Week 1: Reimagining Humanities

If Digital Humanities used humanities as point of departure, as mentioned by Schreibman: “thinking about digital scholarship as emerging uniquely yet concurrently from the many traditional disciplinary practice in the humanities”(2012), it has proven to be “an important place for thinking about, experimenting with and rethinking the humanities” (Svensson, 2012). 

Digital Humanities is about studying an environment on a moving train. Is about measuring the impact of an earthquake while it is still shaking. It is happening and we want to understand it, we want to improve it, we want to learn and share knowledge. Together, as a community. On the moving train. 

The text ‘Big Tent Digital Humanities’ contains a short and clear definition of what digital humanities is: digital humanities is a comprehensive activist project that uses technology to respond to the interconnected cultural and structural problems of academe. (Pannapacker, 2011a).

While Pannapacker mentions the technology as the door to access the answers to the interdisciplinary issues of the field, Svensson sets the digital object as a boundary: “The ‘digital’ in a broad sense and in various manifestations constitutes a shared boundary object.” (Svensson, 2012). I found interesting how the same aspect can be described, not negatively, but as a limit or as the means to achieve a goal. 

The Companion was published in 2004 and as Pannapacker says, it provides a “comprehensive introduction to the field” (Pannapacker, 2011a). Reading the Schreibman piece it gets visible that collaboration and the sense of community were part of the field since its birth. The first contributors had a strong literary studies background which is transmitted in the second section, “Principles”, with four of the seven chapters about electronic text and later the creation of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) (Schreibman, 2012). The rapid evolve of Digital Humanities as a field becomes evident when Schreibman says that three years later the articles had been published they no longer expressed the most recent thinkings of the field. (2012).

Pannacker, in his first text ‘Big Tent Digital Humanities’, discusses the directions and the promising future of Digital Humanities saying that it is the “next big thing” (Pannapacker, 2011a). It seems that the field has huge potential, that is growing fast and creating positive changes in the academic field, but also that it has very real challenges. In the second part of this text he points to important issues, such as the lack of understanding about what Digital Humanities scholars do as much of the conversation happens through scholarly channels and the struggle that scholars face to gain stability in the field (Pannapacker, 2011b). 

Week 2: Reading Screens: Surfaces and Grounds

I see Hayles’ text, How We Read, almost as a provocation. She seems to be literally challenging the scholars in literary studies to stop publishing studies with weak arguments and do something to help, if there is what she calls “national crisis in reading” (2010). She contextualizes saying that the need to justify the discipline’s existence, makes scholars and teachers attached to the close reading which prevents teachers from exploring other forms of digital reading (Hayles, 2010). 

People are reading more on screens and less on printed materials. What is understandable seeing the variety of digital media and interfaces we are exposed to these days. How many platforms were created in the last decade? Not only for reading, but also social media, games, video streaming, news, etc. On the other hand, scholars in literary studies are not yet addressing this issue and teachers don’t make the most of digital trends.

Another important point that Hayles mentions is the three reading practices (Close, Hyper and Machine) overlap. I understand that they all have advantages and disadvantages, each of them will be useful in different situations and should be chosen considering the reader’s goal. If used as complementaries and not competitive techniques, they may improve efficiency further.

If people read less print, they will read print less well, it’s a causal relation. But if new forms of interaction between digital and print literacies are created, one mutually complementing each other, then new discoveries become possible. Hayles says that literacy studies are about reading, regardless of the surface and I cannot agree more (Hayles, 2010).

In My Acts of Reading, Andrew Prescott, narrates his relationship with reading and technology in a fascinating way. I think he reminds us of the importance of being open minded about new technologies and to the changes they bring to our lives. We are part of the transformation now and we will always need to be. Life is about changing and adapting, so if there are new technologies or new techniques available, it is important to evaluate them, include what is useful and discard what is not.

Finally, talking a bit about myself, I love physical books and I love buying them. Whenever is possible, I will choose the paper, because I work in front of the computer the whole day, so if I have a chance, I will  let my eyes rest. But I read daily on screens: computer, phone and tablet. I read newspapers online and find Google News very useful to go deeper into subjects I may be interested in and compare sources.  

Week 3: On the beginnings of the web / text technologies

In the early sixties, the networking concept was taking its first steps. Later in this decade, ARPANET would provide “the technical foundation for the internet” (Alringer, 2018). Initially, the purpose of such development was to facilitate data transfer between universities, and in 1969 the first digital data was sent from one computer at University of California, Los Angeles to another at the Stanford Research Institute that was around 300 miles away (ProQuest, 2019).

