Vimeo.

Of course, like all ‘real world’/non-digital art, there are many types and practitioners. Below are a few of the sites I pulled many of the above images from, also included are a few artists a friend recommended:

Outstanding 3D works at This site was my source for Denko and Roarty’s work. I selected the two above images for comparative purposes but it’s absolutely worth taking a quick scroll through the 14 images posted.

Digital art inspiration | #772 at This was the site that I found Rafael Vallaperde on. It seems to be an online galley on all types of digital art, from architecture to digital imaging.

20 digital artists to follow on Behance on Although I didn’t show any of the art in this post, this round-up list has a great overview of the range digital art is capable of.

Cristiano Siqueira also known as crisvector is one of the two artists suggested by a friend and also shows a different kind of digital artwork.

Last up is Nancy Stahl whose work I like in general but am especially appreciative of her ‘moving images’ artwork.


The whole catalyst of this post was that, as a book person, I wanted the chance/excuse to explore some of the digital texts out there. Namely TOC: A New Media Novel that I had read about in a Katherince Hayles text.


TOC is a self-advertised “interactive illuminated manuscript” that is accompanied by a reader/users guide and is ‘published’ on a DVD and can be installed like any other program. Below is the very beautiful trailer/preview to the novel:

So of course I was totally ready to use this independent study as an excuse to check this ‘novel’ out. However, that turned out to be easier said than done.

TOC was written by Steve Tomasula and designed by Stephen Farrell, animated by Matt Lavoy,  and programmed by Christian Jara. It is purchasable as a DVD for instillation or downloadable as an iPad app. This is where I ran into trouble. I don’t care about Apple, at all, nor do I have that virtue known as patience or its cousin foresight and thus did not see fit to order the DVD. Instead, I downloaded iTunes on my PC (a moral conflict, let me tell you) and purchased the TOC app from the iStore.  Of course I am unable to access the narrative since I occasionally enter the technological mind space of an 89-year-old and think my PC will act as an iPad simply because I will it. So now I’ve spent six bucks, corrupted my Apple abstinence, and am still unable to read this ‘book’.

Thus, the above cultural outlets do pose an interesting comparison: digital art is accessible from any device at anytime, regardless of purchase, yet this new media novel is only available for download (seriously Tomasula, this is the instant gratification generation you’re dealing with) on one type of device (okay, granted that device is the one most purchased by the instant gratification generation) or DVD, which no one buys anymore.

The concept of digital literature has a lot of potential but doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on points of access and usability.  To conclude this point, take a brief look at the readers guide that is found on the TOC site:

As insane as the idea may be that a novel is accompanied by a users guide, I think a good number of people would be interested in ‘reading’ that novel.

So there’s the overview of humanities in the digital and how ‘the arts’ are using technology to manipulate our pre-conceived standards of humanities output and culture.

Post-post Post: Master Soap Makers and the Intentionality of Language

After each post is posted, I meet with my professor to discuss the posting process; what I learnt, how and from where I collected the information, and what level of frustration, if any, I hit and overcame while filtering (curating?) and restructuring said information.

The previous post proved persistently pesky (seriously, love alliteration). When I sat down to research and write about ‘digital curation’ I had in mind the concept of curating as selecting for information and discarding less pertinent points and creating a new whole.  I was frustrated to find that like so many other things in the digital field, a term that already had an established meaning within a related field had been appropriated to represent a whole different set of concepts. Of course ‘digital curation’ means archiving and preservation…that’s so counterintuitive and misnomer-ie that it must be a digital humanities phrasing, because God forbid anything in this field is straight forward and intuitive.

So, snark aside, why do already established and familiar terms continue to be emptied of their meaning and filled back in with something new and unfitting when the new meaning could be better addressed by a more descriptive term. Meaning, if you are the kind of person who says ‘digital curation’ to refer to digital archiving and preservation, then why not just say ‘digital archiving’ or ‘digital preservation’? ‘Digital preservation’ has probably already been reapplied to mean ‘master soap maker’ and is no longer suited to its more obvious task.

I understand that language is a fluid thing with a history of being shaped by cultural changes. But it is also the way in which we express controlled meaning and in a field that is already struggling to define itself, why unnecessarily further corrupt understanding, by applying already familiar terms to new meanings? How will the terms we select now, influence the interest in and culture surrounding this tyro field? Like any young thing in this world, learning how to describe and express yourself within your surroundings is an important part of identity. Digital humanities may benefit from a more intentional choice of language in the long run.

