Week 12: Digital Assignment Proposal for a Hypothetical Class

For this week, we were supposed to design a project incorporating digital humanities/online resources to be assigned in an ideal course that we would be teaching. Given my interest in memory and its construction, the ideal class I conceptualized for this post is an upper-level undergraduate course on comparative memory. The goal of the course would be to investigate how memory is constructed and challenge the common misconception that it is a monolithic concept/narrative. The course would be divided into three sections, each centered around a different event with which all students should be at least vaguely familiar: the American Civil War, the Pacific theater of World War II, and the Iraq War. Each of these events will serve as the foundation through which students will be able to engage with several of the mediums by which memory is constructed and perpetuated. The Civil War unit would focus primarily on the role that statues and physical sites of remembrance, the WWII unit would focus on personal testimony, and the Iraq War unit would investigate the impact of news and reporting. The underlying goal of the course would (hopefully) force students to confront the flexibility and plurality of memory and allow them to understand that memory is a complex construct that is not locked into a binary of “right” and “wrong.”

Assignment Sample from the WWII Unit

This particular assignment would be part of the World War II unit spanning four weeks, specifically focusing on the testimony of those directly impacted by the conflict between the United States and Japan. For this unit’s first week, I would have my students investigate a number of testimonies by various American participants in the war, which would most likely align (at least roughly) with the greater American master narrative with which many students would be familiar using two online digital archives that offer a wide variety of testimony for the Pacific Theater:

Witness to War – World War II Memoirs
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veteran’s History Project

This would provide students with a mnemonic baseline and should also start introducing the idea that individual memory does not always align perfectly, even when the experiences are roughly similar.

During the second week, students would have to engage with Japanese testimonials from a number of sources that may challenge the American narrative. First, they would read several testimonies of kamikaze pilots:

Kamikaze Images – Letters, Poems, Diaries, and Other Writings

In conjunction with these memoirs, students would also read hibakusha testimony about the atomic bomb:

Atomic Archive – The Voice of Hibakusha

Having read both examples of Japanese and American testimony about the war, students would then be asked to engage with testimony from three other sources that further complicate the construction of memory by introducing often marginalized experiences:

Comfort Women
Survivors of the Nanjing Massacre
Japanese-Americans Interned During World War II

Week four of the unit would see a class-wide debate organized around small groups, each trying to offer and defend a “proper” or “correct” memory of the war to their classmates to hammer home the plurality, multiplicity, and complexity of memory construction, even about something as frequently referenced and commonly understood as World War II.

Sprint for the Finish! Project Planning Outline

As the clock continues to count down for this semester, I have been been steadily making progress on my project. At this point in the process, I can comfortably state that I have firmly decided on a direction and methodology for my map of Japanese war memory. While I had to scale back on my overall scope given the difficulty of acquiring general information regarding local sites of war memory/war memorials (let alone the geospatial data!) as per my initial plan, I have decided to focus primarily on well-known and well advertised sites of war memory, beginning with those of national prestige, such as Yasukuni Shrine and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorials. I will then work my way down through the more prefectural sites as best I can with the remaining time that I have. My new goal is to have at least 20 locations plotted on my map, which will be hosted on a separate page in this very blog!

After careful consideration of the ethical concerns raised by Ethan Watrall, I have decided to use Leaflet as the primary vehicle for plotting sites of war memory in Japan, with my map tiles/panes acquired from Openstreetmap. This will allow me ample flexibility to address any number of issues that might arise without having to worry about solutions being locked behind an expensive pay-wall. Also, Leaflet has a number of add-ons that allow me to further enhance my map. Although the geospatial plotting of sites of war memory is the crux of my project, given that I will only be plotting a relatively small number of points during this semester, if possible, I would like to add detailed information (including pictures and perhaps web links to relevant websites) that will hopefully enhance the experience of those who engage with my map.

I believe that, while small now, this project has the potential to actually impact the study of war memory in Japan and perhaps has further implications for studies of memory in general. I hope to help establish a sense of the “memory networks” in place in Japan in a way that builds on earlier scholarship (digital and otherwise) that does the same in other parts of the world. Additionally, this visual representation of the geospatial relationships between sites of war memory should prove invaluable to my own research and may actually become a dimension of/supplement to my dissertation. Perhaps I’m being overly ambitious and overstating the impact of my humble work, but a boy can dream, right?

