MLA Profession 2011: On the Evaluation of Digital Media as Scholarship

My paper “On the Evaluation of Digital Media as Scholarship” has just been published online in MLA: Profession 2011 (pp. 152-168). The PDF is freely available. The abstract reads,

As more and more scholarship is digital, we need to develop a culture of conversation around the evaluation of digital academic work. We have to be able to evaluate new types of research, like analytic tools and hypermedia fiction, that are difficult to review. The essay surveys common types of digital scholarly work, discusses what evaluators should ask, discusses how digital researchers can document their scholarship, and then discusses the types of conversations hires and evaluators (like chairs) should have and when they should have them. Where there is a conversation around evaluation in a department, both hires and evaluators are more likely to come to consensus as to what is appropriate digital research and how it should be documented.

This is part of a collection put together by Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell and Stephen Olsen about Evaluating Digital Scholarship. McGann and Bethany Nowviskie, among others, also have papers in this issue of Profession.

TRAFFIC: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980

Gordon Lebredt Get Hold Of This Space 1974

Go see the TRAFFIC: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965-1980 exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta. It is a dense exhibit with hundreds of works and relevant documentation. It is organized by cities (a room for Halifax, one for Montreal …) and seems carefully researched. You will find yourself bewildered and amused at the variety of conceptual art projects executed in Canada. You will notice that everything was done back then with typewriters, video and tape recorders. The colors look bleached the way old and cheap photographs are. The aging of all those postcards and paper forms dates the works as if they were brought out of the attic or from the back of the family station wagon left in the sun.

This show was developed by a number of museums (from Vancouver to Halifax) and is touring those museums. You can read about the show when it was in Toronto. Or you can read about it in Magenta.

BBC – Domesday Reloaded

Thanks to Paul I came across the BBC Domesday Reloaded. The original Domesday Book was commissioned in 1085 by William the Conqueror.In 1986 the BBC published a Laser-Disk based Domesday Project that gathered articles, amateur photographs and other materials. The Laser-Disk Project only ran on a properly configured BBC computer which was hard to find in Canada. I actually played with the system (and the Domesday Project) when I was working at the University of Toronto Computing Services. It was a phenomenal example at the time of computer-based multimedia even though it was limited to a particular play-back system.

Now the Project has been remediated for the web by the BBC as Domesday Reloaded. You can search the content and the places. They have crowdsourcing features to let people add an updated article about a place. Some of the content seems to be inaccessible from outside the UK.

Reality is Broken

Reality is Broken is the recent book about gamification by Jane McGonigal (New York, The Penguin Press, 2011) that has been getting a lot of attention. My copy finally came in the mail so now I guess I have to read it. I sound reluctant because everything I’ve read about the book disposes me to dislike it. The vapid “computers are going to save the world” (once more) hype by and for the author is enough to choke on. The idea that gamifying can solve all sorts of problems reminds me of when I thought I could get students to learn by making games out of completing assignments (yes, I too used scratch-and-sniff stickers to gamify learning.) I say all this to acknowledge that as I write one or more blog entries on this book as I read it, I am not reading the work with a fair mind, so readers of my comments beware.

Continue reading Reality is Broken

NFB: Out My Window

Joyce pointed me to a National Film Board (NFB) interactive work, Out My Window: Interactive Views from the Global Highrise. The work, directed by Katerina Cizek documents the lives of people in apartments through their apartments. For each apartment there is a 360 degree view that you can pan around (sort of like QuickTime VR.) Certain things can be clicked on to hear and see short documentaries with the voice of the dweller. These delicate stories are very effective at giving us a view of apartment life around the world.

Chronologie des supports, des dispositifs spatiaux, des outils de repérage de l’information

Christian directed me to a fascinating chronology of information technology (in French) by Sylvie Fayet-Scribe. It is called Chronologie des supports, des dispositifs spatiaux, des outils de repérage de l’information. and the web design isn’t the best, but it seems detailed and annotated. It seems like a good place to start if you want to understand the types of information aides from encyclopedias, indexes, and so on. Here division of time into epochs is also interesting. The bibliography is also good.

Informatica Umanistica: Interrupting Digitization

Informatica Umanistica has just published a paper of mine on digitization titled, “Interrupting Digitalizatin and Thinking about Text”. The article starts,

One of the memes of new media is that the form of communication determines the content. As McLuhan puts it the medium is the message, and therefore, as we digitize the evidence of human culture from the Roman forum to Hamlet we inaugurate not just a new edition of our knowledge, but a new knowing and with it a new way of thinking. This paper will not engage the question of technological determinism, instead it will assume that the enthusiasts are right and ask then what is digitization? or what is the message of the digital form? Asking such questions is an interruption in the rush to digitize everything; imagine the scanner has broken down for a moment letting us pause and ask if we really understand the digital, if we understand what is gained and lost, and if we understand the possibilities before us or how we are constrained.

