New Journal: History of the Humanities

The [University of Chicago Press][] is starting a new journal:

> The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce the launch of _History of Humanities_, a new journal devoted to the historical and comparative study of the humanities. The first issue will be published in the spring of 2016. _History of Humanities_, along with the newly formed Society for the History of the Humanities, takes as its subject the evolution of a wide variety of disciplines including archaeology, art history, historiography, linguistics, literary studies, musicology, philology, and media studies, tracing these fields from their earliest developments, through their formalization into university disciplines, and to the modern day. By exploring these subjects across time and civilizations and along with their socio-political and epistemic implications, the journal takes a critical look at the concept of humanities itself.

It might be something for Jonathan Goodwin and me to think about, or at least Goodwin himself as he continues his graphing of various intellectual histories. I wonder how dominated the journal is going to be by historians.

[University of Chicago]: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/pressReleases/2014/October/1410HOH.html

Humanities Crisis Coverage Conventions

[Michael Hills’ discussion][] of the so-called “crisis in [of?] the humanities” in various media outlets as a form of fill-in-the-blank reporting begins terribly well. Having read more than a few of these articles, his ability to compress them down into a few generic moves made for a fun read: it also made me wonder if one couldn’t do something computationally with a collection of those texts, which is, after all, sort of what a fill-in-the-blank activity asks of us.

Sadly, Hill wasn’t content to leave it at that but to offer his own “cure for what ails us.” He isn’t quite brave enough to engage in a similar fill-in-the-blank exercise for balms of the sort he offers, but his advice struck me as open to such an approach as the others: I’ve read plenty of accounts that assert that we need to “get back to basics” or get “back to teaching” — I don’t know who these people are that live the life of luxury that got away from such things, but I can assure you that it’s just not possible in a regional public university. If anything, we are fighting to keep from being reduced to nothing more than the basics and teaching.

[Michael Hills’ discussion]: http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/11/19/humanities-crisis-mad-libs/

The Report of the Humanities Commission

The [Chronicle of Higher Education has a decent write-up][che] of the results of the [Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences][chss], a commission created by a bi-partisan team of lawmakers to write a report about the role that the humanities and the social sciences play in education in general and, it seems, in higher education in particular. The key takeaway, for me at least, is that the report did not follow the model of the [2005 report][] by the National Academies to set funding priorities or measurable goals. The consensus seemed to be that the report, set in the current budgetary and ideological climate, simply needed to say something like “hey, the humanities and the human sciences are important.” I think that lacks vision and passion.

My mother was always adamant that many people can only value you as much as you value yourself, and if that comes down to dollars, you better be able to specify dollars.

Now, it’s true that she was in a position to walk away if the dollar amounts didn’t match up. Many people in the humanities probably don’t feel like they have that option, but since we are talking about group dynamics here in a complex social arrangement, it’s not too far off, I imagine, to think that something like a vicious cycle of under-funding and less talented/prepared individuals working in the area. At some point, if you starve an occupation long enough, your assessment will line up with its capabilities — this may be what conservatives have in mind.

Some of the comments to the Chronicle post are kind of silly, or devolve into silly spats, but there are a few posters who make the argument, as the report seems to, that humanists need to make a better case for themselves to the public. Some of the other commenters regard this as an either/or proposition, but it’s not. I am reminded of Henry Glassie’s statement that “articles are for fellow scholars and books are for people.” (That isn’t really a quote so much as a paraphrase, but I wanted to honor the fact that it’s his idea.)

[che]: http://chronicle.com/article/HumanitiesSocial-Sciences/139899/
[chss]: http://www.humanitiescommission.org/
[2005 report]: http://chronicle.com/article/National-Academies-Panel-Calls/121324/

More Counting of English Majors

I think [Alex Reid][] has it right in terms of how to phrase the question about what is happening with undergraduate education in general and in humanities (read English here) majors in particular:

> Yes, it is bogus to look at the large numbers in the late 60s, note the decline in English, and say this proves we are doing something wrong. But it is also bogus to look at the lower numbers from the late 40s or 50s and suggest that what we have seen since is a regression to the mean. Instead, we might start by saying that the idea of having a college major barely existed a century ago. It’s a little amusing to consider how the 1880s to 1910s paralleled our current period in terms of a rapidly expanding student base and changing values for going to college (then, like now, it was all about getting a better job in a new economy). The thing is, the contemporary English major grew out of that historical moment. And in the 1950s, when higher education was born again, English expanded with it. But as everyone points out, that popularity was fleeting.

