Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflection Video

Here is my final post for the class: my relfection video.
Enjoy! It's been a real pleasure

P.S. I almost reshot the video to take back every shining word I said about DH after the ordeal of getting this darn video up. However, now that the ordeal is over, I have returned to shiny feelings :)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Incorporating Digital Tools into Class Assignments.

There are many different tools available in the digital realm that can enhance the experience, analyzing, and critiquing of literature. The tools include things like GIS mapping – which is now being used to bring more than just geographic data to life – visualizations like word clouds, and interactive archiving. As a culture that is obviously not static or stagnant, we would be remiss to continue our scholarly experience of literature without incorporating these digital tools into assignments.

The types of tools used in an assignment must be contingent on the familiarity of the students with the technology and the grade level of the students. For instance, for younger students, I think that visualization assignments might be most accessible. Creating visualizations like word clouds and graphs through programs like Voyant is hugely easy and introductory. The meat of visualization assignments are the conclusions that students can make by analyzing them. It’s all in the questions you ask. For example, when a student is tasked with creating a word cloud for each chapter in a novel, they are in no way mentally engaged. All they have done is to dump words into a processor and press a button. However, when the student is asked to recognize patterns in word usage and compare that to the close reading they have accomplished in class, they might be privy to a new and more extensive understanding of the story as a whole. The combination of close and distant reading can have a tendency to paint a fuller portrait.

The types of tools one would use in assignments must also be based on what the subject narrative is. For example, a mapping assignment would serve little purpose when evaluating a story that is not geographically interesting. Mapping assignments can help bring to life stories that are geographically interesting. Take, for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This interactive map developed by the LOTR Project is a “geospatial timeline” that helps organize and plot the entirety of events in Tolkien’s masterpiece. It adds a new level of comprehension to the story we all know.

A Sample GIS Assignment for a Geographically Interesting Text:
Let’s take a high school English class in which students read one – five chapters of a novel per week. What if, for each block or section of text that bore geographical significance, each student were asked to map it. For each mapping they would have to provide a multimodal summarization of the section of texts. By the end of the unit, each student would have their own individual comprehensive map of the story.

This is beneficial for so many reasons.1. Students could then be asked to compare their map with three other students’ maps in order to draw reader-response conclusions about the way we individually experience texts. (We could also shift the assignment. What if only two or three students mapped each section of text. Then the conclusions to draw at the end of the unit would be on the way we collaboratively experience texts).  2. Students would have a much more complete understanding of the text, because they would have had their hands in it. It would seem as if they had played a role in the developing of the plot, because, in the end, they would be creators of their own retelling. 3. Through this assignment, students would have gained a better understanding of and familiarity with advancing technology and how it can be useful in ways other than social media. This familiarity could give them a significant leg up in the job market. 4. We also cannot fail to mention that the maps would make such excellent study guides to refer to at the end of the semester or year. 

All in all, I think that digital tools are enhancing the task of studying literature. They are adding whole new dimensions to the ways we understand narrative (which will, in turn, influence the ways in which we create narratives).  The biggest obstacle when developing assignments that incorporate digital tools is the assumption that your students will 1. be open to using new types of technology, and 2. they will be able to use these new types of technology. However, if you have an open student body with uninhibited access to these tools, then they can start literally building on their understanding of literature.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Adventures in Distant Reading

 To tackle this idea of “distant reading,” I read a selection of articles and blog posts on the subject and was asked to then use a couple commonly accessible distant reading sites to put the idea into practice. Distant reading is the practice of taking an extremely large body of literary work – for example, all plays written in England between 1500 and 1700 – dumping them into a computer processor, and then analyzing the trends that you see such as word frequency or plot types. The idea is that recognizing patterns in an astronomical sample of texts will give us insight into the literary time period. This is a new idea, and I believe that distant reading – because it is so accessible – can become an excellent aid for scholars and theorists of literature.

To put this idea into practice, I used two commonly found websites that participate in this big data analysis. First, I entered five different articles/blog posts on this idea of distant reading (referenced below) into the program called Voyant. Then I entered some data into Google’s Ngram program to gain a different perspective on the texts.

