Abstracts

Check here closer to the event for more abstracts by the symposium participants.

Elton Barker

“Mapping Herodotus: Countercartography, Network Graphs and Bottomless Maps”

The past decade has seen a growing spatialization of literary studies, including the resurgence of interplay between geography and the humanities (Dear et al. 2011: GeoHumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place, New York), itself closely connected with the extraordinary growth of new geographical technologies. GIS has unquestionably helped increase awareness of the importance of geography and place for humanistic enquiry: as Harris, Bergeron and Rouse put it (‘Humanities GIS: place, spatial storytelling, and immersive visualization in the humanities’, in Dear et al., 2011: 227): ‘The humanities have long been at risk of treating space, the backdrop to all human behavior and events, as being neutral—a spatial vacuum—an isotropic backdrop to human affairs.’ GIS’s point-based geometry, however, makes it less suitable for analyzing the complexities of and ambiguities in textual representations of space. And yet literary narratives potentially offer rich sources of geographic information that can challenge dominant modes of Cartesian thinking (cf. Harley, J. B. 1989: ‘Deconstructing the map’, Cartographica 26, 1-20). This presentation will outline the case for considering narratives as alternative sites of spatial enquiry, encoded with the kind of contestation and conflict absent from established cartographic representations. In particular, it will set out the Hestia project’s investigation of geographic space in Herodotus’s Histories, to consider the ways in spatial data is organized in the text, thematized from a narrative point of view, and conceived of in terms of relational modes of thinking.

Many ancient world projects are leading the way in using recent technological developments for investigating geography. Antiquity Á la Carte (http://awmc.unc.edu/wordpress/alacarte/) allows users to investigate the historical, cultural and geographical data produced by the Ancient World Mapping Center. At Stanford, the ORBIS project (http://orbis.stanford.edu/) allows users to investigate the time cost and financial expense associated with a wide range of different types of travel in antiquity. As GIS-based, however, both struggle at handling uncertainty, incompleteness, inaccuracy and ambiguity in the data that they are representing (cf. Gregory I. N. and Healey, R. G. 2007: ‘Historical GIS: structuring, mapping and analyzing geographies of the past’. Progress in Human Geography 31, 638-53) and the extent of the technological knowledge that one must have or acquire (cf. Richardson, D. 2011: ‘Spatial Humanities: Geohistories’, in Dear et al., 209-214). Indeed, ‘the humanities raise fundamental epistemological and ontological issues for GIS applications’, particularly with regard to the contingent and qualitative nature of much of humanities’ text-based research (Harris, Bergeron and Rouse 2011: 228). Along with the University of Virginia’s Neatline project, the Hestia project has been experimenting with different ways of leveraging various webmapping technologies for reading text and space alongside each other, which can greatly aid the discovery of patterns, facilitate comparison and enable analysis (cf. Bodenhamer, D. J. 2010: ‘The potential of spatial humanities’, In Bodenhamer et al., The Spatial Humanities, Indiana, 28).

In this presentation we discuss the benefits of and limitations to using digital technologies for the spatial analysis of a text. Using Herodotus’s Histories as a case study, we show that identifying place names alone and locating them on a map is insufficient to capture the full complexity of spatial constructions depicted in the text. Instead, we draw attention to the importance of thinking about proxies—individual characters or groups, who represent places—and the connections drawn between places and/or proxies in the narrative. These connections or networks bring to light the underlying topological organization of space in the Histories, in which the nature and the content of links between places matter more than physical, Cartesian locations of conventional ‘topographical’ maps. The resulting network diagrams serve to show a world that is organized around action and influence rather than cartographic location. But networks of such complex data present their own challenges, not least of all their inscrutability and density. A further challenge for the Hestia project is then to try to empower users as far as possible to make their own investigations of the data and use visualizations as a means of analysis not the en”d product.