> I suppose one can look at those statistics and take it as evidence that the humanities can continue to trundle along as it has for the last 30 years or so. I will stick by my argument that the second industrial revolution, which spurred the growth of higher education, and created a foundation for the value of the print literacy that English has historically provided, has been supplanted by new economic engines. We shouldn’t be looking at the 1950s. We should be looking at the 1850s. From 1850 to 1920, the role of rhetoric and literary study in American universities was completed transformed because of the economic effects of the industrial revolution. Might the same be said of the shift from 1950-2020?

Reid’s basic assertion is that observers are quibbling over where to paint the playing field lines when we should be looking at the construction of the stadium. (The sports metaphor surprises me as much as anyone else reading this.) The fact is that there is a much larger transformation taking place in education, especially higher education, and we need to be thinking about it not only tactically but also strategically.

My own thoughts have mostly focused on tactics: let’s engage the current developments in various professions that highlight the role of information technologies to make sure not just our majors but students in general can glimpse, and possibly create/develop/maintain/revise, the connections between the codes and structures they encounter and the kinds of codes and structures that have long been the purview of the humanities in general and literary studies in particular.

I want to state that again: it’s not just about majors but about humanists making a valuable contribution to education in general. This might seem short-sighted in the face of myopic administrators who can’t see past counting heads, but I think we should keep our eyes on the bigger prize and on the larger mission: being a part of a collaborative that gives students the ideas, facts, concepts, and methods they need to create a place for themselves in the world, and in doing so, makes the world a more interesting, free, and safe place for everyone.

[Alex Reid]: http://alex-reid.net/2013/06/what-counts-when-counting-english-majors.html

Learn to Write, Learn to Code

[James Somers][] planned to live the writing life, only the world called him back with a sweet job offer that focused on coding. Somers muses that the world is out of whack, too focused on coders, and some of his commenters, also coders, agree. Some even observe that the money is so good because investors think the next big thing will be digital and so coders make out as investors and entrepreneurs dance their dance.

My take: Somers is a great writer and, I assume based on his current job, he has coding chops. We need more people with both. Writing chops *and* coding chops. It’s the coders, however, who are leading the way in this regard — think Paul Graham for one. I’d love to see a humanities major, we could even go with the current moniker of digital humanities, that produced majors who could write and code. And by code I mean HTML and XML are a given, and maybe even SQL, and that there will be facility with at least a scripting language like Python or Ruby. (We’ll save C, C+, and Objective C and the other programming languages for computer science majors.) Too much of the current stuff I see is really about design — Photoshop and PowerPoint or Final Cut Pro. Design is fine — I put myself through graduate school doing graphic design work on the side — but what we need are majors who understand the architecture underlying all the infrastructure that now surrounds us. Experience in coding does that.

We can do this, humanities.

[James Somers]: http://www.aeonmagazine.com/living-together/james-somers-web-developer-money/

Humanistic Statistics and Beyond

I have been having a very interesting series of conversations with my graduate students about mathematics and statistics. In short, they are rather doggedly opposed to introducing any form of math into the work they do. In our discussions about Propp’s _Morphology of the Folktale_, for example, we looked at the pages of tabular material in the back of the book and I pointed out that it could easily be turned into a vector space model. Later, they seemed more amenable to discussing their own morphologies of various kinds of texts in a kind of pseudo-code of *if this … then that … else*, but when we turned to a discussion of statistics for inferring from their sample, they once again dug their heels in.

I want to be clear: I’m not faulting them. Our humanistic education has failed them. I could engage in some bombast here, but I think the really interesting thing is that nowhere is it written that we can’t use statistics to study literature, that we can’t attempt to quantify texts in interesting ways so that we can glimpse patterns perhaps not otherwise surfaced.

So I guess I am ready to have a conversation about what it is we should already know and what it is we should be making sure our undergraduate and graduate students know. There is, for example, no reason for me to teach basic statistics when that course is already available. Instead, I and my colleagues should be able to call upon a common, nay foundational, understanding of something like basic statistics as we explore ideas in upper division courses and graduate seminars.

