Editing Modernism in Canada


June 13, 2014

“All the People”: A Look at Qualitative Research


Blur's "All the People"

Blur’s “All the People”

“Meeting people, all the people, all the time” makes Anouk Lang’s list of “Thirty-three ways of Looking at a DHSI Week.” Similarly, DHSI is all about networks for Hannah McGregor. Reading through the many posts about DEMiC 2015, I am reminded about what I missed most about DHSI—the people. That’s right, I did not attend DHSI this year, but, in a fit of nostalgia, I am thinking about my past experiences. Last year, I wrote about the Digital Databases course. This year, I want to talk about what I left out: the qualitative research.

DHSI is, at least in part, about meeting people. Last year, I met “all the people,” which included two scholars who had worked on Carroll Aikins. As a bit of a recap, I am working on a critical edition of Aikins’s play “The God of Gods” (1919), which premiered in Birmingham, England, and involves Nietzschean intertexts, theosophy, an Aboriginal reserve, a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and anti-war sentiment, to name a few. DHSI brought me to Victoria, B.C. and to the stomping ground of James Hoffman (Thompson Rivers University) and Jerry Wasserman (University of British Columbia). Jerry offered to send me photographs of the first Birmingham production, which were waiting in my mailbox upon my return from the West Coast. James met with me several times to discuss his past research of Aikins, he lent me the manuscripts of Aikins’ unpublished plays, he shared theatre reviews of The God of Gods (some of which I had not yet uncovered!), and last but not least, he regaled me in stories about meeting Aikins’s family. Qualitative research, it seems, also played a major part in James’s work. I should probably mention that all of this wonderful research and sharing was unplanned: I met Jerry and James at separate talks, introduced myself and my work, and they offered the rest.

As if DHSI 2014 wasn’t already a gold mine of learning and of scholarly networks, it was also during a DEMiC social event that I connected with Melissa Dalgleish. As a result of that meeting, Melissa (who writes a series of posts about alt-ac work) is now working as a RA on the Aikins project (more about her RA work to come in a later post).

I can’t help but feel how indebted I am to qualitative research and to the generosity of scholars like Jerry, James, and Melissa as well as to networks of people like EMiC.

Hart House Theatre

Figure 1Hart House Theatre: The God of Gods was performed at Hart House Theatre in 1922.


Qualitative research is important in the field of drama because the form relies on theatre reviewers or people’s personal notebooks to record production details. Do you engage with qualitative research in your work?

June 12, 2014

Re-envisioning Digital Heritage Management: “Mukurtu” and “Mukurtu Mobile”

This year at DHSI, I took the course titled “Cultural Codes and Protocols for Indigenous Digital Heritage Management”. This course utilized Mukurtu (pronounced mook-oo-too) CMS, an open source Drupal 7 platform for managing digital heritage, to explore the ways in which we can approach indigenous heritage materials (see http://www.mukurtu.org/).

Mukurtu allows for the marriage of traditional knowledge with data management, and its multi-authored commenting and free tagging capabilities promote an overall sense of polyvocality. Through its complex system of community-based permissions, the platform also communicates the webs of relations between places, ancestors, gender, and age, acknowledging the protocols imbued both within the community and those external to it. To determine the cultural protocols for a heritage item, one might consider the following: How do you want to share and manage access to this item? Who do you want to be able to view, add, or edit information? Is the content restricted to gender? Is the item sacred?

Our project for the week involved separating into three teams – Team Plants, Team Art, and Team Signs – and using the mobile app “Mukurtu Mobile” to incorporate fieldwork (photos taken around the UVic campus) into our demo sites. The app, while an excellent drain of my iPhone battery, allowed us to record information alongside each photo, and used geolocation to record our exact coordinates at the time each photo was taken. As a group, we needed to work together in order to determine the cultural protocols the applied to our content, in relation to possible viewing communities (our own team, DHSI, and UVic for example). We decided that some images should only be viewed by members of our group, Team Signs (strictest permissions), but that most images could be viewed by the DHSI/UVic communities (more public permissions).

Cultural Codes & Protocols

Fig. 1 – Content generated by Mukurtu Mobile app and uploaded to Mukurtu site

When using this platform to manage heritage items in an indigenous community, the cultural protocols and sharing settings are extremely important. For example, certain heritage items may only be intended for males, specifically over the age of 18. Without these protocols in place within the Mukurtu system, anyone in the community would be able to view the items, creating an upset between traditional knowledge and the cultural codes put in place to govern it.

