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Updated: 14 hours 11 min ago

Learning to Augment Reality

Tue, 21/11/2017 - 19:35

The Praxis team is in the midst of defining its project, and for the past few weeks, we’ve been playing around with augmented reality (AR), specifically by using Vuforia and Unity. Learning about AR has been fascinating and, admittedly, a bit frustrating. I won’t go through the process of getting Vuforia and Unity to work with one another (here’s a great intro video if you’re interested!), but I will briefly discuss some of the challenges and implications of trying to augment reality.

First, the target image. The target image is the image that you augment, such that when you point your phone/camera at said image, the 3D figure that you have virtually “added” to the image appears on your screen. But the target image can be tricky. That is, Vuforia scans the target image for certain key features, by means of which the program can identify when your phone/camera is pointed at the target image. I’ve taken some screen shots of a few of the items that I augmented, which Vuforia ranks in terms of “augmentability.”

Images 1, 2, & 3: The Scholars’ Lab sign received an augmentable rating of one star, meaning its identifiable features are minimal. The cover of Vi Khi Nao’s book, Fish in Exile, has four stars, and the “cowboy” lunchbox residing in the Scholars’ Lab received an augmentable rating of five stars. The yellow crosses indicate the identifying features and patterns that Vuforia recognizes.

Not only does the target image need to have enough unique features to be easily identifiable, but the image should be properly edited so that nothing appears in the background. When the image is uploaded with a background, Vuforia will assume that the background is part of the target image, and it will identify features of the background as part of the patterns it is to look for. This will make it difficult if not impossible for your camera/device to recognize the image unless it appears with the exact same background.

Image 4: Cover of Fish in Exile against a mesh chair. The yellow crosses have primarily identified features of the chair – rather than the cover of the book – as unique features, and the “augmentability” of the image has declined to two stars.

Another problem that we ran into has to do with subject matter. We’re currently experimenting with items on or around UVA’s grounds. So we’ve been taking photos of items from the Small Special Collections, buildings, memorials, and even lunchboxes sitting around in office spaces. But this becomes problematic when the photos we take are affected by the environment. For instance, I tried taking a photo of the segment of the Berlin Wall that stands on UVA’s grounds, and here’s how it turned out:

Image 5: A photo of the Berlin Wall at UVA.

Encased in glass, the Berlin Wall is nearly effaced by the reflection of Small Library opposite it. Even, then, if I use a “clean” shot of the Berlin Wall taken from the Internet as my target image, my augmentation of the image will not be identifiable or reproducible if someone were to point their camera/phone at the actual Wall on grounds.

So needless to say, our work with AR is still very much in progress. But as we continue developing our AR ventures, considerations of target image complexity and environmental factors will, it seems, help shape the scope of our project.

And on this parting note, I’d like to include a couple fun pictures of the fruits of our augmentation experiments thus far. Enjoy!

Images 6-9: Augmentations of Fish in Exile and the Cowboy lunchbox.

Measured Unrest in the Poetry of the Black Arts Movement

Wed, 15/11/2017 - 20:07

As one of the graduate fellows at the Scholars’ Lab this year, I am working on a year-long digital project (that’s also a chapter of my dissertation) in collaboration with the folks at the SLab. To sum it up in a sentence, the project hopes to offer a proof-of-concept for performing sentiment analysis on some of the most politically and affectively charged poetry of the 20th century, that of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 70s. Today I wanted to post a brief overview and introduction to what I’m working on.

For some context, my research investigates theories of affect as they relate to race, class, and gender in American literature. I focus in particular upon the provocation and articulation of emotions like frustration, anger, and discontentment within recent US literary history as they relate to systemic injustice. An agitprop play that ends with shouts for workers to unite in class revolution; a poetic broadside that vents frustrations against white supremacy in America; a novel that indulges in a revenge fantasy against America’s colonial history. Unlike plays, poems, or novels that seem to obscure, submerge, or confound their own political dimensions, these works wear their hearts on their sleeves: they are frustrated, pissed off with how things are, and unafraid to speak truth to power in a direct, seemingly “un-literary” way.

At a certain level, then, this is a question of how, where, and to what ends aesthetics and politics meet in a work of literature. To offer a tidy narrative of this prickly history, this sensibility that mobilizes aesthetic objects to address political injustice has posed all kinds of unexpected, even contradictory problems for literary study. On the one hand, the cool detachment of aesthetic mediation keeps experimental works like John Dos Passos’s Communist-leaning U.S.A. trilogy from being seen as mere propaganda, but runs the risk of appearing elitist or self-indulgent. On the other hand, the red-hot political outrage of a protest poem by Amiri Baraka or Sonia Sanchez grounds itself in the present, but may be attacked for subordinating aesthetic sophistication to political agendas. “Anger is loaded with information and energy,” says Audre Lorde in a 1981 speech on its political uses—but the nature of this affective information, sparked by a given political present, becomes highly vexed when articulated by different groups through aesthetic objects.

Building on recent scholarship (like the work of Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai) suggesting that feeling gives structure to cultural formations, I argue that a history of unrest in America reveals a pattern of artistic response, a sensibility, precipitated by specific historical moments but translated into aesthetic practice through a stable constellation of affective structures. To this end, I examine continuities between politically-engaged aesthetic projects from three periods of discontent in American history: radical journals like Partisan Review in the 1930s; the revolutionary poetry of the Black Arts Movement in the 60s; and contemporary revenge-driven novels drawing from the Red Power movement.

My digital project as a graduate fellow is the second of those three chapters. In it I hope to ask two questions in particular: first, how are the feelings associated with injustice in the 1960s and 1970s coded in terms of race and gender? The Black Arts Movement first took shape at the height of the Black Power Movement with the foundation of the Revolutionary Theatre by Amiri Baraka in 1965. As Larry Neal—one of its principal theorists—says in a 1969 manifesto, the “Black Arts movement seeks to link, in a highly conscious manner, art and politics” toward “the liberation of Black people.” Moreover, the movement’s “black esthetic” is famous for its affective dimensions, often exploring the limits and political uses of anger, frustration, and poetic rage. But while BAM writers sought to link art and politics through explicitly racial terms, many—though by no means all—were marked by a failure to attend to the intersections of gender with racial injustice.

This leads to my second question: what can natural language processing techniques like sentiment analysis show us about the relations between different dimensions of poetry—like affect and gender—given that poetry, unlike movie reviews or customer feedback, is highly figurative and notoriously difficult to quantify in terms of sentiment or opinion? How can we combine the powerful scale of sentiment analysis with the granularity of close reading to explore the intersections of feeling, gender, race, and injustice in the radical poetry of this period? Moreover, by employing an interpretive method that is in part suspect from a revolutionary perspective—a distanced, potentially de-contextualized computational analysis—I wonder: what limits might these methods have in reading texts that are themselves shaped by the experience of an intense surveillance culture fearful of radical thought?

The already vibrant conversations on sentiment analysis and NLP more generally have been illuminating in forming my questions. The discussion between Matthew Jockers and Annie Swafford on the Syuzhet package and “archetypal plot shapes” has helped me not only to explore the current possibilities and limitations of sentiment analysis as applied to literary corpora, but also to think through the kinds of results we expect from digital projects and how we verify those results as an academic community. With regards to poetry and NLP more specifically, Lisa Rhody’s topic modeling of highly figurative ekphrastic poetry is a great model for how unexpected failures in textual analysis can also be productive, prompting us towards new questions as well as new understandings of familiar methods like close reading.

So far I have been working in collaboration with folks at the Scholars’ Lab to work through the NLTK handbook, building and prepping my corpus, and beginning to implement some NLP techniques with TextBlob on what I have so far. Another post on those first forays into NLP and sentiment analysis coming soon! In the meantime, if you have any questions about the project, texts or tools I should check out, or just find it interesting and want to talk about it, send me an email! I’ll be posting about my progress over the course of the coming months and aiming to keep my process as open as possible to new ideas, feedback, and inspiration from unexpected places.

