Visual Media Workshop

The VMW is
a lab/
workspace/
creative zone/
vertext/
forum/
platform/
initiative/
experiment

that

sits at the intersection between/
falls between established disciplines of/
crosses the fields of

art history and information studies/
humanistic inquiry and technology/
established humanistic and new data-driven approaches

(Alex Oliver, April 2014)

VMW

  •  

    Introducing "Sustaining DH"

    Approximately a year following the conclusion of our first NEH Research and Development Grant, the Visual Media Workshop team (with Dr. Alison Langmead at the helm) is embarking on its second NEH-funded project.

    As some of you may recall, the first grant was dedicated to running an extensive case study of Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (http://www.medart.pitt.edu/), an early manifestation of a digital humanities project. The grant culminated in the creation of a website entitled The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap (STSR) (www.sustainingdh.net), a resource for project managers interested in assessing the status and potential sustainability solutions for their digital projects. 

    With the second NEH grant, we (Dr. Langmead, Chelsea Gunn, and Aisling Quigley) will take the STSR "on the road," running facilitated workshops at carefully-selected universities across the United States (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah). These two-day workshops will incorporate three major sections: 

    1. A Project Survey (considering the scope, longevity, and sustainability priorities of the project at hand)
    2. An assessment of Staffing and Technologies (considering the socio-technical infrastructure of the project)
    3. An exploration of potential Digital Sustainability Plans (incorporating the NDSA levels of Preservation, file formats and metadata, permissions and data integrity, etc.) 

    As part of this grant, we have also proposed specific mechanisms for engaging with workshop participants and other interested individuals beyond the in-person workshops, offering virtual "office hours," for example, and other resources throughout the granting period. 

    More details on all of these activities will follow in the coming months!

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW
  •  

    New Ways of Researching

    Working on a humanities research project has proved to be challenging in ways I had not expected. Choosing a topic to study was simple with the guidance of my project advisor. I have pursued learning about the life and work of Maria Sibylla Merian. Merian was an entomologist and artist from the late 1600s. She made tremendous strides for the understanding of insects, ecosystems, and metamorphosis at the time when most believed in spontaneous generation. While she was alive, she was not recognized for her immense scientific findings; Merian was buried in a paupers grave. Her research work in Suriname, South America studying insects that Europeans had never imagined is fascinating. I have learned about the interactions she had with the native populations in Suriname as well as the incredible accomplishments her daughters made while following in their mother’s footsteps. All of this information has made me admire Maria Sibylla and the work that she’s done.

    My admiration for this woman of the past is the main reason I have struggled with my project. My assignment is to enter information about a historical figure into a database entitled Itinera. The database collects and displays specific information in order to present the relationships and travels of each person. Representing the complexities of Merian’s life outside of the traditional narrative structured pushed me to find ways to convey some of what i find most compelling about her life in a way that works with Itinera’s format without erasing Merians life. Itinera has focused my research on building a network of social relationships and maps of her impressive travels. I have never done research where I am specifically searching for names and dates; In the past, I have always read a piece hoping to gain a better understanding of a person or an understanding of their life in a new, novel way. This challenge has forced me to learn to do research in a different way.

    Although I wish I could display some more detail concerning the information that I think makes Maria’s life memorable, I have soaked up a story of a historical figure I had previously known nothing about. I am inspired by the work she has done and can continue my research on Maria in my future. For now, I am still trying to add to the Itinera database and maybe inspire a user of the site to study Maria as well.

     

    Categories: 
    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • VMW
  •  

    My Struggles While Completing Humanities Research

    This semester, I have been working with the Visual Media Workshop (VMW) at the University of Pittsburgh to get hands-on experience doing research. I have been contributing to the Itinera database created by the VMW. The database displays travelers of the past, their locations, and the relationships they made along the way. Throughout my first experience in research project (FER), I have faced many obstacles many of which pertain to doing research outside of a STEM field.  

    Organizing the information I have found in a way that fits into the Itinera style has been difficult; naturally, my brain looks for anecdotal tidbits about a historical figure. Training my eyes to search for dates and proper nouns will hopefully lend itself as a skill for future research. Having a lot of freedom in which direction I take my findings has been a benefit and struggle. Many other students doing FER have specific instructions on testing data or following strict directions to complete a scientific test. Since I am able to choose who I would like to study and how I want to display my findings, it has been hard to make these choices and feel confident in my decisions. There is no set end goal for my project or amount of results I am expected to retrieve.

