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Notes from aaDH Digital Humanities Australasia Conference 2018

aaDH Conference 2018: Making Connections

Australasia Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) Biennial Conference
September 25-27, 2018
University of South Australia (Adelaide, Australia)

The theme of this biennial aaDH conference was “Making Connections”, and this was effectively woven through many of the presentations (and not in a way that was overly corny). Compared to the last conference, I noticed the theme of a need to upskill students (both for changing workforce needs and research needs) kept popping up, so it appears this is still a concern that is not being adequately addressed. There was also more discussion of mobile apps and issues of ethics. The conference got off to a great start with beaded name badges that help provide revenue to women who have been trafficked, and everyone was talking about it and wondering why every conference doesn’t go down this track. Overall, I found the presentations interesting and informative and felt inspired to continue along the DH track. What follows are some of my notes on ideas and resources and avenues for further exploration. The hashtag for the conference was #DHA2018, but some of the frequent Twitter posters were at an archives conference so the feed was not as active this time around.

Day 1 — September 25, 2018

Dennis Del Favero – AI and Advanced Creativity: An Emerging Horizon

Favero said Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which he hoped everyone had seen) has shaped how we see AI and its relationship with humans. He provided several examples to illustrate his points about the intersection of AI and creativity. Discussing Flora Petrinsularis, he said the database is the new medium, defining a database as data structured in a way that can be retrieved, and the machine enables the human to organize and interpret the data. With T. Visionarium, it has a database of films and you can select say, Sandra Bullock playing different roles simultaneously (it can show around 200 films at a time) or choose a color like orange to see orange scenes, and these will be displayed in the room. With mARChive, the idea of co-agency allows for machine autonomy rather than just reflecting human desires. The Scenario example featured a creepy baby assembled by users with headsets and black [later said to be dark gray] AI figures trying to stop them. With Nebula, you make dots into a sphere and topography of worlds. With iBauprobe, you can design sets with the help of 3D model and AI, looking at things such as configuration of angles, line of sight, etc. Lighting is one of most difficult things to calculate; AI can show what it will look like with different lighting combinations.Theatre Model

He noted that Manuel DeLanda was writing back in 1919 that even rocks and mountains that we see as stable are actually changing and breaking down, just at a slower rate than biomass.

In the Q&A, he said that we need to become coders ourselves; maybe the primary or complementary literacy is coding; need to democratize it. He said half of his PhDs now are coders even though working in art/humanities areas. There was a question about stark race differences in white and black figures, and he said they’re actually shades of gray but yes, this is a problem. He said his interest in AI is its experimental use in art and how that can be translated to other areas. It shouldn’t be a castle for elite (like Mark Zuckerberg) but available to everyone, but we need computational literacy to enable this.

Panel: New Directions in DH Infrastructure: Adventures in Collaboration and Scale

DH Panel

Del Favero
Favero discussed how STEM have traditionally used numbers in understanding data and things; we could bring our skills in visualizing and imagery to their disciplines (ex. In one project the Arts perspective was able to see climate patterns that the numbers didn’t reveal; now an Arts perspective is part of project.) PhDs traditionally work alone/not in teams but this is not viable going forward; need innovative culture where people work together in teams. The one-dimensional primary and secondary education doesn’t have computational literacy. One can be seduced by lure of STEMification (even in STEAM – Arts often evaporates in this equation).

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart
Maxwell-Steward said we need a way of seeing datasets and databases as journal articles/publications and allowing people to access them and see who was involved. Gene sequencing is easy; the cultural context, etc. is more complicated and that’s where Humanities comes in. He would like to be teaching digital and visualization skills to history students in the very near future. He offered an example of how a well-liked presentation recently was, somewhat surprisingly, by an undergraduate math student who was given a bunch of data.

Tully Barnett
Barnett discussed how we need to understand digitization as a cultural practice not just a technical thing, and we need to talk more about labor behind digitization projects. Infrastructure in humanities is people-focused. Longitudinal value has to be recognized (value goes beyond funding cycles). She mentioned the Algorithms of Oppression book and how infrastructure catalyzes, according to scholar Deb Verhoven.

Bill Pascoe
Pascoe also mentioned Verhoven’s work. He suggested smaller grants and much more rapid funding cycle (big, year-long ones are too slow for IT and mean only small groups of people get to do DH projects). The current situation can be self-defeating and miserly where people don’t share, and it needs to change.

Rachel Hendery
Hendery said that what makes people angry in seeing government funding going to things is seeing new buildings and yet no investment in people (staff, casual, etc.). She mainly needs basic infrastructure like a computer and library. She suggested we first think about community we want to build, not the tools or system (sometimes those turn out to be white elephants anyway). We need to make ‘3rd space’ workers more visible (ex: big grants that public complain about that seem excessive, but actually going to a postdoc, PhD scholarship, etc., and we need to make that job creation more visible).

Katherine Bode
Bode suggested that perhaps universities aren’t doing as good a job as GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) at communicating with the public via digital technology and infrastructure. She said we need to put money into open access publishing; let’s not look to publishing companies to solve our problems. We also need more skill sharing and data sharing.

