Editing Modernism in Canada


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/

June 8, 2014

Thirty-three ways of looking at a DHSI week

dhsi_blog_image_2In 2012, after a brilliant week of taking the GIS course at DHSI, I wrote a post with twenty-two reasons to go to DHSI. I did not think it was possible, but this week has been even better than that one, in part because I am now much further in to my work with digital methods, and my comfort levels are much higher. So, herewith a followup post, two years on, with eleven further reasons to convince anyone who hasn’t yet drunk the kool-aid, or to choose a more database-appropriate metaphor, taken the red pill.

1) First of all, the feeling of being stretched and challenged in entirely unpredictable ways: of being taken way outside of my comfort zone, having my object of study taken away from me, exploded into unrecognisable pieces, conceptually reassembled, and handed back to me. It’s a cliche that DH forces us think differently about what we do and how we do it, but the generative experience of actually doing this intensely for an entire week with experts in the room is an immense privilege, in a world where the imperatives to knock out REF-able publications, achieve “impact” with our research, climb ever higher on departmental and university rankings tables and so forth–these are our UK imperatives; there are others in the north American context–militate against the deep immersion that we need to do our best work.

2) I’m going to give the Databases course its own reason to go to DHSI. Yes, really. Databases. It sounds dismal. It’s anything but. Take this course if your research involves even a moderate amount of data-gathering (hint: if you are using Excel and find yourself adding extra columns, putting in lots of null values and becoming dissatisfied with the way your tables represent whatever it is you are studying, a relational database is probably what you want instead). Harvey is hilarious, and long impromptu riffs on an eclectic medley of pop culture texts turn into serious points about the theoretical and practical exigencies of working with relational databases. The pedagogical component of this course is top-notch: he has thought very hard about how to make the material intuitively graspable by people who are not trained as computer scientists. Come for the standup, stay for the profound transformations to your thinking.

3) Almost as good as databases is … free beer! A prize for accidentally walking up to the registration table at exactly three o’clock. I didn’t think I could be happier about arriving in Victoria under deep blue skies, reconnecting with EMiC friends and starting a week of databases, but turns out free beer will do the trick.

4) An antidote to years of finding the command line intimidating. Decades, in fact: our first family computer had an MS-DOS prompt into which my brother typed arcane magic words, and the helplessness I felt watching the screen fill up with glowy green type is a visceral memory. After a 45 minute unconference session with Jonathan Martin, it is intimidating no more, and in fact to my surprise somewhat intuitive. For those who want to try, the resource we used is called Learn Code the Hard Way.

5) The vault of collective knowledge that it is possible to tap into via the #dhsi2014 hashtag. Trying to quickly clean up a data set, I sent out a plaintive cry for help with a regex to remove URLs, and three lovely people answered in under a minute with suggestions. (Happy ending: I figured it out myself! Woohoo! It is the world’s ugliest regex, but it works.)

6) Twitter, which this year was something of a different experience. There was absolutely no chance of following the #dhsi2014 backchannel, given that new tweets popped up on it roughly every three and a half seconds, and in fact the TAGS spreadsheet keeping the twitter archive broke. So, because I couldn’t follow it completely, I dipped in and out. While I know I will have missed many things, I feel like I still got something of a decent sense of many of the most interesting conversations–the conversations about gender happening in #femdh, or Susan Brown’s wisdom about managing large and long-running projects in the #cwrcshop, for instance–which could then be followed up in meatspace by collaring friends who had been sitting in those classes. I do feel marginally less tapped out brain-wise than I have in previous years, so that’s a plus. DHSI is obviously not getting any smaller in the near future, so we’re all going to have to find other ways of filtering the backchannel.

7) Serendipity, which always happens at DHSI: it is like some kind of magic fairy dust that Ray arranges to have sprinkled around the campus. Discovering that the person standing behind me in the line at the Monday night reception was a topic modelling guru who graciously let me pull out my laptop so he could show me around a topic modelling tool with a nice GUI. Finding that Emily Robins-Sharpe also teaches transnational modernisms and swapping notes on texts we put on our syllabi. Giving a paper at the colloquium and getting tweets from people working on similar areas, and meeting afterwards to share resources.