When you dump a collection of texts into Voyant, the program recognizes word repetition and presents it to the user in a variety of ways such as graphs, clouds, text highlighting, etc.. I was let down to find that the most used words in the readings were “the,” “of,” “to,” “a,” etc.. I searched and searched, but couldn’t find a filter that would eliminate those seemingly benign words. (I call them benign, because they didn’t align with my interests. However, as one article pointed out, Gothic literature can be defined by the overwhelming use of “the.”) While it is seemingly missing a filter, Voyant does allow the user to manipulate the data. I was able to select as many top words as I wanted and see how their graphs compare. Each word’s graph maps how often it was used in each reading. When comparing graphs of certain words we can start noticing trends throughout the readings. As Mae Capozzi noted in her blog “Reading at a Distance” having visuals like these maps bring literary theory out of the phase of abstraction and gives it a presence that is almost physical (Capozzi). No longer do theorists and critics have to simply talk about their ideas; now they have visualizations.

When I manipulated my data to show me a graph of how the top more important words were distributed throughout the readings, I got an interesting result. The words I chose to map out were: reading, more, books, topic, digital, humanities, literary, new, moretti, literature, words, and distant. These were the top words excluding articles, pronouns, state-of-being verbs, qualifiers, etc. If I had only seen this list of top words but never read the articles and blogs, I would still be able to infer that distant reading is a new development in the way we read literature that incorporates the digital humanities. If I had a larger sample of texts, I would probably be able to hone my understanding of distant reading down to an even more accurate and precise definition.

My experience with Google Ngrams was a little different than Voyant. I couldn’t find a way to enter all of the readings into that processor, and if I could have, I would assume that the data would look pretty much the same as it did in Voyant. Instead, I took the key concepts and entered them into the search bar. Initially I chose to examine the use of the words “digital humanities,” “distant reading,” and “big data” from 1950 (the decade of the start of what we know as digital humanities) to 2008 (I tried to expand the search to 2015, but every time I tried it was reset to 2008) in English. Ngram allowed me to see the trends in usage for these words. All three started to trend upward in the 90s – likely thanks to the internet. The term “digital humanities” wasn’t used at all until the advent of the internet in the nineties. I found it interesting that the term “big data” has been used since the invention of the computer, as the computer gave people the opportunity to archive and catalogue. “Big data” took a dramatic increase in usage between 1990 and 2000 when it peaked.

Using Ngram in this way also provided evidence for the pit falls of distant reading. Firstly, in the graph I referenced above, the term “distant reading” seems to have been frequently used around 1950. To see this in greater detail, I extended my time frame to examine texts in English between 1900 and 2008. It seems that the term “distant reading” was relatively popular between 1935 and 1955 (this can be seen in the graph below). Surely, the people using “distant reading” back then were not referring to it in the way that we are today. However, the Ngram processor doesn’t know this. If someone is analyzing information using Ngram, they could very easily be tripped up by confused data.

I think that distant reading tools like Voyant and Ngram could be great tools to use in the classroom especially when summing up a literary era. Have students make predictions about a certain literary era before reading texts: common themes, obstacles, world views, etc.. Then, have students read 5 – 10 texts or excerpts of texts from that era. They would be expected to close read these texts. After their close reading, they would be asked to identify what they believe would be commonalities throughout texts of the period. Once the students are finished reading, have them enter a large sample of texts from this period into one of these big data processors. By recognizing word repetition, have the students reevaluate the common themes they predicted. Ask them: how does distant reading compare to close reading? From which did they gain the best understanding of the literary era? How do the two compliment each other? Then, the students can enter some of the themes together into Google Ngram and see how they have evolved, connected, or opposed each other over time. Both these tools could be wonderful resources in the classroom.