Q&A
It was discussed that we think we know how to tell stories, but actually we could get better at showing impact. Someone asked is there a tension between coding and how it chunks and categorizes information and the humanities? The panel responded that no one should be doing coding if they don’t critically reflect. We need to be infiltrating STEM and showing STEM students how to critically reflect. It is hard to critique as an outsider. Also, we need to remember that all languages are coding too. We can think about how do we share coding and bring our understanding to STEM. Think of collaboration as something to do at the beginning, rather than the end. Someone said it was great to see the theme of inextricability of infrastructure and people, but historically DH is male and white; how do we ensure greater diversity and inclusion? It was discussed that one thing we need to do is to recognize all involved with DH projects; not just puffed-up DH researchers but also women of color (for example in Google Books digitization).

Session on Making, Learning, Exploring

Simon Musgrave – DH and Disciplinary Frontiers
Musgrave discussed how when applying computational methods to literary texts, we can ask whether semantic/conceptual patterns in the texts support traditional close reading. He said not all of his DH work is interdisciplinary, but that doesn’t mean it’s not DH. Research is driven by creative tension that comes from unambiguity of the digital with inherent ambiguity of humanities, and he clarified this as meaning that once data becomes digitized and structured, there are limitations on it so in general it allows for much less ambiguity than humanities content broadly. He said he could write sole-authored papers, but he doesn’t like to anymore. He acknowledged that we’re often not doing/dealing with research questions that computer scientists find interesting; this raises the question: should we try to change that or just get technical people who code? Another question to think about is when are we ‘bilinguals’?

Jeanne-Marie Viljoen – Mediating between the physical and the digital with a location-based mobile learning game
Multi-modality affordances
Viljoen said she is always looking for ways to engage students with digital media. The class she was discussing was called English for Academic Use in Australia and designed for multilingual students, new arrivals in Adelaide. Many come from tech-savvy backgrounds in Asia but are used to more passive pedagogy styles and are more likely to drop out because of problems socializing. Her mobile learning game introduces students to local culture and history, including things like street art and statues. It aims to merge the digital and natural world into a virtual experience. It uses digital design and evocation of hearing, touch, taste, smell, and feelings though the visual. For example: “run your hands along smooth bronze possum”. She tried to rely on sound and touch rather than the English language. It was built in Mobile Learning Academy.

Benjamin Matthews – Teaching DH for Creative Industries: Immersion and Making
bit.ly/DHA2018-BJM  
Matthews thinks Creative Industries students will benefit from DH literacies. He discussed a 1st year core subject called “What is Creativity” and gave the example of asking students what will Newcastle be like in 2049? This encourages them to use history to inform their vision of the future. He worked to give them ‘skin in the game’ by making them have an exhibit at the end, and this seemed to work to motivate them.

Maya Dodd – Collaboration in the DH Classroom
DH-India Dodd gave the background context of her university first, saying that India was moving from a British model to a more liberal education model so students were not locked into a major, and this is a good opportunity for DH. She said her work on digitizing copies of an official report that was being suppressed showed her the power in these kinds of projects (see Southasianculture.wordpress.com and Publicarchives.wordpress.com).

She said usually research is done at higher levels (i.e., postgrads or faculty), but the faculty are having undergrads do research because there is such a need, and it can create timely projects. She discussed some examples of interesting student projects, such as an Omeka project on student protests, slam poetry as a vehicle for student voices, and children’s literature from India. She used documentation on assessing DH projects from others; like with Arts projects, it’s incremental (looking at factors like rigor).Children's Literature in India

 

Kunjika Pathak and Anjali Chandawarkar – The Garba Archives
Pathak, who is one of Dodd’s undergraduate students, discussed her joint project on the community art form of garba (Thegarbaarchives.wixsite.com/thegarbaarchives).  She and Chandawarkar translated songs and created an audio file for an archive. They discovered limitations with doing the project, which included issues with living cultures such as caste, gender, etc. She said she saw it as a way of connecting with her cultural heritage, especially since she knows she is immersed in Western pop culture a lot of the time. She also realized how little digital documentation there is for these kinds of things in India. As a side note, she said most of her English class is women and there are some really tech-savvy women, and they were able to assist others who were not as capable.Garba Archives

Birds of a Feather Session: Teaching DH

Simon Musgrave explained how a DH course at Monash University worked and some of the learnings from running it. They decided that all assessed work had to be done on a WordPress account, and they assumed nothing (for knowledge on the part of students). Students had to buy their own domain, but this was cheaper than buying a textbook. One issue was that some were getting spam because their details were on WHOIS (they had to use the non-free version of WordPress because they needed plugins), and this shows how little awareness students can have of these kinds of website issues. Instructors tried to run ‘place’ through all content, and this theme is easier with digital technology. They also asked students to draw maps to document campus without tech (unplugged pedagogy). Rather than using Moodle, then, they used an outside domain of their own: Monashdh.xyz.

Tips from the session included using Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy instead of Bloom’s, which is a bit dated, looking at how to get students to justify their use of methods rather than just cherry-picking info, and potentially setting students up with a dataset which has things they can stumble across (design, etc.). We worked on designing learning outcomes in groups for a sample DH day workshop, which was a valuable exercise.

Day 2 — September 27, 2018

Day 2 kicked off with a session where the continually evolving area of data visualization was explored in some interesting ways.

