Visual Media Workshop

The VMW is
a lab/
creative zone/


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)



    Is a Search Engine Necessary [to MedArt]?

    A major trend that the Sustaining MedArt research team found in the interviews taken in Kalamazoo on the usability of the site was the assumption that a search engine would be useful or is necessary; many of the interviewees noted that it would be easier to navigate MedArt if there was a search bar or some kind of search function on the site. This trend made for an interesting inquiry on users' experiences with search engines. 

    One of the articles that I read, “Private Power, Public Interest: An examination of search engine accountability,” discusses information as a “critical commodity” of our modern society and search engines as shaping the internet user’s experience by emerging as “managers of information, organizing and categorizing content in a coherent, accessible manner” (Laidlaw 2008, 113). This was an interesting point that the article made, and I started to think about our trend in relation to this claim. Many of the interviewees would try to navigate through the site, and almost every single one of them would be able to navigate in order to find “Canterbury Cathedral” as we asked them to. This task was marked as “extremely easy” by most of the participants, even though some of them said it would make it easier if there was a search function on the site. This phenomenon in itself may support Laidlaw’s argument that search engines have made an impact on how internet users experience the web and how they expect to find information that they need. If they have to find information in an unexpected way, they yearn to have the ease of that search bar or search engine. In MedArt’s case, the unexpected way to find information was to follow a path by clicking the correct alphabetical symbols and finding information by manually “searching” a list of possible choices with your eyes and withyour own stored background knowledge about the information being sought.  

    Laidlaw argues that search engines owe a public interest duty because they control our informational experience (Laidlaw 2008, 123). She relays to us that, “[b]y controlling the structure of how information is accessed, search engines control the information flow. Without more, this might not be as consequential, however, search engines are now the portals through which the information on the Internet is experienced. They are seen as authoritative and reliable, and shape public opinion and meaning.” Similar to the subject headings that the Library of Congress creates to categorize world knowledge in a way that definitely shapes our ideas of how the world’s knowledge should be structured, Laidlaw argues that search engines do much of the same thing. She does discuss, however, the difficulties surrounding imposing a public interest duty on search engines. One of the most pressing difficulties is search engines staying neutral and organizing information in an unbiased fashion (Laidlaw 2008, 126-128).

    Overall, this trend of assuming that a search engine or search bar would be useful or is necessary is one that should and will definitely be explored more in depth. One of the starting questions for the Sustaining MedArt team could be, "is a search engine neccessary to have on the MedArt website?" 

    I know that I have barely even scratched the surface here. All that I mean this to be is food for thought until the Sustaining MedArt team takes the research further with some of the trends found in the interviews.  


    Laidlaw, Emily B. 2008. "Private Power, Public Interest: An examination of search engine accountability." International Journal of Law and Information Technology 17 (1): 113-45.


    On a more personal note:

    As my time at the VMW working on the bibliography for Sustaining MedArt and transcribing/coding interviews comes to an end, it is important that I reflect on the work I’ve done this semester and how it has made an impact on my experience and notion of research.  I’ve learned more specifically about some big concepts, like grounded theory, and a little bit about coding interviews. I’ve learned that it is entirely possible to construct a bibliography of resources on a project and on topics that I was not very familiar with when starting out. As someone who just took on a position as a Visiting Fine Arts Librarian in the Frick Fine Arts Library, this gives me hope for my future “search-and-seize” efforts (as one of my library school instructors called the practice of retrieving information). My work here has definitely had an impact on my experience and notion of research, in that it has exposed me to different ways of approaching research (using grounded theory) that makes a lot of sense to me and has the ability to be very rewarding in unexpected ways because of the nature of that approach. Overall, being exposed through this work to some of the approaches that I was unfamiliar with before has been very rewarding.