3D Printed Enclosures with OpenSCAD

Tue, 14/11/2017 - 17:35

This is a tutorial on how to use OpenSCAD to design a 3D object via code instead of using a WYSIWYG editor like Tinkercad, Fusion360, etc. We are currently creating a customized media player to allow people to interact with MP3 artifacts. We’ve been working in Python to prepare the audio and wanted to generate the enclosure programmatically as well, ideally using open source software. OpenSCAD is a great open source solution for CAD and 3D printing projects.


In OpenSCAD, you can quickly build duplicates of small parts into more complex designs using “modules”. By assigning variables to parameters, you can vary the size and location of these objects easily. Modules also help break a larger job into more manageable parts and keep the code nice and clean. The four modules below construct the main body of the enclosure, arrange the holes in the enclosure for our electronic components, add a texture to the enclosure, and assemble all the pieces together. After calling those four modules, all that is left to do is split the enclosure in two and render the halves as separate STL files for printing.


Main Enclosure Body

/* This module constructs the main body of the enclosure. First, we name the module: */ module enclosure() { /* Next, we call the difference function. This specifies that we will be subtracting the second object we call from the first. We will use this to make our cube hollow. */ difference() { /* The first object will be our main cube. to give the cube rounded edges, we call minkowski, which will trace the shape we specify around the edges. We will use a sphere, so that the hard edges of the cube will take on the shape of the sphere. */ minkowski() { /* Lastly, I am calling difference again here because I wanted to add a small indentation to the bottom of the cube so that it would be more comfortable to hold. Again, difference subtracts the second object from the first, so here, we see a cube; and then an offset (translated), smaller cube(); */ difference() { cube([60,40,15], center=true); translate([-15,-10,-8]) cube([30,20,1.5]); }; /* Having constructed the main box, we can now specify the size of the sphere that we will use to round the edges. */ sphere(2); }; /* Having specified our main enclosure body with rounded edges and an indentation on the bottom, we finally hollow it out. */ cube([61.5,41.5,16], center=true); } }



Making Holes for Electronics Components

The second module creates all of the holes that we will place in the enclosure for our electronics components.

module enclosureHoles() { /* This section of the code constructs all of the independent holes and joins them into a uniform object. */ union() { // Screen translate([-13.75,-11,5.5]) cube([27.5, 19.375, 5]); // LED Backlight translate([-14.6875,10,5.5]) cube([29.375, 8.75, 5]); // Volume Pot translate([0,-15.75,5.5]) rotate([0,0,0]) cylinder(r=1.25, h=5); // Pushbutton #1 translate([21.5,0,5.5]) rotate([0,0,0]) cylinder(r=4.75, h=5); // Pushbutton #2 translate([23.5,-12,5.5]) rotate([0,0,0]) cylinder(r=4.75, h=5); // Pushbutton #3 translate([-21.5,0,5.5]) rotate([0,0,0]) cylinder(r=4.75, h=5); // Pushbutton #4 translate([-23.5,-12,5.5]) rotate([0,0,0]) cylinder(r=4.75, h=5); } }



Adding a surface texture

The next module creates a texture on the surface of our enclosure from an image file. We wanted to use an image of JPEG artifacts for our project, but you could use anything you’d like, or skip this step entirely. Be sure to keep your PNG files very simple here, otherwise you will run into problems when trying to render. When our PNG file was 31kb it took many hours to render and resulted in a huge STL file that was impossible to print. We needed to get our PNG down to 6kb to make it render in a reasonable amount of time. This resulted in a 5mb STL file. Still kind of big, but reasonable. Below, we call the translate() function so that it sits right on the surface of our enclosure.

module texture() { translate([0,0,9]) scale([.41,.36,.006]) surface(file="/Users/YourUsername/Path/To/Your/File/fileName.png", center=true); }



Bringing it all together

The final module assembles the previous three modules together.

module concat() { /* Difference subtracts the second object from the first */ difference() { /* Our first object is the Union of two objects. Here, union attaches the texture to the enclosure. */ union() { texture(); enclosure(); }; /* the semicolon signals that that is a complete object. Now the second object is the one we made from the various holes. */ enclosureHoles(); } }



Rendering and Printing

Now all we have to do is render using concat() and save as an STL!

/* To render the entire design, run: */ concat(); /* To actually print, we’ll need to render it in two separate halves which we will attach later. So, comment out the above concat() command and instead run the below code to render the top only */ difference() { concat(); translate([0,0,-8.5]) cube([65,44,2], center=true); } /* then, comment the above out and run the following code to render the bottom only */ difference() { concat(); translate([0,0,2]) cube([65,44,16], center=true); }


That’s all there is to it! With the two halves rendered, all you have to do is save them as STL Files and then use your favorite 3D printing prep software to print.

If you’d like to learn more about OpenSCAD, here is a link to a great cheat sheet.

GIS Day – Wednesday, November 15

Thu, 26/10/2017 - 17:41

Mark your calendars, Wednesday, Nov. 15 is GIS Day (  To celebrate, all are invited to the University of Virginia Library’s Scholars’ Lab for an afternoon of events.

1PM – Presentation: ArcGIS Pro for ArcMap Users
2PM – Lightning Round Talks
3PM – GIS Day Cake

Location: Alderman Library Electronic Classroom (ALD 421, just off Scholars’ Lab)

Presentation: ArcGIS Pro for ArcMap Users

At 1PM, join us for a session on making the switch to ArcGIS Pro by our own Drew Macqueen.  This is a quick and dirty overview of the major differences between ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro. Accept your fate as we delve into the future of desktop GIS. Spoiler alert, it’s totally worth it!

Lighting Talks

Starting at 2PM, our annual tradition of lightning talks continues.  If you have never seen lightning round talks, they can be pretty entertaining: a rapid fire succession of speakers given a set, short amount of time and PowerPoint slides.  In previous years, many great presenters have shown the incredible breadth of disciplines and fields in which GIS is used in meaningful ways.

We encourage everyone, including students (UVa, PVCC and high school), researchers and practitioners in the greater Charlottesville community to contribute. In this year’s round, each speaker will be given five to ten minutes (depending on number of presenters) with a maximum of ten slides.  It is a fairly easy task to create and give a lighting round talk.  Help make this year’s event special by participating in the talks.  You can present on anything spatially related you like.  It could be about a project you have worked on, things going on at your office or just something of personal interest.

If you have any interest in participating in the lightning round talks, please email us at as soon as possible.

GIS Day Cake

Another great tradition continues.  Please join us for the GIS Day cake unveiling and partake in the feeding frenzy.


How to make books you haven’t read, talk.

Thu, 21/09/2017 - 15:02

As promised in my previous post, here is an idea for this year’s Praxis Program. It is uncertain at this early stage of brainstorming whether it will be retained as the one uniting everybody’s creative forces and ingenuity, but I believe it has a lot of potential of unfolding into a project where everybody’s common interests meet: library’s holdings, global culture and world languages, power and inequality, literature and sound. At its core, it is as humanistic as it can be, and its execution requires the use of common digital humanities and critical making techniques, that we are here to train for. But before I get to the idea, let me take you to a journey where books are no longer written, nor pressed into rectangular objets made out of ink and paper and they are by no means meant to be read.

The end of books

More than a hundred years ago, at the turn of the 19th century, Octave Uzanne, a French bibliophile and journalist, conceived The End of Books1 (audio file) in one of his most cited short nonfictional works. His prediction, mid way between pure speculation and prophecy was that the new media of his time, the rise of electricity and phonography, would soon replace the old Gutenberg’s invention.

“I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products.”

“our grand-children will no longer trust their works to this somewhat antiquated process, now become very easy to replace by phonography”.

The leap was enormous. Uzanne’s reverie, not only depicted books as a dying medium with no future, but shifted their inherent mutism to the vivacity of the audio recording. It is important to notice, and Uzanne himself insists on the matter, that books don’t have to put a strain on our eyes and bodies anymore, keeping us immobile, squint and hunched over the small print of the page.

