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The Wax Workshop

A few weeks ago I went to DH Wax workshop hosted by Alex Gil at Columbia University.         Our task was to develop our own projects based on Wax technology.

Wax is a minimal computing project. Through that project we were able to produce our personal digital exhibition and archives focused on longevity, low cost and flexibility. Its technology is simple enough to learn, as you don’t need to have any advanced programming skills. Through Wax project we will able to produce in the future beautifully rendered, high-quality image collections,  scholarly exhibits and digital libraries.

The template that was given at the beginning had a collection from The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar and The Qatar National Library. We had to browse the collection and at the same time to replace it with a collection that we would like for our own project.

The workshop was a three part series.The first week started by learning general things minimal definitions and perspectives so as  to start experiencing fundamental principles of minimal computing.

Minimal design is to modify the structure of the project in order to focus more on the content production. Our goal in MC is to reduce the use of what you see is what you get interfaces and try to increase awareness of programming and markup processes. Maintain a minimal computing project is to try decrease the labor of updating, moderating and stewarding a project over time. Our priority is to avoid the usage of natural technologies like hardware and other peripherals or use implementation of advance technologies computer vision and other tracking mechanisms. In terms of minimal surveillance, it is needed to increase privacy and security so we can reduce hacks and harassment. Moreover one of our tasks is to reduce the use of specialized language and try to increase participation and engagement with shared techno cultural problems.

During the first week we tried  to install the theme through Jekyll. All the technological stuff was used it through Command Line and the terminal of our laptop. To be honest I had the experience to learn some basics from last semester in Patrick Smyth’s class and this really helped me to catch up with the progress of installation.

So what we have initially done was to create a new Jekyll website with a default gem-based theme scaffold. Using a mac I started using Xcode command line tool for my OSX. Using the terminal’s command line  I switched to the directory/folder ready to download and start using Ed theme .With all the materials  that were uploaded in Git hub, I was able to execute the commands  and run Jekyll server locally in my computer: After we run the following commands :

$ git clone https://github.com/minicomp/ed.git
$ cd ed
$ gem install bundler
$ bundle install
$ jekyll serve

we were almost there! We had installed Jekyll (which is a Ruby gem package).Now the only thing left was to install ED theme. We managed to install a localhost server in my computer by using the url http://127.0.0.1:4000/ed  This way I was able to view my project.The Jekyll theme designed for textual editors it was based on minimal computing principles, and focused on legibility, durability, ease and flexibility.

The second week we  focused more to the project we have decided to develop. We actually should resize images and prepare a csv file for our dataset that we had to work on. Working with csv file we  normalized and validated our metadata records based on certain fields with special characters and values. After we wrote our fields and cleaned our data we exported  them in a certain format (csv , .json, .yml) so that, would make our progress easier later. Most of the students used pictures and data that were only for practice purposes, as we haven’t really decided about our main project we wanted to create in the future. I started preparing some of the images to test during the class and also some dummy content. My final goal would be to create my personal portfolio and categorize my work and assignments that I have done so far in Graduate Center. In summary what we have done in class was to create a file of metadata records for our collection (csv file), to organize our collection images and put them both into the Jekyll site folder. After that ,we run a few command lines tasks in order to prepare the data for use by the Jekyll site and convert them with special components as static pages.Basically a basic diagram that shows the steps we have done was the following:

wax

A very important advice that Alex suggested, was to try to clone our demo website and try to swap in our image collection data and exhibition content. That way we would keep our main site unused so we can use it from scratch in case  our code didn’t work during the whole process of development.

The third week was more to the practice of what we have learnt so far. Alex gave us some of the new layouts (page like exhibit.html or page. Html etc.) of the theme and we tried to add them in the front page of our website. Moreover, he gave us a folder full of new html pages that had to do with quick, reusable blocks (like shortcodes in WordPress) and he insisted how we should use them, in case we need to implement some of them in our project .

Finally he guided us on how we could host our website in a server  as soon as  we complete the project.  He also provided us with other Wax interesting projects  that had very successful results .

