Class on Fieldwork in Digital Humanities

January 14th, 2015

Advanced Topics in Research Methods, Methodologies, and Design: Field Study In Humanities Work
PhD seminar
Spring 2015
School of Information, University of Texas at Austin

In 2009, Christine Borgman asked “Where are the social studies of digital humanities?” More specifically, she inquired, “Why is no one following digital humanities scholars around to understand their practices, in the way that scientists have been studied for the last several decades?” Arguing that such research has significantly shaped scholarly infrastructure for the sciences as “a central component of cyberinfrastructure and eScience initiatives,” Borgman urged digital humanities to learn more about its own practices.

For this class, we will “follow around digital humanities scholars” from a range of backgrounds who function in a variety of roles within higher education, academic institutions. We will focus on “humanists” who are at work with the “digital” primarily because we are interested in the perspective of humanities scholars who find themselves working at the intersection of humanistic principles and the development of scholarly information infrastructures (defined by Borgman as “the technology, services, practices, and policy that support research in all disciplines”). While we understand that digital humanists do all kinds of work including administration, teaching, service, and writing (to name a few), this class will focus specifically on tasks and perspectives that are revealed in the process of project-based work. Digital humanities projects are often touted as the site of work that not only defines DH but also the site of work at which the development of information infrastructure has the most potential to be impacted by theoretical perspectives imbued in humanist critique and vice versa. Better articulating what kind of work infrastructure development entails is particularly illustrative for considering information work in digital humanities because it is a “research area where the interests of humanists, technology researchers, and others converge” (Borgman).

Specifically, this class will consider two essential topics in our findings: (1) the nature of the “information” work that “digital” humanists do; and (2) how we go about observing and studying such work to better understand ourselves. We will employ mixed methods approaches including topic modeling five years of “Day of DH” data as a glance into how DHers in general describe their work, interviewing approximately digital humanists on their daily DH practices and the values they attribute to these practices as well as observing “digital humanists at work.”
Johanna Drucker reminds us that “humanistic theory provides ways of thinking differently, otherwise, specific to the problems and precepts of interpretative knowing—partial, situated, enunciative, subjective, and performative” and that digital humanities is defined by its “emphasis on making, connecting, interpreting, and collaborating” (Drucker 2012). She notes that “[o]ur challenge is to take up these theoretical principles and engage them in the production of methods, ways of doing our work” (Drucker 2012). This class will teach students how to provide a snapshot of these ways and how to consider how and if these theories and methods are reflected in the quotidian practices of the digital humanist.

I owe many thanks to others for the formulation of this syllabus. First, it has been heavily influenced by Dr. Diane Bailey’s Spring 2013 class 391E Advanced Topics in Information Studies: Ethnography as well as by the many conversations concerning studies of work that have been facilitated by the Information Work Research Group (funded by IMLS) at UT Austin. Thanks also to Johanna Drucker and Alan Liu and whose advice and research have been fundamental to its inspiration and its development. Finally, thank you to Daniel Carter, Julia Flanders, Matt Burton, Trevor Munoz, and Elli Mylonas for their collegiality in thinking through some of these topics in the context of Digital Humanities.

HiPSTAS Meeting Agenda Announced

May 23rd, 2014

I’m very excited to announce the May 2014 HiPSTAS meeting program with a wonderful program of scholars speaking about using machine learning and visualization for the access and analysis of sound collections in the humanities.


March 10th, 2013

At SXSW, I’ll be talking about HiPSTAS.

Announcing High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship (HiPSTAS)

August 9th, 2012

In August 2010, the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress issued a report titled The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age. This report suggests that if scholars and students do not use sound archives, our cultural heritage institutions will not preserve them. Librarians and archivists need to know what scholars and students want to do with sound artifacts in order to make these collections more accessible; as well, scholars and students need to know what kinds of analysis are possible in an age of large, freely available collections and advanced computational analysis. To this end, the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin and the Illinois Informatics Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have received an NEH Institutes in Advanced Technologies in the Digital Humanities grant to host two rounds of an NEH Institute on High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship (HiPSTAS). Humanists interested in sound scholarship, stewards of sound collections, and computer scientists and technologists versed in computational analytics and visualizations of sound will develop more productive tools for advancing scholarship in spoken text audio if they learn together about current practices, if together they create new scholarship, and if they consider the needs, resources, and possibilities of developing a digital infrastructure for the study of sound together.

HiPSTAS Participants will include 20 humanities junior and senior faculty and advanced graduate students as well as librarians and archivists from across the U.S. interested in research in the spoken word within audio collections. The collections we will make available for participants include poetry from PennSound at the University of Pennsylvania, folklore from the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin, speeches from the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Presidential Museum in Austin, and storytelling from the Native American Projects (NAP) at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. Sound archivists from UT at Austin, computer scientists and technology developers from I3 at Illinois, and representatives from each of the participating collections will come together for the HiPSTAS Institute to discuss the collections, the work that researchers already do with audio cultural artifacts, and the work HiPSTAS participants can do with advanced computational analysis of sounds.

At the first four-day meeting (“A-Side”), held at the iSchool at UT in May 2013, participants will be introduced to essential issues that archivists, librarians, humanities scholars, and computer scientists and technologists face in understanding the nature of digital sound scholarship and the possibilities of building an infrastructure for enabling such scholarship. At this first meeting, participants will be introduced to advanced computational analytics such as clustering, classification, and visualizations. They will develop use cases for a year-long project in which they use advanced technologies to augment their research on sound. In the interim year, participants will meet virtually with the Institute Co-PI’s (Clement, Auvil, and Tcheng) and report periodically on their use cases and ongoing research within the developing environment. In the second year, the participants would return to the HiPSTAS institute for a two-day symposium (the “B-Side” meeting) at which they would report on their year of research. In this second event, the participants will present scholarship based on these new modes of inquiry and critique the tools and approaches they have tried during the development year. This second meeting will end with a daylong session in which the group drafts recommendations for implementing HiPSTAS as an open-source, freely available suite of tools for supporting scholarship on audio files.