“You will surely agree with me that reading, as we practice it today, soon brings on great weariness; for not only does it require of the brain a sustained attention which consumes a large proportion of the cerebral phosphates, but it also forces our bodies into various fatiguing attitudes.”

“Our eyes (…) have been too long abused, and I like to fancy that some one will soon discover the need there is that they should be relieved by laying a greater burden upon our ears.”

What is in the book that can not live in another recorded medium? Ideas, scientific knowledge and scholarship, literary work, can all exist in an audible format. For Uzanne, phonography not only can afford the contents of the book, but this change of reception through another sensory organ, the ear instead of the eye, has clear benefits for the overall mental and physical health of the listener.

“Hearers will not regret the time when they were readers; with eyes unwearied, with countenances refreshed, their air of careless freedom will witness to the benefits of the contemplative life.”

“At home, walking, sightseeing, these fortunate hearers will experience the ineffable delight of reconciling hygiene with instruction; of nourishing their minds while exercising their muscles for there will be pocket phono-operagraphs, for use during excursions among Alpine mountains or in the canyons of the Colorado.”

It is obvious that Uzanne not only imagined the audiobook but also a prototype portable device that would play it back.

It is worth noticing then, that before Sony’s Walkman, or Apple’s iPod “a pocket apparatus (…) suspended by a strap from the shoulder” was not designed to accommodate “a thousand songs in your pocket” (Steve Jobs) but a portable device to liberate the bibliophile’s body from the immobility of the study room.

Uzanne’s intuitions, albeit prophetic for the most part, failed to envision a future where both printed and audiobooks exist without posing a threat to each other. New technologies first thought as replacement to the old ones end up coexist offering alternative options of engagement. Audiobooks didn’t replace print books and certainly listening didn’t replace reading.

The impossible task of reading

However, reading, despite being an unhealthy activity as we just saw, heavily taxing one’s eyes and body, forcing its muscles to atrophy, is an overall impossible task. Too much to read, too little time.

“When Brandon was entering graduate school, an older student once summed up one of life’s problems as a sort of equation:

There is an infinite of material that one could read.

There is a finite amount of time that you can spend reading.

The lesson was that there are limits to the amount of material that even the most voracious reader can take in. One’s eyes can only move so quickly, one’s mind only process so much. This might sound depressing, as if you’re playing a losing game. But it can also be freeing: if you cannot read everything, why feel the need to try to do so? Instead, read what you can with care.” 2

The sentiment is not new. Today’s readers may feel completely crushed under the weight and the abundance of reading material, but so did the erudite from the early modern era. Compiling methods (common place books, anthologies, florilegia) were thus put in place to compress books within books and save the reader from the folly of having to read everything in extenso.

Pierre Bayard in his first chapter of his now classic How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read 3 addresses the issue by suggesting a few methods of non-reading.

“Reading is first and foremost non-reading. Even in the case of the most passionate lifelong readers, the act of picking up and opening a book masks the countergesture that occurs at the same time: the involuntary act of not picking up and not opening all the other books in the universe.” 4

The paradoxical nature of reading as non-reading, leads Bayard to an important insight: the contents of the book don’t really matter. They can be interchangeable even.5 After all, one’s memory of the books read, will inevitably boil its intricate details to a mush.

“ The interior of the book is less important than its exterior, or, if you prefer, the interior of the book is its exterior, since what counts in a book is the books alongside it.” 6

Don’t lose the forest for the trees is what Bayard basically saying. A library is a whole ecosystem that invites the “truly cultured to tend toward exhaustiveness rather than the accumulation of isolated bits of knowledge.” 7 There is a whole network of connections between one book and the totality of books which is undermined when the attention is only given to each book’s singularities.

“It is, then, hardly important if a cultivated person hasn’t read a given book, for though he has no exact knowledge of its content, he may still know its location, or in other words how it is situated in relation to other books.” 8

This “topographical approach” that values location over content, or content as location, and the nature of connections that one book enjoys with others is what Bayard calls collective library. Books are in dialogue with each other and the way to get even a faint echo of their conversations is movement. Moving around the library is preferable to the stasis over one particular location-book. The invention of hypertext as “an ongoing system of interconnecting documents” (Ted Nelson) was an attempt to establish the dynamic of movement to what had long seen as a static material. Only, one, still has to read…

The problem with languages.

Books are not only innumerable, there are also written in different languages, which is another reason inhibiting from reading them (all).

Before I move on, I would like to share with you a 1m07” clip from a recent episode of Twin Peaks The Return. In this scene special FBI Agent Gordon Cole, (played by David Lynch himself) after sending off his date (a French woman) to the bar, turns to his colleague Albert with a joke…

Lynch leaves the question linger in silence. It is a way to acknowledge the alarm that just went off: over six thousands languages!9 Despite their exact number, languages exist, people who speak them exist, and their world views and perspectives are as worthwhile as any. Languages are not a property of any particular population living on a specific location, they spill over borders, they travel like wild fire. But they are also used as means of oppression, when powerful cultural systems impose their monolingualism and consequently their world view to others. What does that make of the idea of the collective library? Who’s part of the collective and who’s not? How far can this collective be stretched to be a really inclusive collective and not just a club for the happy few?

It seems to me that World Languages are the blind spot in the discussions about global culture and diversity, about inequalities and web accessibility. Who gets the joke when it’s a word play intended to the speakers of the same language? Indeed, nobody laughs.

Listen, with all your ears, listen!

After this rather long detour, I am finally arriving to my proposal. I think it is time to consider Uzanne’s sensorial shift from the eye to the ear and pair it with Bayard’s dialogical relations of books in the collective library. Technically speaking this coupling would take the form of an exploratory device (or app). Its user would then be able to explore the stacks, through a bibliophilic auditory flânerie. Following a fortuitous trajectory inside the library10, the user will not only experience the books coming to life, but also the vast range of world languages in which these books are written11. As the user moves from one section of world literature to another, preinstalled sensors would capture her movement and send new content to her device, interfering with, or completely altering her soundscape. But, it is preferable not to discuss such technical details extensively, without a working prototype at hand.

Finally, the purpose of such a device, as mentioned before, is to offer a new experience of exploring the library other than having to look for a specific book, related to a specific topic often suggested by some course syllabus. I want to believe that a university library has much more to offer than a business-like exchange model. Despite not having an immediate benefit for the user, such a serendipitous bibliophilic auditory flânerie through a vast range of world languages may function as catalyst for awakening the desire to learn a new language.12 And when the user decides to stop her flânerie she will receive a prompt asking her if she wants to borrow a book, most likely one of which she has never heard before.

  1. Octave Uzanne, The End of Books, consulté le 21 septembre 2017,
  2. « Distant Reading », Introduction to Text Analysis, consulté le 15 septembre 2017,
  3. Pierre Bayard, How to talk about books you haven’t read (New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA, 2007).
  4. Ibid. 17
  5. Pierre Bayard, Et si les oeuvres changeaient d’auteur ? (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 2010).
  6. Bayard, How to talk about books you haven’t read., 30
  7. Ibid., 27
  8. Ibid., 30
  9. A more comprehensive view on the languages spoken today in the world is offered by Ethnologue: « How many languages are there in the world? », Ethnologue, 3 mai 2016,
  10. The extent of fortuity can also be configured with a set of questions, allowing the user to add her parameters to the game.
  11. For prototyping purposes public domain librivox recordings will be used.
  12. I happen to fall in love with French from something I heard on the radio.

Crafting Our Charter – Praxis Program 2017-2018

Tue, 19/09/2017 - 15:28

As a historian, when I think of charters, the first things I think of are royal charters.

The first result when you Google charter, on the other hand, is Charter Telecommunications Company because of course.

But as members of the new Praxis Fellowship cohort, my fellow fellows and I tried to chart (I’m sorry) a very different path. The result of our work, The Praxis Charter, 2017-2018, is the first thing we ever created together.