Ritsumeikan: Possibilities in Digital Humanities

The last week and a bit I have been in Kyoto to give a talk at a conference on the “Possibilities in Digital Humanities” which was organized by Professor Kozaburo Hachimura and sponsored by the Information Processing Society of Japan and by the Ritsumeikan University Digital Humanities Center for Japanese Arts and Culture.

While the talks were in Japanese I was able to follow most of the sessions with the help of Mistuyuki Inaba and Keiko Susuki. I was impressed by the quality of the research and the involvement of new scholars. There seemed to be a much higher participation of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students than at similar conferences in Canada which bodes well for digital humanities in Japan.

Continue reading Ritsumeikan: Possibilities in Digital Humanities

Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thanks to Willard, I’m reading Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin’s Romance of the Machine, a defense of American materialism, science and engineering. He identifies 3 sets of technologies that have consolidated the Union – the telephone, the vacuum-tube oscillator (radio), and the gas-engine (auto and airplane.) He weaves a consciously idealistic story about engineering mirroring the machines of nature and weaving peace.

The machine is the visible evidence of the close union between man and the spirit of the eternal truth which guides the subtle hand of nature. (p. 29)

It looks like an act of providence that the telephone was born when the consolidation of our Union needed it most; the vacuum-tube oscillator arrived in time to lend its aid in the consolidation of this nation with the other nations of the world. Many an enthusiast believes that these two machines are messengers sent from heaven to aid in the guidance of the destiny of this nation, and of the whole world. This enthusiasm is not surprising. (p. 92)

There is a very interesting chapter (“Romance of the Telephone”, III) where Pupin argues that the telephone provided two important innovations – first the communications network and second a model democratic industry.

There is another epoch-making service which the telephone
rendered to this nation. This service was the creation of a great
American telephone industry, which in many respects serves to-day as a model to other big American industries. (p. 67)

His argument is that ATT is too big to be owned by wealthy families. Instead it is owned by the middle class – people like its employees. He further sees the management as coming from the same middle class and being professionals. He sees a shift from political democracy to economic democracy which benefits all. Whatever happened to that idealism?

Our telephone industry and the other large American industries encourage us in the belief that we are much nearer to the ideal of economic democracy than we are to Lincoln’s ideal of political democracy. The first is developed by scientists and engineers, the second is <pb> in the hands of politicians. (p. 77 – 78)

One thing that happened is a loss of faith in the technocracy. The second thing was a shift in business towards management who saw their mandate narrowly as being only to increase investor value.

Some more quotes:

There will be no place for barbarism, like war, in a world in
which the two American machines, the telephone and the vacuum-tube oscillator, are afforded every opportunity to develop their latent powers for the enlightenment of the world.

Here are two.machines which the American machine civilization has produced, and thus laid the foundation of the radio art, the most subtle and refined of all the technical arts ever conceived by the human mind. No trace of materialism can be detected in their history. On the contrary, their achievements represent them as messengers from heaven sent to earth to rid the world of barbarous notions and raise it to a higher level of civilization.(p. 94)

The telephone, the telegraph, the vacuum-tube oscillator, the aeroplane, and the automobile, will certainly bring the peoples of the world closer to each other and establish between them bonds of friendship, just as they are establishing them between the peoples of our States. That is the highest mission of these machines. (p. 103)

The book ends by talking about “The Great American Experiment” and how this political experiment inspired engineers and scientists to develop technologies to consolidate the Union so that “The designers, the builders, and the machines employed by them are the inseparable parts of the American machine civilization.” (p. 111)

Bibliographic Reference: Michael Pupin, Romance of the Machine (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930).

Canada 3.0 Forum: Stratford Declaration

Ian Wilson of the new U Waterloo Stratford Institute talked to the York/Peking Symposium on the Canada 3.0 Forum among other things. He talked about the Stratford Declaration (reproduced below) that emerged. It is a national declaration that calls for a Canadian project.

Canada 3.0 – The Stratford Declaration June 22, 2009

On June 8-9, 2009, over 1500 people interested in the digital economy gathered in Stratford, Ontario to review and debate the opportunities and challenges for Canada’s future. Canada 3.0 brought together industry, government and academia in workshops and discussions all focused on Canada’s digital future.