Jason Boyd

“The Texting Wilde Project: Computer-Assisted Exegesis of a Biographical Corpus Using TEI”

The Texting Wilde Project (TWP) is developing computer-assisted methods for the analysis of biographical texts, particularly large corpora of these texts, using the P5 Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The corpus (currently amounting to just under 1000 items) the TWP will focus on to develop and test these methods is comprised of early (pre-1945) texts relating to Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the late nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish writer, wit, personality and convict.Our knowledge of ‘Oscar Wilde’ is not comprised of a corpus of pure and simple facts that allows us an unmediated apprehension of a real person separated from us only by time, but rather this knowledge is comprised of a densely complex and often contradictory accretion of texts created in that intervening time that constitutes the only Wilde we can know. Many of the ‘facts’ of Wilde’s life originated as narrative elements within particular textual and contextual moments and have acquired factive status through their repetition without attribution or with misattribution in text after text, losing in the process of this continual redeployment their textual provenance, a situation, given the volume of material to be mastered, that has frustrated what might be characterized as an exegetical analysis of Wilde biography. This is what the TWP aims to undertake.

In the initial phase of the TWP’s work, the research team is focussing on iterating a minimalist customization of the TEI’s P5 Guidelines, specifically and primarily designed to facilitate not the creation of digital editions of the texts in the corpus, but the analysis of particular features within and across texts of particular relevance for the study of biographical writing. Developing this TEI customization by encoding early texts by Wilde’s most prolific early biographer Robert Harborough Sherard – including the memoir Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship (1902), the collective memoir Twenty Years in Paris (1905), the biography The Life of Oscar Wilde (1906) and its supplement, The Real Oscar Wilde (1917), as well as other texts, this presentation will report on the methods developed and on preliminary findings derived from these methods. Issues that will be discussed include: methods for computer-assisted identification and tracking of the redeployments of stories concerning Wilde across texts; the extraction and comparison of reports of Wilde’s sayings and conversations; the identification and use of sources (including whether accounts of Wilde are presented as first or second hand, attributed or unattributed); the generation of ‘messy’ timelines to compare disparities between when an event happened and when it was first recorded and to compare linear time vs. narrative order in biography (including dealing with impreciseness in dating); visualizing inclusions and omissions across texts (what periods of Wilde life are focused on/neglected); studying the interplay between “factual” narrative and interpretation; and mapping the emergence of primary documents in the print record through quotation, transcription, and reproduction.

Susan Brown

“Linked Out: linked data and prosopography for the humanities” 

We’ve all had the experience, I’m sure, particularly those of us who work on women. I had it close to the end of my Ph.D. dissertation when I realized that Mary Catherine Hume, who I was reading in an early chapter, was the same Mary Hume-Rothery who resurfaced later in an entirely different context. I suppose I should have realized, but Mary is such a common first name and Hume not an uncommon one, the possible connection between these two of the many minor and neglected women writers I had unearthed in the course of my research. However, it escaped me. I’ve been haunted, since then, by a vision of what it would mean to have our various research sources linked, and outward facing, such that instead of discovering this so late, I could have discovered it early on, and profited from more sustained consideration of what was involved in that transition of Mary Catherine Hume from a naive young imitator of Romantic narrative poetry to Mary Hume-Rothery (one of the first women in England to hyphenate her name for feminist reasons), an appropriator of Sappho as a mouthpiece for the Victorian feminism in the context of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Linking is both simple and profound.

This presentation will make a case for integrating the production of linked data into regularly scholarly workflows and consider some of the challenges involved in doing so, both theoretically and practically. It will consider how linked data creation and improvement could be built into scholarly workflows in relation to several tools: two linked data visualization tools, New Radial and HuViz, that allow for the exploration of networks of relationships based on prosopographical and other linked data and the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory’s online collaborative writing and entity management tools. All of these tools aim to permit scholars to create linked data in the course of their work. I will argue for the gains of immediate and often imperfect linking as a means to  move towards a scholarly ecology wherein our ability to link out to each others’ work might incrementally improve, and consider the challenges, in areas such as ontology alignment, that we face in trying to create a scholarly environment in which linked data serves the needs of humanities research.

