Data mining, part 2

The Woman in White
The Woman in White

This is my word cloud (with omitting “said and say” stopwords, although that might be interesting too as an analysis of the narratology of saying versus showing).

Google n-gram

I have been thinking about what “data” might mean for some of my work, and it isn’t obvious what would be a good category for this kind of research. I also work on ekphrasis in Roman poetry, but ekphrasis in this context isn’t manifest by signal words that I could use for different poets. Instead, Roman poets intentionally chose polysemous words, which had meaning in Greek and Latin, and prided themselves on the wordplay that that would allow, and particularly Augustan and so-called Silver Latin poets tried to be as opaque and allusionary as possible in the poetry. So one of the things that I’ve been grappling with is the idea of how to capture that kind of wordplay in a large database or is it even possible to do so?

Another question that I’ve been considering is the one about data in relation to the construction of meaning; that data isn’t “natural” or “unmediated”, but that the “cleanest” data has less interpretive baggage to dirty up the analysis. I need to think some more about this issue of data, what it is and isn’t.

Mining data

Reading the articles for Monday on mining data reminded me of the “revolution” in Classics in the late 80s and early 90s when Perseus was first introduced. At the time, it revolutionized the field: before Perseus, a brilliant classicist was a scholar who knew all the iterations of a particular aorist verb form in Aeschylus and thus knew the meaning and context of the verb. His knowledge (and it was usually his) was based on years of reading Aeschylus (and the other tragedians for context), spending long hours writing verb forms on notecards, and publishing esoteric articles on the language. (We are philologists!) After Perseus, it became so much easier to just find all the iterations of a particular word or words, collate them, contextualize them, and analyze them.  But had the field gone farther?

But first, let me take you to the way back machine. In college in the 70s, I used a typewriter and wrote in by hand my Greek passages for my essays; my husband, who is a sociologist, used punch cards for his research and was considered cutting edge sophisticated. In the eighties, my friends and I in Classics and Art History hacked our machines and got our dot-matrix printers to print Greek AND EVEN THE DIACRITICS!! We were cool, or thought we were. And then came Perseus.

The Perseus project itself recognizes that digital humanities has changed and that there is a huge need for clean data and machine actionable knowledge. It looks like that is happening  at the Perseus site, but not that Classicists are following, at least that I can find. Only last January (2014) was there the inaugural meeting at AIA/APA for the Digital Classics Association; the title of the panel was “Getting Started in Digital Humanities.” There is a CFP for NELA on digital humanities and the classics for May 2015.  Here is an interesting video about the use of computational photography. But this seems to be the seeds of the revolution.

There is lots more that could be done using Perseus digital repository, and it not just focused on Greek and Latin areas of research.


Apps vs. web

On the bus to class today, the topic of web content for our students came up: what would students use in their courses, apps or websites?

My students, most of whom are non-traditional, older students who have recently returned to school and claim that they are not “comfortable” with technology, all carry phones and most carry the newest, shiniest, bells-and-whistles iPhones. They may not have computers, iPads, or printers, but they do have phones. They may not care about “pretty” sites, but access to phone apps do appeal to them. (See  this graphic at; it seems that most students, traditional or non-traditional, use apps, not websites.)

So I was excited about reviewing a phone app for my homework assignment, the phone app, Timeline Art Museum. Bad, sad and very irritating. It has the worst aspects of Corbis (you pay for high quality images, even if they are in the public domain), unclear functionality (until you click on the short biography, you don’t know that images by the artist are included in the app), and it focuses on those aspects of art that my students cling to like a lifeboat: biographical details and the canned analysis of the thumbprint description. The image is too small to encourage real analysis by the students, the descriptions encourage shallow understanding, and the argument of the app’s design, as Kimon Keramidas’s presentation pushed us to consider, is the wrong argument. And, as Lauren  Kilroy-Ewbank asked, if this isn’t for students, for whom is it designed?

I don’t know. Not for the audiences that I see at the Art Institute of Chicago; it is much too naive and uninformative. It certainly wouldn’t engage those who aren’t interested in art to become interested in art. And, as I said above, it ain’t for my students.

It does highlight the question of argument for a page and how visual elements contribute to the argument of the page. i want to talk more about this as I discuss the various tools to which we were introduced today. But tomorrow is another day.

The big takeaway, however, from today’s class for me: I need to dress up my WordPress site. It looks shabby, neglected, and woefully skeletal compared with my esteemed colleagues. Let me play some more.




Preparing my project

My project involves producing digital modules for my classes, so Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategy, though very interesting, doesn’t really help me strategize for my project. Instead, I will be thinking about the threshold learning elements for art history and integrating that into the points outlined by Grant Wiggins in his post on projects vs. tests. (Note: I couldn’t find a permalink on Wiggins blog.)

My project(s)

Andy helping David explain his game.
Andy helping David explain his game.


I am on a digital humanities tear this summer, and I started by attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria; my course was on games and particularly on digital games.  I signed up for the class thinking that I would produce a digital game for my students in the interdisciplinary humanities course and/or the art history survey.  My group did come up with a digital interactive library game called, I think, Zombies in the Library; Zombies are students who do nothing but sleep in the library. And I learned a lot during the week and brainstormed some great stuff including the idea of using rubrics as a form of game playing, but the biggest thing I learned was to temper my expectations.

Which is a long way of saying that my project(s) for this seminar may or may not be realistic. One of the projects for my summer and fall is to produce four digital interactive modules for my students. And I thought I would start that process of development here both by listening to what others are doing and by viewing some of the modules already published. The Art History Teaching Resources site looks to be very helpful in this regard. I am sorry that I had to miss the Games + Learning + Society conference at University of Wisconsin Madison and the pre-conference play with ARIS, but I intend to go next year, since I am also interested in writing a module for my Language and Landscape course for students to develop their own map of local, sustainable gardens in the Chicago area and another map on the language distribution across Chicago. (The two are not disparate; one of the assignments is for the students to collect the names of the plants in their garden and compare / contrast the language used by other gardeners.)

Another project on the radar is the e-portfolio, particularly as it might represent students’ work across their full time at Wright College and the way it might demonstrate achievements in certain general education competencies, such as writing, close reading, technological literacy. I have students use a collaborative wiki site for each class, and students that I teach at DePaul have access to individual e-portfolios, but Wright has nothing at this point close to an e-portfolio. And even my DePaul students don’t use it in the most robust way: they rarely show the growth, for instance, in their conceptualization and demonstration of critical thinking through writing, but instead just post their “best” papers.

Yet, I also have to think about the resources available at my institution and for my institution and for my students and for me. The administration has suggested applying for various grants, and that too is something I’d like to explore during this seminar, particularly start-up monies for small projects with collaboration across institutions and disciplines. But, again, my institution doesn’t really have much real experience in this regard, and we all may need to rein in our desires.

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