Clownin’ around with data set visualization: Having fun with IT (That’s a terrible joke and I’m not sorry)

*Note: You can click on each image for a clearer visual*

We believe that this visualization of orchestra composition is excellent for organizing a large amount of instrumental data and making it very readable. It is very obvious which instruments comprise which types of orchestra (with the number of each instrument included on the outermost ring of the graph), allowing one to easily highlight the similarities and differences between each type of orchestra. The most observations worth noting include the variance of instrumental makeup between orchestra types, notably with regard to percussion and violin, such as the substantial differences between the classical and modern orchestras.

This graph went through a few iterations, until finally settling on a color-coded distinction by genre. There is a certain illustration of particular genres, particularly action and adventure, trending higher in both box office returns and IMDB ratings, while drama trends somewhat lower. There also seems to be a lack of a relationship between the IMDB rating and box office returns in general, and the most popular movies do not correlate with those that are highly rated.

We found this graph interesting for the sense of continuity that exists between different forms of music media, specifically that it takes quite some time for a newer technology to supersede its predecessor. Cassettes, for example, retained a significant proportion of the market share nearly half way into the life span of CDs, which still exist to this day. Meanwhile, other technologies like 8-Tracks disappeared almost immediately following the emergence of an alternative.

Week 4: When will my project begin?

The readings for this week were focused primarily on the role that visualization plays in the digital humanities and in data representation as a whole. Eric Malcolm Champion’s article highlighted the misconception/misuse of digital humanities as a primarily-textual means, emphasizing the capacity for non-textual visualization. In his article, Champion raises a number of points I agreed with, beginning with the close association between language and images. As someone who has to read, write, use, and fail (#thestruggleisreal) at the Chinese ideographs that are essential to the Japanese language, it is easy to notice the relationship between the written word and the images that these characters are designed to evoke. Additionally, why use words when a well chosen image would say the exact same thing. I mean, a picture is worth a thousand words, amiright?

This close association leads into the next point that I found fascinating. There certainly is a gap between the literate and those less so, one that is often only exacerbated by technology, not to mention the “technical literacy” required to function in cyberspace. However, this doesn’t have to be the case, nor should it be. Rather, technology can, and I believe should, serve as a bridge between the two aforementioned groups, with accessible media, images, and other engagement tools facilitating that reproach. The digital humanities have access to such a greater number of effective media to engage with than does traditional academia, meaning that the digital humanities should ideally be a way for everyone to engage with the humanities, regardless of their level of literacy. Furthermore, as Champion’s article notes, gaming and other digital kinds of engagement allow for people to actually interact with history, literature, etc., as opposed to just passively consuming it. Plus, it will helpfully get rid of the ivory towers trope that so plagues academia. In essence, digital humanities has the potential to be the Rapunzel of research and learning!

via GIPHY

*accurate representation of graduate school*

The book we read for this week highlighted the different kinds of visualization types and how they may best be used to reflect particular data and affect certain kinds of engagement. After scanning the chapters briefly, I discovered that I found the spatio-temporal type of visualization the most fascinating. Perhaps it is the inherent challenge of depicting the complex relationship between time and space in a single graph/chart that makes it so interesting, although (knowing myself) it’s probably just because the images often look really nifty (or for my Northeastern readers: “wicked cool”). That being said, I find that I use particular visualization schema often, although not necessarily in a digital format. When I take notes, I always use a hierarchical visual model, beginning with my most general points closest to the left-hand side of the page, gradually moving down the page and to the left as the information gets more specific.

Finally, I’ll conclude with an update on my project idea. Last time, I discussed a public mapping project dedicated to plotting the war memorials in a specific province in Japan. However, after discussing things with the instructors and with their encouragement, I decided to become both more selfish and more ambitious. Instead of gearing my project towards public consumption, I decided it might be best to focus instead on a private project that would benefit my own research first and foremost, with the intention to turn the project public sometime in the future. Additionally, I’ve expanded my scope to all of Japan with the goal of mapping every single war memorial I can find. Granted, that perhaps (or definitely) exceeds my current capability to do, given my limited know-how, but perhaps not. In any case, my immediate goals are two-fold: building a methodological schema or model to serve as the foundation of project and securing source material from which to start building this project. Looks like I have appointments with the data and Japanese librarians here at MSU!