Recognizing the need for urgent attention to the issues of digital media, the participants in the Canada 3.0 Conference agreed to the Stratford Declaration:

• Success in digital media will be central to national prosperity in the 21st century. This fast growing field is producing jobs, ideas, products, services, companies and opportunities at a rapid pace – but Canada is not yet a world leader.
• Canada has the potential to be internationally competitive in this field on a sustained and focused basis, but it will not get there based on current trends.
• The foundations of Canada’s digital economy and society are not yet strong and stable. Significant upgrades are required to the digital infrastructure, including both the technological infrastructure and made-in-Canada digital content.
• Consistent accomplishment in the digital economy will require collaboration, partnership and collective action on an unprecedented national and cross-sectoral scale. Canada must use the digital revolution to reinvent the manner in which this country trains, educates, creates new businesses, cooperates, serves the population and views its collective future.
• Canada’s competitive advantage lies in its ability to bridge the technological and content fields, and to thereby produce and deliver internationally competitive products and services. The creative talents of this country must be connected to the technological potential of this age.
• Canada must become a global test-bed for new digital products and services and must be seen as a new economy incubator where consumers, governments and companies are known for embracing digital innovation.
• Canada needs to produce a regulatory and legal environment attuned to the 21st century and needs to use these arrangements to propel the nation into a position of global leadership in digital rights management.
• The digital ecology produces global competition for talent, ideas, patents and emerging companies. Canadians need to make a strong commitment to the country as a place to train, innovate, work and prosper if the digital economy is to flourish.
• There is an urgent need for a national project of such scale, scope and impact that Canadians come to understand the potential of the digital economy and that produces the collaboration, cooperation and cross-country engagement necessary for international digital leadership.
• Canada must set an ambitious target – to become the first truly digital nation in the world – and must move with urgency and determination toward this goal.

Canada 3.0 – La Déclaration de Stratford Le 22 juin 2009

Les 8 et 9 juin 2009, la ville de Stratford, en Ontario, a accueilli plus de 1 500 intéressés qui se sont penchés sur le dossier de l’économie numérique et ont débattu les possibilités et défis qui se dessinent pour le Canada de demain. Réunissant des délégués de l’industrie, des gouvernements et du monde universitaire, la conférence Canada 3.0 a été le théâtre d’ateliers et d’échanges portant sur l’avenir numérique du Canada.

Conscients de la nécessité de porter une attention immédiate aux enjeux liés aux médias numériques, les participants de la conférence ont entériné la Déclaration de Stratford :
• Au 21e siècle, la réussite des médias numériques sera au cœur de la prospérité du pays. Emplois, idées, produits, services, entreprises et débouchés se multiplient à un rythme effréné dans ce domaine en plein essor. Cependant, le Canada n’y occupe pas encore une position de chef de file mondial.
• Le Canada possède tous les atouts requis pour affronter de façon durable et ciblée la concurrence internationale dans le domaine. Cependant, ce potentiel ne se réalisera jamais à moins que le pays ne change de cap.
• Le Canada ne dispose pas encore d’assises stables et solides en ce qui touche l’économie et la société numériques. L’infrastructure numérique doit faire l’objet d’améliorations marquées, notamment sur le plan de l’infrastructure technique et des contenus numériques de confection canadienne.
• En matière d’économie numérique, la cohérence des réalisations nécessite une collaboration, des partenariats et une action concertée sans précédent à l’échelon national et intersectoriel. Le Canada doit profiter de la révolution numérique pour réinventer ses modèles de formation, d’éducation, de création de nouvelles entreprises, de coopération et de service au public ainsi que pour revoir la façon dont il envisage l’avenir collectif de la nation.
• L’avantage concurrentiel du Canada tient à sa capacité de conjuguer techniques et contenus et, ainsi, de produire et de diffuser des produits et services compétitifs dans l’arène mondiale. Les talents créateurs de ce pays doivent être « branchés » sur les possibilités techniques de notre époque.
• Le Canada doit devenir une plateforme mondiale d’essai des nouveaux produits et services numériques. Il doit également être perçu comme un incubateur de la nouvelle économie où consommateurs, gouvernements et entreprises se distinguent par leur capacité de faire place à l’innovation numérique.
• Le Canada doit se doter d’un milieu réglementaire et légal qui s’accorde avec le 21e siècle. Il lui faut également miser sur de telles dispositions pour se propulser au sommet du palmarès mondial de la gestion des droits d’auteur électroniques.
• L’écologie numérique alimente la concurrence mondiale sur le plan des talents, des idées, des brevets et des nouvelles entreprises. Les Canadiens doivent s’engager résolument envers leur pays pour en faire un lieu où apprendre, innover, travailler et prospérer. Le développement futur de l’économie numérique en dépend.
• Il est urgent de lancer un projet national d’une envergure, d’une portée et d’une incidence telles que les Canadiens en viendront à saisir les possibilités offertes par l’économie numérique et qu’il en découlera la collaboration, la coopération et la mobilisation intersectorielle requises pour l’exercice d’un leadership numérique mondial.
• Le Canada doit se fixer un objectif audacieux — devenir la première véritable nation numérique du monde — et s’employer prestement et résolument à atteindre cet objectif. (This is from the Facebook Page.)