Personally I found this three part workshop a very well training course, although the student should study a lot prior to class in order to catch up Tutor’s directions. I think this was a great opportunity for those ones that are interested in building static pages through wax. Especially useful also for those who have collections of cultural artifacts and they would like to present them online or even offline, once they  learn in the workshop how to build even a local server on their own computer. It was also a great opportunity for students to be introduced in computing fundamentals. Even if someone doesn’t have advanced skills in CMS platforms or HTML and CSS, it is a great chance for everyone start building static websites, learning about data curation, basic principles about Github and web architecture. It could also  benefit users who want to expose their work in building digital exhibits, collections at libraries and archives. I highly encourage everyone to attend to this workshop as soon as the class hours will be announced next year.

Twine

I attended a workshop this semester led by Anthony Wheeler about the tool Twine, and I thought I would share incase anyone is interested in exploring over break. Twine is an open-source tool that allows you to create narrative-based stories or games. It requires minimal to no coding skills and is very user-friendly.

It is recommended to download the Twine software on your computer as it makes saving your process easier.

During the workshop, we played a few existing twine games. One was called green eyed monster. It used Shakespeare as the overlaying focus and taught it in a more interesting and interactive way. This game presented a way to make material more stimulating by gamifying it and this also helps make the material more accessible by presenting it in a form students are familiar and interactive with everyday. 

Here are the links to the variety of Twine games we played.

  • arcadim.itch.io/you-a-man-and-a-knife
  • ianburnette.itch.io/green-eyed-monster
  • drink-to-destruction.itch.io/date-night
  • nuha.itch.io/autowrong
  • awheeler.itch.io/hhyesyp

Toward the end of the workshop we worked to create our own Twine narratives and games. The tool was easy to use and navigate. Twine offers a way to make material more fun and engaging and allows a user to be imaginative in their creation of a game and/or narrative.

Here is the link to the tool: https://twinery.org

Final Project Reflection

For my final project, I proposed the creation of an online resource that collected data related to local NYC cultural institutions that would hopefully make it easier for educators to use local material and collections in their classrooms. Some of my favorite classes and learning experiences from my past involved using material from my local community to understand concepts in more personal and interactive ways. I think this type of resource can help educators engage their students with their surroundings and teach them to care about their communities.

The project’s end result will be a website that contained four elements. The first, a map displaying the location of the various cultural institutions across the city. The second, an information page for each cultural institution mapped. Third, a blog where users and educators can communicate and collaborate. The final element is a repository where users can upload helpful content like lesson plans, teaching guides or example projects. The first iteration of the project will only focus on a select few institutions that concentrate on the history of NYC.

While composing the final project grant, I struggled with creating a project timeline that was achievable within a semester. I have never worked on a digital project from start to finish, so I did not have a good idea of how long aspects of a project usually take. However, I think working through the timeline helped me think about my project more concretely. I realized that I knew some parts were not going to be practicable within a semester, so I pushed those to be included in additional iterations of the project. Additionally, grant writing was a new style for me and I found myself looking over various examples to gain a better understanding of how others have written successful grants. Overall, the experience led me through the process of conceptualizing and proposing a digital project. I learned grant writing is much harder than I believed and creating a project timeline requires much thought and honesty with oneself. 

Reflections on my final proposal: the recent refugee crisis in Europe

 

When I was started searching for my final project I was almost convinced that I wanted to create something for my archives data I have gathered back in 2015, when Europe has started to host millions of Syrian Refugees because of the Syrian civil war trying to seek for an asylum in European countries and at the same time face adversity, hardships and real-life tragedy. Being an active member in a nonprofit organization in Lesvos island, Greece, the biggest hosting place for all those people, I managed to collect precious data like useful evidences. Images, diaries by activists, media news, publishers and writers, which I would love to demonstrate them online.

My plan is to create an innovative project using digital humanities practices and methods with ultimate goal to build a very useful tool accessed by anyone who is interested. I know that Internet is full of online videos, interview, and hot titles about European refugee crisis. But I think the most direct way to understand deeper the material of the experience of forced and undocumented migration today, is only if you can see yourself prototypes, original evidences, and undocumented interviews from children pregnant and elderly being in the detection centers and camps. Then you can see a clearer explanation about what happened there.

My immediate question was can such a multi-dimensional project be completed within semester? Of course not. So how can I break up the project? Trying to come up with a project that fits into a student’s semester timeline forced me to rethink a shorter scope for the project. Instead of document all this materiality form scratch, I would focus on the most distinguished testimonials and then try to display them into a map, by showing some of the hot journeys of those people starting their long-lasting route from their origin country until reaching the first hosting country in Europe along with their experience actual life at the camps in Greece.