As always, thanks for reading this entire thing (or skipping to the bottom).

via GIPHY

Come one, come all! To the circus that is my DH project idea!

As someone woefully ignorant of the processes upon which programs, webpages, and computers themselves are built, I found Stephen Ramsey’s introduction to databases quite interesting. Although I certainly didn’t understand all of it, it offered a great insight into the difficulties associated with constructing and operating a database, including model selection, reducing redundancies, and making it easy to interface with, among others. However, after the command line bootcamp last week, I find myself infitintely more comfortable with the programming-speak that I’m starting to see more often. Additionally, the clarification on metadata, its uses, and problems associated with organizing it as explained by Anne Gilliland was also instructive. I confess that I was at times a bit lost whenever my colleagues or instructures bandied about the term “metadata” because I had only a lose grasp on the term. However, after reading this piece, I have a much more grounded understanding, although it is certainly just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I can say with certainty that this article, with its handy chart-based explanation of metadata types and attributes, as well as an explanation of its purposes, will be a wonderful reference for the remainder of the semester and beyond. Hopefully by the end of this course, I’ll be more Independence Day Jeff Goldblum and less War Games…*insert ominous music here*

As for my project, I would like to pursue something related to the memorialization of World War II in modern Japan and how that contributes to the construction of memories about the war itself. My master’s thesis was devoted to exploring this issue through a detailed examination of war memorials. My specific focus was on the most nationally prominent of these memorials, the Yasukuni Shrine and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. However, there are a large number of smaller provincial and local war memorials that have unique collections of materials and present specific narratives to the viewer that don’t necessarily align with those offered by the two aforementioned memorials. Therefore, at this stage, I believe that I would like to pursue a mapping project that outlines the non-national war memorials in Japan and the kind of narrative that each site presents to the viewer, which I believe would prove quite useful to any researchers of war memory in Japan. Additionally, the focus on non-national memorials would benefit my own research by expanding my conceptual vision on the topic and force me to engage with narratives that complicate the dynamic I began to expand on in my earlier work.

The glaring caveat to this proposal is obviously the scope of my project. There is simply no way that I would be able to map all of the non-national war memorials in Japan in the course of a single semester, especially not while I am actively learning the tools and techniques required to do so. However, I believe that focusing instead on a single prefecture in Japan, such as Aichi or Chiba, would prove large enough to be challenging and fulfilling without being overwhelming. Additionally, I think that such a project would also provide a nice foothold for a further expansion down the road, whether by me or another researcher. I look forward to attempting something like this, although I also acknowledge that this idea still requires some fleshing out and may evolve into a totally different project as I engage with it throughout the semester.
With this loose plan in mind, I started surfing the web, looking for some related digital humanities project (some tangentially so) that might inspire me. I was initially inspired by the Mapping the Green Book project that was utilizing in class as an example. I believe that the geographic mapping technique used in this project is extraordinarily similar to the kind of mapping that I want to do with localized war memorials in Japan. As such I started looking at some other mapping projects to see how they organized and presented their data:

Mapping H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness
Mapping the WWII Bomb Census
Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia, 1788-1872
Mapping Execution Sites of Jewish Victims of the Holocaust
The Falmouth Project

After spending some time looking at these, I started to think that my project would require an additional dimension. If I plan to provide an explanation of the narrative or kind of narrative that each particular memorial presents, I would require some kind of engagement with the physical site and/or the artifacts it houses, much like a virtual museum. Therefore, I decided to start looking at a few projects that attempted just that:

Quiapography
Lebanese Virtual Museum of Modern Art

After sampling all of these projects, I would really like to pursue a project that meets somewhere in the middle. Ideally, while not quite as extensive as either a pure mapping project or a pure digital archive, my project would blend facets of each approach, detailing where each memorial is, what kinds of artifacts one can expect to find there, and the narrative that each memorial presents. I have no idea if that’s either possible or feasible, but we’ll see how things go after I discuss things with the instructors. In any case, wish me luck and tune in next week!

Readings for the first week and thoughts on a potential project

Readings

As someone relatively new to the digital humanities, I found that the readings that we were assigned for this week offered a solid introduction and plenty of food for thought. Since this is the first actual assignment for the course and also my introduction to many of these topics, I figured that I would provide a more thorough and “academic” review/analysis of the materials than I plan on doing in the future. As selfish as it is, this is definitely just as much for me as it is for you.

