Graduate Work

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    Semester Wrap-Up

    For the past few weeks, I have worked on writing a reflection of my experiences thus far on the medart project. I did this partially as a way to wrap up my experiences this past semester and partially as a means to synthesize my work to make it more useful to the grant report.

    To write my reflection, I started by going through any notes and spreadsheets I have saved to my computer and by going through my Constellation posts. The process of going through my old blog posts has been really useful for creating a comprehensive reflection. Being able to use the blog posts also helped me to see how important writing detailed blog posts was. As it were, I had a detailed record of everything I had done the past two semesters that I could work from.

    I organized my reflection into five sections not including an introduction and conclusion. Each of the five sections was dedicated to one of the tasks I was assigned over the course of the past year. I lumped most of my earlier tasks like reading the grant, comparing file trees, and looking at the interview transcriptions into a section called “familiarization,” because each of these tasks were geared toward familiarizing me with medart. The remaining sections were “Metadata,” “The Wayback Machine,” “Finding Aids,” and “Urchin Reports.” In each section, I wrote about why the task was performed, what I did, any problems that were encountered, and what we discovered from this task. Hopefully, as a synthesis of the work I have done, this reflection will be useful to the grant report.

    I also took some time to write an introduction for the finding aids I wrote this semester. The finding aids will be in the appendix of the grant report. In the introduction, I provided background information on why we decided we needed finding aids and on the different versions of medart stored in the hard drive. I then went on to explain my method when creating the finding aids and the challenges that stemmed from the lack of consistent organization in the medart directories. Finally, I explained how the finding aids were organized and the best way to navigate them.

    After break, I will be returning in May after attending the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI. I’m excited to talk with medievalists about what we have learned about medart and to hear Aisling and Alison present at their roundtable. During the summer semester, I look forward to working on the socio-technical roadmap for medart.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Maintaining "Sustaining MedArt"

    It is early April, so the Sustaining MedArt team is once again preparing for the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The project, originating with an initial usability survey in the autumn of 2014, explores the relationship between perceptions of site usability and sustainability. In particular, we entered this project wondering how user experiences correlate to preservation worthiness. 

    In addition to preparing our grant report for the NEH (with ample input from Jedd Hakimi, in particular), Dr. Langmead and I are planning our portion of the Collective (A Roundtable). This collective presentation, listed on page 43 of the Medieval Congress 2017 program/tome, is sponsored by the Material Collective, “a collaborative of art historians and students of visual culture” seeking “to foster a safe space for alternative ways of thinking about projects.” For our participatory portion of this session, we will ask attendees to engage with questions about their personal collections of research images, among other things (await update in May!).

    During and since the autumn, we’ve accomplished various tasks in preparation for writing our grant report and producing a socio-technical digital preservation roadmap. These are as follows:

    • We interviewed Dr. Alison Stones, co-creator of the MedArt, and Philip Maye, a major contributor to the site. From these interviews, we learned a great deal about the site’s origins and major moments of change throughout the past two decades.
    • Lindsay Decker, our courageous MLIS-student researcher, thoroughly examined various iterations of the website through an analysis of the website’s file tree and the hard drive on which former instances are saved. Screen captures on the Internet Archive have played a vital role throughout this research as well. The end result? A comprehensive index of the site(s) modeled after an archival finding aid. Lindsay has blogged about her research processes here and here.
    • Jedd Hakimi continues to research and write extensively in preparation for the final grant report. He has provided helpful frameworks for thinking about various aspects of the project throughout the past few months.
    • I am producing an academic poster (WATCH THIS SPACE!) and am applying for various conferences (ditto). I will also be posting our presentation from Kalamazoo in late May!
    Categories: 
    • Current Projects
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Urchin Report on Medart

    I’ve spent the past month analyzing an Urchin Report on the usage of Medart. Google Urchin was Google Analytics predecessor. I was using Urchin 7 which is the newest version, but it was released back in 2010, so there haven’t been any recent updates to it. I was warned that not every aspect of the software would work, and I found that to be true. There were no visitor data, but there were data on how many visits and hits there were to the site. Data on visit length did not appear consistently and neither did total bytes used. I was excited to find that Urchin had recorded bot activity, which gave me a more accurate depiction of site usage. We are more interested in use by real people, so I extracted bot hits from total hits to see how many real people used the site. However, Urchin states that it identifies bots by looking for “bot-like” activity which means there could be some inaccuracies. Therefore, while this data is helpful and shows some trends, it is possible that the information isn’t exact.

