#WIDH20 reunion for #dayofdh2020

The dayofDH is back in 2020. As far as I can tell, tweets to the hashtag stopped around 2017. It’s interesting to me to reflect on why this might be. Is it the decline of Twitter use in recent years? Is it the increasing specialization of digital humanities and less interaction between these sub-fields? Were digital humanities practitioners beginning to feel less isolated, or more apart of local conversations?

The last (re)tweet from dayofdh in 2017.

I suspect the decision to bring back Day of DH in 2020 is linked to the COVID-19 crisis and the rapid–uncomfortable and re-isolating–pivoting of teaching to virtual spaces in the Spring 2020 semester. This pivot has led to countless webinars and hybrid spaces online for DH practitioners to share their work, to learn from each other, to teach others new skills and to discuss new advances in the field–but also to bring crucial knowledge to urgent questions in their home environment, questions where digital humanities have a lot to offer.

Only a few months ago we met in Abu Dhabi for the Winter Institute in Digital Humanities, so for us, the occasion of Day of DH 2020 seemed like the perfect opportunity to reconvene our larger community (we called it a reunion) to reach out to each other, to reflect on our professional lives in this moment and to have a chance to catch up on how we have taken back home what we shared in Abu Dhabi.

We planned an informal, unrecorded, camera-optional, password-protected Zoom meeting. We had four lightning talks from a variety of participants engaged in digital scholarship, some discussion in breakout rooms around topics of community interest and a share-back about the groups’ conversations. Strong takeaways from the session were how aware we have become of infrastructure as a crucial element of our daily lives; how important librarians, technologists and the scholarly conversations around teaching and learning have been in helping institutions manage the disruption of the last months; and how we are leveraging creative means to reconnect with people, find new collaborators and to navigate the exigencies of these challenging times.

Lightning talks:

Sarah LaursenMiddlebury College (USA)The Museum is Open: DIY VR Tours
Wajahat MirzaNYU Abu Dhabi (UAE) Piloting the “Abu Dhabi Calling!” Project
Bushra JawalForman Christian College (Pakistan)Creating an OCR pipeline for Urdu
Lauren KataNYU Abu Dhabi (UAE) Opportunities of the “Remote” for NYUAD oral history collections

Breakout room topics:

Taking digital humanities back to my home institution
Privacy issues in the time of COVID19
Team work and social distance
Challenges/opportunities of the remote classroom
Recent work done in OCR/HTR
Minimal computing
Digital arts and humanities

We will have our get together on 28 April at 1500-1600 (Abu Dhabi time), that is, 700-800 (New York) | 1300-1400 (Berlin/Cairo) | 1900-2000 (Shanghai).

We hope to have another meetup mid-summer 2020.

#myDHis messy, or an Ode to Untidy Bricolage

#myDHis messy, or an Ode to Untidy Bricolage
DHSI 2017 Institute Panel, Perspectives on DH

David Joseph Wrisley 
New York University Abu Dhabi 


messy < mess (n):  Old French mes “portion of food, course at dinner”
early 15c “company of persons eating together”
1530s  “communal eating place” (military)
1738 sense of “mixed food,” especially for animals
1828 “jumble, mixed mass”
1834 “state of confusion”
1851 “condition of untidiness”
1903 “excrement of animals”


Example 1  Between languages: assessing translation variance

The Transmission of an Arabic wisdom text, the Mukhtar al-Hikam in medieval Europe (From Arabic to English, via Spanish, Latin and French) – alignment using LF Aligner

messy issue: few literary problems correspond to available data












Example 2  Multilingual realities: documenting and mapping multi-script polyglossia on the street (llbeirut.org)

messy issue: reality is messy, social creation of data adds new untidy levels













Example 3  Orthographic variance

messy issue:  teaching a computer to recognize a pattern with a language where irregularity is the norm

sample medieval French word (“alms” in English): almosne, aumosne, aumone, haumone, asmone, esmone, aumorne

sample medieval French place (Almeria, Spain):

Aumarie Amarie
Almarie Aumarie
Almerie Ammarie, Aumarie
Amerie Aumerie
Almarie Armerie;Aumerie;Omarie;Aumarie
Almarie Aumarie
Aumarie Ammarie
Almaria Aumarie;Ommeria

Example 4   Aligning orally-influenced texts inside the “same language”: (with @vizcovery)

messy issue: pre-modern transmission of texts is messy, sometimes like re-mixing, add orthographic instability










Example 5  Expanding the language of DH to Arabic (with @najlajarkas1).  See post.

messy issue: computational linguistics with Arabic text is not done in Arabic by most of the world; finding a language for a nascent community to use

MLA S649 The Visual Display of Literary Information

MLA16 special session –  Austin, TX

Saturday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m.