So viewing the problem of the asylum seekers in Europe more though a humanitarian point of view I will endeavor to create a narrative story backwards, beginning from the places the crisis actually sprang out. I believe that for different reasons up until this point, the sources of information have been disorientating in the sense that they failed to explain. I hope that this project at the end of the semester will combine an archival preservation of those files by introducing a new type of social activism and hopefully, will make the public opinion more enlightened, tolerant and compassionate.

 

Syllabus – Reflection

One of the more difficult steps of putting together my syllabus was coming to terms with the theme of my class. On one level, I knew I had to choose a theme that would contain readings in the public domain, but I also want to choose a topic that would fit well into a collection once edited together and uploaded into Manifold. All things considered, I decided to go with what I call “short-form prose,” which allowed me to include a multigenre selection of readings ranging from fiction and poetry, to letters and essays, to aphorisms and satire, to sundry blends of social media. When I came to the course schedule, though, I suddenly realized that I would have to bring together a broad range of readings in order to properly represent each of these genres of prose. More than anywhere else, this is where I spent the vast majority of my time, combing the internet for readings from authors like Franz Kafka and O. Henry, William Carlos Williams and Jean Toomer, Simone de Beauvoir and Oscar Wilde, Michel de Montaigne and Jonathan Swift, if only to name a few. I even decided to include koans, which serve to counterpoint aphorisms by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The process was long and onerous. It was also intensely gratifying. 

Additionally, I structured the first major writing assignment of my syllabus, the Close-Reading Analysis, so that students will have an opportunity to peer-review each other’s essays before handing in their final copy. Even then, each student will have as many chances as they please to revise and submit their paper once they receive back their initial grade. Indeed, with the second major writing assignment, the Research Paper, they are required to revise and resubmit their first draft, this time receiving feedback from their peers prior to their second submission. In both cases, only the grade of their last and final submission will count. Beyond the confines of the traditional academic essay, I also designed my syllabus to include low-stakes writing assignments by way of formal emails and self-reflective blogs. It is of no small importance that these writing activities enable student to scaffold their rhetorical identity on the page, while also preparing them for public-facing writing practices that are essential to their future academic success. 

I had a blast with this final project. It was challenging and time-consuming to the point of exacerbation, but the process was also surprisingly redemptive once I saw that final product sitting there in front of me. Mind you, one lesson I can almost certainly promise to have learned: I’ll never skim another professor’s syllabus ever again. 

Reflections on Final Project, Exploring Diversity in Newbery Medal and Honor Books

I had quite the journey with my project, initially titled: Exploring Diversity in Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books. I had the idea for my proposal after we explored data and visualization and was excited to explore this topic. Lack of diversity in children’s literature is an ongoing problem, but what about the books that are awarded these distinguished medals, and then constantly promoted to children?

My plan was to analyze the Newbery and Caldecott books and see if historically underrepresented groups are actually represented and if there are any trends among the honorees. I would divide all pertinent bibliographic data into eight categories, and then use Tableau Public-very excited to use-to display my results. When I started counting all of the Medal and Honor Books I started to panic. There are a total of 733 Honorees. My immediate question was, can this project be completed in a semester? No. Of course not. So how can I break up the project? How much can I cut before I can’t accurately answer my research questions? I was thinking about only analyzing the Medal Winners, or maybe winners in a certain time range, but it didn’t feel right. Discussing my problem in class was helpful, and I was close to making a decision. I then went to the Data Visualization presentations last week for inspiration and was blown away by the projects. Congrats to everyone in the class! All of the presentations I saw used Tableau Public, and I got to chat with other students about their experiences with it. It’s one thing to look at recommended projects on the site, but another to play around with it while the creator is standing next to you.

It was during the after-party when I was speaking with some of my classmates and Michelle McSweeney, that I solved my dilemma. Michelle, who didn’t know much about the Medals, asked which one is more important? I answered Newbery and gave my reasoning (Caldecott focuses on the illustrations, not the story, not about the theme, etc). I think it takes having an outsider asking a question that put everything into focus for me. It was a simple solution and I should have come to it sooner, but I think I was too stubborn to let go of my original plan. I still think the Caldecott Books are important and will figure out a future project for them, but I will focus entirely on Newbery Books for the proposal. My book count is now 415, and while it is still a lot and gathering the data will take some time, I will be proud of my finished product. I collected some data already, and it looks promising. I can’t wait to present my proposal next semester.

