The Beginning of My DH Project


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Hello all, I know that many of you guys didn’t get to see me present on Thursday because we ran out of time, but i just wanted to show you guys a bit of what I got up to. I still have a long way to go, and I unfortunately don’t have any data on the slides yet, but this is what I have so far and I thought I’d post it in case anybody was interested. I’d love to know what you all think. Have a great finals week :)

Project Title: The Stories Of Sherlock Holmes: The Canon that Continues

Project Type: Power Point

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I know it isn’t mentioned explicitly, but what I’m most interested in this project is finding out a better understanding of where fan fiction belongs in the sphere of literature. Although fan fiction takes quite a bit from literary canons it is always categorized as a different form of writing. I am interested in exploring if this classification holds true or if (based on the results) we should consider fan fiction to be a sub category of the original canon. I plan to accomplish this by comparing one section of writing from Doyle’s works and three very different piece of fan fiction (one from the period, one from a modern site, and a “crack” or ridiculous one) on Voyant. This way I can study the words and see how similar they are to the actual literary canon, and too each other. Anyway this is what I have so far, thank you guys for reading

Kirshenbaum and Artificial Intelligence?


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Recently I was revisiting the first chapter of Kirshenbaum’s Mechanics and I noticed something that really intrigued me. The first time I read Kirshenbaum I was really blown away by how he disassembled the preconceptions that many of us assume about the purpose of technology and how technology works. It also made me realize some of the own personal bias’ I had on this subject, specifically on how size is involved. With the growth of technology you generally assume that the size of the technologies material is a direct correlation to its efficiency. The first models of technologies’ are always much more crude and as a result usually physically bigger as the technology requires much more material in order to accomplish their task. There for, because of this personal bias I have always attributed really efficient technology to be a system that is rather compact and small. It doesn’t apply to all scenarios, but I always assumed that generally the smaller something was the more efficient it was. It wasn’t a particular bias that I paid much attention to before I read Kirshenbaum. However it was a bias that I realized I had when I found that I was originally doubted most of what Kirshenbaum has to say.  In addition to the past conceptions that we have about technology, Kirshenbaum’s articles also raise some questions, for me, about what our ideal conception for technology could possibly be.  

Much of what Kirshenbaum discusses in his essay dealt with the materiality of certain objects. We see technology as a material thing and we rarely ever think about the people that designed or help to build the technology. We generally tend to acknowledge technology, as it’s own entity, even though all technology is subject to certain instances of; malfunction and thus need an amount of human interaction. Kirshenbaum points out that it’s almost as if we like to think about technology as a self functioning entity until it actually breaks and shatters this perception. Kirshenbaum makes a very compelling argument in his works and I have to say that I tend to agree with most of what he says. This topic that Kirshenbaum proposes however also raised another question in my mind. With this conception in mind is it possible that our actually aim for evolving technology is that it will be eventually self-sufficient. We like to think of technology as it’s own entity, but would we really like technology to actually become it’s own technology. From what I’ve read and seen in my own life. I personally believe that this is the eventual goal we are striving to reach, however do any of you guys believe that Kirshenbaum’s article implies this and is this statement something that we could see Kirshenbaum getting behind?    

A Final Project Brings Finality


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One of the most personally and academically rewarding projects I’ve done is my work in geospatial mapping using Google Earth.  For years, I’ve churned out paper after paper, analyzing literature, making arguments, and quoting my rear off to make a point; it came as a shock to find such a useful tool for literary analysis that not a single professor had ever mentioned.  Geospatial mapping is more than just planting points all over a map because, like much of what DH has to offer (MALLETT, Voyant, etc.), it allows us to grasp much larger patterns and subtleties that the human mind can’t fathom on its own.  We, as a race, have built tools since the beginning of time to expand our abilities and DH offers those in the humanities the ability to evolve our practices to new heights.

More than the ability to extract patterns and data from a narrative (in the case of this project, my own life), Google Earth offers the ability to bring space into the narrative and have word, location, and visualization exist simultaneously.  In my project, I can describe a terrible car accident I was in and show you the car I’m describing, parked on the side of the road outside my house in Portland, ME.  I can describe the picket fence my father and I painted together while you look at it in BIddeford, ME.

When you visit my Facebook page, which details a great deal of my life with pictures and locations on a map where they were taken, you’d think this social need to express one’s life was already filled.  Scroll down until “Birth,” however, and you’ll find that I did absolutely nothing between Birth and the day my digital self (Facebook account) was created.  For those looking to give “Friends” and in-depth look at their childhood and development, this is a great way to share that experience with others.