Learn to Write (Code)

This year is the year I teach myself to write code, and there have never been more resources available to humanists interested in doing so. At this moment, I would like to point out two interactive approaches as well as two more thoughtful approaches designed especially for historians (who, as always, seem better at producing these kinds of texts than other humanists):

If you are interested in a very simple, one step at a time approach to learning how to code — and those first few steps really do feel, to me, like what the first few steps must feel like to the soon-to-be toddler, transformative — then there is both [Hackety Hack][hh], which was first brought to my attention by [ProfHacker][ph] and [CodeAcademy][ca]. Hackety-Hack will teach you the basics of [Ruby][], a very powerful programming language that has also been refined for web work — e.g., Rails, which is the power behind Twitter — and CodeAcademy will teach you [JavaScript], another scripting language which powers some significant features of the modern web.

In the same ProfHacker article linked above, Ryan Cordell points to another resources for learning Ruby (for humanists): [The Rubyist Historian][rh] by Jason Heppler. (Unfortunately, at this moment, that portion of his site appears to be down.) There is also the terrific book [The Programming Historian][ph], which offers instruction in various ways to work in [Python][].

[hh]: http://hackety-hack.com/
[ph]: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/more-hackety-hack-less-yackety-yack-ruby-for-humanists/30175
[Ruby]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_(programming_language)
[ca]: http://www.codecademy.com/
: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JavaScript
[rh]: http://www.jasonheppler.org/2010/12/10/the-rubyist-historian-the-series/
[ph]: http://niche-canada.org/programming-historian
[Python]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Python_(programming_language)

The comment by Sandy Thatcher is as true today as it was when he wrote it a year ago in response to an article by Frank Donoghue reporting on the 2011 MLA. [Link to post in CHE](http://chronicle.com/blogs/innovations/28520)

Humanities and the Library

Jean-Claude Guédon made the following observation in The Humanist mailing list with regards to open access matters;

Researchers may be very busy, but they still need to pay attention to their working environment. Scientists should pay attention to the
quality of their instruments, and they generally do; humanists are
certainly interested in the wealth and depth of their library, which is
an infrastructure, and if they complain about the lack of journals,
etc., they might consider looking a little further than the usual
complaint to the librarian who, too often, is simply deemed to be either
insensitive or incompetent, or both, plus being bureaucratic, etc… If
journals are missing in the library, a quick check on library budgets
and their evolution might be profitably compared to the evolution of
subscription prices for journals, particularly STM journals. They might
then consider that, given the priorities of modern universities,
humanities journals will be given up in order to free money for STM
journals. Then, humanists might begin to wonder why some commercial
publishers need to make profit at the tune of 35-45% before taxes.

Researchers are not just researchers; they are also citizens. Public
money goes into supporting research, lots of it. Why the published
results of research should be so expensive when the manuscripts have
been given away to publishers for free, when publishers have us peer
review the articles again for free, etc. ? These are the  very questions
that triggered the Public Library of Science when it was still nothing
more than a worldwide petition back in 2001. They are still with us.
They may trouble the quiet aire of delightful studies, but that is an
elitist attitude that seems to claim that some of us are entitled to
unlimited (subsidized) access to information without having to reflect
on the economic conditions that begin to make this privilege a reality.

Exactly. When humanists turn their back on the world, they shouldn’t be surprised when the world turns its back on them. I worry that it may be too late to halt this particular swing of the pendulum from arcing, depressingly, further out.

What we should be doing is campaigning for our libraries.

Brain as Router

It’s always interesting to see how our understanding of ourselves. A [recent post at
Discover Magazine](http://discovermagazine.com/2010/nov/15-the-brain-router-in-our-heads-processing-bottleneck/) introduces the router as one way to imagine the brain:

> You can scan a crowded lobby and pick out a familiar face in a fraction of a second, a task that pushes even today’s best computers to their limit. Yet multiplying 357 by 289, a task that demands a puny amount of processing, leaves most of us struggling.
>
> For psychologists, this kind of mental shortcoming is like a crack in a wall. They can insert a scientific crowbar and start to pry open the hidden life of the mind. The fact that we struggle with certain simple tasks speaks volumes about how we are wired. It turns out the evolution of our complex brain has come at a price: Sometimes we end up with a mental traffic jam in there.