After reading about distant reading and having practice putting it to use, I view it as a nice companion to traditional close reading. As Joshua Rothman stated at the end of his article, “An Attempt to Discover the Laws of Literature,” “We can continue to read the old fashioned way. Moretti, from afar, will tell us what he learns” (Rothman). I think that to analyze literature solely from afar is to strip it of everything that makes it worthy of analysis at all. However, this big data information that we are discovering as we analyze large corpus of texts, can be useful in its ability to uncover new trends in past periods of not only literature but also human cultures.

Readings Referenced:
Capozzi, Mae. “Reading from a Distance.” Blog.
Cohen, Patricia. “Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers.”  The New York Times. 3 Dec. 2010. Web. 27 July 2015.
Rothman, Joshua. “An Attempt to Discover the Laws of Literature.” The New Yorker. 20 March 2014. Web. 27 July 2015.
Schulz, Kathryn. “What is Distant Reading?” The New York Times Sunday Book Review. 24 June 2011. Web. 27 July 2015.
Underwood, Ted. “How Not to Do Things with Words.” Blog. 25 Aug 2012. Web. 27 July 2015.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Transmedia Narratives

Transmedia storytelling is a mode of storytelling that is gaining speed with the digital humanities. A story that is transmedia is one that utilizes many different avenues for the telling of one story. We call this transmedia as opposed to cross-media, because this type of narrative does not simply cross media borders – we are not talking about merely making a series adaptation of a novel, for instance – this type of narrative blurs the lines between media. It utilizes all different types of media simultaneously to create the story.

Henry Jenkins boils transmedia storytelling down to a few key concepts. Firstly, he claims that there must be additive comprehension. This means that the entirety of the story cannot be told through one medium: “each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story” (Jenkins). The media used builds upon one another to create a multi-layered and complex narrative. To this end, Jenkins also asserts that those stories that are transmedia are interested in building a vast fictional world. By granting the reader/viewer access to many different experiences with the story and its characters, one can begin to see an entire complex universe unfold. Also, says Jenkins, transmedia stories will appeal to the “collective intelligence.” The collective intelligence allows readers and viewers to unite in order to explore and solve problems within the fictional world: “Transmedia storytelling expands what can be known about a particular fictional world while dispersing the information, insuring that no one consumer knows everything and insure that they must talk about the series with others” (Jenkins).

The beloved television show Lost is an example of a transmedia story. Lost is formatted like a video game, says theorist Steven Jones, and it requires the audience to participate in collective research in order to solve mysteries. Jones says that the audience, in order to pick up on the entirety of Lost, must pick up on what he calls “easter eggs” – little clues that stick out and pull the viewers out of the narrative of the episode and compel them to explore another part of the Lost universe.

At first glance, this means of storytelling can be daunting. As the audience, we like to think that when we finish reading or watching or experiencing we will know the story. We want closure and answers. Believe me, being a lover of Lost, the lack of closure I feel is horrifying. However, it is so incredibly fun to have to dig and ponder and discuss and get frustrated. Not all transmedia narratives are game-like like Lost, however. There are many that have texts that are just supplemental or paratexts for the ur-text of the story. In my opinion there are some para- or supplemental texts that are unnecessary. For example, I am not a fan of role-play sites/blogs. I like to believe that the characters that I read/view are authentic –even though they are fiction. As the audience, I don’t want others to claim to have publishable access to the interior state of these fictional characters if I don’t. But maybe that is just me. All in all, I think that transmedia narratives can be a wonderful exploration in what storytelling is and how narrative can be developed with an audience that has all types of media at their fingertips.

Works Cited
Jenkins, Henry. Transmedia Storytelling 101.  22 March 2007. Web. 23 July 2015. 
Jones, Steven E. "The Game of Lost." The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies. NY: Routledge P, 2008. Web. 23 July 2015. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Reshaping the Reading Process

Approaching digitalized texts can be stressful for regular readers of codex. However, when a text embraces all the potential of digitalization as opposed to trying to stretch a codex into a web, it is clear that perhaps digital texts liberate the reading process. I believe that “88 Constellations of Wittgenstein” does this very thing.

