Timelines and Ethics

Hello again! As promised, I’m back this week with a discussion about ethics and portraying history.

Timelines are a really great way to put a lot of information into an easily understandable linear format. They can help us visually portray trends as well as changes and progress. Timelines, however, also can be very misleading. To demonstrate this, I have a meme:

Do not use this for a world history exam!

I have no comment on the historical accuracy of this video. While it does cover actual historical events, its primary purpose is humor and entertainment. What I do want to comment on is how fast the narrator has to speak to cover everything and that he resorts to witty remarks to encapsulate entire chunks of time. Even though this isn’t something like Timelinejs, it is going over a timeline of events, and when covering a large swath of time, you lose a lot of nuance. For the purposes of this video, that’s okay, it’s supposed to be funny and while you can learn from it, that isn’t its primary goal.

When you’re using a timeline for educational purposes, however, you have to be more careful. This is especially true if you’re covering a history of violence or colonialism. Timelines are a neat and streamlined way to express information, and, as such, have been used to erase the stories of the less powerful. The ethical concerns with timelines are the same ethical concerns with writing any history, they are only exaggerated by the necessary brevity of any explanation on a timeline.

TimelineJS, for example, doesn’t have a strict character-limit on their platform, but they do advise to keep descriptions brief. This is because anything too wordy would be hard to follow on a timeline. TimelineJS also recommends keeping timelines below 20 events. People can get easily overwhelmed by a timeline with a lot of events to cycle through, not to mention that loading takes longer the more information to put in.

At the end of the day, timelines can reinforce dominant narratives or they can work against them. The TimelineJS recommendations are just that, recommendations. History, especially the history of violence or colonialism, demands context. If you feel you need more than twenty slides to do something justice, then take up that challenge!

See you all in two weeks and have a Happy Fall Break!

DHC Weekly 10/24: Timelines!

Hello Digital Humanists! Today, I wanted to show you how to use TimelineJS and the importance of taking time with timelines (haha).

In response to the Kashmir event held in September, I decided to embark on a project, documented enforced disappearances over the past fifty years, easy right?

Actually… not easy.

The project is far from finished. Almost a month later and I’ve only reached 1999. This is a reflection of a handful of things. This week, I’m talking about process.

TimelineJS is fairly straightforward, but it does require you to pay attention to what media you want to use and how you want everything to look.

For those not already familiar with TimelineJS. TimelineJS is an open-source tool for people to create multimedia timelines. It is free to use and, once you get a hang of it, really flexible as to what you can do.

Unlike other platforms, however, what you can do isn’t entirely obvious when you look at the back end. All information for a timeline comes from an already-formatted excel sheet. This means you don’t have to mess with the javascript, but it also means you need to edit an excel sheet instead of editing visually like you can on other sites.

A snippet from the timeline I am working on.

Editing this way helps us understand where images come from and how they work on the internet. You cannot upload files directly to a timeline. Instead, you need to link media from other places. You can use media hosting websites to accomplish this if the image is yours. If the image isn’t yours, you should be linking it anyways, and giving credit to who owns the image.

This is one of the reasons you need to allow yourself enough time to create something in TimelineJS. You have to find images and give credit to them. Not only this, but any information you get for a timeline from outside sources also should be noted.

To get this pre-formatted excel sheet. Visit the TimelineJS Website. When you get there, you’ll see this:

Clicking “Get the Spreadsheet Template will make a copy of the spreadsheet in Google Sheets. After that, you can start putting in information!

From there, you can follow the directions on the website, which do a great job of explaining the process.

I’m excited to continue using TimelineJS and working more on my enforced disappearances and being able to share this timeline with others. To do that ethically and with integrity, however, it is important to put in the work necessary to properly give credit for each piece of media and information I use. It is equally important to make sure to meditate on which examples of violence are included, doing my best to not recreate violence or reinforce hegemonic structures of historical narratives. And that, my readers, takes time!

See you next week when I’ll go over why timelines require a critical lens!