If you read the article, you’ll discover the experiments go back 80 years to 1931.

*Spoiler*: the brain has a refractory period. *Sigh.* Interestingly, and getting back to the router metaphor, the refractory period appears to be a function of a delay brought about by having to re-configure where information is getting directed within the brain. (The math problem that begins the article is never adequately explained by this model.)

The article concludes:

> If Dehaene is correct, the brain’s inner traffic jam may actually reflect a cunning evolutionary compromise. We face new and unexpected decisions many times a day. We couldn’t possibly carry a separate network of neurons for every response to every possible situation. But we can learn rules, and we can use those rules to rearrange an all-purpose router. One of the deepest flaws in our brains, then, might be a by-product of one of its most impressive strengths.

The Problem(s) with PDF

In Tolkien’s grand narrative, the “one true ring” turned out to be a really bad idea, and it took a three-book sequence to destroy the thing. In the humanities in particular and the academy in general, we continue to be vexed by a file format that allows for productive interchange that is also open — both in the beer and speech senses. Microsoft’s Word files, DOC and DOCX, are clearly not it, though they are now so ingrained in everyone’s workflows, if only thanks to the application being omnipresent on most Windows computers, that many of us assume they are the basis for any interchange.

But anyone who has had to trade a complex document back and forth a few times with more than a few basic style options has learned, things get lost in transit.

Until recently, however, few applications did a decent job of reading and writing Word’s DOC file format. It was getting better — which may be one of the reasons why Microsoft changed to the DOCX format, who knows? — but it was still not reliable.

What are the alternatives?

  • OpenOffice’s ODF has never quite caught on.
  • RTF is fairly reliable, but it isn’t capable of much.
  • HTML seems so “webby” and hasn’t, at least until CSS3, been at all friendly to printed matter.

Which leaves PDF.

Adobe wisely side-stepped competing directly with Microsoft in producing its “portable document format,” but unfortunately for Adobe, but perhaps fortunately for those of us for whom openness matters, PDF seems to have really hit its stride exactly in that moment where the rise of mobile computing devices call it most into question. After all, who here hasn’t muttered in frustration when accessing some simple text content on your phone or tablet and discovered it is in a PDF formatted for an 8 x 11 piece of paper. Oof!

And yet just as we in the humanities have leaned too much upon Word — I now traffic in tracking changes in Word documents in articles for journals and books (Ugh!) — we are starting to lean too much on PDF. A recent exchange in the Digital Humanities On-line mailing turned up the follow comment from Stephen Woodruff:

There are many ways of creating and encoding a PDF file, and not all result in text which can be copied and pasted if the text includes more than standard Ascii characters. Normal word processors hold a internationally accepted numerical representation of each letter plus a note of its font, size, colour and so on. So you can search for an “a” without caring whether its in Arial or Times, red or italic, and you can copy that numerical representation to another application, even if it doesn’t understand colour or have the same fonts.

PDF doesn’t always work like that. Some encodings are analogous to what a typical word processor would use, some are not: they store glyphs, effectively pictures of the individual letters, and have a table to convert back between those and the character codes needed by a copy-paste operation. Its that conversion back that can go wrong: you can read the PDF files and print them because all your eyes and the printer need are the shapes, but if they have been created badly you can not reliably extract the text. (I’m trying hard not to start complaining about the use of PDF, which is a PAGE description language not a TEXT description language, in the academic world.)

Stephen also points to a terrific post by Adobe’s James King which clarifies PDF’s purpose. King’s post ends with the following:

The PDF design is very tailored to the creator being able to quite directly and without ambiguity, specify the exact output desired. That is a strong virtue for PDF and the price of more difficult text extraction is a price worth paying for that design.

And so there you have it: PDF is really about presentation. Whether you can get text (data) back out of it is not this particular vessel’s problem nor its concern. That seems problematic to me for those of us who wish our content to be as portable and re-usable as possible. I think PDF is terrific as one possible output, one possible product, but it’s not the interchange format of which everyone dreams. Quite the opposite.

