DHSI 2015: Fun with Data Visualizations

I just returned from a week in paradise Victoria, BC, at DHSI 2015. This year I did a data visualization workshop with Aimee Knight. I’ve lots to say about Aimée’s wonderful pedagogy, the focus and structure of the workshop, and some of my favorite new tools, but for now I’m just posting our shared notes and tweets here for everyone’s use:

More to come soon!

DH and Social Justice

(Click HERE to jump to links.)

Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter and Facebook:

Do you know of a ‪#‎DH‬ project or tool that addresses a social justice issue? I know this is a broad request, but I’m looking to compile a list of interesting projects for students to analyze. Plz share links, resources, or references and I’ll share the list we come up with.

In less than 24 hours, I’ve received dozens of links and suggestions, and also many requests to share the list. To make sharing and contributions simpler, I’ve created an open Diigo Outline, which you can access here, or see below.

First–thanks to everyone who has sent links and resources. Please keep adding–this is a huge area, and the more work we collect the better for our students/scholars/activists.

Michelle Moravec asked a crucial question about the method and scope of my request:

Are you looking for just contemporary social justice or historical?

As you see from the list below, I’ve included both and tried to tag and categorize to make finding easier.

The inspiration for my request comes from a class titled “Just Hacking” I will be team-teaching with my colleague Bill Kronholm in Fall 2015. Here’s the catalog description:

“Hacking” is often viewed as a criminal endeavor; however, at its core it is the art of creative problem solving. In this course students will hack the information flow of new media to conceptualize, design, and implement responses to real-world social justice issues. As a class, we will identify a specific issue and then learn data visualization, basic programming, and/or design skills as needed to build a project to address it. No prior programming experience is assumed. 4 credits. CON2

The course is designed for people with no prior programming experience who share a conviction that we are all responsible for improving our world. Students will learn efficient problem-solving and basic coding (especially Python) using an applied project-based learning approach in which they will collectively identify a social problem, design potential projects to address it, select an approach, learn the skills they need to implement their choice, and then collaboratively implement their solution. The course will teach basic programming skills as a literacy that can help address social problems, while also exploring ways technological solutionism can obscure or exacerbate existing social problems.

I’d love your feedback and thoughts about our concept. We are developing the course modules this summer, and the projects on this list will be both inspirations and opportunities for students to analyze existing projects in order to imagine what is possible, what can be improved, and what works.

Diigo DH and Social Justice Outliner:

DH and Social Justice

“Salth of the Earth”, Salgado, Bare Life, and Spectacle: A few thoughts

Went to see “The Salt of the Earth” last night, and I’m haunted today by Salgado’s devastating images of labor, of suffering, of “bare life” in Rwanda and Congo and the former Yugoslavia. Don’t miss this film. Though flawed (wish it had explored the ethics of such witnessing of horror) it is incredibly powerful–made more so by a large screen.

In thinking about how I might use (parts of) this film, of course Sontag’s “On Photograpy” came to mind. A quick search turned up her late New Yorker article, which I don’t think I’d read before.

And, as so often the case, Sontag makes articulate an important thread in my response to the film:

“To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment—a mature style of viewing that is a prime acquisition of the “modern,” and a prerequisite for dismantling traditional forms of party-based politics that offer real disagreement and debate. It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify “the world” with those zones in the rich countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators, of other people’s pain, just as it is absurd to generalize about the ability to respond to the sufferings of others on the basis of the mind-set of those consumers of news who know nothing at first hand about war and terror. There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.” from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/12/09/looking-at-war

In June, 1938, Virginia Woolf published Three Guineas, her brave, unwelcomed reflections on the roots of war. Written during the preceding two years, while she and most of her intimates and fellow-writers were rapt by the advancing Fascist insurrection in Spain, the book was couched as a tardy reply…

Making Jane Austen: 3d Printing, Digital Commonplace books, and Reading Realism

Fall semester has just ended, my desk is piled with papers to mark, and I find myself procrasti-planning future courses. I’ve been re-reading Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen, a biography written through traces of material culture extant from Austen’s life and featured in her novels. As others have written, Byrne’s biography is an innovative approach to understanding Austen, and reads like a “delightful rummage through a Regency chest of drawers” (Looser). Such an approach offers a sense of intimate access to the writer’s lived experience, an achievement that makes reading the biography both satisfying and self-aware of biography’s generic voyeurism.

