Digital Work of Scholarship

I would like to invite you to explore my digital work of scholarship at dressforsuccession.weebly.com 

This website explores how fashion was used during the Middle Ages to promote political power. 

I hope you enjoy it! I focused particularly on easy navigation and design. 

I am, however, desperately in need of mapping help. I’ve spent hours watching tutorials and reading directions. I’ve tried multiple programs. All my maps end up hopelessly confused and rather useless. 

Reflection

The end of the semester is in sight! I can’t wait to move back home to be near my family! Thinking back over this Fall in the brief moments between presenting semester projects and writing final papers, I’ve gotten to reflect a little on the purpose behind these blogs. All of my classes have reading responses. Each professor has a different requirement – a few pages every week, a longer paper once a month, etc. This class is the only one where the system is different – we write a blog. Honestly, at first I just saw this as a digital reading response. It’s a class about digital learning – analog papers just aren’t good enough anymore! However, as we’ve gone through the semester, I’ve seen many of the issues we’ve discussed revealed in my thinking about this blog. I’ve realized that I was privileging the paper responses, because my words in this format didn’t seem as scholarly.Thankfully, this class has made me reevaluate that thinking pattern and recognize the value of both my thoughts here and the thoughts of my colleagues. Related to that discovery is another difference between paper responses and our blogs – the ability to see and comment on each other’s ideas about the articles and essays we’ve been reading. This was another aspect of the blog that befuddled me in the beginning. I saw the assignment to respond to other posts as repetitive – you thought that article had some good thoughts? So did I! Occasionally we got into good discussions and exchanged real opinions, but I felt like something was still missing. In paper responses, we turn the papers into the professor, he or she comments and gives us a grade. It is solid. I know where I stand. Once the paper is turned in, I rarely have to return to it. With these blogs, I don’t get any of that. No solid critique from the professor. No way to know how I was doing or what grade I was earning. Just comments from my fellow students . . . then I realized that’s the whole point. In the real academic world there is no professor standing over you ready to grade your work. In the real world, digital or otherwise, your audience is your peers or your students. They don’t grade you – they share their thoughts and comments. You join the greater conversation going on around you about the subject that interests you. The rise of digital scholarship makes the scholarly community even more dependent on discussion and informal connections. Instead of writing letters and meeting at annual conferences, we have the opportunity to discuss ideas with anyone and everyone all across the globe. These blogs may seem that they have a limited influence because the majority of people who come across them will be our classmates, but I have begun to realize that this is to our benefit. We are in a relatively controlled environment where we’ve all read the same books and articles for the same class. We all are required to write. This structure provides the mirror in which we can check the reflection of our digital identities before stepping out into the larger academic world. Here we can train how we present our ideas online. We can practice giving constructive comments. We can discover how to go back and revise our arguments based on comments written about our posts. I didn’t realize just how much all the lessons we’ve been learning all semester really did translate directly into our work here on the blogs. 

Big Data, Small Data, New Data, Old Data

“The emergence of social media in the middle of 2000s created opportunities to study social and cultural processes and dynamics in new ways. For the first time, we can follow imaginations, opinions, ideas, and feelings of hundreds of millions of people. . . . And we don’t need to ask their permission to do this, since they themselves encourage us to do by making all this data public.” – Lev Manovich, “Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data” 

In this article, Manovich discusses the researching opportunities and difficulties created by the huge amounts of relatively personal data now available all over the internet. The topic raises many questions. What are the challenges that researches will face given this new data source? What new questions can be or need to be asked? How will the new data cause researchers to reevaluate their methods? In what new ways must researchers critically evaluate the information they glean? 

I especially like the comparison that Manovich makes between the way people portray themselves on social media and the way people had to act in Stalinist Russia. People on social media are constantly censoring/curating their lives. Regardless of privacy settings, it is relatively impossible to control who views profiles. Potential employers, Grandma, criminals, and friends are all heavy influences in determining what content is acceptable to include on a social media site. It’s amusing to think of future researchers pouring over Facebook profiles trying to decipher what the users REALLY meant, but this greatly complicates the idea behind using huge data sets of this material to create an “accurate” idea of what the life of an average Facebook user looks like.  

Digital Research Tool Proposal

Recent advances in three-dimensional digital technology now provide enough detail and accuracy to create models of objects and architecture that can be useful in scholarly projects about vanished places such as ancient Rome or Pompeii. These digital creations make it possible to collect images of all the remaining artifacts from a particular building regardless of which museums they may be scattered among, and place them in the context for which they were intended. This is particularly useful for buildings like Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall, the house he designed and decorated for himself and which burned down in 1957. Partial physical recreations of this house and some of its many gorgeous stained glass decorations have been attempted, such as the permanent exhibit at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, but these recreations are limited by the cost of construction and space as well as to the items the museum has available. A three-dimensional model would overcome these problems as well as being easily adaptable to new research.