Also, please find a current bibliography to be updated with more primary source material as my project progresses here: War Memory Mapping Bibliography (First Draft) This list as it stands represents examples to be built upon and readings that have informed my theoretical/structural approach to my project.

Mahalo for reading this whole thing, yet again!

Adam Coldren

Week 9: Digital Humanities in 3D!!

I am very excited for this week in our digital humanities course, as 3D scanning/printing has been a fascination of mine every since I discovered it. The possibilities for creation and replication seem endless, with the latter resonating strongly with me as an historian for several reasons. First, it seems an incredible benefit to scholarship to be able to replicate obscure artifacts that can then be distributed across the globe, allowing scholars everywhere increased access to items essential to their research. Second, it seems to be a perfect way to “preserve” (through duplication) these artifacts for future generations without having to worry about their preservation in the same ways as we might the original. It seems like the perfect solution, right?

However, as my childhood (and current) moral compass has famously said (in his oft misquoted line), “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Just because we have the power to replicate and distribute these artifacts, doesn’t mean that we should. This caution is urged both by Sara Bond in her article debating the ethics of 3D-printing Syria’s cultural heritage in the wake of the 3D-printing of the famous Palmyra Arch and by Claire Voon’s coverage of the event. One of the principle problems with 3D-printing is the question of ownership. How do copyrights function for the reproduced product, especially if the scan is identical in appearance to the original? Even if one does not own the artifact in question, is it appropriation/theft of cultural property for it to be 3D-printed? Bond’s references to notions of colonialism in the practice brings to mind the notorious acquisition and display habits of British museums during the heyday of the British empire. Are the two all that fundamentally different? I know that I don’t have explicit answers to these questions, but I am certainly more aware of the question now than I was and can hopefully avoid any missteps in the future.

via GIPHY

With regard to my project, I have been continuing to increase my familiarity with the digital tools necessary for mapping and feel much more confident in utilizing many of them. This project is finally starting to seem a bit less daunting than it did just a week ago! However, my priority has definitely been on accumulating sources, as per the recommendation on the syllabus and my own project plan. The grinding of the process can be boring at times, but slow and steady wins the race (and hopefully submits a quality project!)

Mahalo,

Adam

(Belated) Week 8: Images and Them Movin’ Pictures

I had initially thought that I had uploaded this post almost two weeks ago, but apparently I either forgot to finalize it or forgot completely!

In any case, the reading/viewing materials for Week 8 were short and sweet, discussing Imageplot and its uses along with audio-visual tools and techniques (dare I say that a picture is worth a thousand words?). While completely unrelated to my own priorities in terms of my project, I find Imageplot to be one of the more interesting tools to which we have been exposed in this course. The ability to map individual frames of a film over time allows for some really interesting analysis, especially for those interesting in cinematography, as one could track subtle changes in lighting, character placement/attire, or even facial expressions in ways that allow for a nuanced reading of the director’s/actor’s intentions. I imagine that running a movie (even those embarrassing home videos) would really allow you to see them in an entirely new light!

I also found that all of the technical aspects of the audio recording reading were helpful, if a bit dry. Having been around musicians my entire life, I had thought myself a bit more knowledgeable of the equipment necessary to record audio, but Doug Boyd’s articles definitely clarified plenty! Additionally, I found the actual proces of recording and shaping audio fascinating although I confess I was quickly lost amidst the sea of technical terminology Boyd throws at the reader. Informative nonetheless!

Lastly, in terms of my progress on my own project, I really took to heart the debate expressed by our speaker regarding mapping and the ethics inherent in choosing your tools. After some deliberation, I felt that I wanted to go with the non-Google/corporate route and explore several of the other options he listed for most, if not all, dimensions of my project. However, his talk also illustrated to me how much more complex my project would be than my initial assumptions, so I took the remainder of the week and a good bit of spring break to peruse the optional readings provided for Week 7 and familiarize myself with some of the tools that Ethan showed us. I have also started collecting sources and hopefully will have enough to jump right in plotting my data in the near future. I was unsure how much “fun” this project would be after looking through some of the more technical aspects of the process, but as it stands, I’m definitely enjoying myself!