    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

    Learning About Grounded Theory

    While reading up on grounded theory I was having trouble coming up with a “grounded theory for dummies” definition that would help me with my own understanding of it. I started by reading articles by others who had tested grounded theory, used it in their work, and had come up with their own methods for applying grounded theory to their work. Everyone I was reading was starting with grounded theory but many were using different methods and achieving different outcomes. I ended up facing frustration and decided that I needed to begin again, but this time at the source. So I started reading Glaser and Strauss’s 1967 explanation of the theory that they had “discovered,” and it’s actually easy enough to understand right from their first chapter. They describe grounded theory as the “discovery of theory from data” (Glaser and Strauss 1973, 1).


    Analyze the data you’re working with and extract a theory, or multiple theories, from it.

    Don’t try to prove some theory with the data you have; analyze and compare that data in order to generate theories (Glaser and Strauss 1973, 2).  

    I also really enjoyed Roy Suddaby’s article about “What Grounded Theory is Not” (Suddaby, 2006). He explains that what Glaser and Strauss were trying to do was fight against the presumption that all of the subject matter that was dealt with by the social sciences and the natural sciences was the same, which we now know to distinguish between as qualitative and quantitative (Suddaby 2006, 633). By focusing on the importance of interpretive work, Glaser and Strauss were revolutionizing the way that researchers could deal with and react to the qualitative data they are working with (Suddaby 2006, 633). Suddaby’s article gives 6 big misconceptions that most people have about grounded theory that I found quite helpful to read:

    - “Grounded theory is not an excuse to ignore the literature”: It’s important to have some background knowledge about the data and the field you’re doing research in (Sudabby 2006, 634).

    - “Grounded theory is not presentation of raw data”: The data should be digested and theories developed—interviews are a good example; you shouldn’t just present the transcripts, you should analyze them, find common themes, and abstract the experiences into theoretical statements (Suddaby 2006, 635). 

    - “Grounded theory is not theory testing, content analysis, or word counts”: “[t]he purpose of grounded theory is not to make truth statement about reality, but, rather, to elicit fresh understandings about patterned relationships between social actors and how these relationships and interactions actively construct reality” (Suddaby 2006, 636). This doesn’t mean don’t use mixed methods, it’s just that you’re not starting your inquiry with a hypothesis or a theory, you’re looking for that theory in the data (Suddaby 2006, 636-637).

    - “Grounded theory is not simply routine application of formulaic technique of data”: For example, if you code your interviews but don’t apply any subjective interpretation to them, or if you simply let software analyze your data without applying any subjective interpretation to them, or if you present any of your data or routine “mechanical” analysis of the data without “creative insight”—this is not grounded theory (Suddaby 2006, 637-638).

    - “Grounded theory is not perfect”: This one is self-explanatory. Some people try to make their methods using grounded theory perfect by creating rigid rules and guidelines, but social processes are very complicated, and saying for example that you recorded just the right amount of interviews for a study, or that you collected the correct amount of data for it, can be faulty because that is a very subjective assumption to make (Suddaby 2006, 638-639).

    - “Grounded theory is not easy”: A great grounded theory study is “the product of considerable experience, hard work, creativity and, occasionally, a healthy dose of good luck” (Suddaby 2006, 639).

    - “Grounded theory is not an excuse for the absence of a methodology”: Your methods for collecting, analyzing, and drawing theories from that data should be clear in the presentation of your research (Suddaby 2006, 640).

    After completing some of this reading, and analyzing some of the interviews we recorded for the Sustaining MedArt project, I definitely agree with Suddaby that grounded theory is not easy, but I feel like the definition of what it is and how it works is now much clearer and easy to understand.


    Works Cited

    Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. 1973. The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

    Suddaby, Roy. 2006. From the Editors: What Grounded Theory is Not. Academy of Management Journal 49 (4): 633-42.

    • Current Projects
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW
  • Antonio Roberts, f(Glitch), (CC BY-SA 2.0)


    Summer 2016 Syllabus: "Digital Humanities," MLIS Program, University of Pittsburgh

    Please find a link here and below to the most recent version of the course that I teach in the Digital Humanities to the MLIS students here at the University of Pittsburgh. This and my PhD-level course have been going through iterations over the last three years. 

