Living the Life Electric

I’m addressing the Underhill Graduate Students’ Colloquium tomorrow, here in the history department at Carleton U. Below are my slides for ‘Living the Life Electric: On Becoming a Digital Humanist’

update March 7: here are my speaking notes. These give a rough sense of what I intend to talk about at various points. Bolded titles are the titles of slides. Not every slide is listed, as some speak more or less for themselves.

I wanted to be an archaeologist - I graduated in 2002.

‘Digital Humanities’ wasn’t coined until 2004.

It emerges from ‘humanities computing’, which has been around since the 1940s.

In fact, computing wouldn’t be the way it is today without the Humanities, and the Jesuit, Father Busa.

Eastern Canada’s Only Stamped Brick Specialist -Roman archaeology

Stamped brick

Eastern Canada’s only Stamped Brick Specialist, probably

….things were pretty lean in 2003…

Life from a suitcase

Comin’ Home Again

Youth development grant to study cultural heritage of my home township

Also a small teaching excavation based in Shawville

Which led to a teaching gig at the local high school.

A Year of Living Secondarily

What was it about my academic work that I really enjoyed?

Networks

Possibilities of Simulation

Random Chances and the virtues of ‘What the Hell’

Coronation Hall

Meanwhile, I enter business – 3 different startups, one of which has survived (so far!)

Heritage focus

Heritage education – learned how to install my own software, LMS

Trying to monetize the information I uncovered in my cultural heritage study

Coronation Hall Cider Mills

(Shameless Plug).

What are the digital humanities  – think about it: modern computers were developed in order to allow us to map, forecast, the consequences of massive annihilation and death. Simulation is rooted in the desire to predict future death counts. My interest emerged from trying to simulate my own understandings of the past, to understand the unintended consequences of my understandings, to put some sort of order on the necessarily incomplete materials I was looking at. I call it ‘practical necromancy’

Do your work in public blog was originally intended to chronicle my work on simulation, but it has become very much the driver of my online identity, the calling card that others see when they intersect my work – and because it’s been up for so long, with a sustained focus, it creates a very strong signal which our algorithms, Google, pick up. This is how academics can push the public discourse: interfere with the world’s extended mind, their entangled consciousness of cyberspace & meatspace.

Allows you to develop your ideas

Forces you to write in small chunks

Exposes your work to potential audiences

My blog posts have been cited in others’ academic monographs

Has improved the readership of my published work

A quarter million page reads over the last six years.

My book: maybe 40 copies, if I’m lucky.

Basic Word Counts

Top words:

digital 1082 research 650 university 577 experience 499 library 393 humanities 386

History: 177 times

Broadly, not useful or surprising. But consider the structure of word use…

Group 1: gives you a sense of technical skills, but for the most part not the kinds of analyses that one would use that for. That’s an important distinction. The analysis should drive the skill set, not the other way around (a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail)

Group 2: European centres!

Group 3: Canada!

Job adverts – to – topics. Six broad groups based on how the adverts share particular discourses. Gives a sense of where academic departments think this field is going. If I’d done this according to individual researcher’s blogs, or the ‘about’ pages for different centres, you’d get a very different picture – game studies, for instance.

 

Important point: I wanted to show you how you can begin to approach large masses of material, and extract insights, suss out, underlying structures of ideas. This is going to be big in the future, as more and more data about our every waking moment gets recorded. Google Glass? It’s not about the user: it’s about everything the user sees, which’ll get recorded in the googleplex. Governments. Marketers. University Administrations. Learn to extract signals from this noise, and you’ll never go hungry again.

Keep in mind that in 1994 I wrote that the internet would never be useful for academics. My ability to predict the future is thus suspect.

So how to join this brave new world? Twitter, etc.

 

 

 

HIST3812, Gaming and Simulation for Historians

Finally, with a bit of space to breathe, I am turning to getting my HIST3812 Gaming and Simulation for Historians course put together. In response to student queries about what this course will explore, I’ve put together a wee comic book (to capture the aesthetic of playfulness about history that games & simulations naturally contain). I’m not a particularly good maker of comic books, but it does the trick, more or less.

See it on Issuu here

Getting Started with MALLET and Topic Modeling

UPDATE! September 19th 2012: Scott Weingart, Ian Milligan, and I have written an expanded ‘how to get started with Topic Modeling and MALLET’ for the Programming Historian 2. Please do consult that piece for detailed step-by-step instructions for getting the software installed, getting your data into it, and thinking through what the results might mean.

Original Post that Inspired It All:

I’m very interested in topic modeling at the moment. It has not been easy however to get started – I owe a debt of thanks to Rob Nelson for helping me to get going. In the interests of giving other folks a boost, of paying it forward, I’ll share my recipe. I’m also doing this for the benefit of some of my students. Let’s get cracking!

