Towards a Methods Commons

Well my vacation is over and I’m facilitating a retreat on text methods across disciplines. (See Towards a Methods Commons.) With support from the ITST program at SSHRC we brought together 15 linguists, philosophers, historians, and literary scholars to discuss methods in a structured way. The goal is to sketch a commons that gathers “recipes” that show people how to do research things with electronic texts. Stay tuned for a draft web site in about 6 months.

DAEDALUS PROJECT: MMORPG Research, Cyberculture, MMORPG Psychology

A student in my Computers and Culture class drew our attention to the DAEDALUS PROJECT which is led by Nick Yee at PARC. The Daedalus Project is a blog about MMORG research with longish entries written like short articles that are gathered into issues. There is also The Daedalus Gateway that organizes the articles in a more thematic fashion.

Graph from Daedalus

The articles are fascinating. The graph immediately above was taken from a study on Game Choices that looks at what sorts of characters players choose.

Many of the articles on The Daedalus Project are based on voluntary surveys (see his methodology). It is impressive that Yee is getting between 2000 and 4000 respondents and there is something to be learned by how he returns results, informs people of the survey and so on. I feel that The Daedalus Project represents some sort of new paradigm that crosses method, publication, and outreach.

Defeating Bedlam: Olivia Judson Blog

Olivia Judson of the New York Times has a nice story in her blog, Defeating Bedlam (Dec. 16, 2008). She talks about the old analogue way she did research gathering photocopies and how she now uses Zotero and Papers. Zotero is a Firefox Plugin for managing bibliographic references with really good integration with browsing. Papers is an iTunes (or iPhoto) for PDFs.

What is interesting is the reflection on research practice and how digital tools can fit in practices. Read the comments – you can see how others have used different tools from EndNote (which used to be good on a Mac but now has a clunky developed-on-a-pc feel) to Google Desktop.

AHRC ICT Methods Network: Final Report

I just came across the AHRC ICT Methods Network Final Report edited by Lorna Hughes. It is one of the most thorough final reports of its kind and nicely designed. There is a bitter-sweet conclusion to the report by Susan Hockey and Seamus Ross as the AHDS (Arts and Humanities Data Service) seems to have had its funding cut and therefore cannot renew the Methods Network (or support the Oxford Text Archive either.) As the home page of the AHDS says, “From April 2008 the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) will no longer be funded to provide a national service.” The conclusion by Susan and Seamus states unequivocally that,

In conclusion, the activities of the Methods Network demonstrated not only that ICT methods and tools are central to humanities scholarship, but also that there was ‘a very long way to go before ICT in humanities and arts research finds its rightful and needed places’. The investment in ICT in the arts and humanities needs to be much greater and it needs to reflect better the particularities and needs of individual communities. Researchers who do not have access to the most current technological methods and tools will not be able to keep
pace with the trends in scholarship. There is a real need for support and infrastructure for distributed research. (page 74)

Interestingly they propose a “flexible co-ordinated network of centres of excellence as the best way forwards”. (Page 74) I also liked the report because it kindly mentions TAPoR,

The group looked at how collaborations are fostered and supported, how partnerships are brokered in the first instance, and how this work is rewarded and evaluated by the different communities. Geoffrey Rockwell, Project Director of what is almost certainly the largest collaborative humanities software development project in the world, the TAPoR (http://portal.tapor.ca/portal/portal) project in Canada, shared his experiences of how the development of a collaborative and inter-institutional set of tools for text analysis was managed within the project. TAPoR was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and succeeded in its overall goals in providing general purpose text analysis tools. The TAPoR site reports that its tools were run over 5000 times in November 2007. TAPoR provides strong evidence that networked collaborative tool development can succeed. (Page 63)

Digital Humanities Summer Institute

DHSI LogoI am now at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria where I am going to present an Institute Lecture tomorrow. I have been updating a small Conference Report (that is in progress and covers mostly the lectures.)

In particular it was interesting to hear how Synergies has evolved into a truly national knowledge-mobilization project with good ideas about how to make SSH research accessible to the broader public.

Parallel Word Processing

Well, that’s what Textflow calls their not-yet-in-beta collaborative editing system. It certainly looks attractive, it even looks like it might be nice to use. I have only had a quick look, but it claims to offer more than just multi-user document editing; instead of requiring editors to check-in/check-out portions of a document (hence locking their edits), Textflow chunks the document down into a database of edits and revision pieces of arbitrary size and maintains all the pieces of a document simultaneously over many editors. Its killer feature might be the ability to import several versions of a Word file and build a revision history with a ‘final state’ copy ready to commit or roll-back edits.
Faces stiff competition from Google Docs and ThinkFree (among others), but they look to be raising the bar.

Spinuzzi and Digital History Hacks

Clay Spinuzzi has a blog, Spinuzzi, that was recommended on Humanist. His recent posting a long thoughtful reflections on methodology, especially as applied to rhetoric and writing research. He comments on Composing Research by Cindy Johanek which critiques the ostensibly anectdotal methods of many researchers in rhetoric and communication.

Another blog that Shawn Day pointed me to is William J. Turkel’s Digital History Hacks. He writes longer posts on topics like What’s the Opposite of Big History? He is comfortable with programming and hardware design.

ForensicXP for forensic document analysis

Software Screen ImageForensicXP is a device that does forensic document imaging. It combines 3D imaging with chemical analysis to do Hyperspectrum Imaging and Processing. This can be used to recover “obliterated” writing, to figure out the sequence of line drawing (what lines/words were drawn first), and to detect additions and substitutions. Obviously it also helps identify the chemistry (ink) used.

Thanks to John for this.

Kirschenbaum: Hamlet.doc?

Matt Kirschenbaum has published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, Hamlet.doc? Literature in a Digital Age (From the issue of August 17, 2007.) The article nicely summarizes teases us with the question of what we scholars could learn about the writing of Hamlet if Shakespeare had left us his hard-drive. Kirschenbaum has nicely described and theorized the digital archival work humanists will need to learn to do in his forthcoming book from MIT Press, Mechanisms. Here is the conclusion of the Chronicle article,

Literary scholars are going to need to play a role in decisions about what kind of data survive and in what form, much as bibliographers and editors have long been advocates in traditional library settings, where they have opposed policies that tamper with bindings, dust jackets, and other important kinds of material evidence. To this end, the Electronic Literature Organization, based at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, is beginning work on a preservation standard known as X-Lit, where the “X-” prefix serves to mark a tripartite relationship among electronic literature’s risk of extinction or obsolescence, the experimental or extreme nature of the material, and the family of Extensible Markup Language technologies that are the technical underpinning of the project. While our focus is on avant-garde literary productions, such literature has essentially been a test bed for a future in which an increasing proportion of documents will be born digital and will take fuller advantage of networked, digital environments. We may no longer have the equivalent of Shakespeare’s hard drive, but we do know that we wish we did, and it is therefore not too late ‚Äî or too early ‚Äî to begin taking steps to make sure we save the born-digital records of the literature of today.