    • Visual Knowledge
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

    Report from the Field: DH2016 in Krakow Day 3, 4

    The last two days of DH2016 were filled with an exciting array of panels and plenaries, and tough choices had to be made once again. And because I forgot to include it last time for those curious individuals, the full schedule can be found here:




    In the long paper session on Analyzing and visualizing networks (4), the panel began with a presentation by J. Porter and Vanessa Seals on Dramatic Networks and Kinship Structures in African-American Plays. The most significant interest in their research was to explore if a computational analysis of dramatic networks could be combined with a socio-anthropological approach to kinship structures in ways that might reveal important cultural and social patterns. Their data came from a corpus spanning roughly 150 years of American drama, and included 20 black authors and 22 white authors. Critically, they employed dynamic network analysis using the Eingenvector centrality method based on Hanneman’s (for a breakdown of this method see work in order to determine the “protagonist.” This method allowed the researchers to examine the network of Kinship based around the central character in the play. While this research is still ongoing, the preliminary results Porter and Seals presented were highly interesting. For example, the highest number of plays that displayed significant Kinship structures from both black and white authors clustered in the mid-20th century. Gender has a strong effect in kinship networks in plays from both black and white authors. In both black and white authors, men are less apt to be kin, but the difference between female and male characters is starker in dramas from black authors. The EVC average for male characters in black-authored plays was 8.7 compared to 6.7 for female characters from the same corpus. In white-authored plays, male characters averaged 5.9 to 5.7 for female characters. Notably, Porter and Seals acknowledged that their authors from both corpora were overwhelmingly male (11/20 for black authors, 17/22 for white authors), so deeper analysis is needed to examine the correspondence between gender/race of author to kinship structures of gender/race in their corpus. It should be noted that this paper was nominated for the Fortier Prize (awarded to outstanding newcomers), but it was ultimately not selected.


    I wanted to especially focus on this project because it was given by two young scholars and employed a pretty solid collaborative method over an interesting topic. And in a “teachable moment,” (and maybe more so for myself) I want to outline two salient points:

    1.Visualizations are not the most important aspect of a presentation! Although they can help clarify subtle and big differences, a clear breakdown of your data, description of your method and tools, and explanation of your results are the most important aspects of a good DH presentation.

    2. When working in a team dynamic, especially with one humanist and one technical person, it’s critical to know your tools as well as your humanities questions. You should strive to be pretty fluent in both realms. Because ultimately that will affect how you approach your data. These two points foreshadowed the following panels


    In the Panel “Creating Feminist Infrastructure in the Digital Humanities,” a lengthy discussion of developing infrastructure in DH resulted in fruitful exchange of ideas amongst panelists and audience members. Most particularly, the panelists emphasized the urgent need to talk about technical training and humanities simultaneously, especially for thinking about building infrastructures that are accountable and responsible to the range of disparate people participating in DH now. While our modes come from the humanities, the technical aspects are taught in IT and library sciences. There is a greater need to include an infrastructure that incorporates technical training in the humanities, and humanities theory in technical training. But ideologically in DH infrastructure, as Deb Verhoeven mused, we need a method of coexistence that is equitable and generous, but also one that recognizes that ideology and infrastructure also changes us. And how can a Feminist infrastructure allow us to examine the “how” of how systems work, while simultaneously creating new ways of thinking beyond the limits of that system?


    In the Plenary for the Busa Award, recipient Helen Agüera outlined the role that the National Endowment for the Arts was an early supporter of many Digital Humanities projects, and in particular the Text Encoding Initiative. She further outlined that as digital projects have developed, the institution itself as updated and evolved. This meant the NEA not only updated their digital infrastructure. They have also increasingly funded DH projects that provide open access or research under represented subjects and themes. As some of our colleagues in HAA and in the DH community at Pitt have experienced firsthand, the NEH is a valuable resource for scholars.



    Images and Art 1 and 2! 