Byrne (writing for a generalist audience) reads Austen’s life through material objects–such as an Indian shawl, her famous writing desk, her topaz cross– from her life and her books. Eschewing the traditional chronological approach, Byrne offers new insights into Austen’s experience by historicizing and contextualizing the objects that Austen interacted with, often by connecting Austen’s personal experience to world events through materialist history. Byrne’s approach is fascinating, though at times a bit too quick to draw conclusions from limited evidence.

I’ve been thinking since first reading the biography that it would be the perfect choice for an undergraduate course in Austen, since the biographical chapters would sync up beautifully with the novels, and offer arguments and insights to test out through close reading and research. And this morning, I just had a realization: what about adding in a making component to the course? If realism is the attempt to represent common experience by remaking it in fiction, then what better way to study Austen’s realism than by reversing her fictionalization, and making solid the objects from her fictional and historical worlds?

In my previous version of my upper-division Jane Austen seminar, I taught students to “dance like Jane Austen,” following the guidance of Cheryl Wilson’s article on dance in the classroom. Students loved it so much that we transformed our final into a ball–literally. Students created period-appropriate invitations, reserved a ballroom on campus, secured funding through student government, researched, created, and hosted card games for non-dancers, performed  their “accomplishments” for guests (including playing violin, reading an Austen-inspired story, and teaching us all to how dress appropriately), and, of course, danced like Jane Austen. They also made food (from white soup to bread pudding) and generally exhibited their learning by inviting faculty and other students from across campus to learn about Austen by dancing, eating, listening, and playing like it was the eighteenth century.

That was the funnest course I’ve ever taught. The project–student-inspired and student-organized–brought the class together with a common mission and goal, and turned reading and studying into a joyful celebration. I hope future classes will want to do the same!

That experience–in which students’ final projects became their research and writing about their material contributions to the ball–motivates my interest in teaching Austen through her material traces. The next course could include:

1. 3d printing or handcrafting objects from Austen’s world: Byrne’s chapter on the ivory miniature suggests likely objects for printing, and we could also potentially make miniatures of the Barouche, the writing desk, the bathing machine, etc. Additionally, we could hand craft silhouettes or vellum notebooks.

1a. I might even ask ALL students to make a silhouette of a loved one in class as a way to begin the semester?

2. Make and play games: 18th century card games, baseball, even other childhood games.

3. Dance and dress: Dancing we can do; students are always fascinated by the clothes, and I’d need to think more about that. Costumes are not easy; for our ball we offered gloves for dancers who wished to be woman-identified, and cravats for man-identifying guests.

4. Materiality of the book segment of the course: last time fabulous Whittier College librarians Mike Garabedian and Becky Ruud brought an early edition Johnson Dictionary along with many 18th century texts to class, for students to handle and explore in order to understand the material experience of reading in Austen’s time. The class also did a “reading and writing by candlelight” exercise which was fantastic; I’d like to develop this segment more. (Whittier has a first? edition of Cowper’s poem The Task, which is too long to read, but which would be useful in thinking about home decor (sofa) and modes of thinking/living.)

5. Digital commonplace books: last time, students created and constantly updated digital commonplace books on Tumblr. This assignment met with varying levels of success. Some were brilliant, some were largely reblogs of images and gifs from Austen films. Very few completed the close reading portion of the commonplace book assignment.

6. To essay or not to essay? That is the big question. Maybe a multimodal essay instead, where students could include images, hyperlinks, text, and film clips alongside their research into their chosen object of interest.

6a. Another option for a project would be to turn the tables, and ask students to choose an article from their own lives that embodies a surprising conjunction of ideas, and then write their own personal (digital) essay about how that object represents an aspect of their character. That would be an interesting way to begin to defamiliarize the concept of “character.”

7. Object of Student’s Affection: final project could be for students to select an object from Austen’s novels or letters (or films? hm…), “make” it (digitally or handcraft or 3d print), and write a research paper about how its material history opens new insight into one or more novels.

8. I need to think through how I’d integrate Austen on film into the class. This is ALWAYS a big deal when teaching Austen, as the films can be such powerful filters that reading the novels pails in comparison to their interpretive power.