Session on Data Analysis and Visualization

Vejune Zemaityte in “Data-driven Cinema Studies” discussed her work with Deb Verhoven on the big data in film available from Kinomatics.com, where they are analyzing the distribution of 3,000 films across 40 countries. Monika Bednarek in “Discourse of Diabetes in Australian News Media: A Corpus Approach” provided three paper copy handouts [this is so rare nowadays!] about how diabetes is discussed in the Australian media and how she used Wordsmith, a corpus linguistics tool. She recommended Antconc if you want a free version that is still powerful. Helen Caple in “Introducing a New Visualization Tool: Kaleidographictalked about this tool that is freely available and lets you has as many or as few variables in your spreadsheet as you want. She said after you prepare your data and load it into the builder, the data is saved to a zip file for you and isn’t kept on the tool’s end, which addressed some privacy concerns. KaleidographicPenelope Aitken and Susan Luckman’s “Adding Structural Value to Cultural Value: A Case Study of APO and UniSA’s New Cultural Policy and Creative Industries Collection” explored apo.org.au, which was established in 2002 and is both a database and alert service. Aitken said the government is the biggest audience and that policy makers tend not to read journal articles. Therefore, it is ‘gold’ if you put up something they are going to read, like a two-page executive summary of your research. Luckman discussed a current ARC LIEF Project to enhance collections. They are seeking ideas for how to get people to use collections, such as perhaps a competition, how to engage end-users as co-creators/editors of meta-data, and how to gain feedback and a review of the content. She encouraged the audience to join APO and contribute to the site.

Jean Burgess – What’s Next for Social Media Research? Digital Methods and Ethics after the API Apocalypse
Burgess discussed Digital Methods by Richard Rogers (2013) and made a joke about pie charts being very science-y, an idea which was played off in later tweets. She said we need shared dynamic infrastructure to support datasets, rather than ad-hoc ones that are only available on a grant-by-grant basis (ex. through LIEF). She mentioned AlgorithmWatch, algorithm audits, a data donation project, and ‘civil disobedience’ through data scraping on a platform like Instagram through ‘Instagrab’. She asked whether our institutions have the ability to back us in these risky activities. In discussing the creation of a timeline to document changes in Twitter, she gave a shout-out to Timeline.JS tool. One question concerned whether academics can use the public internet defense to argue for being able to scrape and interrogate this data even though or because companies are private.

Mahendra Mahey – Building Better ‘Library Labs’
Mahey’s presentation was an interesting whirlwind tour of some of the British Library Labs’ projects and its vision for supporting access to its collections. He said only 3% of the physical collections are digitized, and that they used to rely on government funding but are increasingly reliant on private funders and corporate funding. He reiterated that if you want to set up a lab, you have to go out and talk to people. And one of the most important things for collections is, do you have a real person at the library who can answer questions about it. Their Digital Research Support is able to offer 5 days of support per project. There are over 1 billion views of British Lab projects. An early lesson was that services that allow useful exploration of cultural heritage data are rare! He said the role as a national library should be to find a way to support everyone who wants to use the digital collections anywhere in the world.

One project had them using OCR to ‘cut’ images from digitized books and use algorithms productively (see “Peeking behind the curtain of the Mechanical Curator”), and they discovered it did better with female faces because there seemed to be fewer obstacles like beards. Another project had them create the provocation mechanicalcurator.tumblr.com to post images every 30 minutes and put the images on Flickr Commons. But ‘real innovation breaks infrastructure’ and the IT team was annoyed that servers were slowing because so many people were clicking the links to the lab’s services on Flickr Commons images. The Victorian Meme Machine was also popular. One interesting thing about the taggers behind digitization and categorizing is that they may not be whom you’d expect. One of their most prolific ones is an elderly bed-ridden man in LA who has tagged over 45,000 images!

They are currently working on a ‘cookbook’ to help guide national, state, university, or public libraries that want or have a lab (if you want to help, send him your email). One version of the cookbook will be open-access, and there will also be a printed version (coffee-table book) that you can buy that will fund travel bursaries. Slides available: https://goo.gl/xNwrHY

Organize and Digital Session

Renee Dixson – Skullbook: A Bone Library of 3D Digital Models of Animal Crania
Dixson discussed 3D model-making and said that part of the purpose was to provide employability skills to students for the future, because employers expect digital skills. It appeared there were two ways of making them: either through 3D scanning or photogrammetry. Two examples were passed around so the audience could hold and compare them. 3-D Animal Skulls

Mapping Transformation Session

Angus Veitch – Mapping Last Century’s News: Constructing a Geo-Thematic Index of the Brisbane Courier
Veitch discussed his research into mapping information from newspapers, available at www.oncewasacreek.org. He created transparent overlays with old maps on Google Maps and explained how words on maps can be just as interesting as the maps themselves because they can show what the landscape meant to people at other points in time. He said he used Knime rather than R or Python to acquire and analyze data, and it ended up being a shortcut to learning coding. He used LDA to do geoparsing and figure out which place words go together (what he calls geotopics).

Emotion, Memory and Experience Session

Tehri Hurmikko-Fuller – Tweet, Death and Rock’n’Roll: Social Media Mourning on Twitter and Sina Weibo
Hurmikko-Fuller discussed the project that she worked on with her Chinese student which was able to analyze how people mourn on social media sites such as Twitter and Sina Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter). She said they noticed that Twitter users were trying to connect with and mourn with the widow of the Linkin Park band member who had died, whereas Weibo users made posts that were more emotionally distant and about sharing news. They determined that information cascade was not the cause but herd behavior was. She said they are now collecting data on social media mourning of the burning down of the Rio Museum, which is interesting because it is not a person but a GLAM institution.