    This art historian was positively giddy at the final two sessions on Friday. Since the panels were related I would like to highlight a few papers from both sessions.

    In “Seeing Andalucia's Late Gothic heritage through GIS and Graphs” Patricia Ferreira Lopes from the University of Seville presented the collaborative project between herself and Antonio Jimenez Mavillard and Juan Luis Suarez from the University of Western Ontario. The aim of the research was to develop new perspectives on historical cultural production by applying computational methods of the Late Gothic architecture of Andalusia. As she rightly pointed out, Material production and transportation, the fluctuation of agents and transfer of knowledge gave rise to a truly transnational architectural heritage. Lopes and her collaborators thus applied two different methods to examining their data: a spatial approach that uses GIS and a database of entities and styles developed in conjunction with the cultureplex lab at Western Ontario. These two methods allow the researchers to map the geological and topological architectural site, while at the same time creating a relational network of professionals, builders, and planners working on these sites.


    While the work is already fascinating enough, Lopes and the other researchers hope to create an even more open database for scholars to input their own research on entities connected to this period. More information can be found at Lopes’ website (in Spanish)


    For their long-paper “Corpus Analyses of Multimodal Narrative: The Example of Graphic Novels,” Alexander Dunst (University of Paderborn) and Jochen Laubrock (University of Potsdam) presented their use of a Graphic Narrative Mark Up Language (GNML) to preform a multi-modal analysis of western graphic novels. The research group was particularly interested in the One of the most interesting aspects was using eye-tracking software to test their ML tool against actual reception of images and text. This meant the researchers integrated humanist inquiry, digital computations, and cognitive methods to examine a popular, but little researched medium. The project is rich and dense, and I highly suggest checking out the project blog.

    They were also helpful enough to upload the slides from the presentation:


    The second to last long paper presentation of the conference was well worth the wait. “Performance, the document, and the digital: the case of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s ‘Robertas’” from Gabriella Giannachi at the University of Exeter was a fantastic explication on the role DH can and should play in the future of Art History. I have to admit this paper seemed more at home at CAA, but the research question Giannachi raised was very much affected by methodologies taken from DH. For our interests as Art Historians, how can DH give us different perspectives on the relationships among Performance, Documentation, and Archives, particularly in our current moment, where the role of the Digital (environment) is increasingly becoming more constitutive of the work of ‘art’?


    Using the case of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s  “Robertas” Giannachi outlined the various, convoluted “real” and “digital” manifestations of Leeson’s “Roberta.” The first manifestation of Roberta was an identity assumed by Leeson from 1972-1978 as The Roberta Breitmore Series. This person took out a credit card, had a real address, looked for roommates for her New York flat, contemplated suicide, and finally, was “cast out” of Leeson’s body in an Exorcism ritual. For a period of time, the only existence of Roberta was constituted by the ephemera contained in archival boxes in Leeson’s home. But the Roberta identity returned in Leeson’s work as technological advances allowed for more diffuse manifestations and interactions. In cyberRoberta (1995-8), Roberta became a telerobotic doll, whose eyes were replaced with webcams that uploaded images of visitors to a site. The users of the site could view the images taken by cyberRoberta’s cameras, as well as control the movement of the camera. Most recently, Roberta appeared as the central character in the work Life-squared (2007). In this work, Roberta exists in a virtual world of San Francisco’s famous Dante Hotel in 1972.  Furthermore, the physical construction of Roberta in this work, as Giannachi told me later, was built on the film portrayal of a “Roberta” citation character played by Tilda Swinton in Teknolust (2003).