Joint Degrees in Library and Information Science and English, History, and Arts

July 18th, 2012

In the fields of Library Science and Information Studies, there is a tradition of teaching students about the History of the Book (about the production and legacy of the book as a physical artifact) and about work in Archives and Special Collections that include humanities resources. While these classes, which are often cross-listed with classes in English and History departments, proliferate in library and information schools, they have not spawned many joint degrees that coordinate studies in the humanities with the information fields.

Written in part in response to the panel Digital Humanities as a university degree: The status quo and beyond dh2012, this post gives a brief look at the state of the field in the United States and Canada in terms of joint degrees offered for Library and Information Science and Humanities fields, specifically Art, English, and History. For a little background on recent discussions of DH Degrees in undergraduate and graduate programs, go to “Is there a list anywhere of all the graduate programs that study dh? (including my post on Digital Humanities Inflected Undergraduate Programs).

I wrote this post from a somewhat unique perspective, during an attempt to instantiate a joint degree in English (MA) and Information Science (MSIS) at the University of Texas at Austin. The reasons in particular that I am invested in establishing a degreed program (rather than a certificate or simply a concentration of study) is well-described in our proposal to UT that places this kind of credentialling within the areas of practice and study that prevail in digital humanities. Specifically:

Graduates will emerge from this program with a richer education experience than they would receive through one of the two degrees or the two individual degrees: (1) professional skill that will qualify them to work as information specialists in important cultural repositories such as archives, museums, governmental and non-profit organizations, preservation and conservation laboratories, and academic, public and school libraries, and (2) a high level of specialized research competency that will serve them well in their future careers as information professionals and/or academics. Students with professional ambitions in information organization, digital humanities, database design, usability, information policy, preservation, the cultural status of information and communication technologies, and information architecture are particularly invited to pursue the dual degree.

The proposed program will encourage and provide formal structures for faculty, students, and staff of the two academic units to collaborate on research projects that will apply the study of English Literature and Language to the field of Information Studies, or vice versa, in creative and challenging ways . . .

Below is a list of programs that have existing degrees [This list was originally culled from the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). ] These are in the U.S. and Canada. Please add more!

The School of Library and Information Science,
54 hours

School of Information Science & Policy,
M.A. / M.L.S.

UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA, Office of Interdisciplinary Studies
Humanities Computing and Library and Information Studies.
3-year MA/MLIS

Graduate School of Library and Information Studies
MA/MLIS 36-credit MLIS program and the 30-credit program for the MA in English.

School of Libary and Information Science, English M.A. (28 Hours) / M.L.I.S. (27 Hours)

School of Information Studies
MLIS/MA English: 51 credits, of which 21 credits must be in English.


School of Information and Library Science
Degrees offered: MLS, Dual degree MS (LIS)/MA (Art History), Dual degree MS (LIS)/MFA (Digital Arts)
60 credits

Graduate School of Library and Information Studies
Degrees offered: MLIS, Ph.D.; MFA Program in Book Arts.

School of Library and Information Science
Degrees Offered: MA in Library & Information Science (LIS) and a joint MA LIS degree with a Certificate in Book Studies



Graduate School of Library and Information Science
Degrees offered: MLIS; MLIS/MA in Public History in cooperation with Loyola University.

Graduate School of Library and Information Science
Degrees offered: MS, Doctor of Arts in Library Management, concentrated programs in Archives Management, Preservation, and school Library Media. Dual degree programs in Archives/History and School Library and MAT. PhD in Library and Information Science.

Department of Information Studies
Degrees offered: MLIS (specializations areas: Library Studies, Archival Studies, and Informatics); Post-Master’s Certificate of Specialization; Ph.D. in Information Studies (several areas of specialization, including Information as Evidence); M.A. in Moving Image Archive Studies (inter-departmental program between the Department of Information Studies, the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media and the UCLA Film Archive).  Also joint MLIS/MA degrees in History and Latin American Studies and a joint MLIS/MBA.

College of Information Studies
Degrees offered: Master of Library Science(MLS), MLS/MA(History), Master of Information Management, Doctor of Philosophy.

School of Library and Information Studies
MLIS/MA History of Science

Graduate School of Library and Information Studies
MA/MLIS 36-credit MLIS program and the 30-credit program for the MA in History.

School of Library and Information Science
Degrees offered: MLIS, Certificate of Graduate Study in Library and Information Science, Specialist in Library and Information Science, joint Masters program with Applied History, joint Masters program with English.

School of Library and Information Science
Degrees offered: MLIS; School Library Certification; Specialist in Library and Information Science; Dual masters’ degrees with Anthropology, History, and Political Science


Library and Information Science Program
Degrees offered: MLIS; Specialist Certificate in Library and Information Science; Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration; Graduate Certificate in Information Management; Graduate Certificate in Records and Information Management; Joint MLIS and MA in History; Michigan School Library Media Specialist endorsement.


I am a woman and I am a mother and I do DH

March 27th, 2012

Day of DH 2012 warrants an introduction to my new blog at Hello (again) world.

And I want to introduce this new blog with a post about why I don’t blog and why I don’t tweet and what that has to do, in the wake of Miriam Posner’s post, with my being a woman and a mother.