Transparency is one of our core values, so I am going to use this post to reveal the process by which we made this document.

Our charter’s first draft was written in a jam session in a Scholars’ Lab meeting room, and the fact that we are all teachers was readily evident. We privately brainstormed, we paired and shared those ideas, and then we had a class discussion with Christian at the technological helm. I often think of grad school as a lesson in liminality.

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham

That was on full display as we drew on the techniques we use to facilitate classroom discussions to jumpstart our own collaborative work. The liminality of grad school isn’t always to its credit, but in this case, the results were lovely. As a teacher and a historian of education, I spend a lot of time thinking about pedagogy. The pedagogy modeled here made my heart happy! We melded the skill sets of both teachers and students pretty seamlessly to create a productive partnership.

Our conversation always seemed to come back to values. Values are, I think, the core of this document. Of course, for every positive value, there is an equal and opposite disvalue. The opposite of humility is egotism. The opposite of flexibility is rigidity. The opposite of transparency is obfuscation. I think this connects to a comment my fellow Torie made, that writing this charter was almost cathartic, because we could list every problem we had encountered with group work and essentially say: not that.

This, of course, points to the idea of conflict. As our joyful leader Brandon Walsh noted, past Praxis cohorts have tended to avoid naming conflict in their charters in the hopes that their silence would prevent it from ever rearing its ugly head. Think of conflict as the he-who-must-not-be-named of group work, if you will.

Ignoring conflict didn’t really work out for the Ministry of Magic though, and I doubt that the academy fairs much better. My hope is that by setting out clear goals, values, and strategies for coping with conflict we will enable our future selves to handle disagreements with aplomb and grow from them, rather than shrink from them.

Perhaps the most radical value embodied in our charter is our commitment to “the creation of a participatory democracy.” Participatory democracy is an idea coined by one of my favorite historical figures, civil rights and feminist icon Ella Baker. Participatory Democracy embraces two ideas, “a decentralization of authoritative decision-making and a direct involvement of amateurs or non-elites in the political decision-making process.” Participatory democracy seems like the perfect fit for the Praxis Program as we are all relative amateurs in the digital humanities, and we have been given the task of working and learning together. It also just seems to fit our collective personality. When we talked about past Praxis strategies, we decided we didn’t want to divide and conquer the tasks ahead like many previous years had. We wanted to work on individual elements of our project together so that we could get the most out of our training. This would also allow us to commit to a truly shared vision.

In so many ways, a charter is a reminder of our deeply held values. We all carry around ideals of honesty and creativity, kindness and diversity, but writing out a charter makes you actually reflect on those values and why you hold them dear. Writing a charter allows you to reflect on what it is you like about collaborative work – and what it is you don’t, and then make a promise to yourself and to others to try and embody the best of what collaboration has to offer.

As for our radical experiment in participatory democracy, I can already hear people asking, is that practical? The true answer is: I don’t know. But Praxis seemed like just the place to try it out.


Welcome new DH Developer Zoe LeBlanc!

Mon, 18/09/2017 - 12:51

We are delighted to announce that Zoe LeBlanc has accepted our DH Developer position!

Zoe rose to the top of an extremely strong pool of over 60 applicants. A History ABD at Vanderbilt University, she focuses on post-colonialist movements and media in Cairo and other capitals. She brings solid technical experience in the areas of front-end web design, text and image analysis, and mapping and data visualization, with skills including React, Redux, Elixir, and Postgres, and fluency in French and Arabic.

Zoe is a rising junior DH scholar, presenting on network analysis at a well-attended panel at DH2017 in Montreal, as well as through a DH2017 poster on an archival research app she learned to build in response to archival research challenges.

Her particular expertise and passion for making technically difficult DH methods accessible and enjoyable to all complements the SLab’s emphasis on pedagogy and mentorship. She balances the SLab’s literature scholars and complements our history scholars, both diversifying our areas of work to the Middle East and adding new expertise in archival research in countries with different archival practices and challenges from the U.S.

Come by the Lab once Zoe joins us in mid-October to say hi!


Tue, 12/09/2017 - 17:32

Hello again, my fine digital-humanist friends! It’s a delight to be back in the Scholars’ Lab this year!

For those who don’t know me, my name is Christian Howard, and I am a PhD Candidate at UVA in English literature and one of the 2017-2018 Praxis Fellows. If you do happen to know me, you might also know that I was fortunate to work in the Makerspace of the Scholars’ Lab last year. In any case, I’m excited to combine the knowledge that I gained there working on hands-on, material projects with finer computer skills and the even greater conceptualizations into which I expect our Praxis team will delve.

I’ve recently been rereading Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production, and I want to reflect briefly on one of Drucker’s points, which I think is especially central to our Praxis team this year. Drucker brilliantly exposes “data” as constructs, constructs that cannot “pre-exist their parameterization.” As such, Drucker opts for the alternative term, “capta,” stating: “Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (128). Capta comes from the Latin verb capio, capere, which, translated literally, means “to capture, take, seize.” Yet in a more figurative sense, capere could also mean “to take in, understand.” It is partly because of this pun that I find Drucker’s redefinition particularly apt, for it is precisely the act of “capturing” information that facilitates our understanding of that information. In other words, every decision to define the parameters under which “data” will be taken is itself an interpretive strategy.

So what does this mean for humanists, and digital humanists in particular? I’ll quote Drucker again, this time at length:

“To expose the constructedness of data as capta a number of systematic changes have to be applied to the creation of graphical displays. That is the foundation and purpose of a humanistic approach to the qualitative display of graphical information. That last formulation should be read carefully, humanistic approach means that the premises are rooted in the recognition of the interpretive nature of knowledge, that this display itself is conceived to embody qualitative expressions, and that the information is understood as graphically constituted” (128-129).

It is this recognition – namely, in the fundamentally interpretive nature of data-as-capta – that distinguishes the humanities as a discipline.

As a Praxis cohort, we are still working to define the shape that our project will take; nonetheless, in developing our charter or mission statement, we have unanimously agreed that transparency is of the utmost importance to us. As such, we are committed not only to sharing the result of our collaboration with the public, but also to showing the processes through which our project develops, thereby enabling anyone to trace the interpretations and assumptions underlying our own work.

Well, that’s all the heavy-lifting for today. For those of you who found this introductory post too lengthy, I’ve provided a handy summary for you below:

TL;DR: Born at a young age, I have pursued my education in order to justify my caffeine-dependency. Most recent greatest achievement? I’ve just beaten my all-time personal record of most consecutive days lived! Time to celebrate with some coffee and chocolate.


Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014.

About my research, computers and Digital Humanities

Mon, 11/09/2017 - 01:24

In my inaugural post a few days ago, I introduced myself to the world in kind of an oblique way. Some people may wonder what I am studying or what my research interests are. This post is here to mend this omission. In large brush strokes, I will talk about my dissertation and then about some general research interests that connect me to digital humanities. Coincidentally, a brief mention of a computer prototype from the late 60’s will echo for the Praxis folks our last meeting (Sept. 5, 2017) and the lesson on the history of computers.

My current project focuses on three French contemporary authors who are using new technologies to create and disseminate their work, as well as connect with their audience. More specifically, I am looking at the ways in which new technologies expand the boundaries of literature to include practices often reserved to other artistic disciplines. I am also interested in the new online literary communities clustering around the websites of my corpus and in the margins of the print and prize-driven French literature.

Having escaped the pages of the book, literature meets with visual arts, with sound and performance, in new poetic hybrids. The book is always a place where textual content can return to, but it is not the only option. Moreover, various acts of transcoding, made possible through digital technologies, have liberated writing from its exclusive attachment to text. Our contemporary “associated technical milieu” has made the creative gesture a practice available to anyone with a computer connected to the Internet.