    Moving beyond a traditional differentiation between “original” performance and document (and it’s attestation/confirmation within an archive) raised in this crossing over, interpenetration, and re-mixing of the “Roberta” identity is one that cannot be ignored in Contemporary Art Historical discourse. Digital technology has affected the status of resurrecting the identity of Roberta, but also leads to further questions of how and what Art Historians should document and archive. Giannachi argued that we should be already be developing a “Best Practices” framework, possibly along the lines of Suzanne Briet’s Inter-Documentary model (a nice discussion can be found here: This framework takes seriously that a “work” in the mode of Leeson’s “Roberta,” which means incorporating an “original” performance (the Instruction), as well as the secondary documentation (Exploration), the archive (Diffusion), and the collective reception and distribution of the Documentology (Organization). This last point is particularly important now that we are seeing museums themselves participate in the continual unfolding of a work (and here Giannachi brought in a lovely use of Deleuze). Since the museum is a site of distribution, in both a physical/phenomenological experience and in the digital environment, institutions need to be aware of their own ways of documenting and preserving their role in this unfolding process. As someone who has a great interest in these issues, Giannachi’s paper was probably one of the most exciting presentations of the conference!


    So to recap an exciting 4 days: Digital Humanities is an ever evolving, inter-disciplinary field, which brings together different scholars from humanities and digital/computer worlds. In a span of any given hour, I felt completely at home and completely out of my depth. I learned about many different methods, techniques, and approaches to exploring humanities disciplines using computational and digital methods. It seemed like everyone has their niche, but also (more often than not) they are open to exploring new and different ways of utilizing developing technology and approaches. Maybe I’m just still a novice, bright eyed and bushy tailed. But through my discussions inside and outside the panels and sessions, I found people who were interested in talking with me about all sorts of things. I cannot even begin to get into how important this conference was for stimulating new professional and scholarly relationships.


    But I will say that Montreal 2017 is going to be very, very exciting. Time to start brushing up on my French! (No really, the conference is going to be bi-lingual, and that’s actually fantastic.) I hope to see a good University of Pittsburgh contingent there, because I am definitely coming back for more!

    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

    Sustaining Medart: Interviews Inside and Outside the VMW

    While interviewing attendees of the International Congress on Medieval Studies for the Sustaining MedArt project, and after beginning the transcription of these interviews in the Visual Media Workshop, it is interesting to reflect on how both processes are different. 

    During the interview process, if you’re anything like me, you gauge the people around you before walking up and asking to interview them. The good thing about asking random people at a conference if you can interview them is that you will usually only receive one of two answers; yes, or no—so it’s a low-risk situation. Luckily for me, most of the people I approached did agree to an interview, most after a preliminary conversation about where each of us was from and what kind of work we were doing. Before each interview began, it was important to ask if the person was alright with being recorded, and most individuals agreed. During the interview it was important to simultaneously keep on track with the order of question you were asking, stay engaged with the person answering the question, and also be aware of the fact that the iPad was recording the entire encounter. During such a multi-tasked process it is sometimes difficult to remember everything a person said in order to pick out certain themes, unless that theme is recurring in almost every single interview. In the case of the interviews that I carried out, one major recurring theme that was easy to remember because of its frequency was that people said they often go to Google first when searching for images of medieval art and architecture.  

    Inside the lab, we listen to each interview as best as we possibly can in order to transcribe them. Although most are fairly easy to hear, some have proved extremely difficult to hear and so take longer to transcribe. The transcription process is much different from the interview process. You are hearing the interview out of context, you cannot see the person/s speaking, and non-verbal communication is lost. You are also not engaged with the conversation in the same way as if you were present during the moments of the interview. These, I think, are important to consider in any project that involves doing on-site interviews.

    What is most helpful about transcribing these interviews is that we now have data that we can work with, data that we can have handy in a spreadsheet, and data that we can code and extract themes from using grounded theory. Some interesting themes that have already been extracted are trust in the authority and reliability of the MedArt website, that the site is relatively simple and easy to use, especially for students, although many would like the site to have a search bar or other option to ease navigation. Some other themes include expressing guilt or concern over using Google due to frequent lack of attribution and good quality images, and a belief that the site should be promoted via academic entities in order to secure preservation funds. 

    For now, transcribing the interviews and extracting themes continues! 