That said, I do blog and I do tweet. But I don’t like it and I force myself to do it out of a sense of DH obligation. I’ve been blogging since 2003 (on and off), mostly with a fine bunch of folks over at WordHerders including Lisa Rhody, Chuck Tyron, George Williams, Jason Jones, Kari Kraus, Jason Rhody, and Matt Kirschenbaum (among others). Many of these folks were friends (are friends) before they (and I) were followers. And it’s appropriate to salute them and all of the other people with whom I’ve fostered feet-on-the-ground relationships over the last (oh geez) thirteen years I’ve been involved with DH (before it was called DH) because flesh and blood is what has me hooked to the humanities. My DH trajectory began before I was married, before I had kids, before I returned to get a PhD or get that tenure track job, the day I walked into IATH at UVA in 1999 for a 10-hour-a-week GA-ship to do data entry. My first days in DH boded well. Even though I was lowest woman on the totem pole, I distinctly remember sitting at a meeting at a table shoved in a crowded corner of the IATH cubicle suite with John Unsworth, Worthy Martin, and Steve Ramsay and listening in as they talked about what I would now say is my branded area of interest forever more: scholarly information infrastructure development.  I was hooked: not only by the prospects of such interesting work, but by the thought of working with (dare I say) some of the nicest and smartest and most generous (woman, they are generous), academics I have still ever yet to meet.

I write about these flesh and blood friends (and there are so many others, many of the Women in DH–Martha Nell Smith, Susan Schreibman, Bethany Nowviskie, Julie Meloni, Rachel Donahue, Kari Kraus) because these friends and supporters, are and have been the best part of this wild ride into academia for me as a woman and a mother. There are more but to go on would be name-dropping ridiculousness and I can’t possibly thank them all for their support in my struggle to do DH. I write about them more specifically because they are and have been flesh and blood friends I value. My problem is that I realize that I am supposed to be garnering some sort of online following–”eye balls” as we used to call it in the 1990s and early 2000′s–for the sake of, ultimately I guess, getting tenure. And I hate that shit. This is why I write this post on the Day of DH in the year I get my “dream” job and all of my babies are out of diapers (and HEALTHY) and I live in a place I really like.

I am a woman and I am a mother and I do DH and I start with talking about my flesh and blood friends and mentors because I want to say it loud: I hate blogging and I hate tweeting. And I feel, in the wake of Miriam Posner’s post, that I want to say why and what that has to do with DH and my being a woman and a mother.

So, a little bit about me personally: I was always good at school, especially math and English, but I went to public high school in Florida and I was the only girl in my advanced math classes and I was the only girl of my friends (ok they were party girls, but I still love party girls; yeah Madonna) who wore the honors metals and took A.P. classes and I was mocked and ridiculed and embarrassed when I got into Harvard. You? They said. Luckily, when I got there I realized there were more and different people in the world and that Florida was a kind of an odd place to grow up (as the current news will show). BUT, the point is, I slunk around as an adolescent trying to make sure no one looked at me, no one noticed that I was smart and “had thoughts” and apparently, was “going places.” Because I had no real model of a smart strong woman who did smart strong things and was proud of it, everything I’ve ever done I figured out myself and I thank from the bottom of my heart the female and male friends I’ve found who have served as awesome examples and have encouraged me in ALL my life choices. BUT, I’ve dreaded (even yesterday) every class and every talk I have ever given for fear that someone will find out all of the ways in which my identifications as a woman, a friend, a mother, and as a DH academic do not follow the way everyone else who has identified themselves as such might define those same identities. Ok. So what? So, that’s the hint of a background (oh there’s so much more) about growing up as a girl who had to figure out (as most of us do) that being different, smart, vocal, obstinate is nothing to be ashamed of. The work in it is that you can’t ever stop reminding yourself of it. Tell a person they’re not worthwhile long enough and it’s hard for them not to believe it.

Which leads me to tell you about a few experiences being a mother in academia and in DH. I made my choices. I had those babies. I know how they’re made– I love them. I cherish them. And they are, in many ways, my closest and dearest friends. BUT I will also tell you that it I have the same feeling of “embarrassment” at the audacity of being a mother of three in academia that I had as a smart girl in high school.  There are a few men have as many children or fewer or are nice and supportive about it. There are a few women who are insanely perfect role models (Nowviskie!), but there are other DH scholars who are blatant mommy bigots: I have been told by a well-esteemed and long-time DH male scholar: “You shouldn’t go on the tenure track because you have young children at home”; I have been told by a woman in a well-esteemed DH group from a long-time DH center that a job for which I was applying “was not the kind of job where you can go home at night and kiss your kids to sleep”. I was told by another DH male when discussing my dismay at the job market and the difficulty of finding an academic position in a place that would not only work for educating and raising my brood but would also work for my partner’s career that his “wife had a job too” which was to take care of their kids (and if you don’t know why that’s a pissy response I’m not the gal to inform you). Clearly, I am still angry about those comments and I hesitate to bring them up now because these are not bad people (which honestly makes it worse because if they were bigotted in any other way, they would be considered bad people!). You? They said. To be sure, I am in a job that I like and I have made these choices and will (perhaps) have to face the consequences if, because I have made these choices, my kids are all hoodlums and/or I don’t get tenure as a DH scholar because (and I’ll get to this in a minute) I don’t “make the time” to blog and I don’t tweet.

So, here’s why I don’t blog and I don’t tweet. I’ll say it: sometimes it’s too out there for me. That’s not how I was raised to behave as a girl. I’m out there when I give talks but these are prepared. I’m out there when I teach but these are flesh and blood people who have a responsibility to respect the community we are building in the classroom. Further, the fast back-and-forth of tweeting isn’t for everyone, for those of us who are inherently convinced that we have to be more careful about what we say. Is that “care” a woman’s thing? I don’t know, but I know it’s this woman’s thing. Honestly, in tweeting and blogging, I struggle against the feeling every day that I should be nice and keep my thoughts to myself because what I have to say doesn’t really matter any way. BTW: I’m not asking for you to tell me I’m important and that my blog and tweets matter (with a little pat on the head). I’m just telling you what goes on this woman’s head. Finally, I don’t blog and I don’t tweet, because I’m a mom. I have all kinds of little shit I have to do from 5:30 in the morning before I go to work to 9:30 at night when I pass out. I don’t go to lunch. I don’t drop by colleagues’ offices. I don’t go to happy hours. Oh yeah, because my “job” is to take care of my three kids too. It’s also their father’s “job,” in our house at least. But, it’s true that even with the kindest and most gentlest of partners, Mommy often takes on the lion’s share of the little things even when it’s figuring who the hell is going to take care of the little buggers (what will they eat, where will they go, what will they do, what will they wear) when mommy is doing DH.