Margaret Cormack

“Icelandic Culture and the Environment”

My project started as a study of evidence for the cult of saints in Iceland, a continuation of my book on that topic which dealt with the period before 1400. The book focused on different types of evidence for the veneration of saints, and addressed issues such as the overall popularity of different saints at different times, possible contrasts between church dedications (reflecting episcopal control) and cult-related objects (statues, vernacular saints’ lives) which are more likely to reflect local veneration. While I commented on obvious distribution patterns in the book, electronic mapping of the data makes it easier to observe geographical and chronological trends, including travel routes and the introduction of new cults from abroad.

The project is now expanding in a number of ways. I am seeking partners with comparable data from other countries, and hope to devise a form to facilitate the entry of their data. Sticking to Iceland, the church inventories that contain evidence for saints’ cults also contain other information that is worth mapping and analyzing. Personal names are an obvious choice for inclusion, though problematic, since Iceland uses patronymics rather than last names; it can be difficult to figure out which “Jón Jónsson” donated the new psalter.  Place-names, on the other hand, can reflect not only saints’ cults but quality and use of land, in the present and in the past. (They can also be difficult to interpret. Does “Ólafsfjörd” get its name from St. Olaf or from someone who lived there?) Books can provide evidence for intellectual history; they may be identified by presumed place of origin, being described for example as “Irish” or “foreign.” The number and condition of objects may be stated, and occasionally we have receipts that illustrate how church income was being used. Information about land and livestock owned by the churches provides insight into farming practices and the economic status of individual churches and of the Church as a whole. The agricultural and place-name data will provide valuable insight into the environment of Iceland in the first half of the last millennium.

Chronologically, the project is being extended into the first century and a half of the Reformation (to c. 1700), to observe the effects of iconoclasm (many statues of saints in fact survived, and were even repaired and/or replaced, in the Lutheran period). Merely comparing the number and locations of churches illustrates population growth and/or movement in different parts of the country.

I am also hoping to connect my data with that contained in other data-bases. A number of Icelandic projects focus on mapping manuscripts containing hymns (and their scribes and contents) or other types of literature; there is a database of folklore; and may soon be a data-base of medieval game locations (games are associated with conflict in many sagas; the Polish student working on this project hopes to find out how the locations were chosen in the first place – proximity to meeting places, to major routes of travel, to hot-springs?) I am a co-applicant for a grant which will create a basic list of GPS location points and names of farms which will facilitate linking these databases. This linkage will allow users to look for patterns that may survive or develop; do folktales traceable to saints’ lives proliferate locally, or are they carried (by what routes?) to other parts of Iceland? Do locations associated with large numbers of books before the Reformation remain centers of literary activity afterwards? Do scribes move from place to place, copying manuscripts as they go? To answer these questions, we need 1) a good computer programmer, and 2) qualified individuals to enter data (i.e. graduate students in Icelandic language or their equivalent).

Courtney Evans and Ben Jasnow

The Iliad’s Catalogue of Ships, containing 29 contingents and almost 190 place names, is an astonishing feat of memory that has always raised the question: how did the poet of do it? “Mapping the Catalogue of Ships” is an innovative collaboration between University of Virginia Classicists Jenny Strauss Clay,  Courtney Evans, and Ben Jasnow and the UVA Scholars’ Lab that attempts to answer this question.  With the use of a new digital mapping platform called Neatline, developed by the Scholars’ Lab, we attempt to demonstrate how the narrative sequence of place names in the Homeric catalogue also represents a geographical sequence that reflects the topography of Greece.  Its ordering points to the possibility of spatial mnemonics to facilitate the recitation of a multitude of place names.  This mapping project also has the potential to identify possible locations of otherwise unknown place names through geographical triangulation.