    I only had access to usage data from the past 18 months. 18 months initially consisted of Sept. 2015 to Feb. 2017, but since it is now March I have lost access to the Sept. 2015 data. Luckily, I had already recorded everything I needed from Sept. 2015 before the data disappeared. It appears that Urchin can only store 18 months of data at a time.

    Since I worked on this mostly in February, I’m going to focus this post on data from Sept. 2015 to Feb. 2017. When looking at total and average visits to medart, it looks like there is a slight low in the summer months and a spike beginning in Oct. 2016. However, when we look only at hits and take out the bots, it is clear that there is a consistent usage increase September to October with a peak in November for both 2015 and 2016. There is a slight dip in December but the lows are definitely in the summer months (June, July, August). This shows that activity by real people follows a pattern dictated by the academic calendar. The spike in visits that began in Oct. 2016 is likely a result of increased bot activity which has continued to the present, not because of increased use by real people.

    To reiterate, Urchin may not have accurately filtered out all the bots. One way we decided to combat any possibility of misinformation was by looking at hits to the glossary page. There’s no reason for bots to be overly interested in the glossary page, but it would be something people would use. We decided that by focusing on the glossary we might get a better idea of how many real people use medart. I found that the glossary page appeared as one of medart’s top 5 most visited content for the past 18 months. The glossary had 9,074 visits and was the third most visited page. In comparison, the home page had the most visits at 89,012. The vast difference in these numbers indicates that a large portion of home page visits could be bots. 9,074 visits are much closer to what we would expect from 18 months of usage. For each time period, Urchin would only give me information on the top 5 pages in medart. I went through month by month to see if the glossary was always in the top 5 content. The glossary didn’t show up in the top 5 content at all until September, 2016. It is possible that the glossary rose in popularity as a result of the Sustaining Medart team’s visit to Kalamazoo in May, 2016.

    Medart’s top 5 content consistently included the home page and the main menu pages for France and England, but interestingly enough, medart’s page on the Tower of London also appeared consistently. In fact, this page was the fifth most visited page overall for the past year and a half. The Tower of London page got 7,096 visits, and users spent an average of 6 minutes and 12 seconds on it. This is compared to the glossary which saw 3 minutes of average time spent. Of all the top 5 content, users spent the most time per visit with the Tower of London page. This activity did not sound like bot activity, so why were so many users spending so much time on this page? I dug a little deeper and found that the Tower of London was in the top 5 all 18 months except during July, August, and September of 2016 with a low in Dec. 2015 and a peak in March, 2016. This very nearly mimics the academic calendar, so it could be something used for classes. I wanted to know how people were finding this page so I googled “Tower of London Medieval Timeline” and looked under google images. An image from the Tower of London page was one of the first to come up. I found that someone had posted a link to this page on Pinterest. After some more searching I found two more images from medart saved to Pinterest. It’s exciting to see medart integrated into social media, and to see the effect it can have on site usage. It was good that I was able to get some insight on how actual people found medart. According to the Urchin Report, everyone who used medart got there by typing in the URL. This is extremely unlikely which is why I did some actual searching to get this information.

    I did a similar search to find out how people were getting to the glossary. I googled “medieval glossary” and medart’s glossary was the ninth result. I checked through the other results to see if any linked to medart but didn’t find anything. People certainly can get to the glossary this way, but I think it’s more likely that usage increased because of the presentation at Kalamazoo in May.