Defining a Space for DH in Secondary Schools

I remember being somewhat irked this semester by Ryan Cordell’s criticism of DH. One line was particularly grating: “They speak of ‘DH’ as an identifiable and singular thing, even if that thing contains multitudes, when in fact DH is often local and peculiar: a specific configuration of those multitudes that makes sense for a given institution, given its faculty, staff, and students, and given its unique mission and areas of strength.” My perturbation sprung from the irony that Cordell was enjoying publication in Debates in the Digital Humanities. His thinking (even though it involved sniping at the very label under which he published) already had a home and a receptive audience. Secondary school digital humanists have no such luxury. Our pedagogical victories are painfully “local and peculiar,” dispersing themselves in the air (or worse, in the graveyards of our schools’ websites) with no choir’s “amen” or thoughtful challenges in response. And yet, we secondary-school educators have been doing what we now call DH for over two decades.

Early practitioners experimented in ways never intended by corporate programs to help students access, analyze, and create history, art, and literature. As I mentioned in our discussion about hacking, we turned Excel spreadsheets into clickable maps and art annotators, we asked students to use PowerPoint’s slide sorter view to group shards of Greek pottery into distinctive artistic periods, and we hijacked Word’s comment feature to have students layer collaborative literary analysis (literally by swapping machines) long before Google Docs existed. We even did our own low-tech version of distant reading, comparing word counts of novels or using the “find” tool to search for frequent terms.

As schools purchased hardware and software in bulk, companies such as Microsoft hosted grand national (and technically, international, with the inclusion of Australia and Canada) conferences for teachers of all disciplines to share their pedagogy, the majority of whom turned out to be humanities teachers looking to ignite hands-on interactivity and exploration in their lab-less classrooms.

That corporate interest dwindled as schools evolved their programs around 2005, some shifting to bring-your-own-device structures and some opting for free or open-source software. And as STEM became the educational acronym of the millennium, maker conferences eclipsed those focused on the humanities, and that has left us the nomads of the DH and educational worlds.

So, I’ve proposed DH Juvenilia: a digital humanities journal for secondary school educators. The  name is intended to be self-effacing, capturing both our nascent collective ideology as well as the wonderfully rough and unselfconscious nature of young adult education. As I mentioned in my lightening talk, the site would be modeled on the Journal for Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (JITP),borrowing its peer-review model and its editorial sections that include lesson plans, reviews of resources and conferences, and a celebration of classroom failures. But, given our work this semester, DH Juvenilia would also offer two additional sections: one dedicated to issues of race and accessibility in the secondary-school classroom, and another to partnerships such as those between private and public schools or between schools and institutions such as local archives or museums.

My research for the environmental scan confirmed my own lived experience. Like DH in its infancy in higher-ed, secondary-school DH programs are scattered, defining themselves under a variety of names and living largely solitary lives. They’ve been included in a few panels at recent DH conferences (thanks, Matt, for the heads-up on Trevor Day School’s program), but those flashes in the pan, without fellow secondary school attendees, have done little to foster a broader dialogue and a more unified set of practices. DH Juvenilia would meet that need.

What did surprise me was how many resources are just waiting to be tapped to define a national or international secondary-school DH scene. As the grant proposal structure required a work plan, I realized that I and my digitally inclined humanities colleagues have partnered with a host of institutions either directly or indirectly leading the field: we’ve recently coached the MLA on the future of humanities in secondary schools, and we’ve partnered with institutions such as Juilliard, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Kennedy Center. We’ve videoconferenced with classrooms around the globe, and we count among us native speakers of many languages. We are even (though not as much as I would like) a range of races, classes, disciplinary interests, and physical and attentional abilities. This recognition made the prospect of garnering writers, reviewers, supporters, and readers seem imminently doable. It also made my hopes of creating a diverse team (rather than reverse-engineering “accessibility”) somewhat possible.