8a. Maybe focus on the LBD (Lizzie Bennet Diaries) and the creation of character in the staged reenactments by a single, carefully chosen article of dress (the hat, the bowtie, etc.) This would get to both FID as a style in the written novels (I see LBD’s reenactments as a theatrical version of FID) and also the costume question and the film issue…

Well, I have too many ideas and only a year to plan them! Note that I don’t yet have access to a 3d printer, so that would be a first step if I pursue this course concept. So, friends and readers, what do you think? Suggestions please!

Teaching in the wake of the Ferguson non-indictment

Yesterday, it was announced that there would be no indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Fersugon, MO on August 9, 2014. Demonstrations around the US took place last night, and continue as I type these words. Images of demonstrations and words of both anger and hope from thousands of people around the country fill my Twitter feed and invade my dreams.

Today, I teach my last class class before Thanksgiving, a national holiday that celebrates the founding, or initial colonization, of the United States. As Thanksgiving draws near, I always point students’ attention to the fact that our national mythology of Thanksgiving makes invisible the perspective of the people who are native to this continent, whose lands and rights and, in many cases, lives have been taken from them to enable the founding of a nation built on a dream of equality. I will do so again today. And today, I must also acknowledge yet another example of the ways that my beloved country fails to live up to its values.

The contrast between what I believe in as an American citizen and what I see happening in my country has rarely been so stark.

My identity as a citizen of the US is built on a belief that we share values equality and fairness and hope. I believe in those values; they have formed me and they guide me. And therefore, I cannot walk into my class full of smart, articulate, interested students, many of them people of color, without acknowledging the injustices so apparent in the news today.

Learning–creating meaningful knowledge–does not happen in a vacuum. The events around us shape our lives and our thoughts and our motivations. Being able to think about and discuss the difficult realities around us is the goal of a college education. Becoming confident that our perspective matters, and our voices are important, is a key outcome of a successful liberal arts education. Learning to think through important ideas and issues in the light of historical perspective and varying points of view, that is a purpose of college. I hope that students graduate from college more likely to initiate difficult conversations, more likely to broach topics of national or local or personal importance, more likely to risk the danger of expressing an unpopular opinion. And I hope that they are also more likely to listen to others’ viewpoints, to offer their attention and sympathetic imagination to their discussion partners. In short, I hope that all class members–students and myself–can learn to be both more courageous and more kind by practicing mindful discussion in the classroom.

I have been following the Twitter hashtag #Fergusonsyllabus, and it gives me both hope and guidance. So today, though it is “off the lesson plan,” I will initiate a discussion about the Ferguson decision. I want my students to know that they are safe in my classroom to express their thoughts and emotions, to ask questions about things they (and I, often) don’t understand. Our class is a space to think and discuss the topics that matter to us in the world because all learning is connected. I don’t know where this discussion will take us, but it is my job, I believe, to initiate the conversation.

Since I am a literature professor, and my best ideas come to me by reading, today I will offer my students this poem by the great African-American poet Langston Hughes. It encapsulates my anger and frustration with our delayed and inequal but oh-so-important American Dream. And it encapsulates my personal investment in the urgent importance of coming closer to realizing that dream. Here’s a short section of Hughes’s “Let America Be America Again.” The entire poem is available here:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Cool Stuff #TvsZ Players Made

#TvsZ 6.0 is in its final hours, but I can’t help stepping away just to record a few–sadly few!–of the many amazing media artifacts that players have created in the past few days. Here’s a sample, and there’s much much more. What a wealth of imagination, creativity, collective learning to use new tools, networked knowhow, and sheer fun! Enjoy.

Here’s an amazing visualization of the #TvsZ interconnections, via TagsExplorer:


A metaphor to bring all teams together:

 A flipbook to gather team #dragonboVine’s cartoons:


A flipbook to gather the missions and artifacts players created:

A team manifesto made by #teamtech:

A #danceparty video (shared, not made, but still cool):

A #teamdragonbovine cartoon #myth:

The #TvsZ website:


#TvsZ Scoreboard:


One of the development documents we used to build the game:


And here’s a quick, informal post-play discussion among the leaders for #TvsZ 6.0:


When cows can fly: In the heat of the #TvsZ 6.0 moment

#TvsZ 6.0: A giant game of Twitter Red Rover

This weekend, I’ve been playing #TvsZ 6.0 with friends and students. The game is both like and unlike previous iterations. I have loved every version I’ve played so far, but this one may be my favorite.

