Monthly Archives: March 2013

Reflections on Digital Humanities, Collaboration and Play

This quarter, I enrolled in an exploratory course called “Hybrid Humanities: Critical, Digital, Geographical”. While I did not know precisely what to expect when I enrolled 11 weeks ago, I am now quite pleased with the course and the new skills and questions learned/posed.

Our aim was to play with digital humanities, explore code, and create new interventions from a critical cartographic and geographical perspective. Many of the questions about how knowledge is made, how arguments are visualized, and how we support our claims through new platforms and technologies have been the domain of digital humanities. However, critical geographers interested in representation, GIS, and the geoweb have also questioned how we can better represent relation space. To this point, this has mostly been done through qualitative GIS, critical GIS, and theorists who have not yet linked theory and digital practice.

This is where our class attempts to intervene. A persistent question on the table is: “how can we make the technology and form of our arguments best suit the arguments we want to make?” In other words, rather than constraining our arguments/claims to existing platforms and sources, can we make this process more iterative, playful and creative by learning and adapting the technology TO our own work? Can we harness the skills, at whatever capacity we are able, to be both digital producers, consumers, theorists and analysts?

We have approached the quarter through two paths: one, theoretical, reading about new ontologies of space and knowledge, better understanding the lineage and aims of the digital humanities, exploring the ways network society impacts our studies and technologies. On the other hand, we’ve been encouraged to play through praxis activities: learning some basic Python, experimenting with javascript and D3, and encouraged to apply these skills to our own projects and interventions.

A consistent question seemed to emerge. One of my colleagues, Lila Garcia, and I noticed that many of the technologies and projects were doing really amazing things with multimedia, creating interactive platforms that served as archives as well as stories, pathways as well as explorations. However, we saw a significant arena for geographic work: how are current digital humanities projects conceptualizing and operationalizing ‘space’ and ‘place’? How could we adapt and intervene with future work to specifically address this question? Can we make our own critical interventions in representations and theorizations of relational space through platforms like SCALAR, D3 or even something like Prezi?

Lila and I decided to apply some of our basic coding skills to a network visualization platform called Gephi. After conducting a multi-modal literature review of existing examples and projects, we tagged and cataloged projects based on their use of technology, their platform, their use of ‘space’, their collaborations, funding sources, and goals. We are hoping to do two types of visualizations: one network will show how a sampling of projects are related, via their tags, to show similar trends among existing projects. The second will attempt to more concretely visualize how space is currently portrayed, and expose gaps as to how geographers could better visualize and represent relational space in the future.

The thread of comments that follows will include our reflections on this process. This project is not meant to be exhaustive or definitive. In the spirit of the digital humanities, we are approaching this as an experiment, a chance to play, and perhaps a chance to fail. It is iterative, and we are learning as we go, even if there is nothing conclusive to say at the end.

Join us through these comments, reflections, screen shots, frustrations and insights!