Sounding Stein’s Texts by Using Digital Tools for Distant Listening

January 12th, 2012

[this is the MLA2012 talk I gave as part of the Gertrude Stein and Music panel arranged by the Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relations and the Association for the Study of Dada and Surrealism. Presiding: Jeff Dailey, Five Towns Coll.]

At a time when modernist writers were concerned with the extent to which medium played a direct role in characterizing the inward self, and technological innovations and new media comprised, more and more, a larger part of their means for communicating their sense of their ambiguated selves, music seemed like a medium for expression that represented an essential abstraction or expression of the inner self, unmediated. “All art constantly aspires to the condition of music,” Walter Pater wrote in 1873 (86).

In particular, Gertrude Stein’s texts provide an opportunity to question some of these assumptions about meaning making with music and text and technology. A common remark made by readers is that Stein’s texts makes more sense—are “clarified” or more “concrete” or less abstract—when set to music or computed. Scholars argue that both musical and computational interventions provide for a more comprehensible reading of the text, an expression of something inherent to the text that was otherwise obscured in a more traditional reading. For me, a question remains: what do these two interventions (both musical and computational) have in common and what can this activity of computationally or aurally altering Steinian texts tell us about the nature of reading or interpreting literary texts with digital tools in general?

What computational and musical renditions tell us about the nature of interpreting literary texts

At first glance, it seems that there are conflicting effects: setting a Steinian text to music heightens its emotional aesthetics while computing them flattens them out. For example, Virgil Thomson composed the score for Stein’s opera “Four Saints in Three Acts”, which opened on Broadway in 1934. In the introduction to the libretto published later, Carl Van Vechten wrote that the music was a “[p]erfect complement to the finely singable text which it always enhances and never obscures. The music is as transparent to color as the finest old stained glass and has no muddy passages” (Van Vechten 6).

Brad Bucknell goes further, saying that Thomson’s music does more than complement the meaning of Stein’s text; it is the space in which meaning making happens: “Indeed, somberness, spirituality, gayness, and so forth, are really, if present at all, made so by the conventional image repertoire created by the music. The language itself will never completely concretize anything, as we have seen” (211). Kenneth Goldsmith has a similar response to Gregory Laynor’s 2008 recording of Stein’s The Making of Americans (1925) in which Laynor reads and then starts to sing the text on page 135: “It is numbing; it’s repetitive; it’s really boring,” Goldsmith says of Laynor’s initial reading, but then he notes, “and so what happens by page 135 is that Mr. Laynor becomes interpretive and expressive and he begins singing The Making of Americans” (4:12-4:44). For Goldsmith, the text is inexpressive or “numbing”—it inhibits the production of meaning—but the singing is “expressive” and “interpretive”—it gives a sense of narrative and knowledge production to the text. As Wendy Salkind says of her theater students who were confused by a Stein text and began reading it out loud: “they turned it into a square dance or a waltz. They started clapping it out” (Personal interview). In each of these cases, music can bring context or a story with it.

This attempt to disambiguate the meaning of the text by setting it to music is similar to attempts to read Stein computationally. Edith Thacher Hurd, the wife of Clement Hurd, who illustrated many printings of Stein’s children’s book The World is Round describes this book as a text that is best read within a culture that is enmeshed in advanced technologies and new media. In a companion essay first printed in the 1986 edition, she considers the book’s limited success after its first and second printings with Young Scott Books in 1939 and 1966 to its increased popularity after its 1986 Arion Press edition:

The core of meaning in the round songs and the rhyming prose is more comprehensible than it was when the book was first published. Perhaps the electronic age, the age of television and the computer, has enabled us to move along the lines of thought with a speed of cognition that can keep up the swift pace of this expatriate genius (Hurd 158).

Kenneth Goldsmith describes composer Warren Burt’s rendition of “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene”, which is read aloud by computer voices, as indicative of the “true nature of the structure and the form of Gertrude Stein’s repetitious texts;” Burt, Goldsmith says, has successfully “tak[en] the emotion out of Gertrude Stein’s voice and presentation” (emphasis added). Like Hurd, Goldsmith thinks that Stein’s texts are more understandable within the context of computers since “this was a type of repetition that people weren’t accustomed to in the early part of the century,” but “transposed to the computer voices that we’re so accustomed to today, Gertrude Stein’s text makes absolute sense; it’s a sort of emotional flattening, freeing up of the text to become self-sufficient.” Goldsmith consistently praises computationally composed renditions as more “natural” and “self-sufficient” (i.e., understandable) texts because they are “emotionally flattened” much as Bucknell heralds the musically inspired Steinian versions as emotionally inspiring. In either case, the text’s meaning making potential is heightened by these interventions.

Linda Dusman and Wendy Salkind recently composed a performance of Stein’s story “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” that exemplifies the process through which a composer can use both computational means and musical systems to “sound out” or read the text. In an interview, Dusman admits that they chose Stein’s story because they “fell in love with abstraction” and “to read it out loud suddenly it all made sense — the rhythm,” but Dusman, also perceived that there was a system in place in the composition of the text that was making sense to her: “I needed to be true to the text,” she says, “Stein is so rhythmical so I used just percussion . . . used dead strokes . . .not flowery” (Personal interview). Because she believed that Stein had a compositional system, Dusman’s process of setting Stein’s story to music became a systematic translation in which she transposed the sounds into numbers for graphing:

Red is the “a” sound, blue is the “th” sound . . . green is the “e” sound . . . I did it by sentence . . . I looked at the average for blue, for the “th” sound across the entire piece . . . it goes further and further away from the average. So there’s a kind of rhythm there for the average number and for the “a” sound the average is a little higher. But they all come together in the middle . . . which is the longest and most complicated paragraph . . . that big paragraph 12 . . . “the dark heavy men” . . . [Stein] totally changes at that point, everything changes . . . and then there’s this kind of fight that goes on with “a” and “e” get very close here . . . and the “th” and the “e” get very close, but eventually the “e” sound takes over here . . . and that “e” brightness was why towards the end of the piece they’re all only symbol sounds, shiny, shimmery kinds of sounds so that I kind of reflected that transformation so I turned that into a musical score . . . the “th” sound was a muted tom-tom; the “ing” sound was a medium gong; flexatone was the word “pleasant”; and then when she used the word “voice,” I used a high timpani bend; the “e” sound is a high piece of metal; and then Furr is a low wood block and Skeene is a high wood block. (Personal interview)

Linda Dusman's Graph of MIss Furr and Miss Skeene by Gertrude Stein

This is not to say that musical composition (as well as computing) isn’t another level of abstraction. When asked if she wanted to make the sounds correspond exactly to the text, Dusman admitted, “I didn’t want to be that obvious about it, and that would have been too cluttered so I did a kind of averaging . . . sometimes it lined up with her voice and sometimes it didn’t line up with her voice.” Dusman uses a mixture of mathematical terms such as “averaging” and specific musical instruments to correspond with particular sounds such as “th” or words such as “pleasant” as well as the characters Miss Furr and Miss Skeene but she also refers to elements of music that are more abstract: “I wanted,” she says about matching the text with sounds, for “it to sometimes be spot on and sometimes just be like an aura . . . there would be kind of like a spatialization or a sound world that would be created for each paragraph so you’d hear the changes from paragraph to paragraph and you’d hear the changes across the course of it but it wouldn’t be really obvious . . .” It is in this space that the concrete and abstract natures of the textual, the musical, and the computational become so inextricably mixed. Just as juxtaposing words can create multi-layered meanings, mixing musical notes can create auras; as well, computing or quantifying textual features creates a space in which to discover questions.

What computational and musical renditions tell us about the nature of representing literary texts

Dusman’s example shows us that it is at the moment of performance that we come to understand the relationship between the text and musical adaptations of it. In the digital humanities, we access data, most regularly, as a visualization on a computer screen. Likewise, composers visualize their compositions in musical scores. Arguably, it is at the moment at which the image of the text—whether it is in paragraphs on the typographical or manuscript page or in musical staffs or bar graphs—interfaces with the reader that the space of interpretive activity happens. The musical score is understood as an attempt to represent complex relationships such as the co-occurrence of multiple elements across time and space: it is meant to be played, to be spatialized in time and embodied by voices. I am arguing that the same is true of computational visualizations of text. They are meant to be played or performed.

To demonstrate this point, I will briefly perform a computationally adapted reading of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans for you.

The first tool to discuss is Audacity, which is a free, open-source tool that allows a reader to create waveforms and spectrograms with audio files. What I have visualized in the first example is three waveforms of three readings (one per line) of the same three sections of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans.

Waveform created with Audacity of three readings (by OpenMary, Gertrude Stein, and Gergory Laynor) from Gertrude Stein's <em>The Making of Americans</em> ” /><br />
Waveform created with Audacity of three readings (by OpenMary, Gertrude Stein, and Gergory Laynor) from Gertrude Stein’s <em>The Making of Americans</em></p>
<p>I created the first reading represented in the first line using <a href=OpenMary (Modular Architecture for Research on speech sYnthesis), an open-source text-to-speech system that “reads” texts (creates audio files) with a computer-generated, female-gendered, American dialect. The second reading, in line two, is by Gertrude Stein who originally recorded this reading in 1934 The third reading in line three is by Gregory Laynor who, as mentioned previously, created his reading of The Making of Americans in 2008. At first glance, this is an interesting visualization, because the change in the visualization (represented by the vertical line in the center of each reading) is the point at which there is also a change in the format of the reading, a break between a more traditionally narrative in which Stein is telling the story of a man and his son and their discovery that pinning butterflies is cruel and the last part of the reading in which Stein uses repetition heavily. Here are two representative sentences from Part B and Part C:

Part B:
One of such of these kind of them had a little boy and this one, the little son wanted to make a collection of butterflies and beetles and it was all exciting to him and it was all arranged then and then the father said to the son you are certain this is not a cruel thing that you are wanting to be doing, killing things to make collections of them, and the son was very disturbed then and they talked about it together the two of them and more and more they talked about it then and then at last the boy was convinced it was a cruel thing and he said he would not do it and his father said the little boy was a noble boy to give up pleasure when it was a cruel one.

Part C:
Any family living going on existing is going on and every one can come to be a dead one and there are then not any more living in that family living and that family is not then existing if there are not then any more having come to be living. Any family living is existing if there are some more being living when very many have come to be dead ones.

One reading of Figure 1 is that this is a visualization of Goldsmith’s point that computer voices bring Stein’s “tropes of repetition to a computer inspired level” of intensity. Indeed, in this figure, we see that the computer voice is more dynamic (higher peaks and lower valleys) when it comes to the repetitious section whereas the human voices (of Stein and Laynor) seem flattened in comparison to the previous part. While this is an exciting hypothesis, the visualization is misleading: a waveform simply identifies volume and tempo. In fact, Charles Bernstein makes the claim that waveforms can only identify part of what makes poetry audio files interesting. “There are four features or vocal gestures, that are available on tape but not page that are of special significance for poetry,” he writes; these include: “the cluster of rhythm and tempo (including word duration), the cluster of pitch and intonation (including amplitude), timbre, and accent” (126). Considering that waveforms only show the first two, it would be a stretch to argue that that amplification makes anything more intense or “inspired.”