This project really culminated my experience with Digital Humanities over the semester; it pointed to the antiquated and complacent ways we analyze literature, showed how technology is ever changing in abilities and uses, and showcased how creative DH can take our perception of what a narrative is and flip it on its head.

Fun With Twitter Bots

I’d love to see more of Digital Humanities scholars somehow working Twitter bots into their research. Or at least just having some fun with them.

For example, new media scholar and Twitter user @samplereality codes various bots in a literary fashion, asking them to follow various commands that mimic famous authors, poems, or songs.

Here are a couple bots based off of William Carlos Williams:

And here is one based off of a mashup of Walt Whitman and people who tweet #fml:

As we can see, the work of scholars like @samplereality could be incorporated into DH studies. A Voyant analysis of all the tweets the bot produces, or of the replies people tweet?

In fact, one of my new “projects” stemming out of this class is to make a Twitter bot of my own! I will let you know how it goes.

Here are some more links for info on Twitter bots:
The Rise of Twitter Bots: The New Yorker
All of @samplereality’s bots

The Singularity: Transhumanist Dreams of The Future


In Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, author Robin Sloan’s characters have an optimistic view of the future. While the book centers around characters in the tech industry uncovering an ancient conspiracy, I am compelled to discuss Sloan’s slant toward technological optimism and google-worship. Early in the novel, Kat and Clay discuss the singularity, a theoretic turning point in our technological development where A.I. will surpass human intelligence. Cultural narratives around such an event have in the past often expressed nervousness and fear around such an event. In The Terminator film franchise we are shown a bleak future of war and human subjugation by robots. The Matrix follows a similar storyline. Humans create machines, machines become sentient, war ensues, machines seek to dominate and expunge humanity.


In Star Trek: The Next Generation the borg assimilate and appropriate human identities into a collective mechanical consciousness.


But in Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Sloan’s characters envision a happier possibility such a moment. They imagine a utopian future where assimilation into the machine is the next evolutionary step. Maybe cultural narratives, as seen in the above science fiction films, are shifting toward an optimism around the singularity. In DH class last week Megan B referenced an analysis she performed around transhumanist fashion in pop culture, adorned by such celebs as Beyonce and Lady Gaga.


A recent article on The Smithsonian, “How to Become the Engineers of Our Own Evolution,” describes transhumanists as, “Adherents of “transhumanism”—a movement that seeks to transform Homo sapiens through tools like gene manipulation, “smart drugs” and nanomedicine—hail such developments as evidence that we are becoming the engineers of our own evolution. Enhanced humans might inject themselves with artificial, oxygen-carrying blood cells, enabling them to sprint for 15 minutes straight. They could live long enough to taste a slice of their own 250th birthday cake. Or they might abandon their bodies entirely, translating the neurons of their brains into a digital consciousness.” For now, transhumanists can opt to be cryogenically frozen and wait it out.


Would you freeze yourself to be resuscitated by “super-scientists of the future”?

What is it about the current moment that allows for us to think about the singularity in utopian rather than dystopian terms?


Mapping Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens


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In an attempt to experiment with mapping Humanities content, I created an interactive map of Charles Dickens’s Letters From Italy using Prezi. With this project I’ve augment the reader’s experience of the original text by tracing Dickens’s travelogue essays on a map—adding visual and literary annotations.


For aesthetics and historical relevance I hoped to use maps from Dickens’s time. Luckily, I found nineteenth century maps online at the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. This site is free and open to the public. They’ve digitized over 45,000 items, focusing on rare 18th and 19th century maps of North and South America, although they also have maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe and Oceania. These high-resolution maps are suitable for the extreme zoom functions in Prezi.


Dickens writes with an interest in drawing readers into the allure of Italy. He succeeds in this with his compelling prose and his attention to details, people, spectacle, and decay. I’ve tried to represent this and also make intertextual connections between this nonfiction work and his fiction to come. The project is interactive, allowing readers to follow Dickens’s journey chronologically or to navigate and explore at will (click through the complete tour first to load all of the pop ups completely).



What other texts might you like to see mapped using digital tools?

Does mapping a literary work add to or take away from the original work? Are there trade-offs?

How might Dickens respond to such a permutation of his work?

Summly and the Dangers of Reading the News at a Distant


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        The ideas of Digital Humanities are slowly becoming popular outside of the Digital Humanities cult. An article was published in the Wall Street Journal presenting an app made by Nick D’Aloisio. Seth Stevenson (2013) notes that D’Aloisio, now eighteen, sold a piece of software to Yahoo! for $30 million at the age of seventeen (para 1). Stevenson’s headline reads, 

“How Teen Nick D’Aloisio Has Changed the Way We Read” (2013). Many people many begin to wonder what kind of software created by a seventeen year old could be worth $30 million. How can his app change the way we read? Do we want this change, and who purchased the software? D’Aloisio sold his software, Summly, to Yahoo!. Summly is an application that summarizes news articles into a shorter text that is more readable. Overall, Summly is another tool that can be used for distant reading.