    The only element I am required to do is create a poster for the end of the semester that explains my purpose and what I have been spending my time doing. This structured requirement has forced me to consider how I would like to structure the information I will be sharing. I have to describe a database and my contributions as well as my personal growth as a researcher. Unfortunately, my presentation can no be electronic, it must be in poster format. This medium will force me to design a format for the poster that will best display my results in an easy to understand way.

    Since there has not been one consistent goal or end requirement for my work, I am nervous to attempt to explain my purpose. Ultimately, I believe my time in the VMW has aided me in getting out of my comfort zone, finding new ways to research, and how to draw conclusions on an unfinished or unending project; the Itinera database will continue to grow but my contributions will cease.

    Categories: 
    • VMW
    • New Itinera Visualization
    • Current Itinera Visualization
    New Itinera Visualization

    This is a screenshot of the foundation for the new Itinera visualization that I've been working on. The goal is to be able to show relationships between different people in an informative way. This would allow for new understandings of the relationships between the Travelers as a whole, or in smaller more personal groups. 

     

    Summer Progress on Itinera's "Travelers" Visualization

    For the past year or so I have been working on learning how to write Javascript D3 code and use that knowledge to write a new visualization for the "Travelers" section on Itinera. This is an update of the progress I've made while at the VMW this summer.

    In May I started learning how to navigate the server that Itinera is on. Along with that I was introduced for the first time to the code that runs Itinera's current "Travelers" visualization. Spending time reading the code and figuring out what parts do what was really beneficial to my overall understanding. Throughout June and July I was able to make a basic but working concept of the new visualization. The nodes successfully appear and also respond when clicked on. Unfortunately, the code is buggy and doesn't display the relationships in an informative way. There is still a lot more work to do, but at least the foundation steps are working successfully. I've spent a lot of time watching D3 tutorials and learning the language, but it's a goal of mine to really solidify my understandings. Along with working on Itinera, this summer I have been working on a draft for my contribution to a collaborative multi-media essay about Itinera. The prompt is for six members of the Itinera team to present their lived experiences with working on Itinera. The plan for my contribution is to write a short essay and have interactive live code to go with it. Most of my experience has been working on code, which might be difficult to express in writing. Therefore, having a live interactive example will be an informative way to show the process and how it works. On the top of my to-do list is to write the essay portion, then figure out how to make visualizations that are compatible online and descriptive. Throughout the summer I've also worked on transcriptions for the Decomposing Bodies project. I look forward to continuing my work at the VMW when the fall semester starts!

    Categories: 
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Another Year, Another K'zoo

    For the second year in a row, I had the distinct privilege of attending the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. According to the Medieval Congress' Twitter feed (@KzooICMS), this unique conference attracted almost 3,000 attendees this year. 

    In 2016, our brave team of researchers arrived at Western Michigan University equipped with iPads and University of Pittsburgh lanyards with the aim of conducting usability surveys (you can read more about that in my October 2016 update). Last week, Dr. Langmead and I presented at a session sponsored by the Material Collective and shared the results of these surveys and talked about personal vs. collective image collections. Here is our Swipe.to presentation, for your enjoyment. I will not repeat our survey findings here, as I've written about them before. However, I will note that our Swipe.to polls revealed the following information about the attendees at our conference session:

    First, we asked of the attendees (mostly art historians): "How long do you want your research images to last?" 

    • ~32% selected "Forever"
    • ~41% selected "Until the end of my career"
    • ~14% selected "Until the end of the research project (approx. 2-3 yrs)"
    • 0 selected "Until the end of the week"
    • <1% selected "It doesn't matter to me"
    • ~10% selected "Another option"

    Following this question, we asked: "How long do you expect your research images to last?"

    • ~18% selected "Forever"
    • ~36% selected "Until the end of my career"
    • ~23% selected "Until the end of the research project (approx. 2-3 yrs)"
    • <1% selected "Until the end of the week"
    • <1% selected "It doesn't matter to me"
    • ~23% selected "Another option"

    We then asked: "Is there a gap between your expectation and desire for image persistence, and are you concerned about it?"

    • ~43% selected "Yes"
    • ~35% selected "No"
    • ~22% selected "I don't see a gap"

    Finally, and perhaps, most importantly, we asked: "If you could store your research images communally, would you?

