The DAH PHD session originally delivered for the 15th November 2011.
Reimagined for 2014!
The virtual environment has, in many respects, exploded the cultural apparatus of print that has been the norm for over five centuries of human history. However the creation of narrative, and the experience of art through performance and experience remain core concerns as we move through dimensions from the sheet of paper, to modelling Michelangelo’s David and into the virtual world of World of Warcraft or Second Life. This seminar seeks to chart what remains constant and what is transformed in the cultural interstices between 2D and 3D and virtual worlds.
Digital remediation and the turn towards visual culture is marked in many aspects of contemporary life – including DAH. Today’s session seeks to explore some key elements within those acts of remediation and the emerging intermediality of scholarship where an often radical interdisciplinarity is required for publishing today.
When the result of scholarship was a thesis – 80,000 – 100,000 words of script, in a defined format – there was no thought into the means and manner of expression. The aspect of textual transmission was a given – and helpfully further broken down into subsections – ‘Literature Review’, ‘Methodology’, ‘Bibliography’. While these aspects of the thesis will still survive in the DAH context – the range of possibilities for how we read and think about the new knowledge derived from our data has been transformed. How we represent and mediate that knowledge is a profound interpretive act. Choices we make with regard to visualisation and interface will shape how readers, viewers or ‘end-users’ will interpret the thesis. If it is not on white A4, in black print, Times New Roman, or Arial – what will it look like?
A new aspect of dimensionality needs to be considered as the temporal and spatial relationships are fixed within the boards of a thesis, not so in say, an immersive alternative reality environment. The opportunity to engage with new methodologies is in turn the most liberating and the most daunting potential of DAH.
In this shifting intersection of analysis and description – how will you use visualisation? Will you use it at all? How will you manage it? The minute you begin to design a web page you are creating a narrative for your scholarship. You are setting a narrative arc for your user to follow? The potential for immersive technologies and analytical visualisation tools augments this mode of exploration – into less creator defined paths, and offering at least the illusion of choice and chance to the user viewer. In creating a virtual environment for a user to explore – they may choose their own path through the theatre, or other simulation. By making a range of datasets open to manipulation – results other than your own may be extrapolated within the environment of a tool that you have created.
Different research questions can arise from these methods in terms of: open data, collaboration, remediation, place, space and performativity, impact and outreach.
Mirroring those concerns, and following on from the previous discussion on data, here are the questions for the forum:
On Representation: Digital tools for the representation of humanities materials are expanding the potential and possibilities for how we read, think, interpret and understand when exploring our different research questions. Interdisciplinary understanding is a foundational aspect of this endeavour. No longer is the 100,000 word PhD, printed on A4 sheets, the only outcome of the PhD – how do you envisage representing your original contributions to the discipline of the Arts and Humanities?
On Visualisation: There is a shifting intersection between more descriptive and analytical use of visual components in digital environments and research tools. Theorising ‘new’ readings, and questioning shifts in representation within the digital sphere may well be a core concern of many of your research questions. How do you conceive of the visualisation of your projects, will it be text, image, sound, or none, or a combination of all of the above? In your consideration of your methodological approach have you theorised the transmission or communication of your ideas? How will others interact with your project? The barriers between more descriptive and more analytical approaches are also constantly shifting as researchers become more and more acquainted with formulating research needs in a digital context – what are your needs? How do you imagine that you may best visually represent, interpret and finally communicate your data, text or otherwise?
On Interpretation: Technology can help us to augment and clarify our interpretive acts, but is not a substitute for the scholar’s apprehension of their research objects in their context. Still, the interpretive acts of scholars can be made explicit through technological means, and in particular through visualisation. In contemporary ‘visual’ culture, visualisation (which is an act of interpretation in itself) facilitates those interpretations; charts, maps, film and other methods seek to communicate the knowledge derived from this interpretation of data to a wide range of end users, and through many media forms. Have you considered how your interpretative actions may be made visible | communicated to your audience?
On Remediation: Scholarship is an act of remediation – taking data in its raw form and transforming it to create new knowledge and original contributions to your disciplines. Within print culture the act of transmission is set firmly within norms formed over 500 years of print culture, yet digitality encourages us to radically rethink that transmission and to theorise our understanding of that act, to query how best communication is achieved, and to demand still more from technology to enable us to achieve and communicate our vision, as scholars, of what knowledge is. Intermediality is now part of our culture – although by its nature it is not static – have you considered how the act of remediation transforms the transmission of knowledge? What are possible losses and gains in the remediation of culture through technological means?
