Digital Narrative 2.0

What can I say? Digital humanities is fun and eye-opening. What have I discovered? Tons of things and understood what I still don’t know. Where to now? To projects and beyond.

This is my second time attempting to revise my digital narrative. I started writing it one week ago and I just realized I forgot to publish it. For some reason, it is not in the drafts folder either. Anyways, here’s what I have to say after almost three months of studying digital humanities.

  1. The long story short

I re-read my initial digital narrative. Looking at what my hopes have been back in September, I would not say they changed too much, nor that my digital experience has incredibly diversified. However, my knowledge on possibilities is now much richer. I have looked at many digital humanities projects and gathered inspiration. I know what I can do. I have not done much, but I know what I can. I understood what it takes. I understood where to get those tools from. I understood the mechanisms and their applicability. I learnt about text analysis tools, OCR, networks, maps, (and will soon learn about 3D sketching and printing), and I was offered hands-on on softwares that do and create all these: Abbyy FineReader, Voyant-Tols, AntConc, NodeGoat, Palladio, Google Earth, Fulcrum, 18th Century Connect, and so on. I’ve also learnt about other tools and the purpose they serve. I learnt how to think about and how to design a digital project. And, I am amazed by all these.

Truth be told, as I am learning something new, I do not sense the progress. I take it for granted and try to apply it. I don’t sense the difference between what I knew yesterday and what I know today. But, when I look back at my first digital narrative… I realized how many new things I learnt. I haven’t mentioned any of these names, I did not know about any of these projects back then. I did not even know what digital humanities are, despite having just enrolled in the class. Whereas now, I have all these ideas on what to do with the knowledge and skills I acquired.

2. It’s funny how similar Digital Humanities are to my ideas

There’s a lot I could talk about in this paragraph – but it would become interminable. Same as the possibilities in digital humanities. To offer a short idea on how infinite the possibilities are, think about the two different fields that come into the composition of this new one: computing and humanities. The options in computing are themselves infinite. Only a few more lines of code and you have a different product. When it comes to humanities, I’d dare to say that it is the widest field since human beings are all different, histories and cultures are diverse, and literature and art are continuosly being created. Then, when you combine these two infinities, it results an even greater infinity (I am using this addition only as an example, despite the mathematical truth that there is no infinity greater than another).

Aaaand, so are my ideas. My ideas are: unreachable and never-ending. I will take the example of this class and the projects I made and have to make during it. For my corpus analysis, the idea I began with was to compare and contrast the works (in lyrics and prose) of a Romanian philosopher and poet. While thinking about how I would do that, I realized I knew so little about the content of the work in prose that, unless I read it, there is no way I can get a good grasp of the concepts in it. I believe that here is where AntConc and Voyant would fail to be successful in offering an image of a work’s content. Sure, they work for shorter texts, but the philosopher’s prose is in three volumes of more than 600 pages each. With so much being told in those pages, I highly doubt that a distance-reader software would help forming the right idea about the content of the books.

My ideas are similar to the digital humanities world in the sence that they are never ending. Often, during class, I find out about a new concept and start daydreaming about ways I could apply it in a project. From the very first discussions on GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) I imagine myself volunteering to create some kind of cultural digital guide for the local museum in my hometown. While still holding on to this idea, as my knowledge on project possibilities becomes richer, I keep imagining all sorts of ways to apply it in contexts that I am familiar with. I do that during class – until I realize I have already opened 15 tabs and digressed from a simple idea to something I still need to learn about. Oh, but isn’t this the beauty of DH?

3. Special note on the visit to the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

So, there are two ways in which I’ve seen how the concepts I met in the readings for the Digital Humanities class apply in real life (a.k.a. in scholar research or project development). First, the project I have seen online. Second, and, certainly, the most inspiring/ mesmerizing/ exciting example, was the tour of the Invisible Threads exhibition at the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery. The Invisible Threads (Technology And Its Contents, by its full name) exhibition explores, using humanist data and computing, the relationships created between people’s daily lives and technology, as well as the nature of these relationships and the underlying, often unnoticed, effects they have on human life.

During one of our classes, me and my classmates, together with our professor, explored the different art installations exhibited in the gallery. We started by looking at My Sputnik, “a 1:1 scale replica of humanity’s first artificial satellite,” and made our way to see a bronze sculpture of Saddam Hussein, an interactive installation in which mirrors tracked the audience with the aim of blinding them with reflected light, and, among many others, a collection of modeled faces based on found DNA. More information on the exhibition, the artists, and their work can be found on the exhibition website provided above.

By far my favorite three installations were:

  • The Animal that Looks Like a Llama but is really an Alpaca – an artist’s response to the surveillance culture of China and his reflections on the preservation of data in the online medium
  • The Unknown Gamer – a collection of privacy violation unnoticed by smartphone gamers during their travels
  • And Like – an AI painting program which decides for itself the properties of the brush it is painting with, then matches the resulted picture with images from the internet (example below).
Image courtesy of the artist Siebren Versteeg and bitforms gallery, New York