Rachel Neaman – Making Connections in a Digital World
Rachel Neaman public lecture
Neaman gave a public lecture at the university in the evening to a quite large, packed-out lecture theater. She said many of us find digital connectivity astounding, but young people take it for granted. She said her background was not as a technologist but as someone who studied languages. She mentioned the 4th Industrial Revolution term being coined in 2016 and that the book Robot-Proof (2017) by a U.S. academic, Joseph E. Aoun, talked about the importance of ‘soft skills’. This book talked about three types of literacy (tech, data, and human) and coined the term humanics. She offered an anecdote about how Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant in people’s houses heard a comment over the radio about a girl ordering a dollhouse and ordered doll’s houses for them too.

Neaman said digital is no longer just for IT and technical teams, and vice versa; those teams need to know more about customers’ needs and business side of things. Alongside an image of sheep, she told the audience that leadership is not about following the crowd but asking the right questions. I was very disappointed to hear her use the terms ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ just as she discussed the need for more women and diversity in the industry. Slide mentioning 'man and machine'She mentioned that Honeybot had done a Women in Tech report and produced an index on women in OECD countries. There was an interesting quote from Professor Dame Wendy Hall about diversity: “We cannot allow our world to be organised by algorithms whose creators are dominated by one gender, ethnicity, age, or culture”.

Neaman did try to clarify that AI is more of sophisticated computational statistics than advanced robots, but I don’t know that that message really made it through based on audience questions. She noted that 21% of adults in the UK lack the five essential digital skills defined as digital literacy. Even though Australia doesn’t have the same measure, around 10% aren’t online as shown by the digital inclusion index. She said today it’s more about outcomes than technical skills and we need life-long learning. Few schools formally teach these skills, but it’s not just for kids in schools; we need future-proofed policies so we feel empowered and able to thrive. She mentioned the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Skills Outlook, which has columns for growing and declining, and the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.Wendy Hall quote

There was a question about the difference between digital competency and literacy. Neaman responded by saying that teaching about these topics needs to be mainstream from the very beginning of kids’ schooling, and that it is disappointing to be still having this conversation in 2018. I didn’t agree that reading and writing won’t be needed in the future due to podcasts and YouTube becoming more dominant. There was a question about whether AI will be able to have or tap into other ways of knowing (i.e. indigenous knowledge) in the future, and this question signaled to me that the audience would have benefited from a clearer definition of AI.

Day 3 — September 28, 2018

New Learning and Collaboration Models Session                     

Roger Edmonds and Richard McInnes – Enhancing Humanities Learning Experiences with Location-Based Mobile Learning Games
Edmonds discussed the expansion of games from an initial Business & Society course to 13 disciplines. Originally, students had to go out to discover their city in this course with pen and paper in all sorts of weather and didn’t like it. Now there are 193 games that have been played almost 3000 times. The ‘Torrens Walkabout’ was the same as the one Jeanne-Marie Viljoen talked about. It is not just a tour but interactive, push-pull, and about a story/narrative. A game was also created for the Aboriginal Cultures gallery in the South Australia Museum using a floor plan rather than Google Maps. Edmonds said that just being able to create a game is a really rewarding and engaging experience for the students, and it built their ICT capability and capacity. See bit.ly/2QymiZ6 for slides and Pedago.online for more information on the project.

Kara Kennedy and Jakob Kristensen – Exploring the Impact of Digital Humanities on Students’ Engagement with Technology
We presented on our study that explores how Digital Humanities tools and methods in undergraduate courses are impacting students, especially in their engagement with digital technology, and how DH is affecting women in particular. We presented the context and reasons for the study, including the gender gap in STEM and the limited data on what undergraduates think about DH and how it impacts them. We gave an overview of the methodology and sample questions, and asked for people to get in touch if they have students who could be interviewed. 

Philip Marriott – Building Collaborative Real-Time Research Tools for Mobile Devices
Marriott began with the context, an advanced web design course where students had been using WordPress, which was pretty uninspiring. He suggested mobile phone web-based software instead and this ended up being more interesting of a project for them. Fifty of the 60 students were women, not from a STEM background, who already had basic idea of HTML, CSS, and PHP that he’d taught them earlier. They had great ideas but no mechanism for realizing them/doing anything with them, and there were lots of barriers to overcome. As a side note, he said it was helpful that Google allows you to use all their stuff if you sign up as a developer. He encouraged and empowered the students by telling them that anything you see out there on the web, you can do it too. It turned out that they were happy to use code as a way to do what they wanted.

Julian Thomas – DH and Digital Inequalities: Current State, Problems and Prospects
Thomas is head of the Digital Inclusion Index and defined digital inequality as an uneven distribution of digital skills, infrastructures, and resources. It is a problem because these are increasingly important for participation in contemporary economic, social, and civic life. Interestingly, he noted that young people are not the future of Australia – old people are! –according to the changing demographics. We assume mobile media is associated with sophisticated, intensive use, but that’s not necessarily the case. Their study showed that single parents, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and other marginalized groups were likely to use mobile media more. He said we need to think hard about the ramifications of the next wave of automation. In the Q&A, Rachel Neaman asked if there were a standard for measuring digital ability (the UK, for example, has 5 prongs). Thomas said there isn’t the same thing as the UK, and that it’s nice to have international comparisons, but the cultural and human geography is different here in Australia, so he thinks there is need for Australia-specific measurements about digital strategies and inclusion. He acknowledged that yes, North America and Europe also have a divide between the country and city, but there are still unique geographies in Australia. He mentioned Broadband for the Bush as working in the space of digital inclusion in Australia. Digital Inclusion Dimension

Kristin Alford – Designing Research Experiences in the Technology Museum
Alford introduced herself as an engineer who has worked in mining and thinks in processes, and that her experiences with dance and gymnastics have critically shaped her thinking as well. She reflected ruefully that she sees the same percentage of women in her classes now as when she was a student. She said she reads a lot of fiction to take her to different worlds and is a futurist who likes the possibilities that fiction provides.