Our sample project was helpful, particularly for providing a hands-on experience navigating the Mukurtu interface; the project also sparked interesting discussions regarding permissions and protocols. Most importantly, this course forced me to consider the implications of my own research concerning West Coast First Nations literature. Through platforms like Mukurtu, it becomes possible to mediate the tension that has previously existed between technology and culture, and instead foster an environment focused on community-based heritage management.

June 12, 2014

“Agile Development” and the Digital Humanities

Since returning from my second DHSI, I’ve had a little time to reflect on my experience and to bask in the glory of my new—but still fledgling—programming skills.  Like Chris, Emily, James, and Mathieu, I spent last week happily enrolled in Josh and Zailig Pollock’s course on “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT.”  And, like my classmates, I was encouraged to embrace aspects of what the instructors referred to as an “Agile development method” (in essence, an iterative and adaptive approach to coding and project management).  As we worked through exercises to reinforce each of the day’s lessons, we learned to test and tweak our code obsessively, and in this small way we began to see how an “agile” approach to DH projects might prove valuable on a larger scale.

For the benefit of those who haven’t read it, the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” reads as follows:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.
(Source: agilemanifesto.org; emphasis added)

As one can see, the agile method offers a number of practical, even common-sense suggestions that can be usefully incorporated into most collaborative DH projects.  In terms of my own DH work—and I’m thinking specifically here of my role in getting the Canadian Modernist Magazines Project up and running—an agile workflow or development approach will likely benefit the project in several ways.  For example, I hope to successfully model the agile method’s emphasis on openness (to collaboration, to changing tools and conditions in the digital landscape, or even to the overall direction of the project).  Perhaps even more importantly, however, I want to avoid being paralyzed by obsessive over-planning or inflexible long-term projections; instead, I want to work incrementally, letting each small step or misstep guide the next.  The reality is that any new DH project is the product of innumerable blunders and misgivings, just as any “polished” essay is (in my experience) the product of multiple drafts and, initially, ill-conceived thoughts or malformed sentences.

Finally, I think it’s important for institutions that wish to support DH projects to recognize, and perhaps to help mitigate in some small way, the institutional pressures that confront English literary critics qua DH scholars in their work as DH scholars.  But I guess what I really mean to advocate is an understanding of the similarities between literary critics and programmers or DHers, not the differences that make collaboration between them a potentially overwhelming undertaking.  As those of us who have been lucky enough to participate in DHSI are well aware, the literary critic and the technogeek no longer occupy mutually exclusive domains. While I acknowledge the dangers of getting entirely immersed in the DH world and thus neglecting to hone one’s unique skills as a literary critic, I also acknowledge the need to constantly re-think my own research in light of rapidly changing disciplines, departmental practices, and institutional exigencies.  So thank you for the education, Josh and Zailig—and thank you, EMiC, for another great week at DHSI.

June 12, 2014

Augmented Reality and Education

For DHSI 2014, I had the pleasure of being a part of the Augmented Reality class with Markus Wust. In this class, we were introduced to using the technology of Layar to build a mobile application. One of the most interesting potentials of building a mobile applications that Markus introduced to the class was that of “serendipitous learning”. The idea behind this kind of learning is to build applications that would allow for learning to happen spontaneously as users navigate through their environments. For example, someone could be walking home from work and suddenly get an alert on their phone that they are close to a historical landmark. They could then bring up the application and discover a part of history that they didn’t realize existed before then. One of my favourite augment reality applications that allows for “serendipituous learning” is that of the Museum of London. I believe that being able to overlay the past with the present allows us to look at our world in a new way and to have a better appreciation for our history. Using augmented reality gives us with this appreciation.

June 12, 2014

What Makes It Work

As part of EMiC at DHSI 2014, I took part in the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) course with Ian Gregory. The course was tutorial-based, with a set of progressive practical exercises that took the class through the creation of static map documents through plotting historical data and georeferencing archival maps into the visualization and exploration of information from literary texts and less concrete datasets.