Whimpers from/for the Humanities

I am somewhat used to the chronicling of demise of the humanities to be found in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education and the The Times, but I must admit to be somewhat taken aback by similar treatments of the subject within the annals of scholarly societies themselves. At the most recent Digital Humanities meeting, Melissa Terras broached the issue. And then, and then, I was gleaning recent issues of Culture and Technology and came across a review by D. R. Koukal of Frank Donoghue’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. This link takes you to Project Muse, which houses the on-line PDFs of the journal. (ULL faculty and staff need to remember that we lose Muse and JSTOR — and, well, everything else — on August 31.) Donoghue’s argument, as I understand it from reading Koukal’s review, will come as no surprise to anyone keeping up with the last few decades of the humanities in the academy: the humanities lost the argument a while ago but are still in deep denial about their demise. That is, in the dominant rhetoric of immediate application and gain, the long-term, “life is complex” approach of the humanities is simply not seen as viable.

This is certainly not going to change in the immediate future as the world’s major economies, themselves in denial over the fact that they are actually in a depression and not a momentary recession, shrink. Those with jobs, anywhere but especially in the academy, are going to stand pat. Those without jobs are going to be pretty adamant about seeing immediate results. (Given the number of people unemployed and for how long, I would certainly not argue with their desire.)

This is a good time for humanists to roll up our collective and individual sleeves and not only produce the work we signed up to produce, but also to think about what more/else we need to be doing.

UPDATE: I missed this story in the Guardian about the cuts to universities in the United Kingdom. Story.

DH/Networking Explorations 1

## Following My Own Advice

For years now I have been encouraging students, both beginning and advanced, to keep a journal of their activities as one way of breaking down the barrier to getting writing done. I have especially encouraged graduate students working on their dissertations to try it. And I have done this while only being an intermittent practitioner myself. (I confess that this is in part one of the great advantages of having a spouse who practices the same profession: one is free to do much of the daily review over the dinner table. The pret-a-ecouter audience is great, but it disengages one important dimension of the process: writing.)

And so, John Anderson, if you are reading this post, here is me doing what I said, an account of trying my hand at textual analysis.

## The Onus ##

At the end of last year I was invited to participate in an NEH seminar on “Networks and Networking in the Humanities” which will be hosted by UCLA’s Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics later this summer. Earlier this year the participants received a list of homework assignments: two books to read, a technical paper or two, and the production of an edge list.

The books have been interesting. (More on each one in separate posts.) The technical paper was at the border of my ken, but I followed chunks of it. The production of the edge list, a list of links in a network, has been the hardest task. Of course, part of it was nomenclature. “Edge list” through for a loop, new as I am to networkese, but I grokked it with the help of the assigned reading — and a variety of web reading. (Thank you, intarwebs.)

But there was another dimension to the edge list assignment that was stymying me: the data. Yes, I have the emergent data from the boat book, but I don’t feel entirely comfortable rushing to produce more data for the sake of the seminar if it means rushing certain dimensions of the research and I don’t quite have a grip on all the data I already have in a way that I am comfortable pouring it into a new paradigm of analysis and modeling. (Like some mental version of Twister.)

And so I needed a data set with which I could work that would allow me to do the kind of analysis that I hoped network theories and models would make possible. In particular I am interested in applying these paradigms to ethnographic contexts where we need to understand how individuals make their way through the world using the ready-made mentifacts that we sometimes call folklore as “equipment for living.”

What I think that means is that I want to understand how individuals within a given group (a social graph, if you will) draw from a repertoire (network) of forms (stories, legends, anecdotes, jokes, etc.) which themselves variously reflect and refract a network of ideas (ideology) dispersed (variably) throughout the group.

Networks of People, Stories, and Ideas

Or, as folklorist Henry Glassie once put it: “Culture is made up of ideas, society of people.” But ideas just don’t bounce around peoples’ heads and they don’t exist out in the world, at least very often, unencapsulated. Ideas and values are usually embedded in the things we say and do.[^1] We keep these things around, these stories and explanations, because they resonate with our values and beliefs. At the same time, the forms not only give shape to the ideas but also shape them.

This dynamic interaction has been the focus of folklore studies for the past century. For the last forty years, studies of culture and language have taken an ethnographic turn, sometimes called “performance” and sometimes called “ethnomethodology,” which has focused on the important role that individuals play in the intertextual network of forms (and thus the ideological network embedded within them).

I am one of those performance-oriented scholars. Performance studies has produced a wide range of profound micro-level studies of folklore in action. In the last decade or so, there has begun to be an attempt to build back toward the philological framework from which the performance orientation sprang and against which it initially pushed back. It’s time to fold these things together, and I think network theories offer one possibility for doing so.