Grabbing the Metaphoric Tiger by the Digital Tail or, The Curation of Digital Humanities

The last post looked at three digital humanities projects and highlighted why they were definable as digital humanities projects by applying the definition of ‘humanities’ as scholarly, academic research providing new insight into a given topic.  This week’s post will look at the curation of online sites that use digital tools to present humanities content, simplified here in as “digital curation.” Research resources are the cornerstone of academic pursuits and digital resources can be particularly helpful from the aspect of access alone (I love alliteration) so selecting the content for digital sites is a relevant, time consuming, and thoughtful task.

So the question is: what is ‘digital curation’ and how does it fit within the ‘digital humanities’?

The all-knowing-sage Wikipedia breaks down ‘curation’ as such:

Content curation: Collecting, sorting, and displaying information relevant to a particular topic

Digital curation: The preservation and maintenance of digital assets

However, much like the term ‘digital humanities’, ‘digital curation’ is a phrase still in flux as its meaning continues to be debated over. I for the life of me can’t understand why Wikipedia’s (and others) phrase of choice for ‘preservation and maintenance of digital assets’ is not just called digital preservation and maintenance. Oh, the myriad mysteries of the interwebs.

The UK’s Digital Curation Center (DCC) defines digital curation as “maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle, as well as reducing duplication of effort in research data creation. Curation enhances the long-term value of existing data by making it available for further high quality research.” 

I think the above definition is the one that gets closest to everything that ‘digital curation’ can convey. Digital curation encompasses  not only the selection of data but the management, preservation, and dissemination of the data. In my mind, digital curation can best be explained by dividing it in to two sub-catagories: selection and dissemination i.e. the quality and form of the actual content; and management and preservation meaning the “sense of the maintenance of digital archives.”

So content and content maintenance.



An interesting point of consideration is the idea that with so many information outlets, filtering for pertinent information becomes quite difficult. From facebook to Tumbler, anyone and everyone becomes an information source. This is why content curation is so important…and difficult. Not only are filters needed to sieve through information overload, but reliable gatekeepers are needed to validate the relevancy of selected data.

The following video is an ad for a company that helps other companies aggregate information, but in general the video makes some good points about the importance of digital curation:

“In some corners of the Web, a semantic battle is being fought for the meaning of the word “curate.” Once a term describing the activities of museum professionals, in the early twenty-first century curate has come to be applied to a wide range of online activities involving the choice and presentation of other people’s content. Technology evangelist Robert Scoble sees “real-time curation” as the bundling of social microcontent (Scoble, 2010), while Maria Popova refers to her selection and contextualisation of online material as “curating interestingness” (Sweeney, 2012). Meanwhile, many from the museum and art world defend the “age-old skill” and “meticulous practice” of fine art curation against an activity they see simply as “fancy choosing” (Ahn, 2013) or even just “filthy blogging” (Sicha, 2012).”  – Curating the Digital World

Note that the above discussion, although acknowledging the various meanings of  ‘digital curation’ did not once refer to preservation of data.

It struck me that what I am doing with this “filthy blogging” of mine  is curation of information that I find valuable in understanding the scope, potential, and myriad aspects of digital humanities. I research and reduce selected information into a concentrated form and manage its dissemination through publishing links on various social media sites, ensuring some kind of preservation through multiplication.

Content selection takes on a different kind of importance at the academic level where digital collections must work double duty to reflect and encourage use of actual collections (outreach=preservation), and also act as a information resources for non-local researchers.

 The University of Iowa’s Digital Library  houses roughly 80 collections which cover a sweeping range of interests. Many collections are online versions of actual already-curated-collections but a more recent project, Pioneer Lives (found at DIY history) pulls letters and diaries from several different departments within the library. It is a collection that has been curated for an online-only format and does not exist in one physical location within the library but throughout several collections in different departments. This is the beauty of online collections. The ability to have comparative access to items that tell one story within one context and a different narrative within another.


For about a year I worked in Digital Preservation, scanning diaries and note books to feed what we called ‘the DIY monster.’ This refers to the University of Iowa’s DIY History project that crowd sources the transcription of hand-written artifacts.

The transcription program was constructed by University of Iowa employees and is part of the curation process because it is the platform the information is presented on. A researcher interested in Civil War letters and diaries can log on to the site and read the transcribed pages to trace major battles or just daily life. A paleographer can study the handwriting to reach conclusions about varying degrees of solider education and literacy. Someone interested in diaries in general can compare size, material and use.