Her talk focused on how the MOD (Museum of Discovery) (where the conference opening reception was held) was designed and intentionally wants to be different than a typical museum. She mentioned the focus on the future that other places have and that this could be something to strive for, such as how in Dubai they’re already planning for a 100-year anniversary rather than a short-term one. She asked how do we showcase science in a way that doesn’t privilege one way of knowing, that allows for Western and Indigenous and other knowledge. She said kids aren’t inspired by the ‘get a job’ rhetoric around learning STEM, so she wants MOD to be different. Giving people more science doesn’t necessarily lead to better understanding; thus, the recent shift to more narrative and story-based museum experiences (ex. Museum of Tomorrow in Brazil).

She mentioned Kevin Kelly as a futurist from Edge.org. She said the fact is that if you tell the public, come learn about cancer, or tell young people, come learn how to transform industry, they’re going to think they have better things to do with their Friday night. She specified that MOD is deliberately not doing educational outreach or programs. Its aim is to try to get people to think of themselves as people who like science, rather than overtly encouraging them to like science. She mentioned the current exhibit on pain informing people that 90% of chronic pain is from your brain expecting signals and not a real physical cause. Finally, she provided some statistics about responses to MOD. Over 9 out of 10 rate is as good or excellent, and they are getting 1 in 3 visitors from their target 15-25-year-old target demographic. Since it has just recently opened, it will be a while until they have more data on visitors.

One of the questions was about whether there is any evidence that visiting a cultural institution about science will have an impact on going into STEM, or that it’s influencing academics. There doesn’t seem to yet be evidence on this. Another question was about how they recruited the teens they had involved in the design studio and workshops, and she said she focused on local teachers with whom she already had contact.

Digital Humanities in the Era of Linkage, Impact, Engagement and Innovation

Joanne Tompkins – ARC-funded DH Research

Tompkins noted that DH projects have more partnerships with industry and as a sector, DH should apply for more Linkage and LIEF grants. One tip in applying is that because the decision panel for Linkage grants is made up of a general audience, the project needs to be able to be understood by laypeople.

Panel: Joanna Tompkins, Penelope Aitken, Katherine Bode, Richard Maltby, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart

DH PanelAitken again urged academics to write outputs other than journal articles and believes it’s a skill that needs to be learned alongside traditional ones. Maltby called himself an occasional academic and observed that most people creating DH infrastructure are on short-term contracts (<2 years) even though sustainability is supposedly something that funders like ARC are concerned with.

Maxwell-Stewart said that unfortunately, putting data in a data repository tends to kill it off, so partnering with industry is critical for getting people to use it (basically, it needs a public interface). He finds it challenging to find postgraduate students who have skills that he doesn’t that he needs to do research. He spoke of GIS, math, and computer science and a frightening skills gap in the humanities. He said those who do have certain technical skills can end up being stretched thin because they aren’t that many of them. Bode mentioned the gap between those considered academics and those considered professional staff. There was a comment about needing better postgraduate training in DH and a question about how to get more complex assessment, so students don’t have to write 80,000 words every time to show their learning. Maxwell-Stewart suggested that more data visualization would be helpful and that that is the future.

Birds of a Feather: Upskilling Approaches

This session was presented by Greg D’Arcy, an informatics specialist for HASS, and Nicole Laurent, a project archivist for the Find and Connect web resource, eScholarship Research Centre. Slides are available: go.unimelb.edu.au/ofc6. The context was that Chang et al.’s abstract for eResearch Australasia Conference shows that information professionals and library staff need expertise in lots of data-related skills. SCIP (scip.unimelb.edu.au) was designed to help break the ice for people who aren’t comfortable with digital stuff. They found there was a low response to ‘come learn about data visualization’, and that the just-in-time element was missing (many didn’t have their data ready). We know there is a lot of content out there (ex. YouTube), but it still needs to be packaged for students and it can be difficult when you’re working in isolation trying to learn stuff like Python. Another issue is that a lot of humanities researchers don’t see their data as data, and this can create discord when discussing it in that way with them. Learning with a purpose works well. There were questions about which tool to learn to start with (basically, whichever one is most relevant to the data you have and what you want to do with it, or what is used in your future career), what pitfalls there are to learning technology (having a learning group to collaborate with is helpful), and whether humanities researchers should do more to discuss their methodology to enable others to follow it in their research like scientists do (yes). The Future Humanities Workforce project in Australia was mentioned.

I didn’t attend the workshop with 3-D modeling of networks, but it looked fun, with LEGO and other craft materials used to make the models. 3-D modeling

Digital Humanities Article

I am excited to share that my Digital Humanities article on digital literacy has been published in the open-access journal Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ) in a special issue (11.3) on undergraduate education. The article is titled “A Long-Belated Welcome: Accepting Digital Humanities Methods into Non-DH Classrooms” and argues that there is a place for DH methods in all Humanities classrooms and that women especially can benefit from increased engagement and confidence with digital technology in the subjects in which they comprise the majority of students.

I look forward to reading all of the other articles in this issue and appreciate being able to share it widely because DHQ is open access! Thanks to all those who have supported me in the two-year journey from start to finish.