First, some background reading:

  1. Clay Templeton, “Topic Modeling in the Humanities: An Overview | Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities”, n.d., http://mith.umd.edu/topic-modeling-in-the-humanities-an-overview/.
  2. Rob Nelson, Mining the Dispatch http://dsl.richmond.edu/dispatch/
  3. Cameron Blevins, “Topic Modeling Martha Ballard’s Diary” Historying, April 1, 2010, http://historying.org/2010/04/01/topic-modeling-martha-ballards-diary/
  4. David J Newman and Sharon Block, “Probabilistic topic decomposition of an eighteenth‐century American newspaper,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57, no. 6 (April 1, 2006): 753-767.
  5. David Blei, Andrew Ng, and Michael Jordan, “Latent dirichlet allocation,” The Journal of Machine Learning Research 3 (2003), http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=944937.

Now you’ll need the software. Go to the MALLET project page, and download Mallet. (Mallet was developed by Andrew McCallum at U Massachusetts, Amherst).

Then, you’ll need the Java developer’s kit – nb, not the regular Java that’s on every computer, but the one that lets you program things. Install this.

Unzip Mallet into your C:/ directory . This is important; it can’t be anywhere else. You’ll then have a folder called C:/mallet-2.0.6 or similar.

Next, you’ll need to create an environment variable called MALLET_HOME. You do this by clicking on control panel >> system >> advanced system settings (in Windows 7; for XP, see this article), ‘environment variables’. In the pop-up, click ‘new’ and type MALLET_HOME in the variable name box; type c:/mallet-2.0.6 (ie, the exact location where you unzipped Mallet) in variable value.

To run mallet, click on your start menu >> all programs >> accessories >> command prompt. You’ll get the command prompt window, which will have a cursor at c:\user\user> (or similar). type cd .. (two periods; that ain’t a typo) to go up a level; keep doing this until you’re at the C:\ .  Then type cd:\mallet-2.0.6 and you’re in the Mallet directory. You can now type Mallet commands directly. If you type bin\mallet at this point, you should be presented with a list of Mallet commands – congratulations!

At this point, you’ll want some data. Using the regular windows explorer, I create a folder within mallet where I put all of the data I want to study (let’s call it ‘data’). If I were to study someone’s diary, I’d create a unique text file for each entry, naming the text file with the entry’s date. Then, following the topic modeling instructions on the mallet page, I’d import that folder, and see what happens next. I’ve got some work flow for scraping data from websites and other repositories, but I’ll leave that for another day (or skip ahead to The Programming Historian for one way of going about it.)

Once you’ve imported your documents, Mallet creates a single ‘mallet’ file that you then manipulate to determine topics.

bin\mallet import-dir --input \data\johndoediary --output
johndoediary.mallet \ --keep-sequence --remove-stopwords

(modified from the Mallet topic modeling page)

This sequence of commands tells mallet to import a directory located in the subfolder ‘data’ called ‘johndoediary’ (which contains a sequence of txt files). It then outputs that data into a file we’re calling ‘johndoediary.mallet. Removing stopwords strips out ‘and’ ‘of’ ‘the’ etc.

Then we’re ready to find some topics:

bin\mallet train-topics --input johndoediary.mallet \
  --num-topics 100 --output-state topic-state.gz --output-topic-keys
  johndoediary_keys.txt --output-doc-topics johndoediary_composition.txt

(modified from the Mallet topic modeling page)

Now, there are more complicated things you can do with this – take a look at the documentation on the Mallet page. Is there a ‘natural’ number of topics? I do not know. What I have found is that I have to run the train-topics with varying numbers of topics to see how the composition file breaks down. If I end up with the majority of my original texts all in a very limited number of topics, then I need to increase the number of topics; my settings were too coarse.

More on interpreting the output of Mallet to follow.

Again, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Rob Nelson for talking me through the intricacies of getting Mallet to work, and for the record, I think the work he is doing is tremendously important and fascinating!

A Small Revolution

“It was a small revolution: you could see something infiltrate the room – pride – as this person from the University talked about their history, their story.”

I was speaking with Lisa Mibach, from Deschenes, Quebec, once an independent town, then part of the city of Aylmer, and now part of the larger city of Gatineau. We were talking about her and her group’s efforts to document the heritage of this part of the city. It’s an anglophone sector of the city. If you look on the google map satellite image, you can see one of the most significant pieces of built heritage in the entire city of Gatineau – the former Deschenes Electric Company. When you cross on the Champlain Bridge, you can see this impressive ruin to the west. This plant electrified the town of Deschenes and Aylmer, and provided the power for the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (back when Ottawa had working light rail).

Lisa’s been working hard to document this community’s history; the story she told me was about one of the ‘heritage days’ that they’ve put on. This was where they had someone come in and look at their materials that they’d collected, and re-present them to the community.

Sometimes, the public historian or archaeologist’s most important job is to listen to the community, and tell them what he’s heard. In that way, it somehow becomes more ‘real’, more ‘important’, more worthy of study and serious consideration in the eyes of that self-same community. The act of observation changes that which is observed.

I’m entranced by this small community’s history, and hope to explore there more this summer, ideally as part of HeritageCrowd.org.