The second visualization is a spectrogram created within Audacity of the same readings and the third is a close-up of the same spectrogram on the words “ . . . some such thing. Family living . . .”
Second Viz
Spectogram created with Audacity of three readings (by OpenMary, Gertrude Stein, and Gergory Laynor) from Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans
Third viz
Spectogram created with Audacity of the line “. . . some such thing. Family living . . .” (by OpenMary, Gertrude Stein, and Gergory Laynor) from Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans

Unlike a waveform, a spectrogram shows the information necessary to plot prosody features that include timbre and accent, features to which Bernstein and others have attributed meaning making properties. While the spectrogram does not show the same changes that the waveform indicates in Figure 1, the spectrograms shows the subtle differences that close reading phrases has always shown, but in this case, we can see how loudness or amplification changes or corresponds to different frequencies. After enough experience viewing spectograms a reader can start to imagine what the image sounds like. For example, one can see in this figure that the consonants and vowels look completely different. The consonants are red floating clouds, while the vowels are bright white spots. Like Stein, the reader can suddenly “hear more pleasantly with the eyes than the ears” (Autobiography 90) and see sound and the relationship between color and sound.

While Audacity is a powerful tool that can be used to demonstrate features of text that can be visualized, the problem with audacity is that it is a visualization of “data” or “given” information rather than what Johanna Drucker calls “capta” or “taken” information. In the digital humanities, we strive to model data and create tools and analyses that help us analyze this data based on our ideas concerning the hermeneutics and interpretive activities with which we are concerned. In this sense, the data is not “given” but rather consciously constructed as a means for reading according to our understandings of how interpretive activity happens. For example, ProseVis, a visualization tool we developed to allow a reader to map the features extracted from OpenMary to the words in context. Research has shown us that mapping the data to the text in its original form allows for the kind of human reading that literary scholars engage: words in the context of phrases, sentences, lines, stanzas, and paragraphs (Clement 2008). Recreating the context of the page not only allows for the simultaneous consideration of multiple representations of knowledge or readings (since every reader’s perspective on the context will be different) but it also allows for a more transparent view of the underlying data. This data is more “capta” than “given” in the sense that we had to define sound, much like a composer who must choose the key in which she composes, the chords, the length of a sound and its amplification depending on her understanding of what that musical movement portrays. Likewise, developing a tool in the digital humanities means choosing the textual features (whether they be parts-of-speech or sentimental phrases) that we believe make meaning; it means choosing the analytics that facilitate the kinds of interpretive activities we have defined as important as a community; it means creating a space in which the aura of interpretive activity takes place for the reader. For example, in using OpenMary data to capture features of aurality, we are defining sound as the pre-speech potential of sound as it is signified within the structure and syntax of text. Charles Bernstein calls “aurality” the “sounding of the writing” while “orality” has an “emphasis on breath, voice, and speech . . .Aurality precedes orality, just as language precedes speech” (Bernstein 1998, 13). In this way, we are gauging the reading of one imperfect speaker with ProseVis: the computer. That is, in this project we are using the OpenMary text-to-speech system to create a text-based surrogate of sound. It is a choice based on certain research and theoretical models. OpenMary’s rule set or algorithm for generating audio files is based on the research of both linguists and computer scientists. As a result, OpenMary captures information about the structure of the text (features) that make it possible for a computer to read and create speech that is comprehensible to readers of multiple languages. At the same time, using the OpenMary system to create our sound surrogates allows us to represent the aurality of sound or the potential of sound as a “best guess.” Dwight Bolinger writes “in the total absence of all phonological and visual cues, the psychological tendency to impose an accent is so strong that it will be done as a ‘best guess’ from the syntax” (Bolinger 1986, 17). In other words, when we encounter a written word, we make “best guesses” based on the possibilities of sound that are represented by the structural features of a word within its syntactical context. In this project, the OpenMary system also makes a best guess based on the structure of the text. The OpenMary XML output represents potential sounds since the utterance never happens. In other words, we are not using the resulting audio file as the source for our data; we are using the XML transcription that OpenMary produces as a best guess in the process of creating the audio file. We have chosen the framework for the data—as such, the data is “capta”—and we have developed the interface to facilitate its exploration.

Fourth viz
The Making of Americans excerpt in ProseVis showing full sounds and accent data

Fifth viz
Excerpt from The Making of Americans showing vowel sounds

In thinking about what a digital humanities tool like ProseVis is showing, it is perhaps more useful to think of computational representations like musical scores: they allude to the “aura” or to the spatialization or embodied nature of the interpretive act. Visualizations are not the end product. Tsur notes that the sounds comprising Baudelaire’s poetry “are perceived and compared to each other; the reader, however, cannot focus his awareness on any of these strings because his attentive perception has been distracted from one string by another, so that a network of highly significant sounds has been generated in rich effects, but only semiconsciously perceived” (58). Tsur asserts that this act of perceiving the minute patterns without consciously rendering them into “information” (rather than noise) lets the reader perceive those larger structures across Shakespeare’s poetry: “Then the sensuous opposition solid flesh ~ resolve into dew is subliminally reinforced on the phonological level of non-referential sound patterns, where a more differentiated phonological system is perceived as dissolving into a less differential one” (Tsur 61). Computational representations, at heart, are as inexact at representing the reading, interpretive, or meaning-making act as a musical score is in representing an opera: they represent a means for starting to read, for putting on the interpretive performance. In the case of ProseVis, for example, Figure 4 and Figure 5 represent a look at larger structures, to see which vowel patterns happen within the context of what phrases, but the subtleties here show that the data is similar to the same data that we have seen in Figure 3. In the below example we see lines taken from Figure 4 and Figure 5 that show the line “ . . . some such thing. Family living . . .” The first example shows (like Figure 3) that OpenMary does not place emphasis on “some” while “th” and “ing” are both emphasized. If we look at vowel sounds, we see in Figure 5 that “some” and “such” have a similar vowel sound as does “come” and “one”.

Sixth viz
The Making of Americans excerpt in ProseVis showing full sounds and accent data

Seventh viz
Excerpt from The Making of Americans in ProseVis showing vowel sounds

Understanding the underlying data as “capta” and given the opportunity to toggle back and forth between these various representations provides for the interpretive space (the performance space) in which scholars can consider all the manners in which a text makes meaning with sound.