To begin reading “88 Constellations of Wittgenstein,” the reader must select a constellation from the night sky. This moment creates anxiety for the reader, because, naturally, we want to begin a text from the “beginning” and follow it through to the “end.” We have the desire, based on years of conditioning, to follow a story linearly. The fact that most digital texts, namely “Wittgenstein,” presents no clear beginning causes stress. Being that I am a human and desire some rhyme and reason to where and why I start things, I decided that I would begin with my personal zodiac constellation – Taurus. However, being not able to easily locate my zodiac sign, I decided to pick “Sex and Character,” because, well, I figured it would be an interesting place to start. It became clear through reading that it did not matter where I began; it only mattered that I began somewhere.

Once the reader enters a constellation, more stars become accessible. The reader may choose to enter any of the named stars within the constellation. Once one star is explored and information is learned, it is easy to get hooked onto threads. For example, one can move associatively from “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Sept. 11, 2001,” to “Twin Towers,” to “Doubles,” to “88,” and so on and so forth for what seems like a very interesting eternity. This is why this is a compelling and “readable” digital text. According to theorist J. Yellowlees Douglas, readers create connections in texts, because we have a natural tendency to create “causal or intentional states” between two things. For Douglas, we readers create stories because we are able to piece fragments together. In “Wittgenstein,” the reader is navigating through the realm of the text based on the causal/intentional connections that he or she is creating within the gaps in the text. That is also what makes the formatting of this text so brilliant: there is nothing explicitly stated that connects all the lexia in the way they are connected – just as there is nothing explicit that connects all the stars in a constellation.

It is also admittedly difficult to know when to stop reading a text that provides no linearity. It would take a great deal of commitment and time to sit down and read all of “Wittgenstein.” Not knowing where and when to stop reading most digital texts causes enough stress for many to not even begin. However, it seemed to me that “Wittgenstein” was not a digital story that had to be followed, but more of a map of events, facts, personalities, and ideas that was to be digested. For this reason, I believe that stopping, “Wittgenstein” was only difficult because I wanted to map more, not because I the map I had already pieced together was insufficient.

The way that “Wittgenstein” opens up the way we read and allows the reader freedom in creating the shape of his/her story or constellation, is proof that digitalized texts have the capability to reshape texts and the reading process. 

Works Cited:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

Shelley Jackson Discovers the Niche Medium of the Memoir

The landscape of hypertextuality has presented new ways that we as readers interact with and respond to texts. The non-linear and open-ended narrative style is enough to push many readers and bibliophiles away. Many readers have trouble navigating through a hypertext narrative, because of their conceptions on what constitutes a narrative. However, I believe that the style of the memoir has benefitted from the emergence of the hypertext; the memoir may have found its niche medium. Shelley Jackson’s My Body: a Wunderkammer is a prime example of what happens to a memoir when it is crossed with hypertext. Jackson’s work became so much more than just a journey through the life of the author. Given the medium of hypertextuality, My Body: a Wunderkammer was transformed into a tour of one woman’s life, body, and mind. I felt that I was better able to know and interact with my new friend Shelley Jackson, because the texture of a hypertext allowed Jackson’s memoir to be idiosyncratic and uniquely formatted, while maintaining the ambiguity necessary for reader interactivity.

The idiosyncratic and associative relationships between Jackson’s vignettes creates a strong bond between the text and the mind of the reader. Jackson’s memoir connects separate vignettes via hyperlinked text. If a word, phrase, or idea causes her to recall another memory or bodily account, then she makes those words a clickable link. In her own words, Jackson describes her brain as, “something like a burrow, a labyrinthine system of contorted tunnels with hairpin turns” (My Body).  By conceding to Jackson’s order, the reader is able to journey through these “contorted tunnels,” giving the reader access to the interiority of her life and mental processes in a way that would have never been possible in static print. The access that we are granted and the way we move through the text feels natural. According to theorist Scott Carpenter, memories are recalled in an associative manner:
“If I attempt to dredge up some memory of my year in the third grade, knowing how to spell ‘third grade’ is of very little use: my memories have not been filed in alphabetical order. Instead, my route will be more circuitous and idiosyncratic, moving perhaps, from a visual memory of my classroom, to an aural memory of the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, to an olfactory memory of that kid who sat next to me.”  (Carpenter 137)
Carpenter proves to us that we do not think in easily structured terms. We think and recall thanks to series of associative connections that we have produced in our minds. Jackson has found a way to solidify and publish these connections. By having clickably linked memories, the reader is able to traverse many stories in the ways that Jackson associates them. In Carpenter’s words, “network[s] of hyperlinks [are] associative, and thus more akin to the structure of imagination, it is not my imagination that is reproduced: the links I follow will always reflect the logic of the author’s associations, and the possibilities he has created.” Thus, Jackson’s memoir is intensely organic and reminiscent of personal thought. The reader is able to jump into the mind and the body of the who he/she is reading. 