    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

    Report from the field: DH2016 in Krakow Day 1, 2

    The annual Digital Humanities conference is happening in Kraków, Poland this year. It is my first DH conference (thanks Alison for gently pushing me into the water!). It is also largest conference to date, with over 900 registered attendees from all over the world descending on an area roughly the size of Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. (Sorry Oakland, Kraków edges you out just slightly in history and beauty! I will reserve judgment on the Pierogi situation for now.) Like many of the issues that circulate in the HAA department, this year’s theme is Past/Future. The opening talk by Agnieszka Zalewska, particle physicist at CERN, maybe neglected to address the soft humanities aspect of the conference in favor of hard science, but this nerd was totally into learning about molecular physics, and not about Chaucer or obscure dead languages for a moment. Indeed, although her talk focused on the ways in which CERN can *maybe* provide a model for the Digital Humanities, the particular poetic of her message was that CERN emphasizes the relationship between mentors and mentees, in order to pass knowledge and skills in a particular field of study.


    The intersections of, contrasts between, or even contestations in the Past and the Future have naturally been explored in many of the panels. Since it is impossible to visit all 9 of the simultaneously running panels per session, I am trying to attend talks that broadly touch upon the issues related to our interests in HAA, as well as my own particular topics and passions (woo dynamic network analysis!). On the first full day of paper presentations, I attended panels discussing Network Analytics, recognizing and extracting visual patterns, and the second of a series of panels devoted to Diversity within the field of DH. The Network Analytics panel was a pretty straightforward, short paper presentation of a variety of projects that examine and implement methodologies of analyzing network relationships. For my own research, this panel exposed a number of ways in which I could continue to look at actors and relationships within a network. A big point of contestation was whether the data required discreet static networks, and when, and how, a researcher should think about networks in a dynamic analysis.


    Because I am an art historian, the panel on recognizing and extracting visual patterns, which specifically dealt with implementing computational methods on Mayan Hieroglyphs, was a nice zone to be in. Finally, Art(?)! Icons! Symbols! All the papers in this panel examined ways to decipher, analyze, translate, and make available the Mayan system of language to broader publics. The researchers mostly come from a larger consortium of the MAAYA project, and the most public facing (and code intensive) project can be found here (including the HOOSC [Histogram of Oriented Shape Context] code source):   

    Really fascinating stuff!


    The final panel I attended was on “Diversity” in DH. The scare quotes are intentional. As Padmini Murray Ray said in her presentation: the word “Diversity” is being used to erase bigger intersectionality problems within the field. Just because we as scholars recognize the problem does not mean we can just put the bandaid term “inclusivity” or “diversity” over the issue and call it a day. We need to be responsible for our own culpability in the continuation of systemic oppression. As she said: “I know I fail. The question is: How can I fail better?” How can what we do in the Digital Humanities allow us to help others (the underrepresented, POC, *queers) do the important work? Of course, I cannot help but think about the systemic oppression, violence, and social issues facing the United States right now, one of the major representative countries at the conference. Science is safe. Software is safe. Hardware is safe. Maybe the questions we should be asking of ourselves as scholars, academics, humanists, SHOULDN’T be safe. Maybe we should be breaking up that system of safety, while acknowledging it may also endanger our own sense of security. I will be attending more panels on this topic, because the conference is, at the very least, providing a space for these discussions during almost every session. But when is trying not enough?


    Sorry (not sorry) Chaucer, this isn’t your rodeo anymore.

    • Temporalities
    • Current Projects
    • Graduate Work
    • VMW

    VMW Spring 2016 Update!