Serious Games for Archeaology & Imagining The Past

Ruth Tringham and her team at Berkeley continue to do extremely interesting work! I’ve just come across this course description for ‘serious games for archaeology‘, a course that asks probably *the* most important question when it comes to the content of historically-themed video games:

[...]We will explore and learn to critically analyze existing games that deal with archaeology, history, and the past. How, for example, does the game “Colonial Williamsburg” that MIT is developing differ from more popular games such as “Civilization”? We’ll discuss why it is that the commercial game producers are not interested in the educational value and content of their games.[...] (emphasis added SG)

That’s the nub, right there. Why does it matter that the Taliban can be swapped out of Medal of Honor without any consequences to game play? These are questions that historians and archaeologists need to address. In a similar vein, that was the motivation behind our paper from this past summer on a theory of good history through good gaming.

Players of history games are interested in the past and in the big questions that drive historical scholarship. In this way, games have the potential to draw players into the discipline if we can discover the best way to express history though simulation. But what research do we draw on as we study how to accomplish this transformation? This essay is the product of a meeting of historians, educators, and gamers who joined previously separate lines of inquiry to identify literature and models that we believe form the foundation for developing a theory of good history through gaming.

Exploring Resilience in Shawville – Lyndal Neelin

In the Canadian Studies department at Carleton, Lyndal Neelin is studying the anglophones of Shawville Quebec. Being one of those myself, I thought I’d highlight Lyndal’s study & blog here, in the hopes of reaching more of Shawville’s Diaspora. After the mines closed in the 70s, and the PQ came to power, there was quite a substantial exodus of talent and resources; Lyndal’s study examines how the community responds and recovers from that. Shawville is sometimes still a target for some of the more extreme fringes of the separatist movement.

Rewriting history by exam

As a product of the Quebec education system, it was always apparent that what we were being taught was designed to promote a very clear agenda.  Robert Wilkins, a retired high school history teacher, reports today in the Montreal Gazette how the provincially-mandated final  exam in history has evolved in the decades since separatism raised its ugly head:

Yet far more captivating is the content, and how the subject matter evolved through the years. Its rapid change might also help one better appreciate the present polemics. On the June 1970 examination, for instance, the first 10 questions contained queries about Canada’s system and form of government, as well as the rights and duties afforded by citizenship.

Contrast that with today’s students who receive essentially no instruction in civics whatsoever.

Interestingly as well, the 1970 Canadian History examination employed the word “Quebec” on just one occasion -a reference to the pre-Confederation Conference held in the Vieille Capitale in 1864. On the other hand, the word “Canada” was used repeatedly. Now, of course, it is quite different.

[...]

by the early 1990s, what had long been known as “Canadian History” was replaced by the very suggestive title “History of Quebec and Canada” -not the history of Quebec IN Canada but the history of Quebec AND Canada. Increasingly, references to Canada have taken on a biased tinge with the regular June reminders of the hanging of Louis Riel in 1885, the Conscription Crisis of 1917, the federal plebiscite of 1942, the October Crisis of 1970, the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1981, the failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, etc.; in short, anything that in the eyes of those nationalist educators putting the examination together would make Canada look bad and, by inference, Quebec its victim.

If you want to change the world (or at least the country), become an education bureaucrat.

ARGs and the Classicist: Roger Travis

Roger Travis is doing amazing things in his classics classes.  He creates immersive learning experiences, and often his tools are low-tech, or old-tech, like interactive fiction (which I think doesn’t get enough respect in terms of digital learning!)

In Operation KTHMA, the course on Herodotus and Thucydides, my students stood trial for breaking and entering the home of Pericles’ rival Thucydides son of Melesias. In FABULA AMORIS ROMANI, my students had to sing for Augustus, first emperor of Rome. In these moments, fun is being had—I have video of some of these moments, and there are actual smiles on my students’ faces!—but fun isn’t the thing that matters most. What matters is engagement in the material, and, if they’re to be believed in their comments on the course at the end of the semester, my students were engaged. In (Gaming) Homer, my students are caught up in an ARG where they must become homeric bards by observing and playing The Lord of the Rings Online in relation to the Iliad and the Odyssey.

His latest looks fantastic:

The Demiurge recruits the students as operatives in Project
ΑΡΧΑΙΑ in the usual way (cryptic e-mails on the course’s web-site saying that their services have been commandeered to save Western Civilization yada yada yada). In order to reach the mission objectives of knowledge  and skill necessary to brief the world about Greek cvilization (including sub-objectives of reading ancient Greek), the Demiurge has coded the following practomimetic simulation into the TSTT:

It’s the lead-up to the trial of Socrates, and operatives are inserted into Athenians who could be called on to be jurors. In order to make the best possible decision about his guilt and his penalty, they must learn everything they can about how Socrates ended up on trial (which is, when told correctly, a story that goes back to the Bronze Age), and what the consequences of the trial have been for Western Civilization.

For more on Travis and the fantastic things he does, see his blog as well as the initiative he directs, the Video Games and Human Values Initiative.