“Rather than dissociating consumption from production, as did broadcast mass media (from phonography to global real-time television), today’s microtechnologies and the social networking practices they facilitate connect them: if you can use these technologies to consume, you can also use them to produce.”1

Interestingly enough, the gap between amateurs and professionals is narrowing , which revives Jean Dubuffet’s concept of “art brut” (i.e. art made by people without formal training). Under these circumstances where everything is created by everybody, how does a contemporary author find her place? How does she define her space and the value of her work?

Kenneth Goldsmith dubbed these practices “uncreative writing” and traced their origin to some French avant-garde techniques such as those invented by the Situationists (détournement, psychogeographical drifts) and Oulipo.

“Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or ‘Workshop for Potential Literature’ was founded fifty years ago, in 1960, by the writer Raymond Queneau and the mathematician François Le Lionnais with the purpose of exploring the possible uses of mathematics and formal modes of thought in the production of new literature. Oulipo sought to invent new kinds of rules for literary composition, and also to explore the use of now-forgotten forms in the literatures of the past. ”2

Georges Perec, one of the most popular authors among the Oulipo group (the star!), has experimented with algorithmic writing, imitating the inner workings of a computer program, in The art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise,3or with extreme self-imposing lipogrammatic constraints in A Void4 (exclusively composed of words that don’t contain the letter “e”), has also written a a very brief enthusiastic text about computers. Published at a time where computers were still the size of a room, Perec anticipated their everyday personal and social use. “Why not us?” he asks, claiming a programmable machine for creative purposes at home, a place already targeted by a horde of appliances: washing machines and toasters, coffee makers and vacuum cleaners, TV sets and food processors.

A dynamic medium for creative thought: the Dynabook

Around the same time, at the Palo Alto Xerox PARC Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg were working on a prototype computer strikingly similar to a today’s tablet. They called it Dynabook (portmanteau for dynamic book) and they imagined it as

“a self-contained knowledge manipulator in a portable package the size and shape of an ordinary notebook. Suppose it had enough power to outrace your senses of sight and hearing, enough capacity to store for later retrieval thousands of page-equivalents of reference materials, poems, letters, recipes, records, drawings, animations, musical scores, waveforms, dynamic simulations and anything else you would like to remember and change.” 5

Dynabook, unlike any other computer of its generation, was not targeting the military or corporate business. It was designed “for kids of all ages”, people who would use it to enhance their learning and creativity. I want to emphasize the last words here: “to remember and change”. If the computer was to become personal, it was not only because of its capacity to store information, archiving one’s files, and consequently exteriorizing and extending one’s memory but also by offering new techniques to process the information stored and eventually to create new. Technology has always been about extending human capabilities.

“The human evolves by exteriorizing itself in tools, artifacts, language, and technical memory banks. Technology on this account is not something external and contingent, but rather an essential—indeed, the essential—dimension of the human.” 6

As a matter of fact, the idea of a mechanical memory storage was not new. Vannevar Bush in his well-known article “As we may think” published in 1945 had already introduced a mechanical memory (memex) for individual use 7. Beyond the scope of the Universal Turing Machine –a machine that could simulate other machines– Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg’s ambition was to create a Universal Media Machine, a machine that could simulate all other media forms, from books to images to films.

“For educators, the Dynabook could be a new world limited only by their imagination and ingenuity. They could use it to show complex historical inter-relationships in ways not possible with static linear books. Mathematics could become a living language in which children could cause exciting things to happen. Laboratory experiments and simulations too expensive or difficult to prepare could easily be demonstrated. The production of stylish prose and poetry could be greatly aided by being able to easily edit and file one’s own compositions.” 8

But in order to achieve this goal of becoming a ”platform for all existing expressive artistic media”, Dynabook had to exceed its function as a storing machine, by adding a new structural level on top of the hardware allowing an easy interaction with the machine. Hence, GUI was born with tools and icons that could help the user perform the same actions across applications, without needing to know the underlying programmatic commands.

“Putting all mediums within a single computer environment does not necessarily erase all differences in what various mediums can represent and how they are perceived—but it does bring them closer to each other in a number of ways. Some of these new connections were already apparent to Kay and his colleagues; others became visible only decades later when the new logic of media set in place at PARC unfolded more fully; some may still not be visible to us today because they have not been given practical realization. One obvious example of such connections is the emergence of multimedia as a standard form of communication: web pages, PowerPoint presentations, multimedia artwork, mobile multimedia messages, media blogs, and other communication forms which combine multiple mediums. Another is the adoption of common interface conventions and tools which we use in working with different types of media regardless of their origin: for instance, a virtual camera, a magnifying lens, and of course the omnipresent copy, cut and paste commands. Yet another is the ability to map one media into another using appropriate software—images into sound, sound into images, quantitative data into a 3D shape or sound, etc.—used widely today in such areas as DJ/VJ/live cinema performances and information visualization. All in all, it is as though different media are actively trying to reach towards each other, exchanging properties and letting each other borrow their unique features. ” 9

The success of the personal computer was therefore due to its structural coupling with software that led –so far– to three major shifts in the way we interact with media. Word processors to movie editors, allowed the user to mix, juxtapose, cut and paste, alter, and eventually produce new media. Using the same machine to perform changes in the stored contents was an empowering new form of grammatization.

Return to kindergarten

I borrow the concept of grammatization from Bernard Stiegler. Derrida’s former student, Stiegler calls grammatization every flow that becomes a process through a series of discrete marks, grammés, that can form a code (grammar) and can be endlessly reproduced in all sorts of combinations. Writing, for example, is the grammatization of speech and it is made possible by the invention of the letters (grammata ) of the alphabet. Alphanumeric linear writing, up until personal computers came along, was the dominant form of recording, from facts (history) to thoughts and ideas (literature). So much so that the activities of learning to read and write were the main literacy focus of a certain humanistic tradition, from grade school to the academy.

In his seminal book Does Writing Have A Future?, Vilém Flusser speculates on the disruption of this tradition brought forth by the computers and their new ways of writing through digital recording and digitization. Without discarding the value of the alphanumeric writing he embraces the possibility of new forms of writing that could lead to a progressive replacement of “the alphabet or Arabic numerals”.

What was once written can now be conveyed more effectively on tapes, records, films, videotapes, videodisks, or computer disks, and a great deal that could not be written until now can be noted down in these new codes. … Many people deny this … They have already learned to write, and they are too old to learn the new codes. We surround this … with an aura of grandeur and nobility.

Flusser foresees with a great clarity what is yet to come when he publishes his book in 1987. What may seem as a radical stance, results from his position not to resist or reject the new technologies, but to discover their creative and pedagogical potential altering and adding new avenues to the the millennia old practices of reading and writing. But the newness of these tools, their sometimes complex inner workings call for a return to kindergarten.

We have to go back to kindergarten. We have to get back to the level of those who have not yet learned to read and write. In this kindergarten, we will have to play infantile games with computers, plotters, and similar gadgets. We must use complex and refined apparatuses, the fruit of a thousand years of intellectual development, for childish purposes. It is a degradation to which we must submit. Young children who share the nursery with us will surpass us in the ease with which they handle the dumb and refined stuff. We try to conceal this reversal of the generation hierarchy terminological gymnastics. While we’re about this boorish non-sense, we don’t call ourselves Luddite idiots but rather progressive computer artists. 10

Isn’t it the “digital turn” that Flusser anticipated with his “infantile games with computers”? And isn’t it Flusser’s kindergarten spirit that lives in labs and DH centers across the academy? Similarly, most recent “making turn” also happens in the same centers and labs.

”As the historian David Staley explains, the “maker turn” introduces “an approach to the humanities that moves our performances off the page and the screen and onto the material world, a hermeneutic performance whereby humanists create non-textual physical objects.” 11

Inspired by Patrick Jagoda’s recent article on “Critique and Critical Making”, this year’s Praxis cohort is set to explore the intersection of DH and the bricolage of physical computing. Taking the cue from Pierre Bayard’s How to talk about books you haven’t read12 , we have been wondering “how to make books you haven’t read talk!” But more about it in the next post. Stay tuned!