Versions of this ongoing project have already been presented at the Berlin Digital Humanities Seminar and have won the Paul Fortier prize of the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organizations.

For a full list of credits and to see a sample of our work, please visit http://ships.lib.virginia.edu/.

Will Hanley

“Prosop: a social networking tool for the past”

This presentation will concern an NEH funded project I’m heading to develop a tool called Prosop. Prosop’s first aim is to assemble a database of descriptions of a very large number of historical individuals, of inferior socio-economnic rank to those who feature in most prosopographic projects. The tool is meant to preserve such information in its native format, without any fixed category requirements. It will then find connections within a very large pool of demographic data, and allow aggregate analysis. Ultimately, Prosop aims to make the various historical description and categorization schemes themselves the subject of research.

Prosop is intended to help three kinds of users: microhistorians who have completed research projects and want to preserve their data, the collection of which cost them their eyesight and at least one marriage; microhistorians doing new work, who want to collect material in a format more usable than a word processor document or spreadsheet; and family historians, who are currently doing tremendous “crowd-sourcing” style work with primary documents, work that is being captured by for-profit sites such as ancestry.com but passed over by professional historians.

This presentation treats a methodological issue: the techniques that we use to deal with the tremendous volume of data generated by microhistories, especially those from non-Western contexts such as the eastern Mediterranean (the focus of my own research). I will describe my sense of the challenges and potentialities of this aspect of our work, and discuss ways that I think Prosop can support collaborative historical work. I will explain, in fairly general terms, the features of the data structure of Prosop and its most innovative aspect, which is on-the-fly ontology. I will invite participants to describe the technical characteristics of their own work, their needs, and the solutions they imagine. I will focus this conversation around the ongoing design of Prosop, but my aim is to facilitate a conversation that treats the broadest issues raised by technology-assisted prosopography.

Ruth Page

“Shared Stories? Analysing Co-Tellership and Counter Narratives in Social Media Accounts of Notable Figures”

My presentation will discuss the analytical framework and interdisciplinary methods that are required when researchers begin to examine social media sites as contexts for narrating biographical accounts of notable figures.

Social media sites, platforms and projects have enabled people with relatively little technical expertise but with access to the Internet to document their own life history and to co-construct social commentaries on lived experience, giving rise to sizeable, publically available archives of biographical material.  The archives of social media sites pose a variety of analytical opportunities and challenges for the narrative researcher.  On the one hand, a great deal of tractable material is available for scrutiny. For example, the English Wikipedia archives extend back to 2002.  But not all site archives are publically available in the same way (Twitter and Facebook restrict access to the archives, for example).  There are also challenges related to analysing the multimodal content posted to these sites. What is the relationship between image and text in these social media stories? How do we map the flows of resemioticised entextualisation when multimodal content is modified as stories unfold over time and across different contexts?

In the case of controversial figures, the biographical accounts constructed in social media often consist of multiple, conflicting versions of events which can position the figure in relation to social judgements which change over time and from national perspective. In this presentation I will give examples of the conflicting, multiple stories that were published on a public Facebook group that was set up in response to the death of former British Prime minister, Margaret Thatcher in 2013.  In my analysis, I will show how social network analysis using Gephi can be combined with the textual analysis of comment threads and visual analysis of the images posted to the page to interpret the different forms of counter narratives (Bamberg and Andrews 2004) that emerged in the 10 days following the death of Thatcher.  Through this mediated analysis, I show that a surface level interpretation that focused on the stories of Thatcher’s actions as posted to the comment thread alone cannot to take into account the cultural critique in the form of trolling that took place on the page and constructed a meta-narrative of its own.