A good place to begin would be a book chapter written by Thomas William, entitled “The Promise of the Digital Humanities and the Contested Nature of Digital Scholarship.” In this piece, William addresses exactly how the digital humanities are conceptualized and pursued, highlighting the academic debate regarding whether or not digital humanities even qualify as scholarship. Furthermore, if they do, to what extent do they count as academic work? William (and this humble, yet charming, author) believe that not only do digital projects count as scholarship, they have the potential to revolutionize the traditional disciplines if the two can be cohesively blended. That being said, it may take some time to overcome the entrenched “monograph culture,” as William notes, but the highly flexible nature of the the digital humanities and digital scholarship seemingly ooze with the potential to inform and improve the more traditional disciplines while simultaneously operating outside of their established frameworks.

In a similar vein, Kate Theimer argues that the possibility and opportunity afforded by the digital humanities also challenge our pre-existing conceptualizations of archives, specifically through terminology and context. For Theimer, the very term “archive” traditionally denotes the collection and housing of data by organizations to which that data is meaningful. This is problematized by the use of the term in many digital contexts, where the collections are of published materials selected for inclusion yet divorced from the necessary context of their production and relationship to other data in the same collection. It is this emphasis on context that Theimer deems of paramount importance. Theimer’s argument here is convincing for me and thinking about it brings to mind the double-edged nature of incredible accessibility of information afforded by the digital age, where the sheer availability of data necessitates specific selection of particular aspects of it, often leading to an arbitrariness that robs the data of the context with which Theimer is so concerned.

The Santa Barbara Statement on Collections as Data is strongly promoting the idea posited in its title. It frames this notion as a watershed moment in academia, an opportunity to promote the development and accessibility of digital collections that have, with few exceptions, been overlooked or ignored by cultural heritage institutions. As such, the statement offers ten guiding principles, which emphasize the importance of accessible, broad collections of data that are easy to use and operated ethically. It feels kind of exciting to be taking a course dedicated to ideas like this one at a university known for its digital humanities presence at a time like this! Huzzah!

Continuing on, echoing both Santa Barbara Statement’s emphasis on ethics as an important aspect of digital data collection and William’s understanding of the potential of digital scholarship, Miriam Posner frames the spread of the digital humanities as an opportunity to challenge established conventions on race, gender, lived experience. Additionally, not only do the digital humanities provide a vehicle for challenge, they also provide a means of construction of new conceptualizations of these important facets of scholarship through the new tools the digital humanities provide. I think this raises a really important point: to quote my ever-present moral guide, “with great power must come great responsibility.” It’s not enough to simply acknowledge the issues inherent in the current scholarly paradigm, especially when the opportunity to address them is (literally!) at your fingertips.

Project

After reading these articles, I confess that I find myself a bit adrift with respect to what kind of project to pursue and the means by which to pursue it, so please forgive the vagueness of my initial idea. My interest lies in Japanese war memory and the various ways in which it is constructed and practiced. War memorials often function as sites of memory production based around their own architectural design, the content of their on-site museums, and the rituals performed on their grounds. Accordingly, I would like to pursue some kind of project that utilizes images, video, speeches, and/or other media to illustrate and help outline the competing narrative of which Japanese war memory is constructed, although I am entirely at a loss of how to go about doing so at this point in time. My previous research was focused on the Pacific War and its aftermath, so I am also unsure about revisiting this particular topic or expanding my knowledge base and investigating something similar. Actually, now that I think about it, how memory of the Bakumatsu period was constructed during the Meiji period sounds really interesting…although as the semester progresses, I’m sure that I’ll change my mind at least once.

If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, I sure would appreciate it! Also, thanks to everyone who lasted through my long-windedness and made it here to the end! *applause* Well done and thanks for reading! Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…

Midway upon the journey of our life,
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward path had been lost.

Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

The dread borne within my heart to gaze upon these trees,
Wrought of code and programming,
Both menacing and mocking in observance of my skill.

But there are no fearsome beasts within,
Not panther, nor lion, nor wolf,
Only the unknown awaits, frightful yet inviting.

Thus I conjure strength of will, faithful Virgil treading forth,
So accompany, confrere troglodytes
This journey into the unknown…the digital humanities!

– Adam