Miscellany

Hopplock means “miscellany” in Swedish.  This is where I keep track of miscellaneous to-do lists, projects-in-progress, and other boring administrative tasks. These posts are private or password protected because they are illegible to anyone but me.  Pretty boring stuff here…

Text Palettes

I’ve been working on a few projects that put digital technology in the service of close reading literary texts. This first one is called “Text Palettes,” a simple Python script that reads a text for its colors and then outputs a simple pie chart of the color distribution. It is limited and reductive, but in some ways this is the point. I will be refining this and the others for my “Literature by the Numbers” class next semester and am interested to see how it will work as a tool for close reading in the classroom.

This is a text palette of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat.” Not surprisingly, the color black dominates.
black_cat

University of Utah

I am delighted to have joined the U as an Associate Professor of English! Scott and I have spent the past few months hiking, unpacking, hiking, exploring SLC, hiking, and MORE HIKING. Now that school has started officially, I am excited to get to know my students, immerse myself in the University, and, of course, continue to explore these beautiful canyons!

CFP “Small Screen Fiction”

UPDATE:

new submission deadline AUGUST 15
Paradoxa

Volume 29 Small Screen Fiction

Call for Papers (anticipated publication date: December, 2017)

Editors: Astrid Ensslin (University of Alberta, Canada); Paweł Frelik (Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland); Lisa Swanstrom (University of Utah, USA)

In the last few decades, digital technologies have dramatically reconfigured not only the circumstances of media production and dissemination, but also many of their cultural forms and conventions, including the roles of users, producers, authors, audiences, and readers. Arguably the most spectacular of these digital transformations have affected the large screens of cinema multiplexes and the increasingly large screens of home televisions, but other narrative forms have emerged on a smaller screens as well.

Today, with growing frequency, narratives are experienced on the smaller screens of laptops, tablets, and even mobile phones. These narratives often involve direct reader/viewer/player interaction, enabling highly idiosyncratic, individualized and unique narrative experiences. Some of these fictions are merely digitized or wikified versions of texts previously available in the codex form—their digital conversion affects some of the ways in which readers engage with them, but the basic structures of these narratives remain unchanged. Some others, however, have been written and designed (these two words often blur) specifically for these small screens. Their functionalities and affordances are not replicable in any other medial form, nor do they demonstrate an allegiance to any single pre-existing art form.

Paradoxa seeks articles for a special issue devoted to “Small Screen Fictions.” Both in-depth analyses of individual texts and more general, theoretical discussions are invited. The genres and media of interest include but are not limited to:

• DVD novels, such as Steve Tomasula’s TOC (2009);
• literary-narrative video games and ludic, gamelike fictions whose principal interest is in offering innovative storytelling experiences, such as Dear Esther(2012) and Device6 (2013);
• twitter and blog texts, such as Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” (2012);
• collectively written, locative online texts, particularly those breaking narrative linearity, such as Hundekopf (2007), The LA Flood Project (2013) andThe Silent History (2013);
• interactive graphic novels, such as Nam Le’s The Boat (2014);
• genre-bending, dialogic hybrids, such as Blast Theory’s Karen (2015);
• neo-hypertextual fictions enabled by user-friendly authoring software such as Twine;
• physically distributed narratives that make use of small screen spaces, not merely to create and display fictions, but also to navigate, negotiate, and interact with real-world spaces through geo-caching or other means, such asIngress (2013), Cartegram (2014), and Call of the Wild (2015).

Similarly, possible approaches to such screen texts include but are not limited to:

• the changing cultural patterns and expectations of engagement with narrative;
• the reality and illusions of linearity and non-linearity;
• the shifting nature of public and private spectatorship;
• the role of touch and tactility, as well as other human senses in experiencing narratives;
• the blurring of the verbal and the visual, of fact and fiction, of reading and writing, of natural and artificial;
• the economic, social, and political contexts of authorship and readership of such texts;
• the implications of such narrative experiences for the meaning(s) and perceptions of fiction, genre and literature.

Abstracts of 500 words should be submitted by 15 August 2016 to the editors: Astrid Ensslin < a.ensslin@bangor.ac.uk>, Pawel Frelik < pawel.frelik@gmail.com> Lisa Swanstrom < swanstro@gmail.com>. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by 1 April 2016. Full drafts (6,000 to 8,000 words) will be due by 1 October 2016.

The End of the Digital Humanities

I just read Roger Malina’s  compelling blog post: “Yes again to the end of the Digital Humanities.”  I found myself agreeing with most–but not all–of it. Like Malina, I fervently hope the term Digital Humanities is transitional, for a number of reasons: It’s an awful umbrella term that can mean nearly anything (as Malina’s link to this site suggests) that is also syntactically confusing (is it singular? is it plural? is digital an adjective or a hyphen-challenged compound noun?).  But especially problematic to many humanists is its at once colonizing (resistance is futile) and divisive (you are an anointed member of the technorati or you are a luddite) stance within the academy–a rhetorical stance which borrows more from the cornier conventions of science fiction than anyone, on either side of the fence, might want to acknowledge.

Scholarship within the field hasn’t done much to help.  Early “cyberstudies” varied little except in the degree of their bombastic import, from broad-sweeping claims about the GUI’s role in destroying the modern subject to libertarian fantasies of intellectual emancipation.  These, at least, were cleanly written, if overblown, treatises.  The language of contemporary digital humanities  work, although not as dramatic in tone, is alienating in a different way, having introduced an entirely new vocabulary, imported from information technology and computer science, which, to the uninitiated, rivals the opacity of anything that emerged from the twisting, linguistic, Freud-haunted corridors of French poststructuralism.