The discussion of the Thatcher RIP pages are set in the context of the wider project in which I am engaged. These additional case studies include:

  • The Murder of Meredith Kercher articles in the English and Italian Wikipedias
  • The #iambradleymanning campaign on Tumblr
  • The Youtube commentary on the live streamed sky news trial of Oscar Pistorius
  • Commoditised storytelling in X Factor Twitter interactions

Susan H. Perdue

“Creating a Prosopography for the Founding Era: Striking a Methodological Balance”

People of the Founding Era: A Prosopographical Approach is a scholarly reference work published by UVA Press’s digital imprint Rotunda, that currently provides biographical information on over 23,000 people born between 1713 (the end of Queen Anne’s War) and 1815 (the end of the Napoleonic War), drawn from the digitized papers of the Founding Fathers and other documentary editions of the Founding Era. It has two components. First, it provides fully searchable biographical statements that vary greatly in scope and extent. Second, it provides identically structured data for each person allowing for group, or prosopographical, study. The editors invite users to contribute information on new people records as well as corrections and new information on people

The biographical information that appears in People of the Founding Era is composed of narrative statements taken verbatim from annotation created by the editors of the Founding Fathers and other authoritative editions. Not surprisingly, many of the people in PFE are well-known individuals such as poet-diplomat Joel Barlow and the lawyer-statesman Richard Rush whose lives are thoroughly documented. At the same time, thousands of the people in PFE are middling merchants and bankers, county-level farmers, local newspaper owners, slaves, and men and women who were neither members of the elite nor the poor and illiterate. Sometimes they are simple soldiers, such as John Belfour, or a slave, such as Matilda, a domestic servant who belonged to George Washington. These are people who will never be found in the Dictionary of American Biography and for whom we still know very little about.

I will discuss the challenges faced by the project in trying to give shape to lives that are not well documented in the historical records. The project aims to redress the biographical imbalance between the well-known and the lesser-known by extracting as much data as possible from the limited documentary evidence at hand. In many cases, a single letter or document is all we have to tell us such things as gender, occupation, and temporality.

Our approach to this problem is to create a controlled narrative vocabulary—or flourish language—that is assigned to a wide variety of activities. As a prosopography of the Founding Era that relates directly to the Founding Fathers, there are a significant number of flourishes that relate to interactions with the Founding Fathers, such as “requested employment” or “corresponded with.”  Flourish data can be used more broadly to describe political, military, social, and educational activity, to name a few of the taxonomic categories we use to organize the flourish data. When we cannot express facts about an individual through their connections with a known occupation, role, organization or other family member, flourish data becomes very useful. In this way we create narrative for the events of people’s lives which leave a minimal imprint in the historical documents.

James Phelan

“Toward a Rhetoric of Fictionality within Graphic Memoir: Cancer Vixen and Stitches”

This paper is part of a larger inquiry into the uses of fictionality within nonfiction discourse in general and nonfiction narrative in particular.  By fictionality I mean the intentional, nondeceptive use of discourse about nonactual states, events, or people (what-if projections, thought experiments, personifications, extended metaphorical representations, and so on).  A turn to fictionality within nonfiction lifewriting, I contend, is not a turn toward fictionalizing one’s life but rather a means by which lifewriters can sharpen and specify their claims about the nature and significance of their actual experiences.  In other words, my claim is that within lifewriting  fictionality functions as an important means toward nonfictional ends.

Graphic memoir provides an especially rich site within which to explore and develop these points because it can deploy fictionality through its text, through its images, and through their interactions.  In this paper, I shall analyze some salient uses of fictionality in two stylistically different memoirs about diagnoses and treatments of cancer: Marisa Acocella Marchetto’s Cancer Vixen (2006 breast cancer) and David Small’s Stitches (2009, throat cancer).  In Cancer Vixen, a book brimming with visual and textual energy and information events, Marchetto uses fictionality at key points in her narrative: in telling about the doctor visit that led to her diagnosis of breast cancer, she depicts “angry” cancer cells “magnified 3 gazillion times”; in thinking about the causes of cancer, she uses two large panels depicting numerous other cancer patients who speak directly to her at her drawing table; in telling about her response to learning that her treatment has left her unable to have children, she uses a sequence of three panels in the middle of one page to depict a small child appearing in the sky above her, calling her “Mom,” and then disappearing with a “Poof!” In Stitches, a book done in black and white with minimal use of text, Small turns to fictionality at the turning point of his life-story.  He depicts the psychiatrist who tells him the truth about his dysfunctional family as the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (but he never refers to him as the White Rabbit in the verbal narration), and he depicts his reaction to hearing this truth as a nine-page visual mini-narrative in which his own tears morph into a torrential rain that falls all over his Detroit neighborhood until the rain morphs once more into a calm pool.  The paper will offer some close reading of the rhetorical functions of these turns to fictionality and then use these analyses as the basis for some broader generalizations about the affordances of fictionality within graphic memoir.