    Overall, the Urchin Reports presented us with a lot of really helpful information. We got further validation that medart usage revolves around the academic calendar, and we were able to look more closely at bot activity on the site. The Urchin Report also led me to discover other ways people have linked to medart, such as through Pinterest.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
    • The reverse side (without mugshot) of a Bertillon card
    • The cover of the book "Punishment and Inequality in America" by Bruce Western
    • A screenshot of the tags currently in use in the Decomposing Bodies Omeka site
    The reverse side (without mugshot) of a Bertillon card

    The reverse side (without mugshot) of a Bertillon card

     

    Updates to Decomposing Bodies

    This term is seeing some big changes for Decomposing Bodies— some that will be apparent from the outside, and some that will only affect those of us working behind the scenes. The Decomposing Bodies project has been a part of the VMW since the winter of 2013, and has gone through several phases over the years. This term, myself, along with two First Experience in Research (FER) students, as well as the support of the entire staff of the VMW, we are rolling out the next phase in Decomposing Bodies— what it is, how it’s organized, and who it’s for.

     

    Tags

    Creating a dataset of the text written on the Bertillon cards in the images that make up DB is the process of transcription, which is work that is shared between everyone working in the VMW. We use the content management system (CMS) Omeka, which is a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, at George Mason University. A part of the transcription system involves the use of tags, which allow users to indicate how much of a card has been transcribed, and whether there are any anomalies with the card. This makes review by the Project Manager much easier, and keeps track of our progress on the transcriptions. Beginning in January, we transferred to a new system of tags, which document similar aspects of the transcription process, but in more explicit terms. For example, the tag “pass1a” has become “Front,” indicating that all the fields on the front of a particular card have been transcribed. Not all of the tags translate so cleanly from one system to another, which is why before implementing the new system, I created what is known in the info management world as a “crosswalk”: a document outlining the items in the new tag schema, and their relationships to the old system. Future researchers using the DB dataset will likely never encounter these tags, or be affected by this change, but it marks a shift in how the ongoing work on this project is handled.

     

    Website

    However, not all the planned work on Decomposing Bodies will be behind the scenes. After the Data (after)Lives exhibition last fall, we’ve been working with Sam Nosenzo, an undergraduate Computer Engineering major here at Pitt, to create interactive visualizations of the faces from the Bertillon cards. This project is an extension of Sam’s piece with Alison Langmead and Aaron Henderson for Data (after)Lives, 7,105 Faces, in Order, and asks the viewer to confront the humanity of the people documented by the Bertillon cards. This interactive tool, as well as a static video version, will be a part of the public-facing Decomposing Bodies website, which is in the process of getting a major overhaul this term.

    Besides integrating Sam’s work, I have also been working on creating a comprehensive timeline of the past three and a half years of work on Decomposing Bodies, which will documented on the DB website. Along with this timeline, there are myriad resources related to Bertillonage, criminality, prison reform, surveillance practices, and facial recognition technologies that the research team has collected over the years. This bibliography, as well as some discussion of its influence on our own work with DB, will also be available on the updated website. These updates are expected to be live by the end of the Spring term. Keep an eye out here for the official launch date!

     

    FERs

    As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, Decomposing Bodies has two FER students this term: Joe Jang and Ashley Cipcic. They have been assisting with transcriptions of Bertillon cards, as well as developing a research project related to the content of the cards they’re looking at. They will both be writing blog posts documenting their work this semester. Ashley’s blog posts are at http://www.constellations.pitt.edu/blogs/ashley-cipcic, and Joe’s are at http://www.constellations.pitt.edu/blogs/joe-jang.

     

    Prison Reform and Bertillonage

    Finally, in thinking about not only creating the DB dataset, but also engaging with the objects and concepts that the dataset documents, I am beginning exploratory research into the role of Bertillonage in the prison reform movements happening across the United States, but especially in the midwest, at the turn of the 20th century. The implementation of Bertillonage in the Ohio State Reformatory and the Ohio Penitentiary— and across the US in general— is an interesting permutation of Bertillon’s original system, which was intended for use in the police force, in order to identify recidivist criminals at the point of arrest, rather than as a form of documentation for individuals as they move into the penal system. The conflation, or at least shortening of distance, between policing and prisons in the United States during this time has powerful repercussions for how crime, punishment, and surveillance are treated in contemporary discourse. You can see my ongoing reading list for this project at: https://www.zotero.org/shackney19/items/collectionKey/2QXCC52E  

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Connections with Medart's Past

    I recently finished the finding aid for PITT_EDU–medart. PITT_EDU–medart is a folder containing the earliest version of medart. It was the primary directory for medart until they created VRCOLL out of a need for more storage space. However, instead of moving the contents of PITT_EDU–medart onto VRCOLL, they continued to maintain it. PITT_EDU–medart served as the nucleus of medart in that the contents of VRCOLL often linked back to material in PITT_EDU–medart. Some of what’s on PITT_EDU–medart is no longer active on the medart site or in some cases never was. In this way PITT_EDU–medart is very much like a time capsule of medart’s history.