I have been working with a range of material relating to Canadian radical manifestos, pamphlets, and periodicals as I try to reconstruct patterns of publication, circulation, and exchange. Recently, I have been looking at paratextual networks (connections shown in advertisements, subscription lists, newsagent stamps, or notices for allied organizations, for example) while trying to connect these to real-world locations and human occupation. For this course, I brought a small body of material relating to the 1932 Edmonton Hunger March: (1) an archival map of the City of Edmonton, 1933 (with great thanks to Mo Engel and the Pipelines project, as well as Virginia Pow, the Map Librarian at the University of Alberta, who very generously tracked down this document and scanned it on my behalf); (2) organizational details relating to the Canadian Labor Defense League, taken from a 1933 pamphlet, “The Alberta Hunger-March and the Trial of the Victims of Brownlee’s Police Terror”, including unique stamps and marks observed in five different copies held at various archives and library collections; (3) relief data, including locations of rooming houses and meals taken by single unemployed men, from the City Commissoner’s fonds at the City of Edmonton Archives; and (4) addresses and locational data for all booksellers, newspapers, and newsstands in Edmonton circa 1932-33, taken from the 1932 and 1933 Henderson’s Directories (held at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, as well as digitized in the Peel’s Prairie Provinces Collection).

Through the course of the week I was able to do the following:

1. Format my (address, linguistic) data into usable coordinate points.
2. Develop a working knowledge of the ArcGIS software program, which is available to me at the University of Alberta.
3. Plot map layers to distinguish organizations, meeting places, booksellers, and newspapers.
4. Georeference my archival map to bring it into line with real-world coordinates.
5. Layer my data over the map to create a flat document (useful as a handout or presentation image).
6. Export my map and all layers into Google Earth, where I can visualize the historical data on top of present-day Edmonton, as well as display and manipulate my map layers. (Unfortunately, the processed map is not as sharp as the original scan.)
7. Determine the next stages for adding relief data, surveillance data, and broadening these layers out beyond Edmonton.

Archival map of City of Edmonton, 1933, georeferenced and overlaid into Google Earth imagery

Archival map of City of Edmonton, 1933, georeferenced and overlaid into Google Earth imagery

Detail: Archival map of City of Edmonton, 1933. Downtown area showing  CLDL (red), booksellers (purple), newsstands (blue), and meeting places (yellow)

Detail: Archival map of City of Edmonton, 1933. Downtown area showing CLDL (red), booksellers (purple), newsstands (blue), and meeting places (yellow)

What I mean to say is, it worked. IT WORKED! For the first time in five years, I came to DHSI with an idea and some data, learned the right skills well enough to put the idea into action, and to complete something immediately usable and still extensible.

This affords an excellent opportunity for reflecting on this process, as well as the work of many other DH projects. What makes it work? I have a few ideas:

1. Expectations. Previous courses, experiments, and failures have begun to give me a sense of the kind of data that is usable and the kind of outcomes that are possible in a short time. A small set of data, with a small outcome – a test, a proof, a starting place – seems to be most easily handled in the five short days of DHSI, and is a good practice for beginning larger projects.

2. Previous skills. Last year, I took Harvey Quamen’s excellent Databases course, which gave me a working knowledge of tables, queries, and overall data organization, which helped to make sense of the way GIS tools operated. Data-mining and visualization would be very useful for the GIS course as well.

3. Preparation. I came with a map in a high-resolution TIFF format, as well as a few tables of data pulled from the archive sources I listed above. I did the groundwork ahead of time; there is no time in a DHSI intensive to be fiddling with address look-ups or author attributions. Equally, good DH work is built on a deep foundation of research scholarship, pulling together information from many traditional methods and sources, then generating new questions and possibilities that plunge us back into the material. Good sources, and close knowledge of the material permit more complex and interesting questions.

4. Projections. Looking ahead to what you want to do next, or what more you want to add helps to stymie the frustration that can come with DH work, while also connecting your project to work in other areas, and adding momentum to those working on new tools and new approaches. “What do you want to do?” is always in tension with “What can you do now?” – but “now” is always a moving target.

5. Collaboration. I am wholly indebted to the work of other scholars, researchers (published and not), librarians, archivists, staff, students, and community members who have helped me to gather even the small set of data used here, and who have been asking the great questions and offering the great readings that I want to explore. The work I have detailed here is one throughline of the work always being done by many, many people. You do not work alone, you should not work alone, and if you are not acknowledging those who work with you, your scholarship is unsustainable and unethical.

While I continue to work through this project, and to hook it into other areas of research and collaboration, these are the points that I try to apply both to my research practices and politics. How will we continue to work with each other, and what makes it work best?