Sidonie Smith

“Theorizing Online Life Writing: Witnessing, Archives, Testimonial Assemblages”

My presentation will begin by briefly historicizing the field of life writing or autobiography studies: its emergence in the 1950s and 60s; its salience for recovering stories of the minoritized subjects in the 1970s and beyond; its subjection to various stands of postmodern reading practices after the 1980s; its current preoccupations with testimonial assemblages, e-witnessing, the quantified self, and the rehumanization of Big Data. Then I turn to ways in which theories of traumatic witnessing, one of the major strands of studies in the acts and practices of life writing in the last three decades, have shifted in order to comprehend and assess the ways in which online platforms, with their affordances, and ready-to-hand technological devices impact modes of personal witnessing to state power and histories of radical harm and suffering in our times. I suggest two arenas of humanities scholarship in which theorizing the effects and efficacy of digitization looms large.

Humanities scholars extend social justice work across online platforms, blending environments of scattered legacy print materials and digitally-environed data, witnessing to lived experiences, legacies, and projects of remembering related to catastrophic events, to slow violence, and to the contested traffic in testimony in civil and human rights activism and politics. These projects are often scattered, invested, and dynamic DIY projects of archive building and curation that contribute to the decolonization of collections and collecting, as explored in a symposium on Digital Humanities and Social Justice at the University of Michigan in fall 2014. Seemingly, digitization has the capacity to reanimate an occluded past and rehumanize data through the ethical deployment of algorithms. Yet, these scholarly projects are performative assemblages of witness, potentially creative interventions of reuse and repurposing. And even recovery projects transform into posthuman assemblages of activism, of hardware, software, cloudware, network, algorithm, infrastructure, data analytics, and embodied subjectivity. And they are not without their quandaries: for instance, the effects of having recovered certain archives that must remain deindividualized due to human subjects protocols. In such cases, the scholar aggregates data to tell the story not of individuals but of groups and the agency of the subject as witness shifts to the agency of the assemblage anonymizing subjects of witness.

And how do humanities scholars approach the heterogeneous contexts and practices of acts of witness criss-crossing the internet. The complex case of the mobilization of social media to register claims of injustice and demand action obviates any easy judgments about the participatory potential of social media in the service of social change. What happens on the Internet is not “I”-witness storytelling in the traditional sense; that is, extended transcriptions of oral interviews of victim/survivors or published narratives of survivors circulating transnationally. That traditional mode of witnessing often unfolds in an aspirational grammar: storytelling, empathy, response, action. In contrast, what happens in the emergent digital environment of virtual and viral networks is something else, what might be described as “e-witnessing.” E-witnessing to grievance, or violation, or violence, or corruption involves a combination of texting, SMS, blog posts, tweets, podcasting, video clips, photos, links, and the like. It is witnessing without a singular agent of narration. By the nature of the media, the focus is diffuse and decentralized, the context “collapsed,” as boyd and Marwick observe. Any individual contribution is placed in a constantly changing web of paratexts and surrounds, links, calls for action, information flows, and networks of reception. In any given instance, there are multiple players, including the state, corporate media, NGOs, and grassroots activists. In this sense there is no origin of grievance, no symbolic victim/subject behind the campaign. There is no symbolic self, but rather the self as a nodal site of conjunction.