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The day after the Day of DH: some reflections

April 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

I meant to write up some kind of concluding post last night, but I ended up testing some things for Danielle around 10:30 last night then fell asleep, so that didn’t happen.

I have two major take-aways from the Day of DH and they are as follows:
1. live-blogging my day showed me that I do a lot more in a day than I thought I did.
2. A lot of people in digital humanities are doing a lot of the same things I am: reading, writing, testing.

I particularly enjoyed reading the Day of DH blogs of friends, colleagues, and people whom I only know through twitter. It was funny to see that Scott Weingart and I find our sources in much the same way. I wonder if we ever would have found that out otherwise – and I’m curious just how much Google has changed how people research. I really enjoyed seeing how other people work, where, and what they do on an average day – meetings, writing, reading. It was a nice reminder that even though we all do Digital Things, it’s not really so different from what our “analog” colleagues do.

Jen Guiliano said a lot of things that desperately needed to be said about doing digital humanities (“someone will ask if you can just take the time to help them figure out how to” & you will be expected to know how). I’m currently one of three digital humanities people in my department, and the only graduate student in my faculty that is doing so (as far as I know). Sometimes I wonder if departments with full-fledged DH groups get these kinds of queries, and it’s refreshing to see that they do, despite all the frustrations that come with them.

I worry that Digital Humanities is quickly becoming an echo chamber online, especially on twitter. Josh Honn highlights a number of anxieties we share about this movement. But this makes a nice relic of what we do when we do what we do – and a handy link to send to friends within and outwith the academy who ask “so what do you DO ALL DAY?”

Q: What does intercontinental collaboration look like?

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

A: a lot of rapid-fire emails of screenshots.
Screen shot 2013-04-08 at 10.26.05

Speaking The Same Language

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

I did some work on my chapter tonight until an immediate need for buffalo chicken set in and I realized I was getting grumpy. I was born and raised in the US and currently live in the UK where buffalo wings are not A Thing. This is unfortunate, but luckily I brought a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce back with me on my last trip. Preparedness!

Things are looking up quite a bit now that I’ve made buffalo chicken wraps for dinner. I’m not sure about the editing I did on this chapter while I was pining after buffalo chicken, so I suppose I’ll have to go revisit that tomorrow morning. Our work is never done, eh? While I was waiting for my chicken to cook I got an email from my colleague Danielle.

As I mentioned this morning, I work with a group of computer science PhD students at UW-Madison who build data visualization sets. Danielle and I have been talking about ways to use her text visualization tool, TextDNA, to show similarities and difference in a set of texts. I occasionally will get an email from her or one of our other colleagues at UW-Madison asking me to test something they’ve built and come back with a report of what works, what doesn’t, and what kind of information i’m getting out of it. From there, they might go back and modify something that I point out might be useful, or something that might be unclear for someone who is not a data visualization expert.

It helps that we largely speak the same language of digital research, although I probably know more about the linguistics of Early Modern English and I know that Danielle knows far more about coding than I do or possibly ever will. We can meet on the common ground of dealing with metadata, and the question of “what do we do with a million words?”, which is helpful. There is definitely the potential for a lot of frustration here (“how can she not know THAT?!”) but I think it’s been a productive collaboration for both parties.

Currently we are trying to work out whether or not there is an error in compiling an sqlite file in a python script from last week. I managed to get the script to produce CSV files for visualizations in TextDNA on Friday and write up a report for her, but due to the time difference (I’m six hours ahead of Danielle) this might not get resolved tonight, but that’s OK. Maybe I’ll go back to my chapter for a bit, though I usually try to stop working around 8 or 9pm. Tonight I’m definitely staying in to stay far away from any sort of Thatcher “celebrations” that might be happening nearby. Perhaps I’ll write up some kind of concluding blog post later?


multitasking: an afternoon

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’m just back from my walk, where I have been thinking about possible homes for that paper I presented the other week. While I was in my office today I answered an email about participating in an outreach day for the university, specifically about getting secondary school students studying Shakespeare involved in a hands-on digital humanities workshop based on our Textlab project and some of the technical needs for that. Because I do a lot of interdisciplinary work – specifically as part of Textlab and the Vertically Intergrated Project initiative – I’ve been put on some kind of interdisciplinary-student mailing list. Today I’ve also been invited to some kind of business-learning synergy incubator.  I think I will be skipping that. For me, this drives the point home that a) my university is still woefully unprepared to deal with interdisciplinary work across the curriculum and b) because i do digital things I should be able to find practical applications in the business world.  It must be said that point (b) is a perpetual problem for humanities scholars in a polytechincal university and certainly not unique to me.