Organizer: David Joseph Wrisley, Amer U of Beirut
Presiding: Roopika Risam, Salem State Univ.

1. “Visualizing Anti-Information: New Critical Diagrams of Attitude,” Andrew Hines, Vanderbilt Univ.
2. “What Did Jane Austen See at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1796?” Janine G. Barchas, Univ. of Texas, Austin
3. “How to Do Spaces with Words: Revisualizing Literary Geographies,” Matthew Price, Penn State Univ., University Park
4. “Visualizing Modernists’ Cities,” Kathryn Tanigawa, Univ. of Victoria

keywords: digital humanities, visualization, literary history, literary geography, 3D modeling


This panel’s title playfully evokes the landmark book in statistics and visual graphics by Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983, 2nd ed. 2001). Tufte’s work foregrounded visual design as more than just secondary to the understanding of data. Whereas his arguments were largely destined for an audience of graphic designers, today’s digital humanists will benefit from the lessons of his scholarship, as they puzzle through how best to display, or to use more contemporary parlance, to visualize their objects of study. The data visualization community, arguably only decades old, has developed best practices for precision in screen-based representation of certain phenomena, and yet in collaboration with humanists they encounter problems like uncertainty, complex temporality and nuance that we ourselves struggle to express clearly in prose argument, let alone in diagrams, maps or 3D. The replacement of Tufte’s adjective “quantitative” with “literary” in the title of this panel is also meant to provoke discussion about the nature, even the possibility, of literary information.

The critical background against which our panelists will speak only begins with Tufte, and extends to Moretti (Atlas of the European Novel; Graphs, Maps and Trees), Drucker (Graphesis), Presner/Shepard/Kawano (HyperCities), Bender/Marrinan (The Culture of the Diagram), Travis (Abstract Machine) and others. At the heart of those theoretical discussions is to what extent the visualization of literary information goes beyond pure display and participates in the re-creation of literary objects. What is the nature of such visualization? Presentational? Critical? Epistemological? To what extent is visualization an end product, or part of the research process?

The panel is composed of literary scholars, three advanced doctoral students, one full professor with an associate professor organizing, and an assistant professor presiding, all of whom have been involved in the practice of the humanities in distinctly digital environments: in 3D visualization labs, in a variety of interactive 2D mapping environments as well as in the humanities lab and the classroom. The panel looks both backwards to ways that we have sought to render our research problems visual, and forwards to new horizons in visualization afforded to us by digital culture. Far from imagining visualization as simplification or purely output of data, the presenters will reflect on the very idea of the literary transformed into data. Each of these environments has its own visual rhetorics, drawing largely on the needs of non-literary communities. The panelists will also address the generative, interpretative quality of their visualizing practices, stopping to ask what the complex issues of literary studies have to offer the community of visualization and 3D modeling in turn.

In his paper “Visualizing Anti-Information: New Critical Diagrams of Attitude,” Andy Hines reminds us that visual display of data is not only a late 20th century digital phenomenon, but finds diagrammatic expression in a number of prominent works of mid-century New Criticism. He argues that in their haphazard representation of the communicative attitude of literature, key critics’ diagrams anticipate a response to Johanna Drucker’s imperative “to find graphical conventions to show uncertainty and ambiguity in digital models.”

In her paper “What did Jane Austen see at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1796?,” Janine Barchas will present a digital reconstruction of the Shakespeare Gallery. It is a twice-removed visualization, a modern attempt to recreate a Georgian experiment in the visualization of literature. Her data originates in archival payment records in the Folger Shakespeare Library, surviving fragments in many museums, and John Boydell’s own engravings (for aspect ratio and visual stand-ins).

In his paper “How to do Spaces with Words: Re-Visualizing Literary Geographies,” Matthew Price engages with the practive of visualizing literary geographies, foregrounding the networks of “major” and “minor” spaces as his central organizing principle. Through the example of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, he look at the difficulties posed by the project of mapping an entire diegetic geography, and at the potential benefits offered by this “distant reading” of a single text.

Finally, in her paper “Visualizing Modernists’ Cities” Katie Tanigawa outlines how she goes about creating three-dimensional maps (known as z-axis research) to carry out both close and distant readings of modernist novels such as Jean Rhys’ Quartet and Virginia Wolff’s Mrs Dalloway. In so doing, she is able to show which areas of the city are privileged by the texts and to analyze the socio-political significance of such privileged zones.