    PITT_EDU–medart includes relics of medart’s past such as course materials from Alison Stones’ “Introduction of Medieval Art and Architecture” classes. We know from interviewing Alison and by reading her work that medart was intended as a classroom tool. The course materials are further evidence of this. Assignment outlines, images to be used in assignments, and quizzes on vocabulary are some examples of course materials found on PITT_EDU–medart.

    There is also evidence of experimentation in PITT_EDU–medart. I found a version of the search feature that I hadn’t seen before. This further emphasizes that they considered a search feature but must have determined it wouldn’t work for medart since it was never made live on the site. The wording on the search feature (can be seen in the above image) indicates doubt on the part of its creator in regard to its functionality. It’s possible that it wasn’t that they didn’t think a search feature would work for medart, but rather couldn’t get the search feature to workv period.

    Another interesting discovery while creating the PITT_EDU–medart finding aid was consistency in the inaccuracy of France’s alphabetical categories. Instead of a long list of sites in France, they are organized into sections such as A-C or D-K etc. However, when exploring the file trees I noticed that A-C or D-K was not always an accurate title for a particular section. For example, D-K has starts with Chadenac and ends with Montmouillon, L-Z starts with Lacharite and ends with Metz, N-R starts with Montmouillon and ends with Rouen. It was interesting to see these inaccuracies reflected in the hard drive. On the current medart website the sites are organized into the correct sections.

    Creating this finding aid has given me the opportunity to evaluate the differences and connections between the VRCOLL and PITT_EDU–medart directories as well as with projects I worked on earlier this year.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Itinera's Best Practices

    In the Fall semester of 2016, I started training potential Itinera contributors outside the post of project manager. These individuals included Eleanor Harvey, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Fracesca Torello, professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon, S. E. Hackney, fellow Visual Media Workshop project manager, and Lindsay Decker, VMW graduate assistant. Through their feedback and questions during the trainings, I was able to refine my Spring semester project, which is to develop a Scalar site dedicated to outlining the best practices for Itinera. My vision for this project is to provide a platform for scholars interested in the mission of Itinera to be able to view and appreciate its networked complexity and readily envision themselves contributing to that complexity with their own objects and processes of inquiry.
     

    Scalar
    Currently, the content manager I am looking into is Scalar, an open-sourced authoring and publishing platform developed by the University of Southern California. Their mission is to enable their authors to assemble various media with text to create and structure easily navigatable, long-form and essay-length pages. From Itinera's point of view, the benefit of organizing information in this digital format is creating a business-card-like deliverable that, when given to interested parties, demonstrates the networked and relational complexity–while still, I hope, the do-ability–of working with Itinera through Collective Access, the University of Pittsburgh's web-based cataloging tool. (Collective Access is used to catalog the digital images for both the University Art Gallery and Decomposing Bodies project here at the University of Pittsburgh.)
     

    Itinera's Best Practices
    In using Scalar, I am building an online manual that: one, walks the user through the process of data input, both in text-based and video/screen capture directions; two, outlines common issues that arise when the historical record is translated into structural hierarchies in flattened input forms; and three, answers to frequently asked questions. I am certain to include the workflow, diligently put together by Jen Donnelly and Meredith North before me. Also, my growing list of chapters include: Source Authorities, Highlighting Narrative and Historical Tone, Location Specificity, Object Metadata, Supporting Agents Input, and a template for Users' Logging and Reflections. The aim of these chapters is to highlight issues that have emerged for the art historians working on Itinera that concern the nuances of the historical narrative that are lost in the metadata.