Why? Because, though I love zombies, it turns out that getting rid of zombies has opened up more imaginative freedom for players. Zombies are such a dominant narrative, that when we are within that paradigm, as fun as it is, it controls our sense of possibilities. The various zombie tropes we know get deployed, reworked, and remixed in endlessly fascinating ways.

But take away the zombie master narrative, revise the underlying game action from involuntary or even violent transformation (#bite) to the more constructive valence of community building (#recruit), and the ethos of the game transforms. We still play for fun, and players feel loyalty to their teams (more on that in a moment), but tweets tend toward “I want you on my team, so I #recruit you” rather than the “I’m going to get you despite your protest, so I #bite you”.

Of course, there’s still a LOT of trash-talking (and I may be among the worst offenders in this realm). I don’t have time to paste in tweets to show this, but search on the #TvsZ hashtag and you’ll see the banter among players from different teams.

Why I’m a #teamtech member

I began as a #teamtech member because I figured it would be the less popular of the two initial teams (nature vs technology). Also, our plan as we developed the game concept was to invite players to hack the binary of the two original teams, so I figured I’d be moving on to a third team in fairly short order.

Very quickly–more quickly than we’d planned–a third team (#bovine) established itself, and for a while a fourth (#dragon) and even fifth team (#fish). Then the cows and the dragons combined forces in what can only be described as the triumph of creative imagination: and so was born the team I call “the flying cows”, team #dragonbovine, a group of fun-loving, firebreathing flying cows.

I immediately wanted to join them. Who doesn’t love the sheer silliness of it? And I was gratified when a few #DB players made attempts to #recruit me to their team. Part of me really wanted to join them, to glory in the linguistic punning and visual potential of such an imaginative identity.

But I resisted, out of a sense of loyalty to my (at the time, dwindling) team. Ah, what a tough call 🙂

Technology, Nature, and Imagination

As I think of it now, these three teams embody three sets of values and bases of human thought. They are, clearly, not incompatible. In fact, I’d argue that the (constructs) nature, technology, and imagination are entirely interdependent and deeply interconnected. And maybe that the real beauty of this version of #TvsZ: instead of opposing sides (humans vs zombies), this time we have interconnected, interdependent perspectives working separately but with awareness of each other.

If I were trying to build a game that would suggest an avenue of hope for our collective future–a future threatened by so many challenges at both local and global scales–I’d want something like #TvsZ 6.0, as it has emerged through the players’ own initiative. We need technological solutions to some gloabal warming challenges, but we also need imagination and creativity and lightness-of-touch to choose among and advance those solutions, and we desperately need people who care deeply about our environments, be they natural or participatory communities.

Many players embody this ethos. Here’s one example. One player was confused about the rules, and another player helped her out:

#Teamtech ethos

So what is the ethos of #teamtech? I can’t speak for my teammates, but my sense is that we are motivated by a desire to improve our collective way of life by recognizing the sheer variety and richness of human innovation. We defend the pursuit of knowledge for it’s own sake (#gogeeks), and we trust that people in teams imagination (the flying cows) and nature will balance us with their wisdom and kindness.

Plus, we seem to love to make Star Wars, Star Trek, and other nerdy film references. #Gogeeks!

How do I keep the research/conversations going during the semester?

This is a perennial question for me, and one I have never “solved” adequately. Some semesters I get more of my own research done than others, but I always find that I feel unsatisfied with my ability to remain connected to my larger academic discourse community during the semester.

I teach at a liberal arts college, which I love, but which means that my 3/3 teaching load is fully on my own shoulders. Each course is an individual prep, and I rotate courses on a two-year schedule. So I do a lot of prepping in order to stay up to date in the fields of my active courses. I find I need to catch up on each field, reinsert my brain into those concerns, and reread all the materials for each course–for each course each semester.

This rotation of courses means that, in any given semester, I am likely NOT teaching a course directly related to the article or project I’m working on for my own research. I just can’t move through projects that quickly. So my research trajectories don’t line up with my teaching very well.

Recently, though, as I’ve been doing more and more digital pedagogical experiments, they are enabling me to realign some aspects of my work with teaching. That’s exciting.

And I find that, if I can carve out time to interact with my Twitter account multiple times a day I can stay connected to my colleagues.

So–my resolution this semester is counterintuitive: spend more time on social media–especially Twitter–in order to stay “in the conversation” with my own research and with others who are doing related projects.

Have you ever made such a resolution? How do you keep your head in your research during heavy teaching times?