  1. Excerpt from Mark B. N. Hansen’s introduction to Bernand Stiegler’s chapter on Memory published in W. J. T Mitchell et Mark B. N Hansen, Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010).
  2. David Bellos in his introduction to Georges Perec’s The art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise, (London; New York: Verso Books, 2011).
  3. Georges Perec, The art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise, trad. par David Bellos (London; New York: Verso Books, 2011).
  4. Georges Perec, A Void (London: Harvill, 1994).
  5. Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media, International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics 5 (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2013).
  6. Mark Hansen’s Introduction to Bernard Stiegler’s article on Memory, in W. J. T Mitchell et Mark B. N Hansen, Critical Terms for Media Studies (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010).
  7. Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
  8. Personal Dynamic MediaAlan Kay, Adele Goldberg
  9. Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command: Extending the Language of New Media, International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics 5 (New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2013). Emphasis mine.
  10. Vilém Flusser et Mark Poster, Does Writing Have a Future?, Electronic Mediations, v. 33 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).
  11. Patrick Jagoda, « Critique and Critical Making », PMLA 132, no 2 (1 mars 2017): 356‑63, doi:10.1632/pmla.2017.132.2.356.
  12. Pierre Bayard, How to talk about books you haven’t read (New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, 2007).

Hello World!

Wed, 06/09/2017 - 16:47

My name is Spyros Simotas and I am a PhD candidate at the French Department at UVa. This year, I am also a Praxis fellow at the Scholars’ Lab. In this first blog post I would like to briefly introduce myself honoring Brandon’s ice-breakers.

Brandon always comes to our meetings with an ice-breaker. Here are the three we have had so far:

  1. Which is your favorite animal?
  2. Which is your favorite plant?
  3. Who would you like to have dinner with, dead or alive?

My favorite animals are elephants, my favorite plants are palm trees and if I could have a meal with anyone dead or alive, I would like to have coffee with David Lynch.

I like elephants because they are big, they make the sound of a trumpet and they care about each other. Despite their size, elephants do not pose a threat to other beings. They are also smart and they can paint. Has anyone ever calculated the size ratio between an elephant and an average-sized bug? Bugs are the most common wild life form we are stuck with in the industrialized and post-industrialized world. Domesticated farm animals that we use for food or pets don’t count. We are stuck with bugs both literally and metaphorically. Unfortunately, I have never seen an elephant hanging from the wall, or lurking inside a piece of software.

I have seen palm trees! The reason I like them is because of their simple shape. Their trunk doesn’t branch out, it only ends with a crown of leaves, like a messy toupee. Palm trees are easy to draw. When I lived in California, I remember that sometimes, their tops would disappear in the early morning mist. Also, three cut out palm trees figure on the cover of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry as a fine representation of their iconic hair style. Which brings me to David Lynch and his own impeccably messy hairdo.

Having begun his career with Eraserhead, it is hard to tell whose, his character’s or his own hair, is the source of inspiration for this electrified spiky hair style. Since then, he has created a lot of strange and heartbreaking characters. Joseph Merrick’s story, better known as The Elephant Man, The Staight Story, not to mention all the characters from his early 90’s TV series Twin Peaks revived recently, 25 years later, for a third and final season. Thanks to his book on meditation, consciousness and creativity, I was also introduced to TM. It is a small book, called Catching the big fish, very easy to read and highly recommended.

As an ending to this post, I chose the following excerpt from the chapter “The Circle” where Lynch refers to the feedback loop between an art work and its audience.

“I like the saying: “The world is as you are.” And I think films are as you are. That’s why, although the frames of a film are always the same—the same number, in the same sequence, with the same sounds—every screening is different. The difference is sometimes subtle but it’s there. It depends on the audience. There is a circle that goes from the audience to the film and back. … So you don’t know how it’s going to hit people. But if you thought about how it’s going to hit people, or if it’s going to hurt someone, or if it’s going to do this or do that, then you would have to stop making films.”1

I think the same can be said about digital humanities. Our public scholarship, experiments, code, teaching, and service, also reflect who we are and reverberate with our audience. In our first Praxis meeting, we talked about impact, trying to pinpoint the idea of success. But ultimately, we don’t know “how it’s going to hit people.” In which case, it is always useful to remember the well-known Marshall McLuhan scheme of technology as an extension of certain urges or desires. It is important to understand what is the urge that we are trying to extend because technology, according to Jonathan Harris (who also came up in our first discussion), can have “dramatic effects” on people. That’s why, he calls for “a self-regulated ethics that comes from the mind and the heart of the creator.” Finding our own common interests and desires as a team will help us define the direction we want our project to go. At this early stage, we only know that we want to work with data from the Library, using technology to create new interactions with the archive. But it is with the principles of love, care and good intentions that we embark on this year’s Praxis adventure.

  1. David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, 2016.

Digital Humanities Fellows Applications – 2018-2019

Fri, 01/09/2017 - 18:36

[Read closely: our menu options have changed. Note especially the changes to the application timeline, eligibility, and funding structure of the fellowship. Questions should be directed to Brandon Walsh, Head of Graduate Programs for the Scholars’ Lab.]

We are now accepting applications for the 2018-2019 DH Fellows Cohort!

Applications are due Wednesday, November 1st.

The Digital Humanities Fellowship supports advanced doctoral students doing innovative work in the digital humanities at the University of Virginia. The Scholars’ Lab offers Grad Fellows advice and assistance with the creation and analysis of digital content, as well as consultation on intellectual property issues and best practices in digital scholarship and DH software development.

Fellows join our vibrant community, have a voice in intellectual programming for the Scholars’ Lab, make use of our dedicated grad office, and participate in one formal colloquium at the Library per fellowship year. As such, students are expected to be in residence on Grounds for the duration of the fellowship.

Supported by the Jeffrey C. Walker Library Fund for Technology in the Humanities, the Matthew & Nancy Walker Library Fund, and a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the highly competitive Graduate Fellowship in Digital Humanities is designed to advance the humanities and provide emerging digital scholars with an opportunity for growth.

The award provides living support in the amount of $20,000 for the academic year, as well as full remission of tuition and University fees and the student health insurance premium for single-person coverage. Living support includes wages for a half-time graduate teaching assistantship in each semester.  A graduate instructorship, particularly one with a digital humanities inflection, may be substituted for the GTA appointment based on availability within the fellow’s department. Applicants interested in such an option should indicate as such in their application and discuss the possibility in advance with Brandon Walsh.

See past fellowship winners on our People page. The call for applicants is issued annually in August.

Eligibility, Conditions, and Requirements

  • Applicants must be ABD, having completed all course requirements and been admitted to candidacy for the doctorate in the humanities, social sciences or the arts at the University of Virginia.
  • The fellowship is provided to students who have exhausted the financial support offered to them upon admission. As such, students will typically apply during their fifth year of study or beyond for a sixth year of support.*
  • Applicants are expected to have digital humanities experience, though this background could take a variety of forms. Experience can include formal fellowships like the Praxis Program, but it could also include work on a collaborative digital project, comfort with programing and code management, public scholarship, or critical engagement with digital tools.
  • Applicants must be enrolled full time in the year for which they are applying.
  • A faculty advisor must review and approve the scholarly content of the proposal.

How to Apply

A complete application package will include the following materials, all of which should be emailed directly to Brandon Walsh:

  • a cover letter, addressed to the selection committee, containing:
    • a summary of the applicant’s plan for use of digital technologies in his or her dissertation research;
    • a summary of the applicant’s experience with digital projects;
    • and a description of UVa library digital resources (content or expertise) that are relevant to the proposed project;
  • Graduate Fellowship Application Form;
  • a dissertation abstract;
  • and 2-3 letters of nomination and support, at least one being from the applicant’s dissertation director who can attest to the project’s scholarly rigor and integration within the dissertation.

Questions about Grad Fellowships and the application process should be directed to Brandon Walsh. Applicants concerned about their eligibility, for whatever reason, are strongly encouraged to write as well.