This style of relating ideas is not at all linear. It does not follow the chronology of Jackson’s life story. However, it is organic. Life – and especially the ways in which we recall life – is anything but linear; it is textured – thick and meaty in some places, thin and stretched in other places. It is idiosyncratic and follows no established order. Jackson’s hypertext allows the reader to experience all the dimensions of her recollections, which is something that would always be completely lost in a printed and tangible medium.

The way Jackson decided to format her hypertext plays a huge part in the way the reader is able to connect with the text. When first entering into the digital world of Jackson’s My Body: A Wunderkammer, the reader is introduced to the sketch of a woman’s body. From there, the reader is able to click on any part of this body to get a vignette from Jackson’s life. As mentioned, the reader can choose to click on hyperlinks throughout that vignette to be transported to other vignettes, but at any point they can return to the safe and familiar sketch and begin anew. The participatory artwork on the homepage that she provided for the navigation of her text truly reinstates her “focus [on] the relationship between human identity and the body's constituent organs, fluids, connective tissues, and other parts” (My Body), because it literally connected her memories and stories – her human identity – with these images of her body parts. While the same artwork, in a static form, could have been added to a print rendering of her memoir, its potential would have been completely lost, because although the interactive art is recognized as a signifier of the body – not the body itself – it brings with it a sense of literalness that would be absent in print. The reader of this hypertext is almost literally able to jump inside the body of the character he/she is reading.

From my description thus far, it may seem as though Jackson’s text is too explicit - that we as readers are claustrophobically obliged to follow Jackson’s supposed intentions. This is not so. Because Jackson’s memoir is nothing but vignettes, it is full of gaps that span the distance between these memories. Reader-response theorist, Wolfgang Iser claims that the meat and meaning of literary works comes from the animation that the reader produces in the gaps between storylines: “for this bringing to fruition, the literary text needs the reader’s imagination, which gives shape to the interaction of correlatives foreshadowed in structure by the sequence of sentences” (Iser 282).  Jackson’s wunderkammer, on the surface, appears to be a collection of stories, but, as it is the telling of a life and a body, it must also be recognized as a story of gaps. One can’t help but notice that the stories of the body that we are privy to are only a fraction of the stories that make up a life. Her life is more than how she reacts to her forming breasts, or why she got her tattoos. It is about the life that is built around that body. The readers see this life primarily through gaps in the text.

I concede that hypertext does not lend itself to all types of literary works, and there are many readers who would be lost while navigating the links; however, the ways in which Shelley Jackson’s My Body: a Wunderkammer is read proves that hypertext may be the perfect medium for some memoirs. One cannot step back from Jackson’s wunderkammer to see the actual story web that maps out exactly which lexias are connected given which links. However, given the organic and idiosyncratic way in which Jackson tied her life/body story together, I have no doubt that the story map, when observed at a distance would look like the image of her body. Mission accomplished.

Works Cited:
Carpenter, Scott. “Click Here: Hypertext and Reader Response.” Reading Lessons: An
Introduction to Theory. NY: Longman 1999. 135-49. Web. 6 July 2015.
Iser, Wolfgang. “The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach.” New Literary History
3.2 (Winter 1972): 279-99. Web. 6 July 2015.
Jackson, Shelley. My Body: a Wunderkammer. Electronic Literature Collection Volume One.
Web. 6 July 2015.