Literary texts can be discrete objects as well as complicated and multi-leveled systems. Rendering the richness of a text is usually seen as the point of musical and digital interventions that often result in seemingly flat, two-dimensional visualizations, but, as I have indicated, I would like to also pose the hypothesis that it is the provocation to performance and thus the discovery of the larger structures that is the main point of these interventions. In “The World is Round,” Stein alludes toward the relationship between text, sound, and the performance space of reading that helps us understand how computational and musical adaptations are useful for reading her texts:

The teachers taught her
That the word was round
That the sun was round
And that they were all going around and around
And not a sound.
It was so sad it almost made her cry
But then she did not believe it
Because mountains were so high,
And so she thought she had better sing
And than a dreadful thing was happening
She remembered when she had been young
That one day she had sung,
And there was a looking-glass in front of her
And as she sang her mouth was round and was going
around and around.

Like the little girl who suddenly understands her position (her scary responsibility) in the universe, as the agent of not only the sound making but the meaning making, Van Dyke realizes the awesome responsibility that a computational reckoning of a Steinian text entails: “To rectify the noise in each sentence,” she writes, “as I have done for the first three paragraphs, would render Lucy Church Amiably so rich in information as to be incomprehensible, unless larger structures could be found” (186). Likewise, I have written about “distant-reading” Stein’s The Making of Americans using digital tools (Clement 2008). These interventions show us that many Steinian texts require that we pose as performers who are making meaning by any means that allows us to see the larger structures we need in order to make sense.

Works cited
Bernstein, Charles. Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions. University Of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.
Bucknell, Brad. Literary modernism and musical aesthetics: Pater, Pound, Joyce, and Stein. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Print.
Drucker, Johanna. “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5.1 (2011): n. pag.
Dusman, Linda and Salkind, Wendy. Personal Interview. 13 July 2011.
Pater, Walter. The Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986. Print.
Stein, Gertrude. The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995. Print.
Stein, Gertrude. The world is round. New York: Young Scott Books, 1966. Print.
Van Vechten, C. “Introduction.” In Thomson, Virgil, and Gertrude Stein. Four saints in three acts. A-R Editions, Inc., 2008. Print.

Day of Digital Archives

October 6th, 2011

I’m at MSA 2011 in Buffalo and participated in a great seminar today on Modernist Soundscapes. The sound resources that many of the participants mentioned were PennSoundUbu Web. Particpants criticized PennSound because of the lack of context on sound files that seemed, by some, to be “slapped” up on the web. The down side is that it seems like PennSound has very little apparatus but on the up side, PennSound has made a lot of resources available. In contrast, what about sound files at the Library of Congress or National Archives? These are artifacts that are more “officially” archived but their resources are more difficult to access online.

Of course, access to large-scale repositories of text opens larger questions about how literary scholars can use such repositories in their research. What are they accessing? For that matter, what are we accessing when we access sound? Just the context? John F. Sowa writes in his seminal book on computational foundations, that theories of knowledge representation are particularly useful “for anyone whose job is to analyze knowledge about the real world and map it to a computable form” (xi). Similarly, Sowa notes that knowledge representation is unproductive if the logic and ontology which shape its application in a certain domain are unclear: “without logic, knowledge representation is vague, Sowa writes, “with no criteria for determining whether statements are redundant or contradictory,” and “without ontology, the terms and symbols are ill-defined, confused, and confusing” (xii). Knowledge representation is the work of all scholars in digital humanities and these scholars must help determine the logics and ontologies that shape how we access this data.

Charles Bernstein has written that “[t]he relation of sound to meaning is something like the relation of the soul (or mind) to the body. They are aspects of each other, neither prior, neither independent (17). Scholars have not had the ability to analyze the features of text that correspond to aurality—their phonemes and prosodic elements—much less compare these features with similar features across collections.

What would I do if I could “access” sound in an archive of digital texts? Many scholars and poets have written about the remarkable experience of hearing Gertrude Stein’s texts read aloud. “Language poets” who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and who form important scholarly communities today have adopted Stein as an early influence and a model. In part, the nature of this relationship has been ascribed to the indeterminacy and the manner of language play that Majorie Perloff and others see evinced in Stein’s writing, but the extent to which prosody and rhythm has also influenced these artists goes undocumented. Further, very few scholars have had the means to investigate the speech patterns (whether African American or German or French) that may have influenced a work such as Tender Buttons by Stein.

I am using data mining to examine clusters of patterns in Stein’s poetry and prose compared to those in non-fiction narratives and oral histories as well as those present in contemporary poetry. Taking advantage of pre-existing research and development with the Mellon-funded SEASR (The Software Environment for the Advancement of Scholarly Research) application, this work has included identifying OpenMary XML (a text-to-speech system that uses an internal XML-based representation language called MaryXML) output as a base analytic, producing a tabular representation of the data for clustering and predictive modeling that includes phonemic and syntactic elements, creating a routine in MEANDRE (a semantic-web-driven data-intensive flow execution environment) that produces this data and allows future users to produce similar results.

In the future, I want to do the same kind of analysis on sound files. I have to do the work to determine what it is I’m accessing when I’m accessing sound. What does this knowledge look like?

The salient point for me in the seminar today was the idea that it is not necessarily that interesting to discuss how much is out there that we could archive, that we could access, that we could use in our research. We have always made choices about what to archive and how. The same is true today. But today we have more ways of thinking about or modeling what we want to access. Maybe we can finally do something with sound. Maybe once we figure that out, we better know what to archive.


February 9th, 2011

In the second week of our class HDCC106, the students were reminded that their final project is both about process and creativity, about content and function, about beauty and ideas and all of the things that means when you are building an interface to, well, to what?