    For example, "Highlighting Narrative:"
    Tour Case Study:

    AG16051001_mn, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu:

    This is a factual overview of Montagu’s Turkish tour:
    With her husband and ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out to Turkey from Westminster, England by way of the Netherlands, Austria, and Serbia from August of 1716 to November 1718.

    This is historical context suggesting the motivations behind the tour:
    At that time, Turkey was at war with the Venetian Republic, whereby Mr. Montagu was assigned to mediate on behalf of England an agreement with Austria, in the attempt to prevent Austria from engaging with the Spanish power in the Mediterranean.

    This is my interpretation of the historical account, preserving the voice of the original historical record:
    During this time, Lady Montagu entertained at court while studying Arabic and reading Arabic poetry. Toward the end of their tour, her husband inevitably failed at establishing a truce with Austria, his position was usurped by a competitor, and he failed to ascend to a political post of any import, resulting in a general, bitter demeanor. Shortly after they separated. Lady Montagu turned her sights to Italy for almost the rest of her life, keeping up with her studies and correspondence with her stately and artistic friends abroad. She died in 1962, reviled and adored across Europe and the Near East.

    In short, my intention is to create an editable and mutable document that demonstrates the complexity of historical and social histories for Itinerant posterity.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Itinera
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    A Finding Aid for Medart: Delving into the Depths

    To start the semester, I finished a finding aid I had started last semester. The finding aid was for VRCOLL-medart,one of the versions of medart we have stored on a hard drive. VRCOLL-medart is that largest of the three versions of medart, and the finding aid, as it is now, is 16 pages long. I set up the finding aid by listing the main folders and then recording either a summary of its contents or a detailed account. A lot of the finding aid had to be done on a case by case basis, because there really was no steady consistency to the organization of VRCOLL-medart. Some folders were titled after a monument and everything in the folder was used for medart’s webpage on that monument. Other folders might be named “Business Cards” and contain a to-do list for a grad student, instructions on how to create an image retrieval link, a file that can’t be opened named “History-of-medart,” and not a single reference to business cards. In cases like that I had to list everything that was in the folder because there would be no way to summarize it other than “miscellaneous files,” in which case half the folders in VRCOLL-medart would be labeled as such. The lack of consistency certainly contributed to the length of the finding aid. The reason for the disorganization of VRCOLL-medart might be simply because it was used for so long and by so many different people. Collaborative efforts by many graduate students with different organization strategies are probably the greatest reason for the inconsistencies. Another is the sheer size of VRCOLL-medart, which consists of 116 GB, far larger than any other version of medart we have. VRCOLL-medart is larger, because it also houses images and information for the Chartres website which was a separate project run by some of the same people. One aspect of VRCOLL-medart I found particularly interesting were the folders dedicated to specific countries. The medart website has images only of France and England, but VRCOLL-medart has folders for the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, and Spain. At first, I thought these folders only contained images from these countries and that medart never had the time or funding to make webpages for them and put them up in medart. But interestingly enough there are multiple html webpages for each country including homepages for all of them except the Czech Republic. So the question is why did they not add the webpages and images to medart if they had already created them? All in all taking the time to thoroughly sweep VRCOLL-medart has provided us with quite a bit of useful information. There was email correspondence saved in VRCOLL-medart concerning requests to use medart images, questions about medart, and conversations between medart’s creators. I also found a presentation two of the graduate students who worked on medart gave at a conference that gives us insight on their thoughts on medart and how it was intended to be used. There were also usage stats and a great deal of other information in VRCOLL-medart that will be useful to our understanding of medart’s history. I’m interested to discover more about medart from the other two versions of it we have.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
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    Exploring the Path to England