Hidden Figures of Digital Humanities

Watching the film Hidden Figures reminded me of my research on women in computing and some of the gender issues in the field of Digital Humanities. In a discussion after the screening that I had both attended and helped to organize/promote with other women (as a special fundraiser to help create an undergraduate scholarship for a woman to study STEM), I mentioned how frustrating it was that women had been written out of the history of computing at large, not just in regards to the space program. It was only after seeing the quizzical looks on the women’s faces around me that I realized the presence of women in computing is not common knowledge either. The stereotype that seems to predominate in the popular culture is that computing belongs to Silicon Valley and male computer programmers.  I have been fortunate to have discovered more of women’s history in computing due to my involvement with Digital Humanities, but it is important that the involvement of women become more widely known. So I write this post as a brief introduction to some of the insights I have come across – to share with those who want to learn about some ‘hidden figures’ and to wonder about whose stories are still left to be discovered in the field of Digital Humanities. Because in fact, women have been instrumental to computing since the beginning…

Hidden Figures posterFor those who haven’t viewed the film (highly recommend! – nominated for three Academy Awards), Hidden Figures follows the stories of three African-American women – Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson – in the U.S. during the Space Race whose efforts in computing, mathematics, and engineering were crucial to the success of the mission to put astronaut John Glenn into orbit. Each woman must overcome various obstacles including racial and gender biases in order to be taken seriously and be respected by her coworkers, and to succeed at her job. For example, one building lacks a bathroom for black women (bathrooms were segregated at this time), and it is not until this issue impedes on the mission’s ability to meet a deadline that something is done about it. The film showcases the genius and resourcefulness of these women whom I and others I talked to admittedly had never heard of before. This film did a great job of bringing their stories and brilliance to life.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), born Augusta Ada Byron, was a gifted mathematician who is now considered to be the first computer programmer, given that she wrote instructions for the first computer program, all the way back in the 1800s. She was the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron and his spouse, Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke Byron. She met Charles Babbage, known as the father of the computer, when she was 17 and he mentored her and enabled her to study advanced math with a University of London professor. Although Babbage invented the difference engine and analytical engine, after Lovelace was asked to translate one of his articles, she added her own ideas about his machine which were about how codes could be used to handle letters and symbols, not just numbers. She also came up with a theory for repetition of instructions, now known as the looping process that modern computer programs use. Though few paid attention to her article when she was alive, she is now honored through the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, first held in 2009.

*Source: Ada Lovelace Biography.com (2017)

Women Computer Programmers in the 20th Century

During World War II when there was a need for ‘human computers’ who could solve equations by hand and also program computers, women stepped up to fill these roles. Jean Jennings Bartik was one of six female mathematicians who created programs for a new machine belonging to the U.S. Army called the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), which was one of the first all-electronic general-purpose computers. Men built the hardware and circuits but didn’t think the programming was an important job. Bartik said in an interview in 2008 that even though the women were responsible for getting the machine to work the night before its first demo, they weren’t invited out to dinner the next day and weren’t named in the photos. They were basically invisible. Adele Goldstine was another key woman in the development of ENIAC who created a systematic method of programming and the program manual, yet has only recently been acknowledged for her work in the field.

After the war was over, Bartik and her team moved on to the UNIVAC, a major commercial computer. They worked with Grace Murray Hopper, who was a tenured math professor in the Navy Reserve. Hopper discovered a way to program with words instead of numbers, which became a programming language known as COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) that is still used today. She retired from the Navy with the rank of rear admiral and is sometimes known as being the Queen of Software for her work in developing programming languages. There was even a 1967 article called “The Computer Girls” in Cosmopolitan magazine which quoted Hopper as comparing programming to planning a dinner, where you have to plan ahead and schedule everything.

Computer Girls magazine article

“The Computer Girls” article in Cosmopolitan magazine

She said women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming and her goal was that all people should be able to use and program computers. Another woman who worked on the UNIVAC, Adele Mildred Koss, actually found that working in computing was quite accommodating to female programmers who were mothers, making a work-life balance more possible. Many women did not actually have formal training in computing but took advantage of the opportunities that it provided and found success.

*Sources:

Further information: 2014 documentary film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II and interactive iPad book app The Computer Wore Heels

Women in Early Digital Humanities

This brings us to the history of women in the field of Digital Humanities. For those who haven’t heard of Digital Humanities, it is a relatively new field which sits at the intersection of digital technologies and the humanities (like English literature, philosophy, and history). It sometimes functions more like the sciences in terms of having labs and teams rather than individuals working alone, and can include projects that involve making websites for cultural material, using databases, creating network analyses, examining social media, and doing other tasks that further the study of human culture and generate new ways of teaching and researching. Before it was known as Digital Humanities, however, it was sometimes called Humanities Computing, and its history goes back to the 1940s with its father, Father Roberto Busa in Italy, and what is considered to be the first Digital Humanities project.