8) Victoria and its serene beauty: the fir trees, the beach, deer grazing on the cluster lawn in the twilight, a faun trotting after its mother, a lone bunny hopping past a cluster house. #comebackbunnies

9) Meeting people, all the people, all the time. People who I have gotten to know virtually and whose work I have admired from afar - Scott Weingart, Paul Fyfe, Alex Gil - and whom it was a pleasure to finally meet in person and continue conversations that had already started online. People with whom there’s lots of common ground research-wise: Paul Barrett, for instance, who is doing some intriguing work on topic modelling the archive of Austin Clarke, and Alana Fletcher, who knows the Queen’s University archives like the back of her hand and who is, happily, willing to work on digitizing the Crawley materials. And of course picking up with everyone with whom the Atlantic ocean gets in the way of hanging out on an everyday basis: my excellent Twentieth-Century Literary Letters project collaborators; my fabulous housemates Hannah, Lee & Karis who have all three had wonderful professional successes since the last time we caught up, which make me happy to know them and to be associated with them through EMiC. Let me have a shot at doing this as a left join …

USE dhsiclub
SELECT firstname, lastname, “, “, role_name
FROM role, person_role, person, dhsi_attendees, dhsi_class
WHERE dhsi_class.class_id=dhsi_attendees.class_id, dhsi_attendees.person_id=person.person_id, person.person_id=person_role.person_id, person_role.role_id=role.role_id
AND dhsi_class.class_year=2014

10) Developing my thinking about the letter as cultural artefact, and about the work of transmission that it performs. Thinking beyond its existence within document culture (see, Harvey, I’m learning) and reimagining it within database culture, its magical power to connect not just people but places, texts and ideas comes to the fore. And tabulating those elements in a database enables us to query them, ie. relate them, in ways that we cannot if we look at them within document culture.

11) Finally, if I had to pick one overriding quality of DHSI, it would be generosity. I’ve had the privilege of participating in DHSI over the past six years because Dean was generous (farsighted? foolish?) enough to invite me, as an early-career scholar, to be a co-applicant on EMiC. The ramifications of this act of generosity will continue to ripple out for a long time for me, and I have a difficult time articulating how important my involvement in EMiC has been, especially as I write this at the end of a week in which all the words have gone because all the brain is full. Along with Dean’s generosity, there’s the generosity of other Canadian faculty and graduate students who have been welcoming to an interloper with a peculiar interest in the literature of their country. (“Why would anyone outside Canada want to study Can lit?” is the question that emerges, politely, sooner or later in most conversations. The answer, for the record, is: because awesome.)

EMiC colleagues, from the most eminent senior scholars to just-beginning graduate students, I can’t tell you how much your friendship and your intellectual company means to me, at DHSI and the other occasions when I’m fortunate enough to hang out with you physically, virtually, or on the page. Thank you all, and may we continue to be left joined connected for many years to come.

June 8, 2014

Tool Tutorial: Out-of-the Box Text Analysis

This year at DHSI — my third and perhaps last round of it — I took Out-of-the-Box Text Analysis for the Digital Humanities, taught by NYU’s David Hoover. This class deepened my understanding of the way digital tools can enhance traditional ways of reading and analyzing texts. Using the Intelligent Archive Interface (a text repository developed at NYU and downloadable at http://www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation/centre/education-arts/cllc/intelligent-archive), as well as Minitab, Microsoft Excel (with a number of additional macros from Hoover), and some basic TEI, we explored largely comparative ways of answering questions about authorship attribution, textual and authorial style, and meaning, based largely on word frequency. The results of these analyses were visualized using dendrograms, cluster graphs, and loading/score plots.

Here’s a walk-through of one of the basic methods we learned of creating and visualizing a comparative analysis of the most frequently-used words in different texts.