    • 48% selected "Yes, in a heartbeat"
    • 16% selected "Yes, I suppose"
    • 32% selected "Maybe...talk to me more"
    • 0 selected "No, it's fine"
    • 0 seleged "No way"
    • <1% selected "Other"

    Consider these as you will! 

    We also presented the attached "rogue" poster at various wine hours throughout the Congress. 

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

    File: 

  •  

    Semester Wrap-Up of Decomposing Bodies

    Hard to believe that this semester is already coming to an end!

    My work on Decomposing Bodies this spring focused on two different areas: reading and research about the history of policing and prisons in the United States, and data management of the images and related documents making up the heart of the DB dataset. At first glance, these two endeavors seem wildly different, and they certainly require different ways of thinking and skillsets, but I think that they are both essential part of the work that makes DB an interesting and engaging project, and that you can’t have one without the other.

    Decomposing Bodies is a digital humanities project, and the work that I’ve done on it this past spring has been both digital and humanistic. After the Data (after)Lives exhibit in the Fall, we felt it was important to update DB’s presence on the web to reflect our most recent work, and some of the ideas, tools, and visualizations that have come out of it. This involved updating the public Decomposing Bodies website with a timeline of the project’s history, updated bibliography and contributors, and the addition of an interactive visualization of the faces and measurements of some of the people documented by Bertillonage that make up DB.

    Along with updating the website, I have also worked to update the documentation of the transcriptions of the Bertillon cards in Omeka. I can now say that over 1,800 cards have been completely transcribed, and 700 more have been at least partially transcribed. This represents approximately 20% of the cards in the Decomposing Bodies collection. This is in large part thanks to the work of the graduate and undergraduate students working in the VMW, including two First Experience in Research students, Joe Jang and Ashley Cipcic, who not only helped immensely with transcription this term, but also conducted their own research about the racial and social demographics of the people in the cards they transcribed.

    Engaging with the social and cultural situation that led to the implementation of Bertillonage in the Ohio penal system was another avenue of my work for this semester. This is the ‘human’ part of this project. I have been reading about the history of the prison system in the United States, and the particular circumstances that lead to the implementation of Bertillonage in Ohio at the turn of the last century. Some of my readings have included: “At Hard Labor: Rediscovering the 19th Century Prison”, by Martin Miller, Forgotten Reformer : Robert McClaughry and Criminal Justice Reform in Nineteenth-Century America, by Frank Morn, and the Proceedings of the annual congress of the National Prison Association, held at Cincinnati, September 25-30, 1890. It’s impossible to disconnect the prison reform movement of the late 19th century from the shift in the goals of incarceration that was happening concurrently, or from the rapid expansion of the prison-industrial complex in the United States today. And no part of that process can be separated from the understanding of race in Reconstruction Era America.

    I will be continuing to work on Decomposing Bodies over the Summer Term, and I hope to expand my work in both the data management and historical contexts of this project. There are so many directions to go with DB, and I feel lucky to get to explore some of them, especially as they relate to my own research interests. See you in the summer, then!

    Categories: 
    • Decomposing Bodies
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Semester Wrap-Up

    For the past few weeks, I have worked on writing a reflection of my experiences thus far on the medart project. I did this partially as a way to wrap up my experiences this past semester and partially as a means to synthesize my work to make it more useful to the grant report.

    To write my reflection, I started by going through any notes and spreadsheets I have saved to my computer and by going through my Constellation posts. The process of going through my old blog posts has been really useful for creating a comprehensive reflection. Being able to use the blog posts also helped me to see how important writing detailed blog posts was. As it were, I had a detailed record of everything I had done the past two semesters that I could work from.

    I organized my reflection into five sections not including an introduction and conclusion. Each of the five sections was dedicated to one of the tasks I was assigned over the course of the past year. I lumped most of my earlier tasks like reading the grant, comparing file trees, and looking at the interview transcriptions into a section called “familiarization,” because each of these tasks were geared toward familiarizing me with medart. The remaining sections were “Metadata,” “The Wayback Machine,” “Finding Aids,” and “Urchin Reports.” In each section, I wrote about why the task was performed, what I did, any problems that were encountered, and what we discovered from this task. Hopefully, as a synthesis of the work I have done, this reflection will be useful to the grant report.