    Recently, I have taken some time to explore the changes made to medart’s menu page for England (menuengland). Some of the most drastic changes to medart occurred on this page. In the earliest snapshot we have of menuengland from 12.25.1996 the user had to navigate to the images they wanted through a map. The user had to click on the location of whichever monument they wanted images of. They did have a link to an alphabetic site list one could choose as an alternative to the map. In 2000, they increased the size of the map and made the alternative site list a more prominent feature on the site. By 2008, the map had been eradicated and the only navigation option was through the site list. I wanted to dig deeper into the reasons these changes were made and discovered a number of possibilities. My understanding is that the map used on the menuengland page of medart from 1996-2008 is an image map. One definition of an image map “is a list of coordinates relating to a specific image, created in order to hyperlink areas of the image to different destinations (as opposed to a normal image link, in which the entire area of the image links to a single destination),” (Wikipedia 2016). This essentially is what the map on menuengland does. There have been two different types of image maps. Server-side image maps were the first type and were used starting in 1993. The second type of image map is a client-side image map, and those were used starting in January of 1997. Therefore, we can assume that at least at first menuengland was using a server-side image map. I’m a little fuzzy on the different between a server-side and client-side image map, but I think it has to do with how the browser finds the URL you’ve clicked on within the image map. People had a lot of trouble with server-side image maps, because the browser didn’t always understand where to send the user. Now if you happen to see an image map on the web (the sites I was on seemed to scoff at the continued use of image maps and referred to them as “mystery-meat navigation”) it’s almost always client-side (Bloom). The modifications to menuengland happened primarily in 1998 (35%), 2000 (21%), and 2001 (38%). After 2001 it was only modified once each in 2008 and 2009 and then twice in 2014 that I can tell. The modifications may have been more frequent in 1998 because they were switching to the newly invented client-side image map. Then in 1999 the Web Content Access Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 was published. WCAG 1.0 mentions image maps quite a bit, because they are inaccessible to someone using a keyboard. They recommend web developers provide a text equivalent when using an image map (W3C 1999). This could explain the changes in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, they changed menuengland by enlarging the map and making the site list (their alternative to the image map) more prominent. Previously, the site list was at the bottom of the page, and after 2000 it was moved to the top of the page and enlarged. They also added an option to explore the sites by category. This may have been an attempt to better comply with the WCAG or at least to make the site more accessible. The image map was not fully removed until 2008. From the Wayback Machine I can tell the image map was removed sometime between 5/9/2008 and 12/16/2008. However, upon looking at the metadata I was able to find an exact date since there was only one modification in 2008: 10/7/2008. This is very near to when WCAG 2.0 was published (December 11, 2008). WCAG 2.0 similarly condemned image maps and urged web developers to provide alternatives to users who needed assistive technologies to use a computer (W3C 2008). Medart removed the image map prior to the release of WCAG 2.0, but if it was a hot topic at the time they may still have removed it for accessibility reasons. They replaced the image map with a site list organized alphabetically and created an identical one for menufrance. Connecting the actions of the creators of medart to what was going on in the world of web development is both enlightening and exciting. Adding that context gives the changes made to medart more meaning. The changes they made to menuengland were likely not made on a whim to improve aesthetics or style but instead to improve the accessibility of the site and extend its usefulness to more people. References Bloom, Zack. “A Quick History of Image Maps.” Eager. Accessed November 28, 2016. https://eager.io/blog/a-quick-history-of-image-maps/. W3C. 1999. “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.” Last modified May 5, 1999. http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10. W3C. 2008. “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.” Last Modified December 11, 2008. http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/. Wikipedia. 2016. “Image Map.” Last modified November 11, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image_map.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Site Specificity and Diversity Concerns within Itinera

     

    Since starting on Itinera, I've focused on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an 18th-Century aristocrat and poet. Specifically, I focus on her tour from London, through Eastern Europe, and into Istanbul with her hubsband, the English ambassador to Turkey. As her introduction reads:

    With her husband and ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu set out to Turkey from Westminster, England by way of the Netherlands, Austria, and Serbia in August of 1716. At that time, Turkey was at war with the Venetian Republic, whereby Mr. Montagu was assigned to mediate on behalf of England an agreement with Austria, in the attempt to prevent Austria from engaging with the Spanish power in the Mediterranean. During this time, Lady Montagu entertained at court while studying Arabic and reading Arabic poetry. Toward the end of their tour, her husband inevitably failed at establishing a truce with Austria, his position was usurped by competition, and he failed to ascend to a political post of any import. Shortly after they separated. Lady Montagu turned her sights to Italy for almost the rest of her life, keeping up with her studies and correspondence with her stately and artistic friends abroad.