A Month in Review

Greetings from the DHC! We’re now a little over a month into the semester and we’d like to look back on the cool things we’ve done so far!

DH Summer Institute Wrap Up

On September 19th, we held a reception for our Digital Humanities Summer Institute fellows who worked tirelessly this summer to pursue a wide array of research topics. For more information on their projects, check out their blog posts!

Thank you to everyone who helped make the Summer Institute a reality! (left to right) Miriam Neptune, Kimberly Springer, Madiha Zahrah Choksi, Janet Jakobsen, Pamela Phillips, Corinth Jackson, Katherynn Sandoval, Celia Naylor, and Martha Tenney.
Those are some handsome gift bags!

The reception was both a celebration of the Institute’s success and a time for fellows to present their work. I was wowed by all of the care and consideration the fellows put into making incredible digital projects regarding equity, representation, the archive, and so much more.

Resist to Exist Kashmir

On September 20th we had another event! In collaboration with the BCRW and Stand With Kashmir, the Barnard DHC held a screening of Khoon Diy Baraav (Blood Leaves Its Trail) along with a discussion that followed with Hafsa Kanjwal and Samia Shafi. We highly recommend watching the film and getting more informed about the occupation of Kashmir. We, at the DHC, are working on getting resources to learn more on our website!

Check out Stand With Kashmir to learn more!

Professor Kaiama L. Glover Lecture and Welcome Reception

Professor Glover spoke about her experience working on In the Same Boats, an online project that “trace[s] the movements of seminal cultural actors from the Caribbean and wider Americas, Africa, and Europe within the 20th century Afro-Atlantic world” (In The Same Boats)

On October 3rd, the DHC held a welcome reception for our new faculty director, Kaiama L. Glover. During this reception, Professor Glover talked about her own journey into the digital humanities, focusing on the importance of collaboration, experimentation, and not being afraid to mess up. Professor Glover ended with a hope that the DHC can reach out to and collaborate with not only those who understand and have worked with the digital humanities but also the “digi-curious and maybe even the digi-skeptical.”

Check out In the Same Boats as well as the In All My Dreams Book Club to see what Professor Glover has been working on!

Lunchtime Book Series

Image result for trick mirror

Finally, yesterday, we had our first lunchtime book series. In it, we talked about the first essay in Trick Mirror, “The I in Internet.” During our discussion, we talked about the dangers of an internet that is so capital-driven and the ethics of information in the digital age.

This book talk is part of a larger series of book talks that the DHC is hosting this semester. We’re encouraging students to reach out if they have an idea for our next book talk or if they’d like to lead a discussion! This is a totally open space for exploration and discussion and you do not have to have read the featured book in order to participate in the discussion.

If you’re interested in hosting a lunchtime book talk please reach out to Taylor Faires (tfaires@barnard.edu) for more information!

DHC Weekly 9/18- Asking more of Wikipedia

Who remembers being told by teachers that Wikipedia is not a reliable source? I sure do, but how do we begin to address the biases and problems with Wikipedia?

This week’s blog post is a response to the Disrupt Wikipedia event that took place in Butler Library on Monday. The panel discussion on Wikipedia was moderated by Columbia’s Wikipedian-in-Residence, Darold Cuba, with special guests Sherry Antione of Afrocrowd and Merrilee Proffitt who wrote “Leveraging Wikipedia: Connection Communities of Knowledge.”

What I found so wonderful about the panel was its candid discussion of Wikipedia, its failures and its successes. Wikipedia has become huge since its launch in 2001. There’s a lot of room for really radical work to be done with this platform. For one thing, it’s open-source. As much as academics have traditionally scoffed at its usage, there is something to be said for Wikipedia’s reach. Not everyone has access to libraries full of peer-reviewed resources on any topic imaginable. Wikipedia also has entries in 304 languages, making it more accessible than even the most conscientious academic journal. This all being said, with great power comes great responsibility and there are real problems of representation in the world of Wikipedia.

“This is the new encyclopedia for the world’s history and the world’s knowledge,” explained Sherry Antione, “all history and all human knowledge should be by all people.”