Some useful links in beginning to tease out these questions:
This is the ACH Association for Computers in the Humanities page for DAH ‘Questions and Answers’ – the link is a series of answers in the forum from international experts to the question… ‘how can we use visualisation in DH?’
The area is further problematised at papers and blogs relating to The Berlin Symposium. In this Google sponsored event invited (problematic in itself) participants theorised the innovative and evolving web via a number of lenses. Most interesting was the use of professional illustrators to visualise and thus track/map the discussions – here.
A more academic paper – recently published by Patrik Svensson director of the HUMlab at Sweden’s Umea university explores the challenges of creating a research infrastructure that can handle the interdisciplinarity – it is in DHQ, Digital Humanities Quarterly – here is the link – in the article he suggests that ‘a model based on conceptual cyberinfrastructure and design parameters can be one way of connecting the ideational level with actual implementation. HUMlab at Umeå University serves as a case study’.
Some ideas from practitioners in the field are found here: http://www.nedimah.eu/news/why-and-how-do-we-use-visualisation-our-work-3rd-nedimah-infoviz-workshop
This is an old ACH Association for Computers in the Humanities page for DAH ‘Questions and Answers’ – the link is a series of answers in the forum from international experts to the question… ‘how can we use visualisation in DH?’
Text visualisation using Dickinson’s poetry from Forbes at MATlab at UCSB. He uses Samuels and McGann to introduce his visual remediation of the text as an interpretive act:
“Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann, in their article “Deformance and Interpretation,” take a seemingly whimsical fragment written by Emily Dickinson and read it at face value, asking how a reader can “release or expose the poem’s possibilities of meaning” and show language as “an interactive medium.” Poems, they claim, citing Shelley, lose their “vital force when they succumb to familiarization.” They imagine instead unfamiliar deformations of literature that offer “a highly regulated method for disordering the sense of a text.” In so doing, they posit that the practice of “performative” critical models provides an important “anti-theoretical” interpretation not available to traditional interpretative criticism.
(reposted from Literature+ blog)
Did you ever read one of her Poems backward, because the plunge from the front overturned you?
Digital Humanities Specialist (Blog at Stanford U).
Elijah Meeks used Gephi to visualise networks – using colour well – and showing how we can use visualisation to answer research questions clearly. His network analyses and the development of his plugin answer research questions – and as he says, they’re ‘pretty’ too.
In a post on ‘algorithmic literacy’ and ‘graph data models’ he surveys changes in accessible mapping for all over the past 6 years – and urges a more reciprocal relationship, and at the very least an understanding of code from humanities participants:
“Google Maps came out six years ago, and eventually lead to Google Earth and a set of spatial data standards and practices that, while not necessarily being everyone’s (or my) first choice for analysis and representation, has fostered such an amazing level of spatial literacy and participation. Community-driven spatial projects like Look Back Maps, Omnes Viae and iNaturalist are all driven by the Google Maps API but, more importantly, are made possible due to the absurdly high number of people who understand maps and spatial analysis in a manner that was previously only demonstrated by GIS professionals and cartographers.
If Google Ripples is more like Google Maps and less like Google Wave, then in a few years I won’t have to explain what a graph is, and simple network metrics like weighted in-degree, betweenness centrality and closeness will be as commonplace as polygons, markers and layers.”
Also ilab at the UCSB – where they focus on the four ‘i’s – Imaging, Interaction, and Innovative Interfaces.
The 3D examples previously were subject to downloadable plugins – “if you have silverlight” etc … the microsoft narratives site explores ‘Rich Interactive Narratives‘ RINs. Take a look at the Ladakh Valley interactive video to examine how this interruption of the linear may work. Through HTML5 the necessity of downloadable plugin is disappearing – so those boundaries are collapsing
Other immersive and gaming potentials for humanities were discussed at Playing with History conference at Niagara in October 2011 – the list of abstracts and names are available here.
Google glass has had a transforming impact on our understanding of possibilities – with gains as well as losses – in terms of an accessible immersive reality.
There’s a number of new projects emerging – one of which is the Keys to Rome project: http://www.keys2rome.eu/ and also the Virtual Museum Transnational Network Sarajevo Survival Tools project http://www.v-must.net/virtual-museums/vm/sarajevo-survival-tools
As a complete aside – I meant to mention Derrida’s (1995) ‘Mal d’Archive’ – or Archive Fever, at some point, but did not get around to it – it is reviewed in English at the Historein website. Derrida unpicks the need to create more archives – and makes us question how we perform and mediate the act of scholarship. In the Tate Papers – the Tate’s online journal the archive is further analysed as a method of representing knowledge by Sue Breakell in an article ‘Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive’.