At the time the investments in scientific research started raising during the Cold War, the US Department of Defense began an experimental project developed by Pentagon’s Advanced Research Project Agency with the purpose of facilitating communication and data exchange between distinct educational and governmental research labs. ARPANET then designed the idea of “packet switching”, or according to Tim Berners-Lee, they deciphered how to “send around little packets of information”, (Berners-Lee, no date) and by 1980, 13 computeres centre were connected (ProQuest, 2019).

In 1983 the ARPANET adopted the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP) giving birth to the Internet. TCP and IP protocols were created by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn and they allowed “different types of computers all over the world to recognise each other, and route and assemble data packets, forming a network of networks” (ProQuest, 2019). 

It is common to see the terms Internet and Web being used erroneously as they were interchangeable, however they are essentially different. Tim Berners-Lee in the W3 website says that “the Web could not be without the Net”, this because the Internet is the infrastructure composed by computers and cables which enables the existence of the Web. The programs communicating between computers on the Internet through TCP and IP protocols allows the Web to be an “abstract (imaginary) space of information… where you find documents, sounds, videos, information.” (Berners-Lee, n.d.).

The Web was created by Tim Berneers Lee at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1989. There were extensive groups of people from several companies, using different computer systems working in CERN (BBC, 2010a), therefore Berneers-Lee wrote a proposal concerning to the management of information at CERN, addressing the problem of “loss of information” and suggesting a solution through the implementation of a hypertext system (Berners-Lee, 1989).

Berners-Lee specified Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), a protocol and a language for formatting hypertext (text with hyperlinks). He also created the system for retrieving web pages: the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or address bar (ProQuest, 2019). The HTML language contains a series of elements that labels pieces of content, such as header, paragraph and links, to describe hierarchically the structure of a webpage (w3schools.com, n.d.).

What Tim Berneers-Lee created to be the internal communication method of CERN, spreaded around the whole world in the last 30 years. In 2010 approximatelly 25% of the world had access to the Web (BBC, 2010b) and according to the Forbes website, this number increased nearly twofold in 2018 (Marr, 2018). The Web was based in print culture but in fact it is not print. It is instead a dynamic and interconnected virtual space which makes us all contributors, it “allows anyone to publish and to distribute words, images, videos and software globally, instantly and virtually for free” (BBC, 2010b). 

The Web transformed everything. It also transformed the academy, changed where scholarlies discussions take place and how knowledge is constructed and disseminated. Wikipedia is an example of the decentralization of knowledge generated by the Web, it follows the Web’s most basic principles: anyone in the world with a computer can contribute with it. Also the Web is what allows us to create a variety of applications, from text analysis and other visual representation tools to our own space of idea sharing. 

In this context, Journals, research websites, wikis, blogs and communities were created by students and scholars. The Domain of One’s Own project reminds us of the importance of the “control over our scholarship, data, and digital identity” (Reingold, 2016). The Wired writer of A Domain of One’s Own predicted in 2007 that “infrastructure was moving to the cloud where students could, and would, take care of their own services” (Wired, no date), and two years later in 2009 Gardner Campbell “argued that learning to build and operate a personal cloud was a life skill students would need and should be taught” (Wired, no date). To have a domain is very important because it makes the knowledge that was locked behind scholarly journal gates accessible to everyone, addressing the issue that Pannapacker called the “void in the public discourse about what we do” (Pannapacker, 2011b). 

Week 4: Response to topics arising in the film “The Internet’s Own Boy”

The web, a concrete legacy of the 1960’s counterculture (BBC, 2010c), comes from a generation carrying the ideal of freedom and was idealized by a person seeking a tool to facilitates collaboration and provide access to information (BBC, 2010a).

From the beginning, it was already possible to see the two different paths the Web could take. Berners-Lee gave the web for free because of the ideal of sharing, while Bill Gates later saw it as the opportunity of the century – if monetized. In 1995 when Microsoft created Internet Explorer, the Web almost became a branded Microsoft experience, because they were forcing manufacturers to sell computers with the browser pre-installed. (BBC, 2010d)

The documentary The Internet’s Own Boy introduces a more recent discussion about the Web’s overturn, the sad history of hacktivism and institutionalized control that ends with a loss to humanity. Aaron Swartz was ahead of his time and his liberal ideas conflicted with the restrictions imposed by government and institutions. 