First, open the Intelligent Archive. In our class, we used a version populated with a number of plain-text novels, short stories, and poems edited by David Hoover. Go to “Text Sets” and either select an existing set of texts to compare, or create a new set. To create a new set out of new texts, go to the “Texts” tab, “Add New,” browse for your file(s), and add them to the repository. Give your new text set a title and add your new texts to it using the left-pointing arrow. Here, texts from 19th-century authors Stephen Crane and Robert Barr are being compared under the text set title “Barr vs Crane 55 texts.”
Once you have the text set ready for comparison, click on “Word Frequencies,” and choose the proper parameters for your comparison. Different selections provide slightly different results: the “BlockBigLast” selection divides the text into chunks and places any extra in one last large chunk. You can also select “Text Divisions” if you’ve marked divisions (ie. for chapters) in the plain text file you’re working on. Choosing “Text” will simply compare the entire texts against one another.  “Words Having Highest Frequency” is the selection for charting the most frequently-used words across the indicated chunks of text. Other possible selections are “Inclusion words” selections (sorted or unsorted): entering particular topical keywords that you’d like to track in the “Words to Include in Process” box includes only these keywords in the analysis. The output size is the number of most frequent words (or least frequency words, or words with highest hits [that is, words occurring in most sections of the text, but not most frequently overall]) you’ll be using. 1000 is the highest word count that can be used in Minitab. Finally, select “WordTypes” to make sure you’re analyzing words.
Once you’ve made your parameter indications, click OK. This will generate a text segment list, which displays the number and proportion of times the most frequent words occur in same-size chunks of each text.
Change the output type to “Show Proportions” (this gives you the percentage occurrence of word frequencies). Select all the data with the “Select all” button, and then click on “Copy to Clipboard.” Next, paste the segment output into a plain Excel spreadsheet, transpose it so that the texts run down the side and the words across the top; and run a find and replace to change any apostrophes to carats (apostrophe seem to throw things off).
Copy this transposed spreadsheet into Minitab.
In this new Minitab worksheet, go to “Stat” in the toolbar, choose “Multivariate,” and then “Cluster Observations.”
Under “Cluster Observations,” set the parameters to measure as many of the words as desired (words are listed down the left-hand side; these disappear once the range is selected). For example, c2-c991 captures the 1st to 990th most frequently used words. Select “Ward” as Linkage Method, “Squared Euclidean” as the Distance Measure, and click “Standardize Variables” and click “Show Dendrogram.” The cluster number should be appropriate to what is being compared; here, there are two authors being compared, so I’ve selected two major clusters.
Under “Customize,” give the dendrogram a title, and put in “word” as the case label. Here, the title indicates the measure of 990 most frequent words.
Click OK and OK again and the dendrogram appears. If desired, right-click on the titles along the bottom and go to “Edit X Scale” to make the font smaller, and change the alignment to 90 degrees for easier reading.

This dendrogram visualizes a comparison in which all the Barr texts group together in the blue cluster, while all the Crane texts groups together in the red cluster. This means that these two authors can be easily distinguished based on the most frequent 990 words they use.

In this example, a similar analysis of a number of texts by the Bronte sisters reveals that certain parts of their novels group with one another stylistically. The beginnings of their novels are especially similar — often, beginning sections are more similar in terms of word choice to other beginning sections of other novels than they are to the rest of the same novel.

I also used this tool to measure the most frequently-used words in approximately 30 randomly-selected letters George Whalley wrote to his family between 1927 and 1956. In this case, I created a plain text file of all the letters, divided into individual letters using simple TEI headings. I indicated in the text set dialog that I want these divisions to be compared by selecting “Text Divisions” under Segmentation Method and inputting the division type (I only used one type of division to divide each letter, so I chose div1).
Then I followed the steps of changing the text segment display mode to proportions, selecting it all and copying to clipboard, pasting into Excel, transposing, replacing apostrophes with carats, and copying and pasting into Minitab. I used the usual parameters for Cluster Observations display.

The resulting Whalley dendrogram shows that a certain period of letter-writing is definable as using words differently than the others. These are a group of letters later in Whalley’s life (letters 24 to 29 of 31); however, the two letters that follow these are grouped with earlier letters (letter 30 is most closely aligned with letter 1, surprisingly, and letter 31 aligns most closely with letter 19).

I’m not quite sure what, if anything, to conclude from this visualization. It seems to me that this particular tool can be useful in indicating differences in style that need to be explored further through more traditional methods like close reading and research into historical context – for example, maybe a particular project Whalley was working on in the 1950s made its way into a number of letters. The dendrogram/word frequency analysis doesn’t show us this, but could point us towards it (if we didn’t already recognize it through reading the letters).

