I want situate the kinds of programming typically practiced in digital humanities research and teaching in relation to practices more familiar to book historians and bibliographers, such as the work of compositors and printers working with moveable type.
Ryan Cordell sent me a link to a talk on Programmable Type: the Craft of Printing, the Craft of Code. The talk looks at the “modes of thought and labor” of composing movable type and programming. He is careful to warns us about the simplistic story that has movable type and the computer as two information technologies that caused revolutions in how we think about knowledge. What is particularly interesting is how he weaves hands-on work into his course Technologies of Text. He asks students to not just read about printing, but to try doing it. Likewise for programming in R. There is a knowing that comes from doing something and attending to the labor of that doing. Replicating the making of texts gives students (and researchers) a sense of the materiality and contexts of media. It is a way of doing media archaeology.
In the essay, Cordell writes about the example of the visual poem “A Dude” and its many iterations composed with different type. I had blogged about “A Dude”, but hadn’t thought about how the poem would have been a way for the compositor to show of their craft much like a twitterbot might be a way for a programmer to show off theirs.
Cordell frames this discussion by considering the controversy around whether digital humanists should need to be able to code. He raises an interesting challenge – whether learning the craft of programming (or letterpress printing) might make it harder to view the craft critically. In committing time and labour to learning a craft does one get implicated or corrupted by the craft? Doesn’t one want end up valuing the craft simply because it is something one can now do, and to critique it would be to critique oneself.
“A dude”, 1886. Published in the poetry section of the January issue of The Undergraduate, Middlebury’s newspaper.
From Pinterest I came across this great tumblr called Text Mode gathers “A collection of text graphics and related works, stretching back thousands of years.” Note the image above of a visual poem about “A Dude” from 1886. Included are all sorts of examples from typewriter art to animations to historical emoticons.
In response to unprecedented exigencies, more systemic solutions may be necessary and fully justifiable under fair use and fair dealing. This includes variants of controlled digital lending (CDL), in which books are scanned and lent in digital form, preserving the same one-to-one scarcity and time limits that would apply to lending their physical copies. Even before the new coronavirus, a growing number of libraries have implemented CDL for select physical collections.
To be honest, I am so tired of sitting on my butt that I plan to spend much more time walking to and browsing around the library at the University of Alberta. As much as digital access is a convenience, I’m missing the occasions for getting outside and walking that a library affords. Perhaps we should think of the library as a labyrinth – something deliberately difficult to navigate in order to give you an excuse to walk around.
Perhaps I need a book scanner on a standing desk at home to keep me on my feet.
Gerard Quinn’s cover for the December 1956 issue of New Worlds
Thanks to Ali I cam across this compilation of Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Disembodied Brains. Joachim Boaz has assembled a number of pulp sci-fi cover art showing giant brains. The giant brain was often the way computing was imagined. In fact early computers were called giant brains.
Disembodied brains — in large metal womb-like containers, floating in space or levitating in the air (you know, implying PSYCHIC POWER), pulsating in glass chambers, planets with brain-like undulations, pasted in the sky (GOD!, surprise) above the Garden of Eden replete with mechanical contrivances among the flowers and butterflies and naked people… The possibilities are endless, and more often than not, taken in rather absurd directions.
I wonder if we can plot some of the early beliefs about computers through these images and stories of giant brains. What did we think the brain/mind was such that a big one would have exaggerated powers? The equation would go something like this:
A brain is the seat of intelligence
The bigger the brain, the more intelligent
In big brains we might see emergent properties (like telepathy)
Scaling up the brain will give us artificially effective intelligence
This is what science fiction does so well – it takes some aspect of current science or culture and scales it up to imagine the consequences. Scaling brains, however, seems a bit literal, but the imagined futures are nonetheless important.
Deepak Unnikrishnan’s story collection, “Temporary People,” riffs on the plight of South Asian guest workers in the Gulf states.
I’ve just finished Deepak Unnikrishnan’s collection of interwoven stories, Temporary People (Restless Books, 2017). The stories are about the lives of the immigrant workers in the Emirates. They tell mostly of those from Kerala – those who come and return. The style is rude and magical in a way that conveys the brutal conditions of many migrant workers in the Gulph. The New York Times has a good review, Stories of Fragmented Lives in the Emirates.
Project to digitise and publish his marginalia online will allow scholars to see his cutting remarks on Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Guardian has a story on an interesting digital humanities project, JS Mill scribbles reveal he was far from a chilly Victorian intellectual. The project, Mill Marginalia Online, is digitizing an estimated 40,000 comments, doodles, and other marks that John Stuart Mill wrote in his collection of 1,700 books, now at Somerville College, Oxford. His collection was donated to Somerville 30 years after his death in 1905 because the women of the college weren’t allowed to access the Oxford libraries at the time.
His comments are not just scholarly notes. For example, above is an image of the title page of Emerson’s Essays that Mill added text to in order to mock it. The new title page with Mill’s penciled in elaboration and the original reads,
Sentimental Essays: in the art of
Sense and Nonsense:
R. W. Emerson,
of Concord, Massachusetts.
A clever + well organised youth brought up
in the old traditions.
In thought “all’s fish that comes to net.”
With Fog Preface
By Thomas Carlyle.
“Patent Divine-light Self-acting Foggometer”
To the Court of
Her mAJESTy Queen Vic.
The Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts has a well designed exhibit called Hokusai x Manga that looks at the history of comics from the first kibyōshi to current manga and videogames. The exhibit draws on an extensive collection of woodblock books and prints from the Edo period. They mix a historical approach with themes like the depiction of demons (Yokai) in print and the franchise Yo-kai Watch.
One of the earliest comic picture books that they have is Kyōden’s Playboy, Roasted à la Edo (1785). Harvard has put up a Flash version of this in English and Japanese. (Second book here, third here.) They also have a copies of Hokusai Manga (or Hokusai’s Sketches) published starting in 1814 which was a sort of manual on how to draw with lots of examples. Note that “manga” at the time didn’t mean what it means now.
There is an excellent catalogue with useful essays including one at the end on “Manga in Transition” by Jaqueline Berndt.
Shulze, S., et al. (2016). Hokusai X Manga: Japanese Pop Culture since 1680. Munich, Hirmer.
How is this art? I suspect it is in the way he plays with repetition. Another project, Alphabetized Newspaper, takes all the words in stories on the cover of The New York Times and rearranges them in alphabetical order created a sort of sorted word list. (Click image and explore.)
He also did this with video of NBC nightly news, which produces a bizarre effect. Imagine all the very short clips of people saying “and” in a row.
I am struck by how he has humanly recreated what an algorithm could do.