Summly predecessor, Trimit, is similar. However, as I tested it, I found that this software does has some downfalls. One problematic feature was that there was a word limit. The maximum word allowance is one thousand words. This limitation made using Trimit difficult. I put the Wall Street Journal article about D’Aloisio’s sell to Yahoo! into Trimit. The article is 2,346 words long, and although Trimit said my entry was over, it allowed me to trim the text down to 258 words. The Trimit summary reads:

While D’Aloisio spends 80 percent of his work time retooling and improving Summly (which has already been integrated in Yahoo!’s iPhone app), the other 20 percent is devoted to imagining the expansive challenges he’ll take on next. When he released an early iteration, tech observers realized that an app that could deliver brief, accurate summaries would be hugely valuable in a world where we read everything – from news stories to corporate reports – on our phones, on the go. When he wasn’t programming or doing schoolwork, D’Aloisio began to fill his spare time reading about natural language processing. A year later, Summly launched, and within a month it had attracted 500,000 users and became the number-one news app in 28 countries. When I met him, he was about to head to Greece for a weeklong vacation with a pack of high school pals. D’Aloisio is not working full time in Yahoo!’s London office, and his youth, his energy and his undeniable it-factor have brought the formerly musty tech giant a much-needed injection of cool. He’d never met with anyone in the tech world face to face, and the information he’d listed when he registered Trimit spoke only vaguely of a London technology company. I feel really bad when I’m not doing something new.

I was extremely impressed. This summary got the most important facts in the article and had trimmed the two thousand plus words by about 90%. Although this feature is exciting, there are some downfalls to the technology. While all the sentences can be found within the text, the organization is jumbled. Therefore, the rhetorical choices of the author are not used in the presentation to the reader. The final sentence was a quote by D’Aloisio, but the quote was not in the correct context for readers to recognize it as a quote. Finally, sections of the story, that give D’Aloisio character, are missing from the shortened text. This lack of information leaves the reader without a good sense of who D’Aloisio is.

            This introduction to D’Aloisio’s software makes it seem that this is new technology. Summly is not new technology. Rather, it is just old technology repackaged in a way that makes it usable to an individual with no background in coding. Yahoo! is not even using this technology in a way that introduces the masses to digital humanist ideas. Rather, Yahoo! is using the software to summarize the news articles on their news center, giving their consumers shortened news articles instead of the full-size articles found on other news sites. While this technology is good and encourages people to keep up with the news, the downfalls indicate that the technology isn’t perfect yet. The algorithms used by D’Aloisio during the creation of Summly, do not bring in the smaller details that give a broader picture. As a result, Summly could produce bias in its readers. Perhaps summarizing will always result in biased reading. Either way, this tool needs to be used wisely, especially in political news stories, where bias can cause larger problems.


Full article located:


Questions to the Class:

  1.    How do you think Summly will alter the way that people receive their news? Is this way good or bad?
  2.   If you read the Wall Street Journal article, how do you think the Trimit summary compares?
  3.   What other dangers are produced by used tools like Summly to relate news to citizens?
  4. For comparison, see the Voyant word cloud of the same article. Does it say anything different about the subject?


The Augmented Reality of Mr. Morris Lessmore…


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Socrates railed against that newfangled idea of writing down our thoughts instead of (or in addition to) engaging in dialogue. Writers and intellectuals later lamented the rise of cinema, fearing its effect on both their professions and the minds of audiences.

Video killed the radio star.

It seems to be a peculiar sort of xenophobia common to all humanity, the fear of being replaced – the fear of becoming irrelevant. Of course, because it’s also human nature to deny and obfuscate our fears, we project our dread of irrelevance from ourselves to our technology.

With the increasing use of technology in literature, many in the field of humanities have even degenerated to a philosophical civil war regarding what constitutes a book, what “counts” as a text. I prefer to leave these arguments to those who actually care about them, and instead look to digital humanities to observe what they can tell us about the content and development of human interaction and storytelling. To do this, I’ll be looking at the iOS app, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.”

Digital storytelling has evolved from the original e-book (an older book represented in digital form) to enhanced e-books (in which the digital component is emphasized), to multimedia books (in which older media are remade to include any combination of sound, text, video, and illustration). We now have interactive iBooks, seamless multimedia experiences that absorb older media. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is a notable example of this most recent category.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” was an idea of a book that eventually evolved into an Academy Award-winning animated short film in 2011. In an interesting display of “reverse genealogy,” the film then developed into an interactive book app – and only after all these digital incarnations received critical acclaim did the initial idea – the hard copy book – become a reality.