I would most recommend a tool like this for exploring authorship attribution or for very preliminary exploration of how certain topical keywords are used across a body of work. David Hoover is extremely well-read and a wonderful instructor, and I would also recommend his class to anyone interested in that kind of work.

Another DHSI, another tool learned!

June 7, 2014

What Does Collaboration Mean?

This week I attended the CWRCShop course, “Online Collaborative Scholarship: Principles and Practices,” taught (collaboratively!) by Susan Brown with Mihaela Ilovan, Karyn Huenemann, and Michael Brundin of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory. Not only has the course further familiarized me with the various tools that CWRC (cwrc.ca) offers, but it’s also given me the opportunity to think deeply about what it means to work collaboratively. I’ve also been working collaboratively this past week: Kaarina Mikalson and Kevin Levangie, two scholars affiliated with “Canada and the Spanish Civil War: A Virtual Research Environment” (a project I co-direct with Bart Vautour), enrolled in the class too.

Clearly, collaboration is important to my work, and to so much of the work that those of us affiliated with EMiC and CWRC do. And yet, throughout our course discussions and demos—from credit visualization to CWRCWriter, from project structures to data curation, and much more—it has continually struck me how important it is to consider the affective side of collaboration. As Susan suggested at one point, to help collaborators work together (in person and at a distance), it’s integral to also spend time together socially. And it’s been awesome for me to get to SCW-nerd out with Kaarina and Kevin, from debating our favourite literary representations of Norman Bethune to giving a choral response to the question of when Canadians began to hold Canadian citizenship (say it with me—1947).

I want to end, then, by echoing Emily Ballantyne’s “Saying Goodbye” blog post (below), with gratitude for the ways in which EMiC and DHSI give us “a very clear and concrete understanding that my work does not exist in a vacuum, that my work is part of a larger whole that has an invested audience and means something to someone outside of my institution and outside of my own head.” I want to end, too, by throwing these questions out to the EMiC community: as we go forward, what does collaboration mean to you? How do you sustain your collaborative mojo when your collaborators are (sigh) far away? And what, to you, is the value of collaboration?

June 7, 2014

DHSI and the Never-Ending Learning Curve of the Digital Humanities

As I sat through a course on GIS this week, learning theories of cartography and the intricacies of software, perhaps my largest takeaway was a reaffirmation of how different a field the digital humanities really is. On Monday 24 students entered the room with wildly varied backgrounds and levels of experience. Some had never forayed into digital research before; others had been teaching DH courses for years. Regardless of their starting point, however, by Friday all had substantially increased their knowledge and some incredible historical and literary mapping projects were already underway. In combination, the universal success of these populations suggests a truth about the digital humanities: the bar to entry is comparatively low, but you are never done learning.

Even more than the end products of this course, the questions that arose throughout the week were indicative of this fact. Questions like: ‘what constitutes data?’, ‘can location names be pulled from a text file automatically?’, ‘how does a database work?’, ‘what are the options for incorporating multimedia into the interface?’, ‘how can I share my work online?’,  and ‘does imposing a literal geography change the source information?’.  This mix of theoretical and practical queries, the answers to which were largely beyond the scope of a one-week course, stress the need for collaboration and a continual advancement of skills, two core components of digital humanities research. We are in a field where there is already too much to know and technology is ever advancing; keeping up on what you should be learning and who can provide the skills you lack is vital to pursuing progressive research.

The importance of DHSI for supporting scholars in this way is fairly clear. Few of us are in a position to commit to a full-term course, even if we live near a university that has some, but a weeklong intensive is manageable. For many courses, including the GIS one I had the chance to take, it also means being taught by a genuine expert in their area. Perhaps most significant, though, is the scale of the event and the opportunities it offers to network with some 600 fellow students and instructors. These interactions foster cooperative projects and inspire new ideas that might otherwise never arise. For all these reasons this week has taught me just how fundamental DHSI is to digital humanities in Canada and beyond. I was thrilled to be a part of it, and hope that I can join the ranks of annual attendees.

