(Against) Virus as Metaphor

Our fondness for viruses as metaphor may have kept us from insisting on and observing the standards and practices that would prevent their spread.

Paul Elie in the New Yorker has a comment (Against) Virus as Metaphor (March 19, 2020) where he argues that our habit of using viruses as a metaphor is dangerous. He draws on Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor to discuss how using the virus as metaphor can end up both misleading us about what is happening on the internet with ideas and memes, but can also cast a moral shadow back onto those who have the real disease. It is tempting to blame those with diseases for moral faults that presumably made them more vulnerable to the disease. The truth is that diseases like viruses pay no attention to our morals. There is nothing socially constructed or deconstructed to the Coronavirus. It wasn’t invented by people but it has real consequences for people. We have to be careful not to ascribe human agency to it.

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Show and Tell at CHRIN

Stéphane Pouyllau’s photo of me presenting

Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.

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Digital Synergies Launch Event

Today I gave a short talk at the Digital Synergies Launch Event. The launch included neat talks by colleagues including:

I showed and talked about Lexigraphi.ca – The Dictionary of Worlds in the Wild. This is a social site where people can upload pictures of text outside of books and documents and tag the words – text like tatoos, graffiti, store signs and other forms of public textuality.

Engaged Humanities Partnerships Between Academia And Tribal Communities

Last week the Oregon Humanities Center put on a great two-day conference on Engaged Humanities Partnerships Between Academia And Tribal Communities that I attended. (See my conference notes here.) The conference looked at ways that the humanities can partner with indigenous communities.

One of the highlights was Jennifer O’Neal’s talk about the importance of decolonizing the archives and work she is doing towards that. You can see a paper by her on the subject titled “The Right to Know”: Decolonizing Native American Archives.

I talked about the situation in Canada in general, and the University of Alberta in particular, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Linked Infrastructure For Networked Cultural Scholarship Team Meeting 2019

This weekend I was at the Linked Infrastructure For Networked Cultural Scholarship (LINCS) Team Meeting 2019. The meeting/retreat was in Banff at the Banff International Research Station and I kept my research notes at philosophi.ca.

The goal of Lincs is to create a shared linked data store that humanities projects can draw on and contribute to. This would let us link our digital resources in ways that create new intellectual connections and that allow us to reason about linked data.

DH 2019 in Utrecht

I am back home after two conferences, first the CHCI conference in Dublin and then DH 2019 in Utrecht.

The CHCI (Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes) had its annual conference in Dublin, Ireland. The Kule Institute for Advanced Studies (which I direct) is a member. The conference was held at Trinity College and featured some extraordinary talks including a Silent Shakespeare performance talk by Judith Buchanan. My (flawed) conference notes are here.

Next I was in Utrecht, Holland for DH 2019. As always, my typo-ridden conference notes are at philosophi.ca : DH 2019This was the biggest DH ever with over 1000 participants. There was a real feel of the explosion of the field and all its directions. Before the conference proper I attended a workshop on DLS (Digital Literary Stylistics) Tool Criticism: Use Cases. I was asked to give a paper at the workshop and presented on Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation. Revivification was my variant on replication as inspired by the Silents Shakespeare performances reviving silent movies. I also gave a short paper in a panel organized by Micki Kaufman on XR in DH: Extended Reality in the Digital Humanities. My short paper looked at Campus Mysteries: Playing with Serious Augmented Reality Games.

The conference was closed by a great keynote by Johanna Drucker on Complexity and Sustainability.


Conference notes for CSDH 2019

In early June I was at the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences. I took conference notes on the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities 2019 event and on the Canadian Game Studies Association conference, 2019. I was involved in a number of papers:

  • Exploring through Markup: Recovering COCOA. This paper looked at an experimental Voyant tool that allows one to use COCOA markup as a way of exploring a text in different ways. COCOA markup is a simple form of markup that was superseded by XML languages like those developed with the TEI. The paper recovered some of the history of markup and what we may have lost.

  • Designing for Sustainability: Maintaining TAPoR and Methodi.ca. This paper was presented by Holly Pickering and discussed the processes we have set up to maintain TAPoR and Methodi.ca.

  • Our team also had two posters, one on “Generative Ethics: Using AI to Generate” that showed a toy that generates statements about artificial intelligence and ethics. The other, “Discovering Digital Methods: An Exploration of Methodica for Humanists” showed what we are doing with Methodi.ca.

Modelling Cultural Processes

Mt Fuji with the setting behind

Sitting on a hill with a view of Mt. Fuji across the water is the Shonan Village Center where I just finished a research retreat on Modelling Cultural Processes. This was organized by Mits Inaba, Martin Roth, and Gehard Heyer from Ritsumeikan University and the University of Leipzig. It brought together people in computing, linguistics, game studies, political science, literary studies and the digital humanities. My conference notes are here.

Unlike a conference, much of the time was spent in working groups discussing issues like identity, shifting content, and constructions of culture. As part of our working groups we developed a useful model of the research process across the humanities and social sciences such that we can understand where there are shifts in content.

Mt Fuji in the distance across the water

The Secret History of Women in Coding

Computer programming once had much better gender balance than it does today. What went wrong?

The New York Times has a nice long article on The Secret History of Women in Coding – The New York TimesWe know a lot of the story from books like Campbell-Kelly’s From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: a History of the Software Industry (2003), Chang’s Brotopia (2018), and Rankin’s A People’s History of Computing in the United States (2018).

The history is not the heroic story of personal computing that I was raised on. It is a story of how women were driven out of computing (both the academy and businesses) starting in the 1960s.

A group of us at the U of Alberta are working on archiving the work of Sally Sedelow, one of the forgotten pioneers of humanities computing. Dr. Sedelow got her PhD in English in 1960 and did important early work on text analysis systems.

Peter Robinson, “Textual Communities: A Platform for Collaborative Scholarship on Manuscript Heritages”

Peter Robinson gave a talk on “Textual Communities: A Platform for Collaborative Scholarship on Manuscript Heritages” as part of the Singhmar Guest Speaker Program | Faculty of Arts.

He started by talking about whether textual traditions had any relationship to the material world. How do texts relate to each other?

Today stemata as visualizations are models that go beyond the manuscripts themselves to propose evolutionary hypotheses in visual form.

He then showed what he is doing with the Canterbury Tales Project and then talked about the challenges adapting the time-consuming transcription process to other manuscripts. There are lots of different transcription systems, but few that handle collation. There is also the problem of costs and involving a distributed network of people.

He then defined text:

A text is an act of (human) communication that is inscribed in a document.

I wondered how he would deal with Allen Renear’s argument that there are Real Abstract Objects which, like Platonic Forms are real, but have no material instance. When we talk, for example, of “hamlet” we aren’t talking about a particular instance, but an abstract object. Likewise with things like “justice”, “history,” and “love.” Peter responded that the work doesn’t exist except as its instances.

He also mentioned that this is why stand-off markup doesn’t work because texts aren’t a set of linear objects. It is better to represent it as a tree of leaves.

So, he launched Textual Communities – https://textualcommunities.org/

This is a distributed editing system that also has collation.