Thus, this online collection is not only curated for content, but the presentation of the content additionally adds alternative layers of meaning and research opportunities of a wide range. The crowd-sourced transcription feature is an intentional and integral component of the curation of ‘Civil War Diaries’ collection.

Content Maintenance


Keeping with the DIY History project allows for a good transition from content curation to content management. One of the most glaring issues with crowd-sourcing anything is that the margin of error is rather large.

Ideally, the more people practicing management curation, the more accurate and informative content will be, but that’s not always the case.  Once something is online, managing the quality of it, even tracking the quality of it, can become quite difficult. This is why digital preservationist have begun using the phrase ‘digital curation’, to emphasize that although curation of content and curation of quality are two different things, they each involve a kind of curation.


This sub-topic is a little out of my range when it comes to the technical aspects of bits, bytes, file format and corrosion. And ‘metadata’…bleh, just…ugh. I hope whoever came up with that word suffers a mild but irritating inconvenience everyday as punishment of what they’ve done!

Gypsy curses aside, there is one aspect of preservation curation that I do understand and that is the concept of LOCKSS (lots of copies keep stuff safe). The University of Maine offers a Digital Curation certificate and of the two courses offered this summer, one is:

Digital Preservation – Students in this course learn strategies for tackling technological obsolescence and how those strategies are overturning traditional assumptions about cultural heritage.

So the point is, lots of copies may indeed keep stuff safe, and selecting the best places to promote and store digital collections is a curation of data. But equally important is being aware of the migration of file formats and anticipating the potential for obsolescence. It’s a selection of, a curation of, the strategies and technologies used in digital collections and digital humanities projects.

The Take Home

What I’m taking away from this is that digital curation is a multi-faceted as digital humanities, but the sub-structure, framework, foundation, bones, whatever, on which digital humanities projects are build. Digital curation provides both access to academic resources and aggregation of information that can exists in one place online when it would be impossible for it to exist geographically.

Additionally, digital curation is the mode in which digital humanities projects will preserved. As technology continues to advance archivists of physical and digital collections will be working hard to select for the best and proper preservation tools.

GeoHumanities/Spatial History

It may seem counter intuitive to begin identifying and exploring subgenres of Digital Humanities, but for me, seeing what types of projects are out there, how they are structured and used, and how they are distinct from other projects, is a good way to establish an understanding of the whole. In fact, many of the projects I have come across in my blindly-casting-about method of research, are interactive map based. These types of projects are known as GeoHumanities and usually involve an analysis of spatial history.

In moving forward with this post, I think it’d be good to identify a working definition of ‘digital humanities’ in regards to this topic. So let us here establish digital humanities as a collaborative effort between traditional scholarly research, digital technologies, and visual informatics, the goal of which is to explore and produce new scholarly analysis, or tools for scholarly analysis, that could not have been achieved without the interdependent collaboration of the previously mentioned fields.

I’m not going to pretend to have a solid or confident understanding of what geohumanities means, but I had previously noted that although Digital Humanities projects can come in many forms, mapping seems to be a popular one. Perhaps this has something to do with how our brains are adapting to ‘reading technology’* and blogs such as this one are no longer the most sufficient ways of conveying information. Or maybe it’s just because interactive pretty pictures are more visually engaging. Either way, mapping has become a popular digital humanities format and below we will look at 3 distinct projects, their uses, and how they differ.

*If you are interested in the topic of how interaction with technology physically changes our brains, pick up The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. Although online activity can and does shorten our attention span, we can also process broad swaths of information visually (non-standard line-by-line text). The good news is that although the brain is rerouting its synaptic map to adapt to our new online environment, we still don’t lose the trails of the standard synaptic routes we previously used. Like anything, it takes a period of intentional practice to adapt to and fluidly interact between the digital and real world.

  1. Atlas of Early Printing


 Who: University of Iowa Libraries

What:  An historical digital atlas that illustrates the spread of early printing in Europe.

When: Focusing specifically on the 1450-1500, the period known as the cradle of printing. For this reason, books from this date range are known as incunabula.

Where: Europe, including Eastern countries and Scandinavia within the time frame mentioned.

How: Interactive options include selecting various historic ‘layers’, including papermakers (England was the last to get a paper mill!), book sellers/fairs, universities, and major conflicts. Mouse over a colored dot on the map will reveal available information about the earliest known text printed in that area, who printed it, and a link to a digital version of the item if available.