Lawrence Lessig in his book The Future of Ideas says that this same control that got evident in Aaron’s case is a result of “ideas we take for granted”, in this case specifically the idea that “the whole world is best managed when divided among private owners”. (Lessig, 2002)

Lawrence uses the web as an example that huge innovations happen when there is no control to resources – Aaron Swartz as Tim Berners-Lee believed in that. If the Web was created to be an environment of freedom and to provide access to information, making the world more equal and a better place to live in, what exactly changed? In his other book, Free Culture, Lawrence contextualizes this issue explaining that the laws were changed in order to support the interests of big media. He said “this is not a protectionism to protect artists. It is instead a protectionism to protect certain forms of business.” (Lessig, 2005).

Some companies adopted the idealized concept of “free”, but behind the screens they have architected a huge organization of data monetization, what Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism”. This form of information capitalism was created by Google and spread quickly to other companies, such as Facebook, becoming the default model in the digital world (Zuboff, 2019). The data collected by these companies are used not only to offer advertisements according to your recent navigation, but also to produce predictions of human behaviour.  

In academia, the Open Access Movement is a huge step towards the web idealized by Tim, Aaron and Lawrence as well. A web with real free platforms, which provides equal access to knowledge, a “space of one’s own”.

“Open access is a publishing model for scholarly communication that makes research information available to readers at no cost, as opposed to the traditional subscription model in which readers have access to scholarly information by paying a subscription (usually via libraries).” (“What is open access?,” no date)

Week 5: Discuss: GLAM – and Open GLAM 

As everything it touches, technology is changing the way we experience culture, and the text ‘Understanding the Impact of Digitisation on Culture’ introduces the agenda of discussions around the impact of the Web, Big Data and AI on culture (Concil of Europe, no date). 

Although used interchangeably, the terms ‘Digitization’ and ‘Digitalization’ are, in practice, completely different. While ‘Digitization’ is the move from paper-based or, as the Gartner says, from “analog to digital form” (Gartner, no date), ‘Digitalization’ is the redesign of analog activities within a digital environment following the FAIR principles and leading to an improvement of processes and user experience (Murphy, 2020). Furthermore, there is the term ‘Digital Transformation’, which I would say is the final goal of a Digitalization project. In other words ‘Digitization’ is the first step which allows ‘Digitalization’ and this, if well executed, will lead to ‘Digital Transformation’.

The text ‘Reaping the Benefits of Digitisation’ discusses alternatives on how museums can make profit from their digitised collection to address the funding crisis and add value to the visitors experience. They explore the use of some technologies, such as image recognition and Print-on-Demand automation, using a mobile application to interact with the visitor. The benefits of such digitalisation are unquestionable, it not only increases accessibility to the collection, but also provides new ways of interaction with the public and generates revenue income. 

The study is very interesting and has great insights. Some suggestions are made to improve the conversion rate, such as adding more payment methods. But I would also suggest that the login should be one of the latest steps, as this is a huge barrier in the navigation process. An A/B test will show that more precisely, but normally each step added decreases the conversion, mainly if it involves complex decisions, such as data provision. I believe visitors should be able to navigate freely through the app and only when and if they want to purchase something, then the login is required. This would widen the conversion funnel as well as increase the final conversion rate.

The same relutance to the digital that happened in the GLAM sector also happened in the business sector. At the begining the retailers believed that if they implemented an online sales channel, the physical stores would lose their customers. But then, we discovered what seems obvious nowadays: it actually reached people that the physical store were not able to reach. Later, through the implementation of omnichannel solutions, such as click and collect, it was created a crosschannel experience bringing customers from the online to the physical. Now with smartphones and social media, the retailers without an ecommerce are doomed to fail. 

The fund issue can be seen as a huge oportunity to the field transform itself and be able to survive to the Digital Age.

Week 10: Response to J McGann – Marking Texts (2004)

The text introduces many concepts that are new to me and as others have already mentioned here, this was a challenging reading. I completely agree with Sthefanie who said that it seemed McGann was “being purposely difficult”, maybe to create the need for his text to be decoded using close reading techniques. 

While the markup code has the goal of storing objects and making them easier to be found and accessed, their analytic function is limited because of the premise that text is an “ordered hierarchy of context objects.” In other words, McGann says that electronic markup codes can be useful for archive purposes, but they don’t have the ability to execute autopoietic operation, which is so important for humanities scholars. Therefore, he stresses the importance of improving digital tools so they can do what TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) by itself cannot do, to “transform data into knowledge”. Finally, the projects McGann mentioned, IVANHOE and Time Modelling, were developing tools that could fill this gap.


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