In short, I finished my proposal feeling incredibly optimistic about the project. Sadly, I felt less optimistic in my abilities to write a grant. Trying perhaps too hard to fit the models, I found myself writing in circles, striving to cover too much ground too thinly. Arguments that could be paper-length in and of themselves got chopped into phrases to make way for the next claim, and I found myself writing much like I speak at parties: painfully self-consciously. Suddenly, the criticisms I leveled last week at authors who obscure their meaning behind multisyllabic academic jargon seemed to have been stones launched from the proverbial glass house. Clearly, while the semester is over, I still have homework to do: signing up for a grant-writing workshop.  

Final Project Reflections on Creating a Digital Archive

For the final project I knew I wanted to do something with the archives. I was also inspired by the Puerto Rico Syllabus project and wanted to incorporate a pedagogical element. There are projects that focus on either archives or pedagogy, but very few that focus on both. My concept for a Steinway Family Digital Archive had multiple goals: to consolidate materials related to the Steinway family into one place, provide a space for educational materials that use the archive, and have the space be collaborative so educators, students, and researchers can build materials together.

I have worked on an archival digitization project before, so I know that it takes a lot of time. Trying to come up with a project that fit into the tight timeline of a semester forced me to reevaluate the scope of the project. Instead of digitizing materials, I would focus on collecting materials that have already been digitized and to only focus on New York City institutions. Also, since I don’t have much experience with teaching or using education materials, I left that part of the project open for the next iteration. Most of the my proposal clarifies that I’m laying the groundwork for a future version of the project that will incorporate more archival materials and educational materials.

Final Proposal – Reflection

I realized from the beginning that what I was thinking of doing would be a lot of work. I ended up splitting up my project timeline into three parts: semester, post-semester, and future. For the semester, I decided that building the website and database alone can and may take up the semester. Thus, we would only end up putting projects of institutions/companies that have already posted their VR or AR reconstructions on their own sites. This would mean less data that we would have to hold or maintain, and we can still have the database as a one-stop spot for reconstructions. The post-semester plans would be to add in VR/AR, video and images of other institutions/companies that do not have their own sites but would like to share their own projects. The future goals, depending on how the database evolves through public interaction, would allow for the database to hold images and/or datasets of projects that would like to make this information public with the hopes that it can help others and, if there are people who know how to create VR/AR reconstructions from the photos, they can do so and help contribute to the project and the database. This feature can also allow for communication between the public in the form of adding to the intellectual conversation around projects hosted on the database.

While writing my proposal and searching for what is already out there that would be like the database that I want to create – as opposed to a regular database – I ended up coming across a site called Scan the World (STW)created by MyMiniFactory.com. This site houses 3D reconstructions of artifacts from different museums all over the world. STW is the closes thing that I have found (so far) to what I want to do. I ended up reaching out to the founder of the project, Jon Beck, to find out (briefly) his process for STW and how he has been able to expand the project to what it is now. He responded, indicating a brief history the STW went from his computer to MyMiniFactory and how his dedication as an artist has helped to expand STW and persuade others to help contribute to the cause by uploading their own 3D scans of artifacts.

Another company that has pushed this idea for me, that I did not include in my proposal, is LearningSites Inc. I mentioned them before in the beginning of the semester but, my bias towards them is that one of their projects was the first thing that got me interested in DH (although I didn’t know it would be considered DH at the time). Since I saw LearningSites Inc. present years ago, I had constantly looked back at their website over the years to see if they had made any updates to their program. For years nothing changed, and I was not able to see anything on their site except for pictures. Then, suddenly earlier this semester, they updated their website, added new videos, and I was actually able to look at some of their VR reconstructions on their home page. I will not begin to guess why it took them this long, as I am sure there were many factors. If, however, one of those factors included funding and/or public interest, then I hope that the creation of my database would be a way to help companies like LearningSites Inc. so that they may continue their projects for another student like me.


Although the idea for this database briefly started as a selfish thought of wanting all that I am interested in to be in one central location, it quickly grew to wanting to inspire others. Inspire others by showing them what is out there and how much there is. Inspire them to explore topics that may seem foreign to them now but may end up changing their paths. Inspire them to understand more of the world around them though the world’s history. Should this project be created one day, I hope that it helps, not only those who are within the field of Archaeology/DH, but helps those trying to discover what they are truly interested in.