Why: As a digital humanities project this site not only aggregates information about early printers, but shows how external events and trade influenced the spread of printing and how printing moved into certain areas with gusto, while creeping into other areas nearly 50 years after Gutenberg. Those interested in the topic can note how print shops do not automatically populate areas with a paper mill (which pre-date printing) as one may expect, but print shops are concentrated in areas with a university. This could indicate that paper was  a commodity that was fairly easy to come by and could be shipped with some leisure, while books were in a high enough demand, especially in towns hosting academic institutions, that more than one print shop could be supported. The point is, the information has been presented in a new way that helps the researcher come to potentially yet undiscovered conclusions within their own research. The ability to visualize trade growth along with the spread of the most important invention of the time is a powerful tool for researchers of many fields.

Also: Look at Mapping Gothic France – I haven’t had much of a chance to explore this site, but from what I’ve seen it’s a pretty cool site for those interested in French Gothic Architecture. Wait, you’re not interested in that? How ’bout just a chance to see internal 360 views of some of Frances most breath taking churches. It’s like taking a vacation to France while actually staying on your couch in your fat pants.


2. Decisive Moments in the Battle of Gettysburg


Who: Hosted by the Smithsonian, Anne Kelly Knowles, researcher Dan Miller and cartographer Alex Tait

What: Interactive tactical map and time line of the Battle of Gettsyburg

When: Wednesday July 1st, 1863 — Friday July 3rd, 1863

Where: Gettsyburg, Pennsylvania

How: This site is incredible. A strategic map shows Union and Confederate positions, while mouse-over reveals brigade commanders. Shaded areas on the map indicate areas that were not visible to commanding officers, helping the user understand how strategic decisions were being made. A total of six panoramic views further demonstrate how battle decisions were  made by recreating the terrain and troop location from eye level.

Why: Decision’s made regarding Pickett’s Charge, the Confederate defeat that eventually became the turning point of the war, are better understood by recreating what commanders were seeing and thus basing strategic decisions from. It’s easy to questions decisions made from the advantage of hindsight, so the concept of ‘reliving’ certain battles and historical events by recreating the conditions and terrain of the time, not only gives us new perspective on the event, but also lends yet unknown historical context. This project meets the criteria of the definition of ‘digital humanities’ posed above by providing a new scholarly analysis of a much researched event. Digital topographic analysis and panoramic vantage point views, by using digital technologies, revealed a new understanding of a popular topic.


3.The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project:



Who: Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts in New York City and The University of Virginia

What: The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project is a growing database of characters, events, and locations within the works of William Faulkner. 

Mapping Yoknapatawpha County is a minimal interactive visualization of events in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, the geographic seat of action in all but three of William Faulkner’s novels.

When: The span of the events of the cumulative story lines.

Where: Fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi

How: The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project is still a work in progress and not yet open to view by the public. However, I attended a presentation in which one of the co-creators was speaking on the topic. The premise is similar to The Atlas of Printing – layers of characters, events, specific novels, and major plot lines, can be turned on and off to view the overarching narrative and history of Yoknapatawpha County.

Mapping Yoknapatawpha County is a very, very, junior version of the above project, but I felt it warranted inclusion here as a visual tool of how The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project would look if it was stripped down.

Why: The reason I found The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project so fascinating was due to the trouble shooting section of the presentation. The speaker noted how catagorizeing characters and events was very difficult, particullary given the non-liner nature of many of Faulkner’s works. The Sound and the Fury being a wonderful example as the book itself begins with Benjy narrating the events. Benjy doesn’t have a reliable concept of space and time and as the reader physically progress through the book they are liberally jerked around the space/time continuum.  This makes mapping the timeline of events and plot rather challenging since the progress of the plot as the reader is exposed to certain events, likely does not correlate with events as they happened in the lives of the characters.

Additionally, the issue of non-present yet influential characters was another hurdle in the project. I’m embarrassed to say I do not remember the book or characters to which the presenter was referring but the gist was that a servant’s husband of whom everyone was afraid was a motivating force in the novel, yet he never actually made an appearance as a character. He was simply referred to by other characters. How would that character be categorized and placed on a narrative map? The character accelerated the plot, but was not actually present in the narrative, and this is what makes the project of mapping the narrative of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County so challenging and interesting.

This project is not just a new scholarly work of it’s own, but once completed will do a great deal to serve as a tool for future Faulkner scholars.

I hope you get the chance to explore some of these sites. They are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. However, I think the do well to exemplify the emerging resources that are digital humanities projects.


With a focus on book and narrative transmission


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