## The Data ##

If not my own data, then what other corpus? I wanted to work with materials that I knew fairly well. I began to build a database of Louisiana folklore in print, focusing especially on tales and legends, but the amount of time to get a large enough corpus digitized and into the database, even using OCR software, quickly loomed too large. A great project, but one that could easily take up an entire summer, not the limited time I had to get something up and usable in order to begin to complete the seminar assignment — which I was late fulfilling anyway.

I did, however, initiate some conversations that may yet produce a foundation for such a database, contacting authors of several texts for electronic copies of their manuscripts to facilitate data entry. (The metadata is entirely a separate matter for now.)

The answer to my question didn’t come to me until I was in Providence, Rhode Island for the sixth, and final, Project Bamboo planning workshop. I don’t know if somebody said something or suggested something, but I struck upon the idea of using Zora Neale Hurston’s _Mules and Men_ as the basis for the seminar assignment and for my own initial explorations into the various software tools that are available. I was reasonably hopeful that somewhere, someone would have digitized the text, and I was right: the text is not in Project Gutenberg, nor in the Oxford Text Archive, but at the University of Virginia’s American Studies’ [hypertext collection][xroads]. There I found a [hypertext version of _Mules and Men_ put together by Laura Grand-Jean in 2001][lgj].

I am not yet at a point where I could deploy a `bash` script to `wget` or `curl` or something else the pages I needed, but since I decided to focus on only the folktales section of the book, the book’s first half, it wasn’t too much of a task to click on each page and then copy the text and paste it into a plain text document in my text editor, Textmate. For reference, I also copied and pasted the HTML in hopes that it might prove useful for getting certain kinds of texts out. That is, I had hopes of figuring out how to tell a piece of software to pull everything out between `

` tags. Unfortunately, Grand-Jean had used some non-standard `

` markup to handle the long blockquotes. I thought about doing some fancy find and replace work with regular expressions, but in the end I decided I would rather work with the plain text, which would also encourage (force) me to re-read the text. The latter proved useful as I came across some long texts embedded in dialogue that were worth including in the extracted corpus.

(The plain text version of Part One of _Mules and Men_ can be found both on [Scribd][] as well as on [GitHub][] — forked critical editions of texts is an interesting idea, no? It weighs in at 55,798 words in 2,127 lines — somewhere along the way I’ll put up some stats on word counts for block quoted text, quoted text, narrative text, etc.)

## And Now for Some Software ##

So I’ve got a digitized text. An ethnographic text.[^2] That will give me people and forms, and I’m reasonably familiar with the kinds of speech communities involved that I can take a crack at ideas. Now I hope to use software to begin to discern those patterns more clearly. (And to produce that edge list.)

The first thing I try is SEASR’s [Meandre][]. Meandre is really something like a software suite, consisting of server and client software, both of which you install and run locally. The server software syncs with the component and workflow repositories at SEASR HQ which are then made available to you through the workbench.

Meandre Workbench

As a quick glance at the UI reveals, it’s not exactly user friendly. Then again, none of this software really is. The good folks running the seminar have provided us with links to useful software: Network Workbench, Wordij, and Pajek (which is, sigh, Windows-only). I am still working my way through these various packages, but I have to say that so far my best results have been using [IBM’s Many Eyes][ibm].

[xroads]: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/hypertex.html
[lgj]: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA01/Grand-Jean/Hurston/Chapters/siteintroduction.html
[Scribd]: http://www.scribd.com/doc/33800238/Zora-Neale-Hurston-s-Mules-and-Men-in-plain-text
[GitHub]: http://github.com/johnlaudun/Mules-and-Men
[Meandre]: http://seasr.org/meandre/download/
[ibm]: http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/users/johnlaudun
[^1]: The poet William Carlos Williams once advised in “A Sort of Song” to: “Let the snake wait under / his weed / and the writing / be of words, slow and quick, sharp / to strike, quiet to wait, / sleepless. / — through metaphor to reconcile / the people and the stones. / Compose. (No ideas / but in things) / Invent! / Saxifrage is my flower that splits / the rocks.” His famous urging to himself and other poets to find the ideas that already surrounded them in the world echoes the anthropological project of the twentieth century: to find the intelligence and beauty in the always already peopled world of the everyday. (My apologies to Williams for eliminating his line breaks but my software, `PHP Markdown Extra`, wasn’t handling a poem within a footnote at all well.)
[^2]: To be sure, I’m fully aware of the potential problems of Hurston’s text. For a fuller discussion, see my essay in _African American Review_ ([JSTOR](http://www.jstor.org/stable/1512231)).