Recently, a new “Morris Lessmore”-related app has been released, called IMAG-N-O-TRON: “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” Edition. This app creates a 3D, crossover experience that can’t be achieved with just the book or just the app. The IMAG-N-O-TRON uses augmented reality to bridge the gap between the hard copy book and the storybook app. Using the iOS device’s camera, the app targets illustrations on the book’s pages to activate voiceovers, animation, and to meld animations and the real world into an interactive experience.

Perhaps digital humanists should follow the example of  ”Mr. Morris Lessmore” and spend some quality time considering how to unite print and digital texts in meaningful and complementary ways. Seems to me like that’d be a better use of time and energy than arguing over which one is better, no?

So — here’s the big question: how do we get humanists and digital humanists to work together instead against each other? Is it even possible? Or desirable?arbook Fantastic-Flying-Books-Lessmore-3-thumb-620x413-44619 lesima005-500x500 lesima012-500x500

Have Fun with Data Visualization


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If someone were to talked to me about something that has the word “data” sporadically popping up when I was a middle schooler, I would, in no time, give him an awestruck look and secretly categorize him as either having a high-profile government officer family background or having a high-tech geeky father who has the ability to hack into every single website he can possibly think of. Not until some years later did I realize that its not an intangible sacred matter that ordinary people like me will never be able to encounter in life. Data, just like electromagnetic wave, is everywhere. As a matter of fact, our living environment is flooded with data and we live and breathe it all the time. Though it’s amorphous and sometimes highly abstract, it’s a real thing that occupies every aspect of our modern lives (in which case, I might as well treat the word “data” as being in its original plural form, rather than a concept). It remains an inscrutable concept to me. But in the context of digital humanities, I oftentimes tentatively think of it as a form of digital representation of information and knowledge.

A whole spectrum of data are out there, like petroleum reservoir buried deep under sea. What we have been endeavoring is to tap into and manipulate them for our benefit. The big question remains “how.” This reminds me of a Ted talk I watched awhile back, in which the speaker, Jake Porway, the founder of Datakind, speculates the possible approaches to bridge the giant gap between data gathering and data utilization. According to him, most data are gathered and owned by the government, which doesn’t have enough skills to turn those raw data into valuable information that can bring people practical benefits. One of the problem is that the way they present data is highly incomprehensible and thus no one would care to analyze them.  That’s the primary reason he started Datakind initiative that helps to match the skilled people that have the capability to take advantage of the large chunk of data with the government, and find real-world solutions to some dominant issues.

Following this line of inquiry, I think my childhood deification of data as something mysterious and the discrepancy between data gathering and usage, though seemingly entirely irrelevant, actually have a certain similarity, which is they both result from the terrible method data are conventionally presented. Average people that are not data-savvy basically have no chance to be exposed to the type of data that might somehow direct their lives. Even if they do, it’s impossible for them to read and analyze them in order to fulfill their purposes. With these concerns in mind, I was stunned by how much data visualization can do to simplify our unfulfilling and disappointing experience of data interpretation.

Surfing one of the most popular data visualization website “FlowingData” was an interesting experience. Most of the topics are somewhat relevant to or a direct reflection of an aspect of our daily life, and are presented in a foolproof, straightforward, and engaging manner. The reason why it’s “popular” is perhaps because it’s more geared towards popular taste in choosing topics and less academic- or statistic-heavy. Some of the topics are even entertaining rather than purely educational. But it’s exactly where its beauty lies. A lot of times, people are just too busy or too lazy to care about something that’s not going to affect their interests in a short term, especially when it’s inscrutable and tedious. So data visualization sites like FlowingData makes interpreting data a simple and fun experience, which is just what people need. And frankly, I almost became addicted to it after having spent an hour on it.

For example, one of the topics that struck me as novel is a mapping of “regional personality. The maps are visually appealing and easy to grasp. If someone happens to be intrigued by this and feels like reading more serious information, such as who this conclusion was reached, he/she can simply click on the link that leads them to the original source, which is a published journal essay.


There are, of course, more academic-oriented data-visualization tools that help researchers generate visualized data like Gephi, which, in my test, helped to build a graphic network that shows the intricate relationships among people in Les Misérable. Just like data itself, data visualization is a not-so-old concept that has a great deal of potential awaiting people to tap into. Stay tuned.


Source: “Regional Personality,”, Oct. 21, 2013.