I  also admit that I am sick of the term, even as I have benefitted from its current cultural cache, and even as I am grateful for what it’s accomplished.  And it has accomplished a lot–an enormous amount, in such a short span of time. Before DH became “a thing,” the practice and theory of computational humanities work were wholly divorced. Humanistic work on large data sets was excluded, de facto, from humanistic inquiry, and opportunities for technological training were excluded, de facto, from humanities curricula. This was a false separation, and DH has been enormously successful in challenging this divide.  Yet perhaps it’s been too successful. Broad-tent DH has engulfed Humanities Computing to the point that someone who writes about the aesthetic implications of digital technology (as I do) is via the DH descriptor lumped together with someone who does the programming, site development, and data structure of, say, the Perseus Project.  Is this a useful taxonomy?  Or, rather, is there a taxonomy? Or has the term DH, so amorphous and blobular, swallowed it?  Like the Blob, it seems to be all consuming.

Like Malina, I hope that the tools and methods that are emerging from humanities computing will get folded into to every-day humanistic research so that we will no longer treat them as threatening interlopers to be singled out for praise or scorn. This is already happening, thanks, in no small part, to the Chronicle’s popular band of  Professors Hacker, the NEH’s ODH, and the general success of DH efforts.

But I disagree with Malina’s hunch that “digital humanities” is “not a conceptually or theoretically useful term,” a conclusion that he comes to through a recap of his experience as an astronomer during the days of “digital astronomy,” which has now, thankfully, been subsumed into, simply, “astronomy.”  In the 1980s, he states, digital technology had a glossy newness to it, which necessitated a brief transitional period of assessment.  What this assessment revealed to astronomers, Malina states, was that “the ‘digital’ nature of the information was not conceptually useful but rather that the development enabled new astronomical research agendas.”  The only thing that remains of this brief period of DA is the “Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems (ADASS) conference,” which “provides a forum for scientists and programmers concerned with algorithms, software and software systems employed in the acquisition, reduction, analysis, and dissemination of astronomical data.” Digital Humanities will follow suit, Malina predicts.  They should be folded up into the regular humanities so the humanities can return to the business of being the humanities.  As a bonus, we would never have to hear this awful term again.

This argument seems compelling at first.  The Digital Humanities are in their early days, still grappling with the relationship between digitization, culture, and the arts.  And we can even see a parallel between the ADASS and the ADHO. But comparing DH to digital astronomy sets up a false analogy. The practice of “digital astronomy,” at least in Malina’s brief account of it here, does not seem to have called into question the conceptual foundations and objectives of the discipline. That is to say, astronomers may have been shaken up–a bit, briefly–by the tools they used to study stars, but, in the end, they were still in agreement that their object of study was sidereal. Star-stuff.

The same cannot be said of the humanities. Humanists are no longer in agreement about what constitutes their object of study.  Truth be told, they haven’t been for some time, well before DH lurched onto the scene.  You don’t necessarily realize this as an undergraduate or even a graduate student.  It doesn’t become clear, perhaps, until you’ve been in a few different Universities, seen how wildly the culture can vary from place to place, department to department, state to state.  Basic foundational assumptions about what it means to be a humanist, and the ethical implications they build up to, are fraught, fractured and contradictory, all across the academy.

What the digital humanities have done is put these contradictions into relief.

So as terrible as the term “Digital Humanities” may be, it does crucial conceptual work.  Would I like to see the term go away?  Yes.  But there’s a lot more work to do before that happens.

python resources

I am learning python to work with texts.  I’m not a programmer, but since I want to be able to do simple things that a computer can do way faster than I can (like, for example, count words), I am picking up some new skillzzzzz.  Here’s what I’ve been using:

tutorials
https://www.codecademy.com/learn/python
(+) free, thorough, and straightforward.  The forums are helpful and when you get stuck there are several solutions on github.
(-) sometimes there are concept jumps that aren’t explained, but the Q&A forums were super helpful for this.  This course might benefit from extra breakout lessons/projects that illustrate key concepts.  They seem to have a few of these if you pay for the pro upgrade, but even these don’t seem to be very thorough.

https://www.udacity.com (Intro to Computer Science)
(+) free, thorough, and you make a web crawler! teacher is great and does a great job breaking things down
(-) no complaints. Although sometimes it’s both overly broad and a bit *too* thorough, and you have to code using their online interpreter, which sometimes doesn’t seem to be running.

http://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/
(+) free, thorough, and all done through the command line and TextWrangler (also free).  Plus, the author is kind of mean and hilarious in a great, angry gym coach kind of way.
(-) no complaints–not enough text-based examples for me personally, but that’s not the purpose of the book.

http://nealcaren.github.io/python-tutorials/
(+) free, a great list of projects to try
(-) geared more towards social scientists than humanists

text analysis
http://nealcaren.web.unc.edu/an-introduction-to-text-analysis-with-python-part-1/
(+) free, quick, fantastic.  Exactly what I was looking for.  While slogging through the Python courses listed above, I despaired that I would never learn what I wanted to learn.  I feared I would need to learn the whole dang language to do some simple text analysis.  This changed everything! I learned in ten minutes how to do sentiment analysis from the command line.  Neither of the other tutorials really touched on this. THANK YOU.
(-) None.

http://nbviewer.ipython.org/url/norvig.com/ipython/How%20to%20Do%20Things%20with%20Words.ipynb
(+) free, quick, and this:

(-) maybe a bit too quick.

beginner projects I want to try but haven’t yet had time:
https://www.reddit.com/r/beginnerprojects
https://www.thinkful.com/learn/intro-to-python-tutorial/#Conclusion-and-Resources

Five mini programming projects for the Python beginner


solutions to the above:

Other useful resources:
Python for beginners:
http://www.pythonforbeginners.com/files/reading-and-writing-files-in-python

Practice Python:
http://www.practicepython.org/