    Originally, I saw my take on this project to be one that diversifies both the travelling agent and their destinations. As it was, and, in light of recent electoral events, selecting and following a wealthy, white woman as she travels through Eastern Europe and Turkey was not going to suffice. Thus I've redirected my thinking on what it means to do diverse digital humanities and scholarship as far as I can see: though it would be wrong to ignore the readily available histories of white travellers during this time, I use Montagu as locus to investigate the structural biases built in to the historicization and visualization of these white, European travellers.

    In doing so, I hope to place at the forefront practical and conceptual best practices: practically, I aim for site specificity in order to visually differentiate the plot points on Itinera's map. When an agent, Montagu, visits Rome, for example, she lists details such as churches, squares, villas, often without naming the building or describing its function. So I focus my attention on teasing evidence foremost from the primary material, (i.e., Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters) and historical data (i.e., histories of medieval bridges, churches, etc.) in order to best differentiate between sites. I ask myself questions such as:

    • Architecturally, which sites, details, buildings were extant while she was visiting and what buildings are known to have been demolished? This question might lead to understanding what peoples were displaced with the destruction of their communities and spaces both during the Austrio-Turskish War as well as more contemporary wars.
    • Socio-politically: what positions did her hosts hold? I can find much of this information in the endnotes, but sometimes this would still need further investigation, especially with the misspelling of a name or location. Certainly, this question can help in determining in what "castle on the hill" she stayed while in Budapest in January 1717, but even more importantly this specificity can shed light on her hosts' alliances and what hand they had in the erasure of other histories.
    • Also socio-politically: what historically significant meetings and events occurred while she was in that city that would indicate the location of a town center, assembly hall, or city center? This question could shed light on significant events in the history of the Habsburg Empire and could point to the location of other points of interest in uncovering other histories. For example, what effects, if any, did Montagu's epistolary criticism of the Imperial German Diet's assembly to other aristocrats (i.e., Alexander Pope) have on court life? Would the ramifications of her criticisms have any political or legistlative effect?

    Practically, if I'm able to piece together pieces of evidence that in some way answer questions such as these, I am able to narrow down a specific location with some degree of certainty. And if such details are not available, I do not take it upon myself to differentiate the location and will, as necessary, defer to others who specialize in these histories. I recognize at this point I am an interlocutor to interpret subjective data and place it into a flattened network of other data points on a map. In this case, if I name the site simply as "Rome instead" of "the north wall of the Colosseum," I leave the reponsibility of further specification to a future historian that may perhaps work with a new visualization and evidence.

    This attention to site specificity, of course, serves a worthwhile conceptual function as well. Although I am still working on this connection, attention to historio-politically mediated spaces in turn draws attention to the systems of power and the erasure of other histories. 

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Itinera
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Discoveries in Medart

    With the help of Matt Burton we were able to successfully extract metadata from the medart folders via unix commands. We have since imported that data into an excel spreadsheet from which we have begun analyzing and organizing our findings. I have been specifically looking at when which directories were most frequently modified and which file types were used most prominently. Unsurprisingly, the files are overwhelmingly jpgs followed by gifs and the directory with the most files by far is the “image” directory. We have also looked at which months showed the most activity and have found that their actions directly reflect the school year with the most modifications taking place in May and June and the fewest during the winter holidays in December and January.

    Unfortunately, we have only been able to find the date modified for these folders. Every avenue I have tried in my attempts to find the date created has yielded either November 4, 2014 (long after medart was created) or January 1, 1970 (long before medart was even thought of). While we will continue to look for new ways to capture the date created of these files, in the meantime there is a lot that can be learned from the metadata we already have.

    Also, while combing through the data I came across a folder titled “Kalamazoo.” In it I found presentation outlines for the 2009 International Congress on Medieval Studies. The Sustaining Medart team attended this same conference in May 2016 and will again in 2017. In 2009 two of medart’s primary creators, Jane Vadnal and Phil Maye, presented on medart. While we don’t have their actual presentations the outlines do give us some insight into the creation of medart and the intentions behind it. For example, we now know medart began as a way to turn Alison Stones’ course materials into webpages.

    Studying medart is constantly leading us to new surprises and discoveries at every turn. I’m excited to see what we will find next as we put more and more pieces of the medart puzzle together.

     

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

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