June 12, 2014

DHSI Word Cloud: The future is collaborative

This word cloud was created by submitting all of the EMiC blog posts about DHSI 2014 to a program that generates a visualization of the most commonly used words and phrases. Words that encourage working together, such as “community,” “cluster,” “collaborative,” “together,” and “social,” are a prominent theme in the cloud, with “Future Around Collaborative” acting as a fitting subtitle to the central words “Learning Course DHSI.” I also enjoy how the cloud arrangement created the term “Working Digital People.” Hopefully DHSI 2014 left everyone feeling like well-oiled working digital (humanities) people. The blog certainly indicates that everyone is feeling better equipped to create and motivated to co-create with others. Please keep sharing– the blog activity has been excellent these past ten days and the posts are encouraging and stimulating. Thanks to everyone for keeping the conversation going!



June 11, 2014

Encouraging Undergrad Involvement in DH

I would like to pick up on the idea of bringing the sense of community and excitement of DHSI back to the undergraduate students at my home institution. I feel that this is especially important now that DEMiC has had its last DHSI. I occasionally encounter some troubling attitudes towards undergraduate students in the “upper levels” of academia. Yes, they are young and may not be considering their future in the field at this point. Yes, many do not take their undergraduate work seriously. Yes, not all of them will be thinking about continuing on to graduate studies and beyond. Things change. Many students do not benefit early on from a sense of inclusion in a community of scholars, which may stem from traditional notions of undergraduates as consumers of, but not producers of, knowledge. When I was an undergrad I did not consider applying to grad school (or getting involved in the digital side of humanities work) until I met an incredibly supportive professor in the final year of my degree. I was taking her CanLit course as a requirement, had no previous experience with the field, and had never heard of anything called the Digital Humanities. And now I’m hooked.

Since I am a TA and not in the position to incorporate DH skills and theory into my tutorials, I am left wondering how best to encourage “my” undergrad students to get involved. I briefly described DHSI to my classes before leaving for Victoria last week. I let them know that since our library is a sponsor, the tuition is greatly reduced for anyone interested in attending in the future. I encouraged those interested in becoming English majors or who have computer-based skills to send me an email or come talk to me during office-hours about future opportunities in the field. I don’t claim to have all the answers; but I do have access to a community of scholars who might!

Of course, I wouldn’t want to push the discipline on students who are not interested in the digital side of English studies or who have no immediate plans to pursue a graduate degree. Basically, I put the bug in their ears. Maybe only one of my students will actually be interested in DH; maybe none of them will be. But I would like to pay the favour forward by providing opportunities for young scholars to get involved in this highly energetic and collaborative discipline, in whatever ways that I can.

June 10, 2014

Island Intersections

This was my first time to DHSI as well as Victoria. The experience was incredible. I feel so fortunate to have spent a week learning and collaborating with so many brilliant people. I took the ‘Sounds of the Digital Humanities’ course last week. Along with learning practical skills in Audacity and Garage Band, we learned some basic sound theory and engaged in many in-depth discussions about a variety of sound related subjects including ethics and sound history.
I learned about the importance of listening. This seems like a simple epiphany, I know, but I think using your ears can be overlooked in today’s society that is so full of visual stimuli. This was an important lesson to be reminded of.
I learned about sound collage and even made my own. Now every sound I hear I can’t help but think about in terms of where it might fit into a sound collage, and question if it is a real sound or just a sound effect.
It seems to me that Digital Humanities is about the intersection of something very old and something relatively new. The fact that such a large conference has grown out of DH is a testament to just how adaptable the humanities are. I find this comforting, and I think comfort in academia is sometimes a rare commodity, and one that when found must be cherished and appreciated. It comforts me meeting so many great people who have forged a life in the academic realm. It comforts me to know that although the world is constantly in flux–as is academics–that if the humanities can find there way from parchment to PDF, maybe I can embrace the constant change and find my way in a world I have always dreamed of being a part of.

June 10, 2014

Community Formation – DEMiC 2014

Now that I am home unwinding from what was such an incredible and busy week, I can finally speak about my experience at this year’s DEMiC.  This was my first time at DHSI, but it was not my first course through EMiC.  Last summer I attended TEMiC in Kelowna where I had the opportunity to learn about different theoretical approaches to editorial work.  The course was very useful to orient the beginnings of my editorial project, and for this reason I was eager to attend DEMiC.  Although it differed from the course I did last summer, it did not disappoint.   I had the opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience with computer coding by working closely with fellow EMiC students and teachers Zaillig and Josh Pollock in the “A Collaborative Approach to XSLT” course.  Following the completion of a challenging but useful week of training, I now come away with a strong foundation in XSLT that will be invaluable to the future of my editorial project, and feel as though I am part of a strong and close community.