Father Busa was a Jesuit priest who thought that the newly developing computing technology could be harnessed to help him create an index of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. He went to the U.S. to visit Thomas J. Watson at IBM and received some assistance to process punchcard data to make his index, which included some 9 to 11 million words of medieval Latin. What is often left out of this story is the fact that Father Busa then employed dozens of women to do the programming, and he proudly believed he was helping them attain valuable job skills through their work on the project. I only know about these women due to Digital Humanities scholar Melissa Terras’ work on uncovering the stories of these women. In fact, she has written a blog post (for Ada Lovelace Day, 2013) about her research, which included traveling to Italy and obtaining permission to share several photos of the women with permission from the CIRCSE Research Centre at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy with a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC), which are also in the blog post. I have included three of them here:

Women in Busa Project

Women working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

 

Women in Busa Project

Women working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project (back left: Rosetta Rossi Bertolli; bottom right Livia Canestraro) (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

 

Women in Busa Project

Livia Canestraro working on Father Roberto Busa’s index project, being overseen by visiting dignitaries (1950s-60s) CC-BY-NC CIRCSE Research Centre

(This last photo is my favorite, with Ms. Canestraro reminding me of Princess Leia, surrounded by men but seemingly unperturbed.) I consider it a point of pride that women were so instrumental in working on this pivotal Digital Humanities project. But the pioneering work of women in computing leads me to wonder how we moved from women being so connected with computers to the present, where research continues to show that women often feel alienated from computing.

*Sources:

Disappearing Figures

Despite women’s instrumental roles as ‘computers’ themselves and as programmers, by the 1980s, when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates began to appear in the media and personal computers came about, the number of women who majored in computer science began to drop. From the 1980s to 2010, females went from being 37% of college students receiving bachelor’s degrees in Computer and Information Sciences to 18%. This happened even though the overall percentage of female college students was increasing and women were a majority.

There may have been several reasons proposed for this gender shift. Men may have wanted to get into the challenging tasks of programming and with their entry, the field may then have become more prestigious. Professional associations that excluded women may also have prevented them from entering the field. Personal computers were often marketed as toys for boys and the stereotype of the male computer geek became more prevalent in the popular culture.

In just a few decades then, computing and information technology became seen as male-dominated fields, and computing culture became decidedly more associated with masculine traits. The history of women’s achievements is only recently being recovered, with many girls and women unaware at how influential women have been in the field.

*Sources:

Where are the Women?

I see this as relating to Digital Humanities in that I have seen the field struggling recently with issues of diversity, access, and privilege, and that people are speaking out to try to address them. During Digital Humanities scholar Deb Verhoeven’s speech “Has anyone seen a woman?” at the 2015 Digital Humanities Conference, she boldly took the stage and called for men to exit it to allow more women to be heard and recognized. She was addressing the invisibility of women after a “parade of patriarchs” had dominated the stage on the opening day of the conference.

Deb Verhoeven speech

Deb Verhoeven’s speech “Has anyone seen a woman?” at 2015 Digital Humanities Conference

Soon her words ended up having a direct impact on me because just days later I was asked to speak on that very same stage at a small gathering of people for an annual meeting. At first I balked but then was encouraged by two men who were trying to heed her words, and it ended up being a positive experience. Her voice had raised the consciousness of many, and it helped persuade me that it was important for women to be heard even if they may not feel comfortable with public speaking.

Raising women’s visibility – both past and present – and reclaiming women’s history and stories is an important part of feminism; there are countless achievements to celebrate, from small to large. The question becomes how does a field like Digital Humanities avoid making the same mistakes as the history books have with the African-American women at NASA and women in computing? How does it avoid obscuring the labor that often goes on behind-the-scenes in Digital Humanities projects?

If we were to construct a narrative or timeline of women in Digital Humanities, what would it look like? How many ‘hidden figures’ in labs, teams, and projects might be in Digital Humanities?

Effective Altruism

I first heard about effective altruism through a guest lecture by Dr. Catherine Low from Students for High Impact Charity on “Effective Altruism and the Environment” in December 2016. At the end of the lecture, the audience split into small groups to debate the merits of several charities that she had pointed out were effective in various areas, and then everyone voted on which one to donate $500 to (with the funds provided by her organization). There was also an opportunity to sign up to receive a free copy by mail of a book by William Macaskill entitled Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference (first published in 2015), so I signed up, not being able to resist a free book and wanting to learn more about the evidence behind this emerging movement. effective_altruism_bookThe thinking behind it offers an interesting critique of the personal-responsibility kind of changes we’ve been led to believe we should be doing, and I’d like to offer some highlights from the lecture and book that people may not have considered before (especially regarding Fairtrade and sweatshop goods!).

Dr. Low’s main thesis was that effective altruism is about using evidence and analysis to do the most good we can do, and that many things we might think are really good aren’t actually making the best use of our money, time, or resources. One of the examples was that the BBC in 2006 was freaking out about Brits keeping phone chargers plugged in because of the ‘ghost energy’ they were wasting. But it turns out that they hardly consume any energy (.01% would be saved by unplugging them). Yet people choose to focus on these minor, inconsequential issues rather than looking at the bigger picture. There was also a study by David Anderson that found that up to 75% of social programs in the U.S. had little or no effect. It turns out that many initiatives aren’t really studied at all and are based on someone’s gut instinct on what will do good rather than research. An example that she mentioned and that is in the introduction of the book is the Playpump, which was rolled out in Africa to get children to help pump water while playing but turned out to be quite ineffective. It was created with the best of intentions, but not enough research and design went into seeing if it would actually work.

Regarding New Zealand charitable giving, she asked us to compare the $40,000 cost of training a guide dog (which who could argue against that cause) with the $25 for cataract surgery to prevent blindness in the Global South. It is clear which one is a better value for money, but that doesn’t mean that people donate according to that criteria. There was also the comparison between $9,000 for a Make-a-wish holiday for a sick child compared to a far lower amount to buy bednets against malaria and save a couple lives in Africa. Again, the former is a nice cause, but the latter makes the money not only go farther but can actually save lives.