June 6, 2014

Thoughts on the last DHSI

So this was my third DHSI;  I did the TEI Fundamentals, Digital Editions, and Out-of-the-Box courses here. The obvious thing that I’ve gotten out of these courses is knowledge about fields and scholars I may otherwise never have encountered. I think my own future applications of DH are more ambiguous than the tangible knowledge I’ve gotten out of these classes. It’s a good kind of unsteady footing, learning new ways of doing things I’ve already done or I may want to do. The past week was “word frequency analysis,” which was brand new to me. I was thinking about some of the things I might do with it, but in broad, loose ways—most of the work we did in class was on the traits of individual authors or characters in novels, etc. One thing that I’d been thinking about, though, was the traits of authors over the course of their careers; how, for instance, might the letters of an author in his 20s compare to the letters he wrote in his 70s?

The other thing I’d been thinking about this week builds on what Emily talked in her post re: community building. There is, of course, a really beautiful community we’ve built through DHSI in and outside of classes. But the other thing I’ll pull out of DHSI is being able to bring some of the things that allow communities to take shape back to my home institution. Many of the undergraduates and graduate students I’ve taught know little or nothing about DH or DHSI, and so to build into my teaching ways of making my students more aware of such things…that’s really valuable for them and for me. I’m planning on bringing some of what I’ve made in-class here to the Intro to Lit Studies course I’m teaching next fall, just to show first-year students what DH is and what it can do. I’d be really interested to hear how other people might fold their DH knowledge into undergraduate survey classes or other courses.

So, thanks EMiC, thanks DHSI, thanks sauntering deer (who, after many failed experiments, turned out not to like carrots). Going to miss you all.

June 6, 2014

Saying Goodbye

Endings are harder than beginnings.  No matter how worn out we feel at the end of a week of DHSI, we have carefully honed a new knowledge set, and in the process have become part of new networks that reinforce and extend our existing networks and the communities that they foster.  The end of DHSI this year is a special ending.  Not only is it the culmination, for me, of six years of apprenticeship in the digital humanities, but it is also a marker of an impressive amount of personal, intellectual and communal growth.  I can’t help but look back and see how far we have come individually and collectively since our first time here.

I am an affective writer, so I am compelled to write this one last post to acknowledge, but not fully express, the conflicting and overwhelming affective experience that has been DEMiC for me for the last six years.  It has been frustrating, exhausting and overwhelming.  It has been exhilarating, reassuring and empowering.  It has encapsulated so much pain, and so much hope.  There really are no words.

The thing that I can most decisively point to and hold onto at this important ending is the community that has grown out of this experience and has taken root.  I have strong faith that I know who ‘my people’ are and where to find them.  The sense of affiliation and devotion I feel to many of you does not have an end date.  It doesn’t have research allocations and it can’t be fully explicated on my CV under the general auspices of professionalization.  It is more clannish and less coherent.  I guess, it is, at the end of this experience, a very clear and concrete understanding that my work does not exist in a vacuum, that my work is part of a larger whole that has an invested audience and means something to someone outside of my institution and outside of my own head.  As a scholar, it also means that I also mean something to someone outside of my institution thanks to this community.  Our ground is fertile and it has produced much fruit.

At the end of this last DHSI, I just wanted to take one last opportunity to celebrate and mourn this wild journey we have undertaken.  Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this project and this community during a formative period in the lives of so many Canadian literary scholars.   Goodbye, DEMiC.  Goodbye, DHSI.

June 5, 2014

On Belonging

This post begins long before DHSI.

Last semester, I enrolled in a grad-level Project Design and Management course in another department. My classmates and instructor were super welcoming, and I got to work with the wonderful EMiC graduate fellow Andrea Johnston. But I was regularly asked some variation of this question: “Why are you here?” To be clear, this question was asked with respect and genuine interest. Nevertheless, it was a question that I found challenging. The experience was entirely new to me, and I struggled not only to complete the work and learn the concepts but also to justify this training to myself.

When I arrived at DHSI, the question was waiting for me. “Why are you here?” This time, I was fresh out of my first day of the CWRC-run course on Collaborative Online Scholarship, and I answered with an unexpected level of confidence and enthusiasm (read: a shameless brag). That first day of DHSI was enough to refuel me. I has already met a diversity of scholars with a broad range of projects. And though many introduced themselves with a sense of trepidation, it was immediately clear to me that regardless of discipline, experience, or skills, they all contributed to the fantastically generative and invigorating space that is DHSI. We may not all feel in our element, but this community is better and stronger with each of us in it.

