Critical Digital Humanities

I am interested in developing a critical account of the digital humanities and computational methods, as used within humanities research.

My new book project, The Digital Humanities and the Search for a Method seeks to develop an answer to the major question arising from the adoption of sophisticated data science approaches to humanities research: are existing humanities methods compatible with computational thinking?

After a decade of experimental, organizational, and definitional work, scholars working within the broad field of the digital humanities have begun to propose strategies for reorganizing humanistic research and teaching from the insights gained developing empirical and computational methods. These proposals, for the most part, originate in the ongoing so-called “humanities crisis” and participate in widespread desire—from the sociological turn informing surface reading to the collaborative work with physicians found in the medical humanities—to produce stronger links between the humanities and other disciplines and fields. Computational and data science, the collection and production of large-scale digital archives (HathiTrust and Google Books), and the machine learning tools that have proved themselves capable of addressing large-scale archives in the biological sciences and in corporate data analytics, have collectively produced an environment in which it has become clear to many that a change in the interpretive practices of the humanities is needed.

Social Media and Machine Learning in the Classroom

Using new tools that take advantage of text mining and machine learning technologies (NeMLA 2016 Talk) in the undergraduate classroom does not have to be difficult. I wrote a simple Python wrapper around the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) and the popular Scikit-Learn or sklearn package that helped students start making discoveries within minutes. I have used this tool in a first-year writing intensive course at Dartmouth (“Campus Life” in the Fall 2015 term) with some success. Before our class meeting I had students read a chapter (“Theme”) from Matthew Jocker’s Macroanalysis that provided an overview of several popular methods of text mining for the humanities. Students were then able to work through a simple workf low during our normal class period that mirrored several of the steps found in our reading. We used these tools on an archive of approximately eighteen thousand YikYak posts (or “Yaks”) from Dartmouth. If you are interested in this tool or my data, please contact me!

Methodologies and Workflows

For over a decade, I have researched methods and workflows for the management of scientific pipelines. The ability to schedule and optimize complex, multistage operations while enabling reproducible science has motivated my longstanding interest in this work. I started working on these problems through my concern with the difficulties in using and running data mining techniques through our archival project at the National fMRI Data Center (2001 - 2005) and with our local resource, the Dartmouth Brain Imaging Center. This led to collaborative projects with the University of Chicago and Monash University and several journal articles and a book chapter. With rapidly development of new methodologies for the digital humanities using multistage processing pipelines for machine learning and text mining, I have begun applying my earlier work on pipelines to this new field.

Tools for the Visualization of Close Readings

In 2009, as an early experiment in distant reading, I developed a set of tools to assist my students in the close reading of texts by locating interesting groups of synonyms. A small script then used these words to produce an interac tive (using GraphViz and an image map) visualization that allowed students to explore these groups by clicking on individual words. In 2010 I used high-performance computing resources at Indiana University to map the relations between the largest synonym groups by using multi-dimensional scaling with a collection of 2,000 digitized texts. I presented some results from this on a panel at the inaugural 2010 C19: Nineteenth-Century Americanists Conference at Penn State University.

Critical Code Studies

With Amy Hunt, Dartmouth MALS '17 I have begun work to use a collection of cultural studies approaches, what many are now calling “critical code studies,” to examine the relation between two very different forms of writing that appear within the “body” of the same text: code and its documentation. Amy is working on completing her thesis ("Not Your Typical Prose") and has recently given a presentation on her work thus far.