I want to point out that I don’t hate my university at all, I just don’t think its infrastructure is really designed for the sort of work I do.

I’ve also been revising the statistics part of of that chapter I’ve been working on.  For what was beginning to look like a more “traditional” humanities day, it’s certainly taken a bit of a change! I’ve also followed the Margaret Thatcher story (currently there are 4 rather misguided American friends on my Facebook mourning the loss of Margaret Thatcher, Feminist Icon), read a few friends’ #DayofDH blogs and bought hand soap: so far, a productive afternoon. I really wasn’t kidding about the multi-tasking thing I mentioned below.

I’m currently back at home, so here’s where I work at home. I did some cleaning yesterday, so it’s not quite the paper mess it was previously.  There’s some construction going on in the car park across the street, but nothing some more music can’t drown out.

2013-04-08 15.59.14

I’m doing yet another shift as a DHNow Editor-At-Large this week, so I’m going to have a quick skim through my DHNow-sanctioned feeds. Writing this blog today has taught me that I spend a LOT of time skimming. I’m not all that impressed by a lot of things the “DHNow Twitter Times” feed tends to pick up, as a lot of it is just news or human-interest stories that a lot of people have tweeted. This, of course, is how their algorithm works: if lots of people tweet it, it must be relevant.  You can see my picks here, if you are so inclined. Then it will be back to revising the chapter before I take a break to go to the grocery store and make dinner.


How I Work

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’m a big fan of the Lifehacker “How I Work” series. Since I’ve just come into my office, I figured I would do my own little how-I-work post (because let’s face it, Lifehacker’s not going to be asking me anytime soon.)

Where I work
I’m based at what could best be described as a polytechnical university, and while I technically am in English Studies, there has recently been a conglomeration of a number of previously-indedepent departments (history, politics, law, modern languages, and English studies) into a Humanities and Social Studies faculty. I currently share an open-plan office with 100 other graduate students across the Humanities faculty, which in practice looks a lot like a giant computer lab. In this space we are all hot-desking, and we don’t have any bookshelves here. I mention all of this background to point out that despite all evidence to the contrary, my university is decidedly not optimized for digital work.

Here’s what my “desk” looks like today:2013-04-08 11.58.58

The university has kindly provided PCs for us to use, as you can see, but I don’t use them if I don’t have to. As I’ve grumbled about before, we do not have administrator’s rights on these computers. I use a lot of programs that run from scripts and/or require the ability to install something on your computer. I use my own Mac (OS X.6.8 if you care), where I can download, install, and run anything from Python to Mendeley (yes, really).

Despite the polytechnical university thing, we have absolutely zero IT support here. We only got a working wireless network this academic year, and it’s still not everywhere on campus. In my previous office I was attached to the wall using an ethernet cable. Allow me to point out that renovations have made this building into a “state-of-the-art” humanities space. Like I said earlier, I don’t work in here very much if I can help it. My desk at home looks very different, and I much prefer having a dedicated space I can make a paper nest out of.

How I work
I’m a multitasker by nature – I’m very bad at working on just one thing at once, and I need to keep myself busy with a number of projects otherwise I get bored. “Working”, for me, often means jumping between two or three different things. (It is really helpful that a lot of the work I do often involves triangulating information between multiple programs.)

I imagine that watching me work would be very stressful, because it probably looks like I’m doing about 75 things at once. I keep TweetDeck open at almost all times, though I’m not always reading it. I usually have  Open Source Shakespeare open in a tab, Google Scholar in another and a blank tab just in case/for the blank space. I might still have that window of interesting links open from this morning, too. If I’m working from home I have my university inbox open as well – in my office, I have it directed to my email client, which only works when I’m on the campus network.

I probably have three or four open files that I’m either reading, referencing, or working on. Depending on what I’m doing that day I might have a concordancer, Docuscope, or other digital tool open. I take notes in TextEdit and make lists on paper. I have nearly everything hosted on Dropbox, which I share with my colleagues in the US. It’s been useful way for a lot of us to collaborate and share files.