Mahalo,

Adam

Week 7: It’s finally time for mapping!

This week’s class is dedicated to mapping, for which I’m very excited because I envision my project primarily as a mapping project. The readings for this week were actually largely built around examples of existing mapping projects and previews of some of the various mapping tools available. For example, one of my favorite projects was Visualizing Emancipation, which mapped emancipation events and the locations of Union army troops onto a map of where slavery was legal. I really liked the interplay of the different types of information represented on the map as well as the fact that each item was toggle-able, which really offers opportunity for a number of different interpretations.

Additionally, one of our readings highlighted the importance of maps as tools for the furthering of history, as well as their role as a point of accessibility for the digital humanities. I think that’s an important point, especially considering the influential role that maps and cartographers have played in the shaping of the modern world. Furthermore, I also found interesting (and enlightening) the insight that maps have to be read as critically and with the same kind of text that one might use in evaluating textual sources. I think that maps are often marginalized as repositories of information constructed elsewhere, as opposed to documents that actually present new conceptualizations of the world and generate information in and of themselves.

All this being said, I definitely enjoyed getting to browse through a collection of various mapping DH projects and play around (ever so slightly) with some of the tools. I will confess, however, that I still remain confused about how to use many of the tools presented in the readings and look forward to learning about them in class on Wednesday so that I can really dig into my own project!

As per usual, thanks for reading!

Mahalo,

– Adam

Week 6.5: Updated Project Plan

I have further revised my project plan and actually assigned some dates to the various stages that I have outlined for this project. While this plan is ambitious and will need some revisions along the way, I’m confident that this is a solid outline from which I can at least get started. Also, for the record, I definitely copied (with some modifications) the plan template from one of my much more technologically accomplished classmates (to avoid giving his/her name publicly without permission, reference available upon request).

Project Plan 2.0

Week 6: Updated project proposal

Hello all! Thank you for joining me again. This week will be dedicated to updated project proposal that will hopefully paint a more coherent picture of what I’m trying to do and what I think I’ll be able to accomplish. Also, for the sake of citing my sources, I straight up stole the general outline of this post from my buddy John Vsetecka (who has a pretty dope blog that you should all check out), so full credit to him. Anyways, let’s get started.

Scope

As I’ve said in previous posts, my initial goal was to map the war memorials in a particular province in Japan, like Aichi or Gunma. However, after giving it some thought, I decided to actually expand the scope of my project to encompass the entirety of the country and try to map all of the war memorials in Japan. Ambitious, yes, but not impossible.

However, I am leveraging my current abilities against the time left in the semester, which makes achieving this goal a bit daunting. However, for this class, my first and primary focus is constructing a plan of attack for this mapping, of which this proposal is the first step. My initial idea is that it may in fact be easier to focus on one particular kind of memorial at a time, working my way down from the more nationally prestigious to the more unknown and local. My hope is that an emphasis on national memorials first will offer me a general sense of the general mnemonic landscape in Japan that will hopefully allow me to make much greater sense of the smaller, local memorials.

Aims/Goals

As stated earlier, the goal of this project is to (eventually) map all of the war memorials in Japan, or at least all of those about which I can obtain information. Ideally, this would entail employing scraping technology to acquire geographic and pictorial data that would form the core of my project. Given this focus, I am eagerly anticipating week 7, where Ethan Watrall will be speaking to us about mapping technologies and techniques. Hopefully then I’ll be able to get my greedy little hands on some programs around which I can orient my data collection/presentation as well as some much-needed advice from an expert on mapping.

Method/Plan of Action

This is the part of my project that I find myself a bit conceptually stymied. I only have to wait another week for our class presentation on mapping, but hopefully I will be able to set up a meeting with one of the data librarians to get starting with these technologies beforehand. My initial plan had been to get into contact with the Asianist librarian in order to gain a better grasp of the content/source material so that I could at least begin looking at the material, which is still my primary goal. However, I have had some trouble getting into contact with said librarian, so I will seek some advice from my instructors and hopefully finally get in touch with the content area librarian, so I can advance with my project. Once that is taken care of (hopefully by the end of the week), I feel as though I will be in a good position to make full use of the mapping tools that will be presented in the coming week. The last thing that I want to do is be complacent and find myself behind and racing to complete my project before the semester ends, so I fully intend to make this week proactive and decisive.