Project Bamboo Workshop 6, Day 1

It’s the end of the first day of Project Bamboo’s Workshop 6, which represents an opportunity for the larger (arguably still emergent) community to shape a response to the new context, which is, as I understand it, a function of the Mellon Foundation’s merging of the Research in Technology program with the Scholarly Communications program.

In the interval between this change in context and the workshop itself, the core PB team has worked with a group of universities who early on had identified themselves as likely partner level contributors to whatever it is we’re building. That has resulted in the Bamboo Technology Project.

The goal of the BTP is to identify “strategic areas of work” within which they can plan and, in the case of Phase I projects, build something — because across the board any number of us agree that it’s time for Bamboo to make something, to have an identifiable product that we can show to colleagues and administrators and others that reveals the potential profit in universities and other organizations collaborating in an open way to build services, software, and standards for knowledge creation and distribution. The list of partners is impressive. (I will list them in an update to this post.) The four major areas of work to be completed in Phase I are: work spaces, scholarly web services, collections interoperability, and corpora space. (Phase I is to last eighteen months, as is Phase II to follow.) The first three areas already have some pieces in place that the BTP hopes to build upon and, at the same time, begin to draw together into the kind of whole that is the promise of Bamboo.

For work spaces, there is HubZero and an ECM (Enterprise Content Management System) which will be the foundations for further work.

For scholarly web services, the partner institutions will be able to draw upon a number of projects, including, but not limited to, PhiloLogic, Perseus, CLARIN, SEASR, and Prosopography. (Links to follow.) Most of these services offer some or all of what are becoming the usual analytical tools for textual scholars: document mapping, concordance, collocation, frequency, etc. Collection interoperability will focus on metadata interchange.

The one area of work that will not be built but will be subject to planning in Phase I is corpora space, which is going to focus on the production of five or so white papers as well as identifying some high priority/profile corpora that can be targeted for a project. (I would like this to be a folklore corpus, of course.)

There are other projects and plans within the BTP, but much of the morning was focused on determining the kind of consortium that would, during this transitional period, support the BTP projects. This is, of course, the reverse of Bamboo’s ultimate goal, but I think it rightly puts resources and imaginations in motion. A number of organizations have stuck with the planning process now for two years, and we will, I think, continue to stick with it because we believe in the greater good that Bamboo seeks to serve. What we need are tangibles to show to others to concretize our participation and to act as an incentive for others to join.

Once more firmly established, Bamboo can do a lot of good, if it can negotiate the somewhat crowded waters of already existing as well as emerging organizations, coalitions, and other consortia with similar goals and/or visions. E.g., CHCI, CenterNet, and now CHAIN. Part of what I think Chad Kainz was struggling to articulate in trying to develop an organizational structure for Bamboo was to make as many people and institutions feel included as is humanly possible. (In all honesty, humanists and their organizations can be a fairly territorial lot, as contradictory as that seems to the rhetoric that we so often deploy.)

One of the things it could do, that was the focus of our table’s conversation not once but twice during the day, is the development of a federated researcher/user identification system for the humanities. Think Thomson-Reuters’ ResearcherID but open source and run by the collaboration of member organizations — and even non-member organizations. Throw in DOIs for publications, projects, datasets, tools, and workflows and you have not only a very powerful, and searchable, data stream but one that fits within every organization’s already existing workflows of annual reports and assessments and every individual scholar’s workflows of vita maintenance. And it would be a natural component/connection to institutional repositories. (I will link to the small presentation I pulled together for my colleagues at UL-Lafayette in an update.)

*UPDATE*: [The document is here.](http://www.scribd.com/doc/33595752/An-University-Institutional-Repository)

There was a lot more that happened today. Some of it can be gleaned from Chad and David’s slide decks, which I hope they make available later, and some of it can be found in the planning documents, which may be available on the Bamboo website. For now, I will leave off my summary of the day here.