* Please note that, per University policy, a student who has undertaken affiliate status and ceased to enroll full time is not eligible to resume full-time enrollment or hold a graduate teaching assistantship.  Because GTA appointments are a component of the DH Fellowship, students who have already undertaken affiliate status are not eligible to be considered for this award.

2017 Virginia Higher Ed GIS Meeting

Wed, 30/08/2017 - 16:13

2017 Virginia Higher Ed GIS Meeting

November 2, 2017 – 10am to 3pm (check in begins at 9:30am)

Scholars’ Lab, Alderman Library – University of Virginia – Charlottesville, VA

A meeting of all Virginia higher education Esri/GIS representatives and other GIS support people

This meeting is for Esri designates and other GIS support staff to come together to discuss common needs and solutions.  We will kick off with a plenary talk from an Esri representative.  Then in an “unconference” format, the group will decided the topics for the remainder of the day.  Depending on interest and need, we will break into groups for further discussions.

Registration (required):


9:30am – Check in Begins

10am – Plenary Session w/ Esri Education Account Manager – Ridge Waddell (tentative)

11am – Group Topic Discussion Decision Making

11:30am – Lunch

Noon – Topic Discussions – break-outs if necessary

2:45pm – Group Next Steps

3pm – Adjourn

NOTE:  Lunch is being provided by the UVa Library’s Scholars’ Lab.  Because of this, we ask that everyone register in advance.  It is assumed that everyone will drive in for the day and not stay in Charlottesville.  However, we are happy to provide hotel information.  More details on parking, etc. to follow to registered participants.  If you have questions about anything, please feel free to contact Chris Gist at

CFP: PMLA Special Issue, Varieties of Digital Humanities

Thu, 24/08/2017 - 17:08

I want to call attention to the opportunity to publish your work in the leading journal in literary studies.  Miriam Posner and I will be co-editing a special issue on digital humanities, and we very much welcome varieties of approaches as well as topics.  PMLA has a very strenuous and blind peer review process that gives ample feedback–usually, it’s well worth this feedback even if excellent work, in the end, doesn’t make the difficult cut.  But that also means, in other words, that it’s not just up to the two of us to decide what will actually appear in the journal.  We would be happy to advise on the kinds of submissions you might send in.  Feel free to reach out at  Here is the CFP wording that appears at the above site, where you may find instructions on how to prepare and submit the 9000-word-maximum document file.

Deadline for submissions: 12 March 2018

Coordinators: Alison Booth (Univ. of Virginia) and Miriam Posner (Univ. of California, Los Angeles)

Digital humanities (DH) may not be a full-fledged discipline, but it has advanced beyond “the next big thing” to become a reality on many campuses. Like many fields that have received a great deal of attention, DH derives energy from internal combustion and external friction—dissenters, supporters, and detractors see different sides of what may after all be too large a variety of practice to cohere as a field in the future. This moment, then, seems a good time to ask, What is next for DH? And what can we learn from what has come before?

PMLA invites essays that will help assess the past of DH, outline its current state, and point to its future directions among diverse participants, allies, and critics. The special issue welcomes well-informed critical essays that articulate varieties of digital experience with DH as it is commonly understood and as it is practiced in a more expansive, even contested, way, including but not limited to the following topics: game studies; digital narrative and poetry; social media and blogging; digital arts, including music and theater; digital pedagogy in languages, literatures, and writing (teaching with technology, e-portfolios, immersive technology, mapping assignments); textual editing; edited digital archives of manuscript or print materials; natural language processing and textual analysis of large corpora such as historical newspapers or a genre or a literary era; prosopographies, from ancient to modern; 3-D printing or modeling; virtual reality and photogrammetry documenting cultural heritage sites or artifacts; mapping and time lines to visualize trends in cultural or literary history; issues of copyright and commercial databases; theories and histories of digital technologies and their industrial and cultural impact; the growing field of criticism on digital scholarship and institutional change; advocacy or cultural criticism oriented toward new media and transformative practice.

The PMLA Editorial Board welcomes collaborative or single-author essays that take note of digital humanities of these or other varieties, whether centered on education or other spheres, whether ephemeral or long-standing. Submissions that consider a specific project should go beyond reporting on its methods and findings and emphasize its implications for digital literature and language scholarship. Of particular interest are reflections on DH as practiced beyond North America and Europe. Issues and themes might include accessibility, sustainability, standards of evidence, transforming the academic career, changing or pursuing further the abiding questions in the discipline. Histories, predictions, and manifestos may be welcome, but all essays should be accessible and of interest to the broad PMLA readership.

Walt Whitman’s Jack Engle and Lola Montez: New from Collective Biographies of Women

Tue, 15/08/2017 - 20:39
By On 14 August 2017 · Add Comment [Edit]


[This is the first part of a short essay I posted on the blog of Collective Biographies of Women and elsewhere on August 15, 2017.  See for the entirety, with additional notes and references.]

In February, 2017, there was some exciting news of the kind that gratifies literary scholars everywhere.  Graduate student Zachary Turpin had discovered a lost short novel that Walt Whitman serialized anonymously in New York’s Sunday Dispatch in 1852.  The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, as narrated by a young clerk of that name, gives impressions of New York life as Whitman experienced it before he became revered as the Good Gray Poet.  I am no Whitman scholar and have little to add to the discussion of US periodicals in the 1850s.  But as I quickly devoured the news and the novel itself, I was taken with a minor character closely related to my own research: the Spanish dancer, Inez.  Could this be a version of Lola Montez?

Photo by Robbie Hott, July 3, 2017, Lola Montez by Joseph Stieler, 1847, for Ludwig I’s Gallery of Beauties at Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich

The improbable “auto-biography” of Jack Engle now attributed to Whitman claims in the preface to be a “true story” about “familiar” people; “the main incidents were of actual occurrence,” giving “the performers in this real drama, unreal names” (Whitman, Engle 3). Clearly, the “life and adventures” of the quasi-Dickensian hero differ from Whitman’s (Walt was no orphan, for example). But Whitman might have given an unreal name to the real Lola Montez, Spanish dancer, whom I have long featured in my digital project on women’s biographies, Collective Biographies of Women or CBW (Booth).  The Irish-born adventuress who became the Countess of Landsfeld, who was buried in New York as Eliza Gilbert in 1861, has received many full-length and brief biographies. Whitman’s connection to this celebrity is not unknown, though little remarked.  She was in New York during the production of Whitman’s novella, Jack Engle.  On January 5, 1852, weeks into her first star turn in New York, she danced in Un Jour de Carneval à Seville in the role of Donna Inez (Morton 205).[1] Then, after controversial appearances in Boston, Hartford, and elsewhere, she appeared at the Broadway Theatre in Lola Montez in Bavaria, a play in five acts recounting her famous alliance with King Ludwig I and the rebellions and backlash that led to the king’s abdication (“The Danseuse, the Politician, The Countess, the Revolutionist and finally the Fugitive”; Morton 218). Whitman could easily have seen her reprise of this play at the Bowery Theatre on 28 June, or could have attended one of her benefit performances that spring, as Jack attends Inez’s benefit performance in the novella. Certainly Whitman and Montez coincided when she was back in New York six years later and they frequented Pfaff’s, Whitman’s bohemian hangout after first publication of Leaves of Grass (Lehigh University).

These enterprising mid-century figures have more interesting qualities in common than coinciding in New York in certain years.  Her defiant self-making is not out of keeping with his celebration of the body.  Notably, during their shared New York-bohemian years, both published highly gendered self-help.  Manly Health and Training, an advice book by “Mose Velsor,” was serialized in the New York Atlas in 1858, and Zachary Turpin recently discovered Whitman’s authorship (Velsor).  The Arts of Beauty: or Secrets of a Lady’s Toilet (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858) capitalized on Lola Montez as the famous author, drawing upon her series of popular lectures in New York, London, and elsewhere (Montez).

