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


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


Thanks for these, Meredith.

Thanks for these, Meredith. And, indeed, Montréal here we come! Well, I hope to get there too, anyway :).