Last week’s course promoted exactly what its name proposes: a collaborative approach to XSLT working through the interests of computer coding and literary scholarship.  While the course demanded a lot of hard work, it was very well organized which enabled a manageable workload.  Josh helped students learn the fundamentals of XSLT, and Zaillig provided his own feedback on the challenges he faced while working with this type of coding on his P.K. Page digital project.  In addition, both Pollocks worked together to give insight into multiple possible ways of incorporating XSLT into digital editorial projects and also emphasized the importance of working in teams to generate new ideas.  Although I was intimidated at first by the course due to my lack of familiarity with XSLT, both teachers were very patient and open to questions, and for this reason they created a very comfortable learning atmosphere.  I was also able to consult other students in the class for guidance, as they were willing to help me work through any kinks I faced throughout the course.  It was evident that the sense of collaboration that Zaillig and Josh tried to foster was not limited to their charismatic relationship, but also extended to their interaction with the class and the interaction they encouraged between the students.  Albeit I will have to continue working diligently on becoming more comfortable with this new coding language; however, I feel as though the Pollock team has left me with the necessary tools to do so.  I would recommend the course to anybody interested in doing digital editorial work, and/or interested in exploring new coding languages in a comfortable and productive learning environment.

Not only was the course a great collaborative learning experience, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet many EMiCers outside of class, and catching up with people I met at last year’s TEMiC.  I come away from this experience not only feeling more comfortable with the concept of creating a digital project, but also as though I am part of a close community that is very supportive of its members.  While I am sad that this was the last time DEMiC will happen, I am happy to have met so many interesting individuals, and to have learned from them.  The course has only heightened my excitement for TEMiC next month where I will have the opportunity to gain more theoretical knowledge on sound archiving, and where I will be rejoining my fellow EMiC friends.  For those who will be at TEMiC next month, see you soon!  For the others, I look forward to crossing paths with you sometime soon!

June 9, 2014

Updated: Goodbye, DHSI

DHSI 2014 is done, and most EMiCites will be heading home tonight or early tomorrow. Many have captured their experience of DHSI—some in Victoria for the first time, others for the last—on the EMiC blog. If you were were too busy XSLTing or doing yoga on the lawn of the cluster housing to keep up, now’s your chance: a roundup of DSHI 2014 blog posts is below. The list will be updated as more posts are published.


Lee Skallerup Bessette acknowledges the overwhelm that is DSHI Day One: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/dhsi2014-all-the-things-all-the-people/

Hannah McGregor talks network visualization and the role of DHSI in fostering EMiC and DH community: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/thinking-with-networks/

Chris Doody reports back from Zailig and Josh Pollock’s new course in collaborative XSLT: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/a-collaborative-approach-to-xslt-and-a-riddle/

Emily Ballantyne advocates for the the value of vocabulary, not just expertise: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/the-art-of-conversation-learning-the-language-of-xslt/

James Neufeld reflects on the experience of one again being an apprentice: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/lessons-learned-from-collaborative-xslt/

Marc Fortin creates beautiful visualizations of Aboriginal language networks: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/visualizing-the-landscape-of-aboriginal-languages/

Kaarina Mikalson absorbs confidence from the community of DHSI, of EMiC, and of DH: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/on-belonging/

Emily Ballantyne says goodbye to DHSI after 6 years: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/saying-goodbye/

And so does Jeff Weingarten: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/thoughts-on-the-last-dhsi/

Sarah Vela on her first DHSI, and the learning curve of DH: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/dhsi-and-the-never-ending-learning-curve-of-the-digital-humanities/

Emily Robins Sharpe on the affective side of collaboration: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/what-does-it-mean-to-collaborate/

Alana Fletcher demos out-of-the-box text analysis: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/tool-tutorial-out-of-the-box-text-analysis/

Anouk Lang gives us eleven more reasons (on top of her original twenty-two) to go to DHSI: http://editingmodernism.ca/2014/06/thirty-three-ways-of-looking-at-a-dhsi-week/