For my digital research tool, I propose incorporating this type of model into a better, faster way to research and collect information. Scholars working on the Google Ancient Places program have developed a unique tool called GapVis which links references to ancient cities in the growing numbers of scholarly material available on the web to those cities on a world map. This technology  allows researchers to move back and forth between the map and the text and easily access other texts mentioning the same location. For my tool, I would apply this type of technology to a three-dimensional model of a single building. Instead of linking to cities, texts would be linked to the specific artifacts and rooms of the structure they reference. This tool would facilitate visualization of complex scholarly arguments concerning these artifacts and increase the organization and ease of access to vital primary and secondary source material. It would be targeted at the scholars who make these artifacts and buildings their area of study, but would also be useful to teachers and students as a way to visualize the past and understand the process of researching. Museums, such as the Morse Museum mentioned above, would also benefit from these programs as a way to complete the partial physical displays they are able to exhibit in their own museums. 

If you have any questions or need clarification on my idea, please don’t hesitate to ask!

When you smell cattle, turn left . . .

Is it possible to navigate by means other than by sight? How can you map something if you can’t see it?  Can you effectively map what author Eleanor Betts calls “smellscapes – a visual representation of areas with particular smells or other sensory experiences like sound (122)? The class asked similar questions Monday night which kept dancing in my mind as I was reading Betts’ chapter “Towards a Multisensory Experience of Movement in the City of Rome,” from Rome, Ostia, and Pompeii: Movement and Space. In this chapter, Betts argues that historians and topographers harbor a bias towards visual representation in spacial history and mapping (118). This seems self-evident to me. Of course spatial history and especially mapping techniques like GIS focus on what you can see! They are graphing data most often about the physical world in the easiest terms to understand. Betts would have historians mapping things like sounds, smells, tastes, textures (118, 124) .  She argues that these other senses would have been essential to navigation in ancient Rome and without including them in research, historians cannot fully comprehend the topography of the city (129-30). Regardless if one agrees with this statement, the questions that arise from it are intriguing. How much of navigation and spatial understanding is not sight-dependent? I know that I depend most heavily on street signs, on landmarks that are visually prominent, and other visual means. I could think of almost no other use of my senses (maybe hearing traffic?) until I remembered the drive home from my grandparents’ house when I was very little. I would be coloring and otherwise unaware of the world outside of the car on the long drive home, but about 30 minutes from my house we would pass a bread factory. When I could smell the bread, I knew that we were almost home and it was time to start putting things away. This anecdote, to me at least, opens up the possibility that Betts maybe heading in a good direction when she suggests that the other senses would have been more important in communities where visibility was limited by narrow, twisting streets and other obstructions (129-30). (This ties into our discussion on Monday as well when we wondered how people who have not been able to see since birth perceive space and navigate in it. Presumably, these other senses are extremely important to them too.) In this case, it does seem like it would be important to understanding historical space to have some sort of method of tracking these things. But as Betts also points out, most of these things are not constants but vary according to factors like time of day, humidity in the air, and the direction of the wind (121, 123). How then are historians supposed to get any hard data about these factors if they are to chart them? And how should they translate non-visual senses into a map? Or if mapping, a visual technique, is not appropriate, what other options are there? Anyways, my thoughts on this seem to be all jumbled up. Definitely need to do some more thinking.

Eleanor Betts, “Towards a Multisensory Experience of Movement in the City of Rome,” in Rome, Ostia, and Pompeii: Movement and Space, edited by Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 118-132.

In the Real World . . . of Middle Earth

This week I’d like to highlight the work of a professor who has put into practice many of the ideas we’ve been discussing in class, particularly Open Access and the role of technology in education. Dr. Corey Olsen, also known as the Tolkien Professor, has used the works of J.R.R Tolkien to ease students into the sometimes difficult world of Medieval Literature for many years. While teaching at Washington College, Olsen confronted the idea that few of the millions of people interested in Tolkien’s writings would benefit from his scholarship if he continued teaching and publishing in the traditional academic venues. In response to this challenge, he began recording his regular class lectures and posting them online at tolkienprofessor.com. The overwhelming positive response he received led him to establish online discussions around Tolkien’s works and eventually to create Mythgard Institute and Signum University – two organizations dedicated to providing excellent scholarship centered around Tolkien and similar literature at little cost. Now Olsen and the faculty who have joined him reach students from across the globe.

Although the small fee required to actively participate in courses offered by these institutions (which covers the cost of faculty and staff) takes these classes outside the parameters of true Open Access, Olsen posts the recorded sessions online and they are also available on ITunesU for free. Dr. Corey Olsen has drastically widened the audience of his scholarship simply by utilizing the accessibility, cost effectiveness, and interaction available through the internet.

If you would like to see Dr. Corey Olsen explain his history in his own words, visit http://www.mythgard.org/about/ for a short video about how he became the Tolkien Professor and how technology has helped his vision. 

In addition, the introduction to his undergraduate survey on the works of Tolkien (found here) helps explain more about his views on Open Access and how he came to focus on Tolkien through Medieval Lit. 

I hope that you can listen to some of the lectures in your free time!

Enjoy!