“All history and all human knowledge should be by all people.”

But that’s simply not the case for Wikipedia as it exists right now. Antione works for an organization called Afrocrowd, which seeks to improve the number of people of African descent editing and even reading Wikipedia.

Right now only 9% of Wikipedia editors are cis-women and only 1% are trans-women. The other 90% are men and though we don’t have the statistics on race, anecdotally, the situation isn’t great. Wikipedia doesn’t even track the races of its editors, which has its own baggage. Our own Wikipedian-in-Residence, Meredith Wisner, presented on Wikipedia and representation.

Meredith Wisner, Barnard Art and Architecture Librarian and Wikipedian-In-Residence

These issues with representation have effects on what topics are covered on Wikipedia and how. Only 18% of biographies on Wikipedia are of women. “There are gaps so large on Wikipedia that I think you could drive a truck through it,” explained Merrilee Proffitt. This isn’t just a problem in Wikipedia, however, it’s a reflection of a much broader issue. “Wikipedia may have gaps and biases, but so do our libraries, so do publishing industries,” she reminded us.

Like our libraries and our publishing industries, the solution isn’t to cut off any association with the site, allowing the biases and gaps to remain. The way to fix Wikipedia is just simply to fix it. “It’s forgotten in many ways that you can edit Wikipedia,” Proffitt said.

The reality is that Wikipedia does lend itself to discursive practice. You can edit entries that have gaps or biases. Those edits can be edited by another user with something important to add. Importantly, these edits are logged. You can see how the representation of a topic has changed over time. There is an opportunity for us to make Wikipedia a source worth referencing, but to do that we need to edit. The problem of representation occurs when editing Wikipedia is put on a pedestal, something that only experts do. This isn’t true. Anyone can be a Wikipedia editor and everyone has something valuable to add, that’s the beauty of a platform as open as Wikipedia.

I wasn’t a Wikipedia editor before Monday, but I am now. It’s easy to sign up and you don’t have to create a whole new entry in your first week. Maybe start with a small edit on an entry that has a grammatical error. Or maybe add a section that was left out in the biography of a figure you know a little about. As Wisner explained in her presentation, “if you mess up, that’s okay, someone will come around and fix your mistake!”

This photo is featured on the event’s Wikipedia page and in it I’m editing a Wikipedia page, talk about meta.

This is all to say, “why not try?” I’m excited to explore more of what being a Wikipedia editor really means and I hope you all will look into it as well. The DHC has held Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons in the past and while being an editor is not a prerequisite in the slightest, it may save you some time if you come to one in the future!

Happy Editing!!!

DHC Weekly 9/12- Ecosia

Hello Digital Humanists and welcome back to the second week of classes! This week’s topic is looking at a search engine that my friend told me about, Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that promises that with every search, they plant a tree, pretty cool right?

The number updates about every second, you have no idea how long it took me to get a good screenshot

How does it compare to Google? That’s a great question! Terms of Service, Didn’t Read gives the engine a “B,” compared to Google’s “C” rating. Ecosia does collect your data, but they do not sell it to third parties. Further, you can request that no data be collected through the site. What’s the most important about this is that you don’t necessarily need TOSDR to figure this information out. All of it is listed on the website. Another cool thing I found is that Ecosia publishes its financial reports, so you can see where this money is going! You can easily find what information they’re getting If you’d like to learn more about TOSDR, check out our previous post-bacc’s blogpost on it!

Okay, so how does a search engine plant a tree for every search? Well, Ecosia explains this on the website.

Not only do they explain how they plant trees, they also let you know how they use advertisements without infringing on your privacy.

Not going to lie, ironically, this blogpost is starting to seem like a sponsored advertisement. It’s not though!

The final question, though, how does it work?

I tried out a few searches to see how they match up to Google. I looked up “Greta Thunberg,” it just seemed topical.