    The Visual Media Workshop has continued to be a thriving hub for the department’s Graduate Students and Faculty Members. Lead by Dr. Alison Langmead and a crack team of interdisciplinary participants, the VMW (known colloquially in the department as “The Lab”) has initiated several new and exciting ventures in the Digital Humanities over the past year. Alongside our ongoing lab-centered projects (Decomposing Bodies, Itinera, Sustaining MedArt), the VMW-led workshops and discussion groups have been a near weekly occurrence. Alison and Kate Joranson, Head of the Frick Fine Arts Library, offered a VMW toolshop series to assist graduate students with thinking through their academic and research projects in the context of online digital platforms. In a two-part conversation over Fall 2015 and Spring 2016, the Computational Visual Aesthetics group brought interdisciplinary faculty and students into dialog on the topic “10 Things That Computer Scientists Need to Know about Art Historians and That Art Historians Neet to Know about Computer Scientists before Beginning a Productive Collaboration.” While these conversations were only a few of the many highlights this year (see below for more updates), the VMW is striding forward towards more cross-disciplinary dialogues between the humanities and the digital world.


    Visiting Scholars in the Digital Humanities

    This spring, the VMW and the Digital Medial Lab in the Department of History hosted Matthew Lincoln as the inaugural Visiting Digital Graduate Scholar speaker. Lincoln’s public lecture “Continuity/Discontinuity: Network Dynamics in the Golden Age of Dutch Printmaking” discussed the importance of formal network concepts to understanding artistic print production of the Netherlands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Lincoln demonstrated how multiple analytical perspectives, including both descriptive analysis, as well as some simple simulation modeling, suggest new ways of thinking about both continuity and discontinuity in our histories of printmaking. This was followed by an open workshop that examined Lincoln’s pipeline from downloading public data to finished visualization, with particular attention to the process and tools useful for cross-disciplinary projects. 


    Graduate and Undergraduate Activities

    The Digital Graduate Scholars Working Group began to meet in Spring 2016. This is a student-led interdisciplinary working group in which digital pedagogy and research methods are explored.

    First Experience Research students Maureen Borden and Christopher Babu spent Spring 2016 working on Decomposing Bodies (see below). After reading about the Bertillon system and its implementation in Ohio, they spent the early weeks of the semester transcribing information from the Bertillon cards into Omeka. Through the transcription process, each student became familiar with the data, and was able to develop an original research question based on their observations. The resulting research projects were presented at the Celebration of Research in Alumni Hall on April 22.


    Decomposing Bodies

    In November 2015, Dr. Langmead traveled for a final time to Columbus, Ohio with graduate students Aisling Quigley and Chelsea Gunn to photograph Bertillon cards at the Ohio History Connection. One of the major activities associated withDecomposing Bodies (DB) has been the continued transcription of Bertillon cards in the project’s Omeka website. As of the end of Spring 2016, just over 2,500 cards have been transcribed. Behind the scenes, extracting the dataset from Omeka and making it accessible in a more flexible spreadsheet format has been another significant task in the VMW. This process is intended to increase eventual access to the DB dataset for researchers, including First Experience Research students and students and faculty involved in the upcoming “Data (after)Lives exhibition. A public-facing DB website is currently in development, and can be found at This website will be a resource available beyond Pitt’s campus, and will provide information about Bertillonage in general, and the work of the DB team specifically. While images and transcribed data will not be publicly hosted on the site, information about how interested parties can contact the VMW to gain access will be.



    Itinera, another of the lab-centered projects, is entering its third year of existence and continues to be a point of interdisciplinary interest. As project manager for the past year, Meredith North recorded the travels of many, many more European intellectuals. This has primarily centered around the German author and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and his circle of acquaintances during his travel in Italy. Undoubtedly, Goethe’s The Italian Journey: 1786-1788 is an important work of non-fiction, but as a travelogue it is also an ideal work for Itinera data. Even though Goethe’s Italian journey represented only a fraction of his life, travels, and acquaintances, this document has provided a significant source of information for the cultural life and social relationships of the late-18th century. Agents like Angelica Kauffmann, Wilhelm Tischbein, and Jacob Philipp Hackert have emerged as important artists during this time, and their network relationships have assisted greatly in expanding Itinera’s existing connections. With the addition of some clear interface navigation instructions, Itinera has also become a little more user friendly.