    I also took some time to write an introduction for the finding aids I wrote this semester. The finding aids will be in the appendix of the grant report. In the introduction, I provided background information on why we decided we needed finding aids and on the different versions of medart stored in the hard drive. I then went on to explain my method when creating the finding aids and the challenges that stemmed from the lack of consistent organization in the medart directories. Finally, I explained how the finding aids were organized and the best way to navigate them.

    After break, I will be returning in May after attending the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI. I’m excited to talk with medievalists about what we have learned about medart and to hear Aisling and Alison present at their roundtable. During the summer semester, I look forward to working on the socio-technical roadmap for medart.

    Categories: 
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Progress with Itinera

    Throughout the past month or two, Victoria and I have been translating the Minutes of the Royal Academy of Architecture and we have been having a great time with it! So far, we have realized that several of the architects went on tours together and while not all went at the same time, there seems to be a lot of overlap between the trips. I would say the most difficult part of this process is translating the text because it is 16th century French and many of the words do not match up. Many of the words have second meanings such as la maison which does not literally mean "the house" but "the family". As we continue to put the tour stops into Itinera, I have noticed that the architects go to church to church or to an aristocrats home where they then observe the stones. It is very interesting to see how invested they are to build the perfect building for King Louis XIV and I can't wait to read more about their travels.

    Categories: 
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW
  •  

    Maintaining "Sustaining MedArt"

    It is early April, so the Sustaining MedArt team is once again preparing for the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The project, originating with an initial usability survey in the autumn of 2014, explores the relationship between perceptions of site usability and sustainability. In particular, we entered this project wondering how user experiences correlate to preservation worthiness. 

    In addition to preparing our grant report for the NEH (with ample input from Jedd Hakimi, in particular), Dr. Langmead and I are planning our portion of the Collective (A Roundtable). This collective presentation, listed on page 43 of the Medieval Congress 2017 program/tome, is sponsored by the Material Collective, “a collaborative of art historians and students of visual culture” seeking “to foster a safe space for alternative ways of thinking about projects.” For our participatory portion of this session, we will ask attendees to engage with questions about their personal collections of research images, among other things (await update in May!).

    During and since the autumn, we’ve accomplished various tasks in preparation for writing our grant report and producing a socio-technical digital preservation roadmap. These are as follows:

    • We interviewed Dr. Alison Stones, co-creator of the MedArt, and Philip Maye, a major contributor to the site. From these interviews, we learned a great deal about the site’s origins and major moments of change throughout the past two decades.
    • Lindsay Decker, our courageous MLIS-student researcher, thoroughly examined various iterations of the website through an analysis of the website’s file tree and the hard drive on which former instances are saved. Screen captures on the Internet Archive have played a vital role throughout this research as well. The end result? A comprehensive index of the site(s) modeled after an archival finding aid. Lindsay has blogged about her research processes here and here.
    • Jedd Hakimi continues to research and write extensively in preparation for the final grant report. He has provided helpful frameworks for thinking about various aspects of the project throughout the past few months.
    • I am producing an academic poster (WATCH THIS SPACE!) and am applying for various conferences (ditto). I will also be posting our presentation from Kalamazoo in late May!
    Categories: 
    • Current Projects
    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • Here is an agent put into Itinera.

     

    Quarries and Itinera

    It's been a little more than a month since I joined the Itinera project, and I am happy to say that there has been much progress made. Supriya and I have finished reading through the Minutes of the Royal Academy of Architecture and have finished entering agents into Itinera. An example is pictured above. In the next upcoming weeks, we will really have to work hard to finish putting in the entire trip that we have mapped out, put together our poster for our presentation, and finish up our abstract (which is actually due Friday). In my class related to the research, we worked on preparing our abstracts and "elevator speeches" about our research. I am extremely excited to present our hard work.

    I have found that the hardest part of this project so far was actually reading the text and pinpointing the important information needed. One thing I was especially excited about, though, was realizing changes in the French language in the minutes and the modern version. This made it a lot easier to translate the text, as I realized that "mesme" was mean to be même (which means same). Simply understanding these differences allowed for quicker reading and comprehension. From this point on, I believe that the project will go quicker in getting the information for the trip into Itinera, as we already have it mapped out in our own notes.

    Au revoir,

    Victoria

     

    Categories: 
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • VMW

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