Presentation of Findings/Materials

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my project will present the war memorials in Japan in a map, highlighting the geographic location of each. However, in addition and insofar as possible, I also plan on incorporating photographic data that makes my map more than just a series of dots. Additionally, as far as possible, I plan on including textual information that presents the type of narrative offered at each memorial, as well as the kinds of material/exhibits that comprises each memorial (and possibly a link to each memorial’s actual website if one exists). At a later stage and certainly beyond the scope of this class, I hope to add links to outside webpages containing information on the events memorialized at each site (within reason, although even I don’t know quite what I mean by that). This project will initially be a tool for my own research, and as such will be posted on my blog where I will have access to my project and be able to edit, maintain, and add to it in the coming years.

Overview of Project Steps

” Get into contact with the Asian content area librarian and schedule a meeting, which will hopefully give me a window into more sources than I have been able to find on my own and give me a relatively deep pool of data to draw from.
” Arrange for a meeting with a data librarian for late next week (hopefully in the day or two after the mapping technologies presentation in class on Wednesday) to make sure that I both have access to and understand how to use mapping tools.
” Establish a set routine for working on my project so that I am consistently developing/refining content. I know my own tendency to procrastinate, so it is essential for me to set aside specific times on specific days to do nothing but work on my project.
” As I’m doing the above, continue to look at different mapping projects on the web and glean as much from them as I can so that I can jump right in and won’t have to waste time trying to orient myself once I get all of my technological ducks in a row.
” Begin the data scraping/mining and compilation, posting my incremental progress on my blog so that my friends, classmates, and instructors can hold me accountable and make sure that I’m actively developing a quality DH project.

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’m sorry that this isn’t a more thorough explanation of my project and that it is still a bit ungrounded, but hopefully by next week all will be well. As always, thanks for reading!

– Adam

Experimenting with digital analysis

So Jim and I were playing around with a few different data sets in Voyant when we each decided to try analyzing a source in each of our languages. I chose a Japanese newspaper article because I didn’t have any Japanese language sources handy. I was really pleasantly surprised at how well it was able to distinguish different words in a non-English language with no spacing to differentiate them. The word cluster function was especially interesting to me.

The article itself is about the suicide of two boys at a Japanese high school, but suicide was only mentioned half as much as the investigation itself (調査) or the bereaved families (遺族) and only one third as much as committee members (委員). I think that this clearly represents the author’s narrative focus, emphasizing the aftermath rather than sensationalizing the suicides themselves, which may be a larger trend in Japanese journalism worth investigating.

Week 5

This week’s readings focused on textual analysis. Textual analysis is one digital methodology with which I was familiar prior to this course, although I’ve never actually tried it. Although it certainly used to look quite complicated (and intimidating), after our command line boot camp and taking some time to understand exactly how it is that a computer, and by extension software, operates, the textual analysis process appears much simpler. Particularly the use of tokens and strings though which the analysis is focused is much clearer and I hope that understanding will help me actually utilize textual analysis more effectively. Contrary to popular belief, computers aren’t actually sentient machines that function on a higher level than humans (at least not yet…but 2029 isn’t far off).

via GIPHY

One thing that struck me about the technique is its double-edged nature. On one hand, it is incredibly useful for helping to visualize or understand general trends that have lots of data to sort through. Many hypotheses are constructed primarily around a relatively small amount of data that the scholar actually has the time and physical capacity to read, meaning that a textual analysis of the remaining huge corpus of text/source material can be incredibly useful to verifying the general accuracy of a hypothesis. I know I would love to be able to be able to refer to general trends in the data that I’m unable to actually physically sift through to check whether or not my research is going the way I believe it ought to be. However, on the other hand, doing a textual analysis would be utterly useless without a strong knowledge of what ought to be in the text and a mastery of the technology used in the process. Without that requisite knowledge, you’ll mostly likely end up with a bunch of unintelligible data.

With that being said, I like to think that my project is moving forward, although the past week hasn’t been quite as productive as I would have liked. I’m still fleshing out the details of my project and I’m still waiting for my meeting with the two librarians, which I’ll hopefully be able to take care of by the end of this week. After that and with any luck, I’ll be off to the proverbial races!