Getting more specific: Refinement of our narratological use case(s)

Second Co-Creation-Workshop in Potsdam May 31st, 2017

We are halfway through our lecture period by now and since our first co-creation workshop in Potsdam at the end of April a lot has happened.

The concept sketches that were created by our five student groups during the first workshop were elaborated on in preparation for the next exchange between Hamburg and Potsdam.

On May 10th, Marian Dörk and I, together with the Potsdam interface design students, visited Chris Meister, Rabea Kleymann and the other members of the team to join Chris’ seminar and the accompanying exercise.

In the seminar Chris gave an introduction to the collaborative annotation tool Catma and explained to the Potsdam students, how you would use the tool with a certain literary question in mind. This introduction was meant to serve as a primer to Catma on the one hand, but also as an insight into the literary scholar’s process. Since the Potsdam students are supposed to base their visualizations on real data, i.e. narratological annotations produced in Catma, we deemed it necessary to make them comfortable with the process and the tools. The annotations they will eventually use, will be produced and made available to them by the Hamburg students via Catma.

In the exercise the interface design students presented their refined concepts in front of the Hamburg students and Chris Meister’s team. The concepts were quite diverse, in terms of narratological questions they were supposed to address, as well as media, technology and design. The images depicted below give an impression.

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Sketches from short presentation in Hamburg

The predominant issues addressed with the concepts were, among others: narrative levels, advanced text search, narrative polarities and relations between objects, characters and parts of the text. After each presentation the literary scholars gave feedback on the projects. In the following three weeks the students had time to continue working on their concepts, before the two student groups from Hamburg and Potsdam got together again.

On May 31st our second co-creation workshop took place at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. The goal of this workshop was to sharpen the students’ concepts with respect to their ability to help answering narratological questions.

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Laura Mandell: Visualizing Gender Complexity

Laura started her talk by showing some simple visualizations and talking about the difficulties of reading graphs. She showed Artemis, searching for words “circumstantial” and “information” over time. She then compared it to the Google NGram viewer. She talked about the problems with the NGram viewer like shifts in characters (from f to s) around 1750. Dirty OCR makes a difference too. She showed a problem with Artemis having to do with the dropping out of a dataset. Artemis has a set of datasets, but not all for all time so when one drops out you get a drop in results.

Even when you deal with relative frequency you can get what look like wild variations. These often are not indicative of something in the time, but indicate a small sample size. The diachronic datasets often have far fewer books per year in the early centuries than later so the results of searches can vary. One book with the search pattern can appear like a dramatic bump in early years.

There are also problems with claims made about data. There is a “real world” from which we then capture (capta) information. That information is not given but captured. It is then manipulated to produce more and more surrogates. The surrogates are then used to produce visualizations where you pick what you want users to see and how. All of these are acts of interpretation.

What we have are problems with tools and problems of data. We can see this in how women are represented datamining, which is what this talk is about. She organized her talk around the steps that get us from the world to a visualization. Her central example was Matt Jocker’s work in Macroanalysis on gender that seemed to suggest we can use text mining to differentiate between women and men writing.

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Materializing the Visual

Materialization of Bubblelines
Materialization of Bubblelines

The Canadian Society for Digital Humanities 2016 conference was held this year in Calgary, Alberta. Milena Radzikowska presented a paper on “Materializing Text Analytical Experiences: Taking Bubblelines Literally” in which she showed a physical system designed to materialize a Bubblelines visualization. (Bubblelines is a tool in the Voyant suite of tools.) In here talk she demonstrated the materialization filling tubes with different coloured sand for the words “open” and “free” as they appeared in a text. She talked about how the materialization changed her sense of time and visualization. Read more about the conference in Geoffrey Rockwell’s conference report.

The Making of: The 3DH Logo and How it Got That Way


In mid-March this year, I was contacted by Prof Christoph Meister of Universität Hamburg, with whom I had previously collaborated on the re-branding of the European Association for Digital Humanities (EADH). He wanted a logo for the 3DH project.

In the course of the following two weeks, I engaged in an intensive email exchange with the 3DH team and Profs Johanna Drucker and Geoffrey Rockwell, both of whom are visiting professors in Hamburg this summer term as part of the 3DH project. By the end of the month, we had worked out a logo design that everybody considered a success.

The following timeline is a collage of discussion fragments, logo sketches and drafts that passed back and forth in an ad-hoc collaboration conducted entirely via email; the timeline seeks to document the main ideas that guided the collaboration and to capture a sense of the process by which we arrived at the final design as displayed on this site now.

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