Whitman left unacknowledged his authorship of the episodic entertainment, Jack Engle.  We might then allow a canonical poet to steer clear of a notorious entertainer whose vocational tag in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is “adventuress.”  To follow through on my first impulse to post that “Whitman’s Inez is Lola Montez,” it would take more than the known connections in 1858; the novel, again, was churned out topically and serially in 1852.  The Whitman scholars I contacted were less than convinced that Inez resembles Montez.  I share their opinion that Inez can be a composite of Spanish dancers Whitman might have known in New Orleans (she was there in 1853, he in 1848) or New York, as well as some features of George Sand and others whom Whitman admired.  The fictional Spanish dancer has no exalted political past and, like other characters in the novel, she derives a great deal from the conventions of romance and melodrama. But it is certain that Lola Montez was big news in New York in the early months of 1852, and there are interesting connections with Whitman’s plotline of the hero’s growing intimacy with a belle of the town.[2] Though “Spanish” connotes hot-blooded, it also connotes veiled and hard to get. The portrayal of the novel’s Spanish dancer points to significant features of the well-educated, entrepreneurial celebrity. Whitman’s version also renders the performer more bourgeois and less interesting than the real thing, downplaying Montez’s kinky suggestiveness. The differences are a measure of the fictional purpose of this minor character.  The hero rises from street life to office work and a brief escapade outside the law that ends happily, all the more because he was never in real danger of falling in love with Inez.

Lola Montez in a daguerreotype (color added),

1851, by Southworth & Hawes

            Inez and Lola: Not Cheap

You know the type: “Spanish,” “dancer”; theaters would be places to find all sorts of accessible women.  But Whitman’s Inez and the real Lola Montez might be called, in hard-boiled speak, classy dames. I intentionally hit on the sore point of typecasting, because it is almost inescapable, even in fact-based historical biography.  The surprise is not the higher quality of love object implicit in the reputations of Inez and Lola, and not even that they evince manners and education, but that they are businesswomen, capitalists.  In Jack Engle, the narrator is a reluctant young apprentice in Covert’s law office, where he notices a young lady client.  Covert is advising her on a doubtful purchase of shares (happily, it turns out she never buys into the fake scheme).  “She had the stylish, self-possessed look, which sometimes marks those who follow a theatrical life. Her face, though not beautiful, was open and pleasing, with bright black eyes, and a brown complexion. Her figure, of good height and graceful movement, was dressed in a costly pale colored silk” (27).  She calls out to the pet dog, also named Jack, who jumps up and muddies her dress.  Inez is annoyed, and then laughs it off—a preview of her responses to drooling men and to Jack himself.  In chapter six of Jack Engle, Inez appears “really fascinating” on stage in the “short gauzy costume of a dancing girl. Her legs and feet were beautiful, and her gestures and attitudes easy and graceful” (29). These characterizing details correspond somewhat with the historical Montez.  Montez was fair, with striking blue eyes, unlike Inez.  She was frequently depicted in association with animals.  Contemporaries range between calling Montez altogether beautiful, or merely fascinating with a face that was not beautiful.  But then of course there was her figure.  Accounts usually disparage Montez’s performing ability, but those who were not too scandalized avidly praised the legs and the costume.  Images in newspapers always emphasize the tiny waist, ballooning bosom, and short skirts….


[1] Kirsten Greusz suggests Inez was a common name for the Spanish-beauty type, as in antebellum novels “Inez the Beautiful, or, Love on the Rio Grande” (Harry Hazel, 1846) or Augusta Evans Wilson’s “Inez, A Tale of the Alamo” (1850).  I also consulted with Ed Whitley, Ken Price, and Ed Folsom.

[2] Ed Folsom and Ken Price, in their article on Whitman for The Walt Whitman Archive, indicate Whitman’s affiliations with women activists Abby Price, Paulina Wright Davis, Sarah Tyndale, and Sara Payson Willis (Fanny Fern), as well as the “queen of Bohemia” Ada Clare.  CBW includes only Fanny Fern of these women, though abolitionists and activists for women’s rights do appear in some collections listed in our bibliography.


Welcome Senior Developer Shane Lin!

Tue, 15/08/2017 - 17:32

The Scholars’ Lab team is thrilled to welcome Shane Lin as our new Senior Developer!

Shane first joined the Scholars’ Lab as a Praxis Program graduate fellow in 2012. Since then, he’s served as a Technologist in our Makerspace, where he’s provided invaluable guidance on research and pedagogy related to desktop fabrication and physical computing. This past academic year, Shane was a Digital Humanities graduate fellow and worked on software to study networks of information exchange related to cryptography on Usenet lists. That fellowship work contributes to his doctoral work in History at UVA, and his dissertation on the history of cryptography and evolving notions of privacy since 1975.

In addition to being an incredible developer and scholar, Shane is a talented photographer, and has taken nearly all the photos of our staff and students. Come by the Lab to say hi to Shane, or welcome him via email at ssl2ab at

Fall 2017 UVa Library GIS Workshop Series

Thu, 03/08/2017 - 18:10

All sessions are one hour and assume participants have no previous experience using GIS.  Sessions will be hands-on with step-by-step tutorials and expert assistance.  All sessions will be held on Tuesdays from 3PM to 4PM in the Alderman Electronic Classroom, ALD 421 (adjacent to the Scholars’ Lab) and are free and open to the UVa and larger Charlottesville community.  No registration, just show up!

September 12th

Making Your First Map with ArcGIS

Here’s your chance to get started with geographic information systems software in a friendly, jargon-free environment.  This workshop introduces the skills you need to make your own maps.  Along the way you’ll get a taste of Earth’s most popular GIS software (ArcGIS) and a gentle introduction to cartography. You’ll leave with your own cartographic masterpieces and tips for learning more in your pursuit of mappiness at UVa.

September 19th

Georeferencing a Map – Putting Old maps and Aerial Photos on Your Map

Would you like to see historic map overlaid on modern aerial photography?  Do you need to extract features of a map for use in GIS?  Georeferencing is the first step.  We will show you how to take a scan of a paper map and align in it in ArcGIS.

September 26th

Getting Your Data on a Map

Do you have a list of Lat/Lon coordinates or addresses you would like to see on a map?  We will show you how to do just that.  Through ArcGIS’s Add XY data tool and Geocoding (address matching), it is easy to take your tabular lists and generate points on a map.

October 10th

Points on Your Map: Street Addresses and More Spatial Things

Do you have a list of street addresses crying out to be mapped?  Have a list of zip codes or census tracts you wish to associate with other data?  We’ll start with addresses and other things spatial and end with points on a map, ready for visualization and analysis.

October 17th

Taking Control of Your Spatial Data: Editing in ArcGIS

Until we perfect that magic “extract all those lines from this paper map” button we’re stuck using editor tools to get that job done.  If you’re lucky, someone else has done the work to create your points, lines, and polygons but maybe they need your magic touch to make them better.  This session shows you how to create and modify vector features in ArcMap, the world’s most popular geographic information systems software.  We’ll explore tools to create new points, lines, and polygons and to edit existing datasets.  At version 10, ArcMap’s editor was revamped introducing new templates, but we’ll keep calm and carry on.

October 24th

Easy Demographics

Need to make a quick demographic map or religious adherence?  This workshop will show you how easily navigate Social Explorer.  This powerful online application makes it easy to create maps with contemporary and historic census data and religious information.

October 31st

Introduction to ArcGIS Online

With ArcGIS Online, you can use and create maps and scenes, access ready-to-use maps, layers and analytics, publish data as web layers, collaborate and share, access maps from any device, make maps with your Microsoft Excel data, customize the ArcGIS Online website, and view status reports.

November 7th

Expanding Content in ArcGIS Online

You can also use ArcGIS Online as a platform to build custom location-based apps.  You can create stories and context around online maps for things like storytelling, tours or map comparisons.   Many of these applications have templates that make for easy viewing on mobile devices.