As you can tell, what links the papers on this panel is not a common time period, or even a common linguistic tradition, but rather the means of visual representation of different forms of data extracted from the literary text and/or context. Such visual forms, based on abstractions, must be interrogated for what they add to literary studies, how they provoke additional questions about the literary object at hand, as well as the forms of loss generated from formal representation.

Since the visual drives our discussion, I have suggested that all speakers prepare a presentation of maximum 12-13 minutes (48-52 minutes), with a small set of key visuals integrated into the body of the talk. I hope that this format (a kind of extended lightning talk) will leave ample time for discussion (20+ minutes) to focus on the promises and challenges of visualization in literary studies.


Janine Barchas (panelist) is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first book, Graphic Design, Print Culture and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (CUP, 2003), won the SHARP DeLong prize in the history of the book. Her most recent book is Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins UP, 2013). She is the creator of the digital heritage project “What Jane Saw,” which reconstructs two Georgian museum exhibitions as witnessed by Jane Austen (www.whatjanesaw.org). In addition, she is co-curator of an upcoming brick-and-mortar exhibition, entitled “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity,” at the Folger Shakespeare Library in fall 2016.

Andy Hines (panelist) is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Vanderbilt University, where he will defend his dissertation in May 2015. His dissertation, Understanding Criticism: An Institutional Ecology of U.S. Literary Criticism and Theory, attends to the various media of literary criticism in the mid-twentieth century to theorize a new mode of disciplinary history. His articles appear or are forthcoming from English Language Notes and Criticism. Hines participated in the Mellon Institute in Digital and Public Humanities for Early Career Scholars in May 2014. He has blogged about the impact of digital interfaces on the writing process and the use of digital visualization tools in the classroom for the Vanderbilt Writing Studio and the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning. (See, for example, http://vanderbilt.edu/writing/2013/12/the-blank-screen-and-the-blinking-cursor-the-design-of-writing/ and https://my.vanderbilt.edu/vidl/2014/08/guest-post-by-andy-hines-the-%E2%80%9Cdigital%E2%80%9D-classroom/) In addition, he has contributed the entry for “New Criticism” to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism.

Matthew Burroughs Price (panelist) is a PhD candidate in English at the Pennsylvania State University, where he will serve as a 2015-16 Predoctoral Fellow in the newly formed Center for Humanities and Information. His research and teaching interests focus on 19th- and 20th-century British fiction, with particular emphasis on narrative theory, queer studies, and literary geography. Drawing on both older and newer methods of spatial analysis, his dissertation demonstrates how literary spaces can be read using narratological methods commonly reserved for literary characters—that is, as oscillating hybrids of real and fictional, structural and referential significance, in a qualitatively and quantitatively differential system of major and minor nodes. As a whole, the project demonstrates how “major” and “minor” novelistic spaces signify in diverse, dynamic, but nevertheless visually representable ways. Work from this project has appeared in ELN: English Language Notes, and his article “A Genealogy of Queer Detachment” is forthcoming in PMLA.

Roopika Risam (presider) is an assistant professor of English and English Education at Salem State University. She is currently finishing her monograph, Postcolonial Digital Humanities, which is under contract with Northwestern University Press. Her work has recently appeared in Digital Humanities Quarterly and First Monday and she has an article forthcoming in Left History.

Katie Tanigawa (panelist) is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Victoria. She is also a research assistant for the Modernist Versions Project (MVP) and Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) where she works on computational analyses and three-dimensional modelling of maps for modernist novels. In 2014 Tanigawa participated in a roundtable titled “Problems and Solutions for Modernist Digital Humanities” at the Modernist Studies Association and co-presented the MVP’s work on digital mapping and modelling at the MMLA. Tanigawa also co-wrote a paper about digital humanities mapping practices for the 2014 Digital Humanities conference and presented work at the 2013 Canadian Society for Digital Humanities conference. In 2013, she also ran a Digital Humanities Summer Institute sponsored Hello World workshop on the Mandala Browser, a rich-prospect browsing interface that visualizes relationships between data points in marked up texts.

David Joseph Wrisley (organizer) is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the American University of Beirut. His digital interests include the relations between visualization and literary history, distant reading in a corpus of medieval French as well as different aspects of the spatial humanities including literary GIS, historical gazetteers and the social creation of spatial data. He is the author of a recent article on the Spatial Humanities (Porphyra 22, Dec 2014, 96-107). He blogs about his digital project on medieval space-time at visualizingmedievalplaces.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter as @DJWrisley. He is directing an undergraduate spatial humanities project that aims at mapping languages in contact in Beirut hel.djwrisley.com/index.php/mapf15/. He is the organizer of the Digital Humanities Institute – Beirut (dhibeirut.org), a member of the DHSI international digital humanities training network (dhsi.org).