First we defined “interface.” What does that mean? For the first discussion, an “interface” was a space or point for communication between divisions. They were very keen on the idea that this concept meant an entrance into content. For the second class, I had to remind the students of the content. They were much more focused on the idea that the interface was how the users got to the functionality of the site. While the first group saw the interface as a way for humans to communicate with machines, the second group were more focused on the interface of different layers of the machine, that there are interfaces between input and output data on all layers. While the first group agreed that one student’s example of the interface as a magazine cover was a viable way of thinking about interfaces, the second group was not convinced. “Well then,” one student said, rolling her eyes, “that means anything could be an interface.” Well, yeah. Okay.

The conversation evolved into considering what is a “successful” anything-could-be-an-interface? This week our reading was based on Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s “‘So the Colors Cover the Wires’: Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability” in which he discusses interface, aesthetics, and usability (of all things). We grasped at a couple of things in particular: functionality versus content, notions of beauty and how these relate to usability, as well as pie-in-the-sky dreams about what you could make given the reins to make anything. The functionality versus content debate was not as divisive as I thought it would be: both groups saw “success” in an interface as the happy marriage between these two elements. For example, the first class thought that the main aspects of a successful or “beautiful” interface were

  • Function — practical, easy-to-use, intuitive navigation, efficient, organized
  • Content — interesting
  • Visual appeal — aesthetically pleasing

The second group broke it down a little differently:

  • Usable: intuitive, efficient, functioning (able to access content), organized
  • Visually appealing: clean, streamlined, consistency between elements

Finally, both groups saw the need to define the context (the audience and purpose of the interface) as a factor in defining “success” or beauty in the interface.

@BaronessElsa on Twitter

May 24th, 2010

Introduced with a live tweet on May 22, 2010 at THATcamp 2010 in Fairfax, Virgina, BaronessElsa is a textual performance based on the autobiography of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. The original text is in the Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers
( in Special Collections at the University of Maryland, College Park. It is being edited and produced by tanyaclement. Commentary about the project can be searched under the hashtag #evfl.

Brief history

The Baroness wrote her autobiography in the last years of her life, probably in German between 1923 and her death in 1927. It mainly focuses on her years before moving to New York in the nineteen-teens. The autobiography affords a fascinating prespective on a female artist who not only crosses the Atlantic (multiple times) but crosses perceived boundaries of gender, ethnicity, class, and artistic genre. She was a poet, a performer, a painter, a sculptor, and a critic. During her life, her long-time lover Felix Paul Greve (1879-1948) (better known by the pseudonym he adopted as a Canadian writer and translator, Frederick Philip Grove) wrote two novels based on Freytag-Loringhoven’s life: Fanny Essler (1905) and Maurermeister Ihles Haus [The Master Mason's House] (1906). A handful of critical studies have written about the extent to which Grove drew from Freytag-Loringhoven’s life to write his own German and Canadian life writings Fanny Essler (1905), Settlers of the Marsh (1925) and In Search of Myself (1946) (Gammel 1994; Hjartarson 1986; Spettigue 1973; Divay 2005), but the materials underlying these assertions are difficult to access.

Djuna Barnes, who inherited the bulk of the Baroness’s literary papers, always maintained that the Baroness’s life story was significant to an understanding of her art. Consequently, in the letters that the Baroness writes to Djuna from Germany during the years 1923-1927, the Baroness clearly believes that a collection of her poetry, under Barnes’s hand, is imminent and that it depends on her writing the autobiography. Sending Barnes her autobiography written as long letters, however, the Baroness found the task onerous even though, ultimately, necessary: “You desire dates and facts out of my life to place before the public to secure their Sympathy,” the Baroness affirms in an undated letter, “‘in a few words’ – mercifull [sic] heaven and hells bells as well – how that is to be done – with my life – that is about half a dozen lifes [sic] in one [. . .] it will be a heroic deed by me ¬- should I succeed -.” [UMCP] Hank O’Neal details Barnes’s subsequent aborted attempt to produce both the Baroness’s autobiography and a collection of her poetry in the introduction to his “Facsimiles of Barnes’ typed and annotated writings about the life of Elsa Freytag-Loringhoven,” in which he compiles and tries to make sense of Barnes’s writings about the Baroness. Here, O’Neal reveals Barnes’s great desire to meet her promise to the Baroness, to see her friend’s poetry published, and Barnes’s ultimate failure due to do so because of what O’Neal calls Barnes’s “noncommittal” work habits (Barnes 4). O’Neal tried himself to see a collection of the Baroness’s poetry in publication for Barnes, going so far as to finish typing what remained untyped and finding a publisher, but Barnes never wrote the introduction she said she would give him and he subsequently lost track of the project. O’Neal calls the fruitless efforts the result of “Elsa’s curse” (7).

Paul I. Hjartarson and Douglas O. Spettigue, edited the autobiography and titled it Baroness Elsa (Oberon 1992), which was the same title Barnes used for her holograph. In light of this dramatized e-version, I am titling this performance @BaronessElsa.

Brief Working Bibliography

Barnes, Djuna. Djuna Barnes and the Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven. Ed. O’Neal. [New York: Hank O'Neal, 1992. Print.

Divay, Gaby. "Felix Paul Greve's & Else von Freytag-Loringhoven's 1904/5 'Fanny Essler' Poems: His or Hers?" Gaby Divay's UM Archives Webpages. University of Manitoba, Archives & Special Collections, March 2005. Web. 12 March 2010.

Freytag-Loringhoven, Elsa von. In Transition: Selected Poems by The Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Ed. Tanya Clement. University of Maryland, College Park Libraries, 2008. Web. 17 Sep 2009.

Gammel, Irene. Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity: A Cultural Biography. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2002. Print.

--. "'No Woman Lover': Baroness Elsa's Intimate Biography." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature (1994): 1-17. Print.

Greve, Felix. Fanny Essler ein Roman. Stuttgart: A. Juncker, 1906. Print.

Grove, Frederick. Settlers of the Marsh. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1966. Print.

Spettigue, Douglas. FPG : The European years. [Ottawa]. 1973. Print.