There are only a handful of differences between the searches. The news sources are slightly different. Google, understandably, has way more resources to get the most up to date stories. Ecosia, on the other hand, has slightly older new (a whole day old). Everything else is pretty similar. I would suggest if you’re worried about getting the most up-to-date news or you specifically want to use something like Google Scholar, look for other options. That being said, for any basic search, I can’t seem to find any reason not to use Ecosia! Further, it’s constantly updating, so may check out if someday soon there will be an Ecosia Scholar that we can all use when it’s 2AM, the library’s closed, and we have a paper due tomorrow!

Taylor Faires, Post-Baccalaureate Fellow ’19-20

As promised, here’s an introduction! I’m Taylor Faires and I’m the new post-baccalaureate fellow for the Digital Humanities Center. I graduated from Barnard this May and I’m excited to be on campus again in a new capacity.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the humanities, collaborating with friends on writing songs, poetry, and plays. While at Barnard I was an active member of the student theatre community, serving as a board member for the Columbia University Players and performing in student productions. Despite my interest in theatre, however, I graduated with a combined major in Political Science and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. I finished up my time at Barnard with two major projects: my political science capstone project and an independent study project conducted in Southern Ecuador. Both of these projects looked at the intersections of power when it comes to development and humanitarian aid, paying close attention to conflicting narratives and their importance in how programs that are meant to help look on the ground and how people respond to it.

My previous focus on the construction of narratives and their importance in international and domestic policy led me to wonder about digital narratives. Memes are cool, but what are they saying about our culture? How are they shaping the way we think? The way we vote? Our media and how it shapes us has become an incredibly important topic for study in all of the social sciences. Why not, then, bring it to the humanities? It is these questions that guide my research project on internet and fan culture. Our media shapes us in ways that we are only beginning to explore, and I, for one, am excited to learn more!

In addition to my own research project, I’m here to help you with yours! Expect to hear from me with all sorts of cool tools I’ve found in my own research!

At the end of the day, I’m learning too. I want to learn how to use the many tools at the Digital Humanities Center and across Barnard can help me bridge the gap between so many of my interests. While I love the humanities, I also love science- with environmental science a field I hold near and dear to my heart. How do we bridge the gaps between academic disciplines towards a recognition that everything is connected. The success of The Lorax is relevant to climate change just like erosion patterns or the Green New Deal are. Young adult novels have a political agenda. Stories matter because everything is a story.

That’s all for today but tune into my DHC weekly blog to see musings on ethics, digital humanities, tools and tricks!

Summer Fellows Blog 8/26: Celia Naylor

It Takes a Village

I had not expected that working on my digital humanities project this summer would clarify some core elements of my larger Rose Hall project. I realize there are strategies that enhance learning processes, and there is no one monolithic way to teach a new concept or subject to everyone. Yet, I did not realize that visually mapping out what I envisioned for this project would enable me to conceptualize other dimensions of this project and to enhance my central purpose and related objectives.

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Summer Fellows Blog 7/8: Kimberly Springer

Despite having barely scraped by in both high school and college French, two of my favorite sayings from that language are: je ne regrette rien. “I regret nothing” is more aspirational than reality, but it resonates with me at this stage in the digital humanities fellowship and stewarding black feminist organizations’ archival materials from analog to the digital space.

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Summer Fellows Blog 6/18: Pamela Phillips

I have lived in public housing for the majority of my life and experienced first-hand how the negative images and perceptions of public housing communities and residents can invoke feelings of shame and embarrassment because of the way media influences public discourse. The communities are portrayed as breeding grounds for crime and drugs and the residents are often characterized as people who don’t work, are lazy and want to live off of the government. Much of what mainstream media writes about public housing often has a negative tinge; focusing primarily on the conditions of the buildings, mismanagement of the properties, government disinvestment, and the impact of concentrated poverty. Residents are sought for comment mainly to add authenticity to reported claims. Rarely are they asked to provide a counter-narrative or about anything other than the housing stock, as if there aren’t whole lives being discounted. It is a personal and professional goal to bring residents’ stories into the light, paint these developments with an air of community and hope and highlight public housing as a stabilizing force in urban communities.

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