Every day around 3pm I take a walk for an hour to think. I live really close to my university (10 minutes from home to office, 5 from home to department), so instead of adding commuting time into my day I take an hour to walk around. This is such a staple of my work routine – it started just because I had some small errands to run, but I found myself working out small details on my hour-long walk every day that it just became second nature. If I’ve been working in my office, I’ve been coming back to work at home after my walk.

I like to listen to music while I work for background noise, so my headphones get quite a workout. I like to listen to hip-hop and pop music while writing, but anything goes for researching and reading. If I had ever figured out Spotify maybe I would have linked today’s work playlist here, but alas.

How do you work?

On Digital and Analog Humanities

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’m not a morning person. I had been hoping that graduate school would change that, but it decidedly hasn’t. I’ve been up since 8:30am and while I don’t work at breakfast, I am on the computer: catching up on last night’s twitter stream, skimming through Facebook to keep up with friends back in the States, and trying in vain to catch up on some of my Google Reader. I usually collate a number of links over breakfast that I will want to read over the course of the day, stick them all in their own firefox window, and deal with them later. Over lunch I will skim the Guardian, the Boston Globe and the New York Times for headlines, as lunchtime in the UK is morning in the US.

My work day officially starts when I decide I’ve had enough coffee to answer email in a sensible way. I’ll answer anything that needs to be answered and I’ll start to work through that aforementioned firefox window. I’ll save the good stuff for Twitter later.

I’m currently working on trying to read as many Early Modern London plays as I can from my 400-play corpus, so I can say I know something about the plays I’m addressing in my PhD. I’m in the middle of a collection of John Marston’s plays at the moment. I’m reading The Malcontent this morning – I’ve been saving that for a Monday morning.

After I finish The Malcontent I’ll pack up and go into my office for a while. I’ll blog about my office when I get there, but I don’t always work there: it’s a kind of miserable space, so I work from home a lot. I’ve fallen back into the habit of coming into the office; it’s nice to get up and have to go somewhere. Lately I’ve been finding myself going a little stir-crazy working from home full-time. I’ve always liked having separate work-spaces and home-spaces.

Today might be more of an “analog humanities” day than a “digital humanities” day, but we’ll see. I often joke about analog vs digital humanities. For all the digital stuff I do, I’m still writing a rather traditional dissertation, with close readings of plays serving as evidence. I read and write in much the same way as my non-digital colleagues who study any combination of linguistics, gender, and/or Early Modern London plays. But I also produce and analyze varieties of wordlists of linguistic features of gender using a variety of digital tools. In essence, I read both linearly (“analog humanities”) and non-linearly (“digital humanities”). I just happen to find my examples through distance, rather than close, reading. Digital tools are a methodology for highlighting what needs to be read closely, rather than serving as the close-reading itself.

So, in practice, some days I’m reading about the sociolinguistics of gender, other days I’m reading literary criticism on Early Modern London plays, and other days I’m counting instances of a pronoun in Middleton. Often I’m doing several of these at the same time.  I’ve been editing a paper I just gave in my department two weeks ago into something publishable, I’m cleaning up a chapter I recently gave my supervisors.  My colleague Danielle, a member of UW-Madison’s Data Visualization group, has just sent me some I stuff combining TFIDF and her TextDNA visualization tool on Friday, and I’ve been playing around with this information for a bit in hopes of addressing similarities and differences between plays. But first: Marston!

Hello world!

April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

I’m a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow, UK), where I study representations of gender in the Early Modern London plays as part of the Mellon-Funded Visualizing English Print 1470-1800 project between Strathclyde, UW-Madison and the Folger Shakespeare Library. You can read more about our research on our blog.

My PhD is about the creation and implementation of a text analysis tool called Genderscope, which applies a universal metric of gendered terms to a given corpus. It is based around the framework of a rhetorical analysis software developed at Carnegie Mellon University by David Kaufer and Suguru Ishizaki called Docuscope.

In addition to my own work on gender in the early modern period, I moonlight as tech support for Visualizing English Print and teach two courses (literature/criticism/theory and digital text analysis).  You can read more about me on my site, follow me on twitter (@heatherfro) or see my page on  This is my first year participating in Day of DH.

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