    Sustaining MedArt

    Dr. Langmead and Aisling Quigley received an NEH Research and Development Grant in December 2015 to conduct further research on the nascent project, “Sustaining MedArt.” This project, initially presented as a poster, gained traction at iConference 2015, and has developed into a long-term study. Integral to their investigation of Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (, a two-decade-old “time capsule” digital humanities project, is usability testing. This term they have focused on creating a Qualtrics survey in anticipation of a forthcoming trip to the International Congress of Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There, they will survey conference attendees on a volunteer basis in the hopes of learning more about how individuals with varying degrees of experience may engage with this unique website. 

    • Current Projects
    • Itinera
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • Spaces
    • VMW

    Digital Graduate Scholars Group

    It has been a couple of years in the making, but we've finally arrived…. the Digital Graduate Scholars Group!! As a cohort of PhD students, we are primarily concerned with providing a safe and non-judgmental space to discuss our experiences with and/or questions about digital methodologies. Although we come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines (Art History, Composition and Rhetoric, Information Science, and beyond), we share the essential desire to share and interrogate digital methodologies and the discourse surrounding them.

    Activities: We propose to critique, or “workshop,” our own digital projects, analyze projects published by others, review relevant blog postings and other “light” readings of interest, and to provide a forum for sharing events (both in person, and through our collaborative blog). We also invite each other and scholars from outside our group to lead workshops or provide mini tutorials about different tools of interest. Our primary concern is that the work we do actually relate to the interest of group members and reflect and respond to the needs of our community.

    Does this sound like something that you, as a PhD student, would like to learn more about? If so, either email me at or Chelsea Gunn at

    Our next meeting is this Friday, March 25th at 10 am in the Visual Media Workshop at Frick Fine Arts. 

    • Graduate Work
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    Website Toolshop Resources

    Here are some of the terms and resources we covered today in today's VMW Toolshop: Making Your Own Website. 

    Domain Names

    A domain name is an identification string that represents an IP resource, such as a website. These names are formed according to the rules of the Domain Name Systems (DNS). Domain names are often compared to phone numbers, but they are also kind of like personalized license plates. Domain names can generally be purchased from a variety of registrars and hosting services. This does not include the hosting required to mount a website. 


    Name Servers & Domain Name Systems (DNS)

    The name server translates the more human-readable domain name ( into the more computer readable IP address (http://123.456.789.1234). The server component of a DNS is one example of a name server. It provides a distributed naming system for computers, networks, and Internet resources. 


    File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

    FTP is a standard network protocol that transfers files from a computer to server or network. If creating your own site files, you can use free FTP services like Filezilla or Cyberduck to transfer files from your computer to your host. 



    Hosting is a service that provides the storage space for your website files. Hosting services provide space on their servers for monthly or annual fees beyond the cost of the domain name registration. The host assigns the DNS address for your site files to your registered domain name. (We talked about Reclaim Hosting.)


    Website Files

    This is the content that populates the hosted space. These will often be MySQL or PHP files that make up the back end of the website's structure. Many hosts have easy one-click install options for popular content management systems. (We talked about Wordpress, Omeka, Drupal, Scalar.)


    Basic Steps Involved

    Research available hosts/compare rates 

    Research software - see what other comparable websites are using by looking at the footer or View Source

    Purchase domain name

    Purchase hosting plan

    Install content management system 

    And consider coming to our next toolshop Friday, February 12 at 10:00am to learn about Curating Your Online Presence: Beyond the Website to further discuss content and social media. 

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  • Digital Tools

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    Digital Tools of Interest: Winter 2015-2016

    Below please find a curated list of the digital tools I am currently recommending to people when they come to me with particular humanities-based tasks that they'd like to accomplish.

    Text Processing

    Data Visualization

    Blank Slates

    Time and Place

    Data FitnessTM (Matt Burton)

    Time-Based Media


    Text Annotation

    App Creation

    HTML Creation

    Network Analysis

    Another nice, not ovewhelming, list is found here from the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative:

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    • Faculty Work
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