DH has an openness about it that I aim to emulate. I do not want to be limited by my formal education, my professional experience or even by my own passions. I want to develop amid diverse communities, not in isolation. This world is terrifically unstable, and I do not just mean economically. I hope to meet the challenges it throws at me, and for now that means actively seeking out challenges

I could bring this down to a practical level in so many ways. I could talk about transferable skills, as Melissa Dalgleish and many others have usefully done. I could reflect on the incredible privilege of being here at DHSI, and I invite you to challenge me on this in whatever ways you can. I could talk about how much I have learned this week, how much EMiC, DH, and so many of you have taught me, and how exactly I will apply that knowledge and wisdom. But these are long and, hopefully, ongoing conversations.

For now, I want to dwell in the confidence that DHSI has so vitally instilled in me. I want to actively take responsibility for my scholarship, my labour, and my professional trajectory. So I return to the old question: Why am I here? Because I chose to be. And I chose well.

June 5, 2014

Visualizing the Landscape of Aboriginal Languages

I have spent the last few days in Scott Weingart’s class (scottbot.net) on Data, Math, Visualization, and Interpretation of Networks. We’ve been working on the basics of network analysis and learning some new lingo around networks and visualizations, such as nodes, vertexes, degrees, directed and undirected, weighted and unweighted edges. The tools we have being using, and the questions and discussions that have arisen in the class have been both practical and critical of the concept of network analysis, possible data bias, and semantic generalization. Nevertheless, we’ve forged on in our quest to create the most beautiful, eye-catching visualizations, and have I been able to see the possibilities in reading data differently through network visualization, and have a wider perspective on the concept of networks in general.

I came to the class without a particular project in mind, so once we started working on NodeXL, and I needed to insert data sets into the program, I sought out some data on the statscan site that I thought might be useful to interpret in relation to networks. I found some data related to Aboriginal languages in Canada from a study produced in 2011 and published in 2013: Aboriginal Languages in Canada. As the title of the table suggests, the data represents three main “nodes” – language, province, and concentration of population with regards to peoples with Aboriginal languages as a mother tongue. Although incomplete, the table does offer the possibility to map the data as a network across geopolitical borders to see where language groups could possibly meet at the edges. Here is the graph that was produced using the data from the survey:    


The main nodes on the graph are the different Aboriginal languages, and the provinces in which they can be found as of 2011. It is a directed graph, which simply means that the language nodes point to the different provinces to which they are connected by an arrow pointing in the direction of their presence. Some of the languages only point to one province, while others point to multiple provinces. The edges of the graph, the arrows themselves, indicate the population size of those that speak the language in relation to their concentration in the particular province to which the edge points. The graph offers a few possible readings, and a number of problems. It cannot really tell us anything about the historical relationship between the different languages because it is based on data compiled in 2011 about people living with a particular nation-state constructed through colonial practices. It tells us nothing about the linguistic  relationship between or amongst the various languages, although it is possible to see that the concentration of Cree and Algonquian-speaking peoples could possibly have linguistic similarities due to their proximity (which is true, but not expressed by the graph specifically).

What the graph does tell us, which might not be made clear simply by reading the data table, is that there are in fact three networks of Aboriginal languages as expressed in the data. The largest network stretches geographically from Quebec to Alberta to the Northwest Territories. On either side, we get two distinct networks of Aboriginal languages that are isolated along the Atlantic and the Pacific. It is possible to read this visualization of the data beyond the numbers – or at least ask some questions about what it is showing us. Why exactly do the coastal nations exist in isolated spaces? Is it possible to argue that coastal dwellers had different social practices that made them less likely to travel far from the coast, and thus have less interaction with other groups? Does the topography of the landscape have an effect on the fact that Northwest Coast First Nations languages do not cross over into Alberta as of 2011? Or is it simply that the data is insufficient, and we are only able to see how colonial practices produced these isolated networks of linguistic speakers through forced assimilation and the reservation system? I’d be interested to hear what anyone thinks about the visualization, and if there are others questions that could be asked by looking at the networks of Aboriginal languages in Canada. Happy DHSI to all!