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!

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 9/30- Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Hello again! The past few weeks have been very busy here at the DHC as we head into the semester. More posts to come this week on past events and what to look forward to this semester, but to start off the week, let’s talk about maps again.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication released a map in late September demonstrating the spatial layout of opinions surrounding climate change. YPCCC has been integral in discussing a forgotten aspect of climate change, how do we talk about it? While many other programs on climate change focus on the phenomenon itself, the way we talk about the issue matters. Unlike many other policy issues, climate change is hard to reduce to a single, definitive, soundbite. In fact, the Design Center’s post-bacc, Yisel Garcia, is focusing on climate change communications for her independent project this year!

The YPCCC gets most of its information through surveys and questionnaires, and while it does do work on the effectiveness of certain climate change frameworks, the maps I’m going over today are a from a survey of public opinion. For example, this is the spatial distribution of people who believe that global warming is happening. The information on this map is based on a national survey and demographic information. For more information on how these estimates were made, check out the YPCCC’s methodology page.

This map shows the estimated percentage of each county in the United States or people who believe that global warming is happening. On the individual county level, the estimated percentages seem to be between 45%-85%.

This map, though incredibly helpful, doesn’t show the whole picture. That’s where the interactive component comes in. Interested parties can toggle through different options to show opinions at the county, city, district, state, and national levels. In addition to this, you can also see how each county differs from the national average.

If we look at this map, we can see that the coastal areas as well as select parts of the Southwest have estimated percentages higher than the national average.

We can get a great deal of information from this map. Many areas in green are likely to be affected by climate change with hurricanes, droughts, or the rise in sea levels. In addition to this, many green areas are in high population areas such as California or Northeastern cities. This exercise is not to explain, definitively, why these distributions show up the way they do, but rather to show the importance of showing data in multiple different ways to get the full picture.

Now let’s explore another part of the survey! Below is a map showing the distribution of people who agree with the statement “Climate change will affect me personally.”

At first, the difference looks stark. However, you can see that the blue doesn’t necessarily reflect that no one believes that climate change will affect them personally, it simply reflects that a smaller percentage of people do. This brings me to another great aspect of this interactive map. You can select the percentages you want to show up by clicking on the bar next to the map.

While the estimated national percentage of people who believe that climate change will affect them personally is only 42%, there are only two counties in the country, Cullman County, Alabama and Bland County, Virginia, in which an estimated 30% or less of the population believes this.

Below the 30% mark, very few counties are highlighted on the map. Only two, to be precise. It is also worth noting that in no county in the United States, according to YPCCC’s estimates, does less than 25% of the population believe that climate change will affect them personally.

Finally, I want to highlight the data regarding the media and climate change. Below are a series of maps depicting conversations and media coverage of climate change.

The reason I chose to highlight this data is partially personal. As a recent graduate of a liberal college in a liberal city, I can easily say that I hear about climate change via media daily (if not more) and I talk about it probably just as much. The idea that so many people could go a week without hearing about it from the media was really shocking to me. This made me realize something I already knew but tended to ignore, our social media shows us what it thinks is important to us. On the flip side, if Facebook or Twitter’s algorithms don’t think you would care to hear about climate change, news about it won’t show up.

This may seem obvious and, in a way, it is. Why would you read about something you’re not interested in? The implications, however, aren’t great. How are we supposed to be informed about the news if we are only shown things that algorithms assume we’ll agree with? What this data demonstrates is that we need to find a better way to stay informed. The fact that a majority of Americans don’t hear about climate change weekly is, perhaps, not the most pressing issue in our political landscape. The YPCCC map, does, however, show us a problem:

There’s an information gap.

Information regarding climate change isn’t reaching everyone uniformly and this isn’t something that can be easily fixed. The problem is indicative of a much larger problem regarding media coverage. The YPCCC interactive map shows the distribution of opinions on climate change. It shows that the U.S. is far from united on the matter. The data also suggest that media coverage isn’t fixing the issue. While the map doesn’t give us answers as to how to address the information gap, it does do a wonderful job of showing the landscape of opinions in the United States. I’m really excited about the work the YPCCC is doing to characterize the information gap and to find solutions!

If you’re interested in learning more about the YPCCC, check out their website! The data used to create the map is downloadable and may be useful for your academic research. If you’d like to hear more from me on how social media divides us, join me at the DHC next Monday 1:30-2:30 PM for our first lunchtime book series where I’ll be talking about Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino.

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!

DHC Weekly Blog 8/26: What you show matters!

Hello all! I’m not sure if you were all aware, but there are fires in the Amazon.

I’m Taylor, by the way. I’m the new post-baccalaureate fellow for the Digital Humanities Center with an introduction post to come soon. Before that, however, I want to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: the Amazon Rainforest.

In this week’s blog post, I’m going to review two maps of the fires that I have seen on social media. One is from Business Insider and the other is from a British news site called Express. There is a lot of media coverage of these fires and, as such, I’d like to take the time to go over how important data visualization is in this coverage. Our previous fellow, Sylvia, made some great guides about mapping tools and I’d like to expand that conversation. Maps can fundamentally change the way that information is reported and interpreted. Remember, there is no such thing as a purely objective report.

SOURCE This looks… bad

Above is a map that I’ve seen circulating a lot over social media. It depicts South America with a large swath of red. There isn’t a caption to this image as it was originally from a video. When you look at this, it looks bad… really bad. The way the data is portrayed suggests that the fires in the rainforest are, actually, just one, catastrophically huge fire that threatens to consume the entire country. It opens eyes. It has a sense of urgency. People see this and are ready to get on a plane. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this sense of urgency, but the data is portraying a situation that is not the reality of Brazil right now.

SOURCE: The caption on Business Insider was “This map shows every fire that has started burning since August 13th across South America. Courtesy of Global Fire Watch”

When you see this map, it still looks bad. It still gives a sense of urgency; however, if you look at the caption and more closely at the map, you see that it is not just one big fire, but hundreds of little fires. Not only this, but the caption explains that these are all of the fires since August 13th. While the caption doesn’t say that some of these fires are now out, it does at least suggest this.

The difference in these maps is important. The map from Global Fire Watch and Business Insider portrays a situation that is much closer to reality. There is not one fire ravaging the Amazon, but many little fires. This data visualization is important because there are so many articles right now that are telling different stories. None of them are entirely wrong. They’re using different data and it’s confusing.

The situation in the Amazon is that there have been many fires this month. Many of which have been started intentionally for agricultural purposes. When you put up a map like the first one, people think it’s a natural disaster. It isn’t. What’s going on in the Amazon is human-led deforestation and, while tragic, it is no accident. We need to shift the conversation to why those fires are started in the first place and how to move towards sustainable development. Portraying these fires as accidental obscures the need for a candid conversation about business interests and how they impact the environment.

You may be thinking, “Wait, Taylor, this is all science stuff. What does that have to do with digital humanities?” And to that, I say, “everything.” While these maps may be portraying an environmental issue, what we learn from it is relevant to all disciplines. When you use maps for a project, know that you are responsible for how they are read. As previously mentioned, no map is free from bias or agenda. It’s easy in disciplines that aren’t “hard sciences” to get the brunt of the subjectivity critique, but the fact of the matter is that even “hard sciences” are subject to biases and should go about research carefully.

As researchers, in any discipline, it is important to realize the power of data visualization and to need to wield that power responsibly.