Dr. Low said that part of the reason why effective altruism is more possible now is that we have more information to make better decisions about giving. She listed the following places that provide this kind of information:

There is also Stanford’s Carbon Footprint site where you can calculate how much greenhouse gas your activities produce. If you see how much your airline travel is producing, for example, you could offset it by donating to an organization like CoolEarth, which for $350 can protect a hectare of rainforest. This might be more effective than buying an electric car, because there are other costs and issues you need to weigh — if you don’t do that much driving, you could have spent the extra money on a more effective way of protecting the environment, for example. In the same way, you probably don’t need to fret over the Energy Star Rating for appliances, because the $100 or whichever amount you would have spent on buying a more efficient device might be better spent on a charity, since you’re unlikely to get as much energy savings as you think, especially if you use it infrequently. One of questions she left us with was: Are we more morally obliged to prevent human-made suffering (like climate change) or naturally-occurring ones (like malaria)? It’s something to consider as we choose which causes to support.

The book reiterated the point that some ideas are good but are not actually the most effective, or the best use of resources, and most are not evaluated to see if they are working. It offered several seemingly harsh realities, including:

  • You probably shouldn’t give to disaster relief because there is likely to be a large number of people hearing about and giving to those causes, so your contribution will make less of an impact.
  • It is possible that people could have been better off without a charitable intervention, or might actually have been harmed by it, so some intervention is not necessarily better than none. Some problems work themselves out.
  • Looking at overheard percentages, which some evaluations do, is not a good measure of effectiveness. Spending a lot on good administration and fundraising does not mean a charity is not also being very effective at its programs. Outcomes are more important.
  • Following your passion in terms of a career is bad advice because you can have impact in all kinds of fields and don’t need to necessarily go to work for a non-profit or charity to change the world. The book states: “Research shows that the most consistent predictor of job satisfaction is engaging work, which can be broken down into five factors (this is known in psychology as the ‘job characteristics theory’): Independence…Sense of Completion…Variety…Feedback from the job…Contribution” (Macaskill pg. 187). Basically, personal fit is a better indicator to go by, and you can gain a passion out of a variety of types of work. You can look up what you might be interested in at the site 80,000 Hours.
  • Sweatshop goods are sometimes providing better jobs for people in developing economies than other forms of labor and are considered the ‘good’ jobs, alternatives to backbreaking farm work or unemployment. In one case in 1993, a child labor bill brought to Congress prompted factories in Bangladesh to lay off 50,000 child workers; UNICEF then investigated and found that many of them had to turn to more desperate ways to survive, including hustling and prostitution (Macaskill pg. 160-163). So although boycotting sweatshop goods may seem like a good thing to do, it may be more effective to work to end the poverty in those countries that makes those jobs so attractive.
  • Buying Fairtrade-certified products is another example of how what may seem like a no-brainer thing to do may not actually be the best use of that extra money you spend for the Fairtrade product. One of the issues is that only a very small percentage of the money you pay for Fairtrade reaches the farmers. In one analysis by the World Bank, less than 1% at a British cafe chain reached coffee exporters in poor countries; in an analysis in Finland, only 11% reached the countries that produced the coffee; and in an analysis in the US, for an extra $5 per pound for Fairtrade coffee, only 40 cents or 8% would make it to coffee producers) (Macaskill pg. 165). A lot goes to the people in the middle, so you would be better to put the money you would have spent on Fairtrade toward a more effective charity to help the poor in those countries (such as GiveDirectly, in which 90 cents of $1 donated reaches the poor).
  • Thinking rationally rather than emotionally sounds harsh–especially because it might mean saying no to local causes or people asking for money on your doorstep–but it is necessary to be able to evaluate charities and see which programs are most effective.

As presented in the lecture and the book, effective altruism makes a lot of sense from a rational perspective. The trick is that so many charitable appeals work on an emotional level (or religious level), and the urge to help others we can see, in our community, probably won’t be going away any time soon. Thinking more abstractly about giving is certainly a new concept to consider thoughtfully.

Flatland: The Movie in Science Fiction Class

The 2007 animated short film Flatland: The Movie featuring the voices of Martin Sheen and Kristen Bell appears to be a popular teaching tool in math classes because it includes angles and other math concepts, but I have found it also works well in science fiction classes [see film website for more information]. Its short running time (around 30 minutes) allows it to fit into a normal class session with plenty of time for questions and discussion. It is based on  Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott and set in a society known as Flatland, a two-dimensional world. The graphics and pace are good, the themes are still relevant today, and there is a delightful irony in one of the characters who brings wisdom to others yet still cannot break free from his own limited worldview. It offers a nice break from the norm toward the end of the semester while still being a science fiction film that allows students to compare their world to the one in the film.Flatland movie poster

Activity for Flatland: The Movie (2007) featuring Martin Sheen and Kristen Bell

Based on Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott

Questions:*

Which character did you identify the most with?

What are the rules of Flatland society? How does your shape affect your status?

Who makes the rules in this society?

What does heresy mean? What kinds of things are considered heresy in your society?

Why can’t the King of Lineland see the square? Why does Spherius resist the idea of a 4th dimension?

Compare our society to Flatland’s society. What are the similarities and differences? Which would you prefer to live in?

Do you think science fiction as a genre helps people understand their world better than more “realistic” fiction? Why do you think science fiction movies have become so popular?

 

*Some questions are from a math teacher’s wiki; others are my own. The possibilities for more science fiction questions are many!

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