Procedural History

I see this is my third post with this title. Ah well. Just playing with a script I found here

shawngraham$ python2
In the beginning there was “Baubrugrend Free State”, “Dominion of Clioriwen”
In that era, the people could bear it no longer, and so these ones rebelled from ‘Baubrugrend Free State’ ==> ‘Province of Vrevrela’
In that era, the people could bear it no longer, and so these ones rebelled from ‘Province of Vrevrela’ ==> ‘Free People’s Republic of Craepai’
It is a terrible thing when brothers fight. Thus ‘Free People’s Republic of Craepai’ became “Eiwerela”, “Broteuvallia”
It is a terrible thing when brothers fight. Thus ‘Dominion of Clioriwen’ became “Duchy of Corica”, “Orican Republic”
The thirst for new lands, new glory, and the desire to distract the people, led to new conquests ‘Duchy of Corica’ conquered ‘Eiwerela’
The thirst for new lands, new glory, and the desire to distract the people, led to new conquests ‘Duchy of Corica’ conquered ‘Broteuvallia’
The thirst for new lands, new glory, and the desire to distract the people, led to new conquests ‘Duchy of Corica’ conquered ‘Orican Republic’
In that era, the people could bear it no longer, and so these ones rebelled from ‘Duchy of Corica’ ==> ‘United States of Heukan’
In that era, the people could bear it no longer, and so these ones rebelled from ‘United States of Heukan’ ==> ‘Kingdom of Amoth’
END “Kingdom of Amoth”

The script can also make a nice diagram; now to get it to write the history AND the diagram at the same time.

The directionality of the arrows is a bit confusing. You almost have to read it backwards. However, since it is just a .dot file, I think I can probably load it into something like yEd and make a prettier timeline.

update I’ve added Tracery to the script, made the output a bit more lyrical:

> shawngraham$ python2

Gather by, young ones, and let me tell you of our nations and peoples.

In the beginning there was “Duchy of Corica”

These people shared a single peninsula, shielded from the rest of the world by tall mountains.

Flooding ruined the crops; the famine weakened them all and so, ‘Duchy of Corica’ dissolved in fragments, eventually becoming “Province of Eabloris” and “Voches” and “Uamafai “

A few years later, the strength of the people could bear it no longer, and they rose up in violent revolution. The old ‘Province of Eabloris’ was no more; a new dawn broke on ‘Heawoth’.

As it came to pass, the Queen gave up power and fled into exile. The old ‘Heawoth’ was no more; a new dawn broke on ‘Iroa’

Flooding ruined the crops; the famine weakened them all and so,“Uamafai ” and “Voches” became ‘Eiwerela’.

As it came to pass, the Satrap gave up power and fled into exile. The old ‘Eiwerela’ was no more; a new dawn broke on ‘Oyune’

Low cunning and high treachery divided them and so, ‘Oyune’ dissolved in fragments, eventually becoming “Broteuvallia” and “Islands of Hekla” and “Kingdom of Abroth”.

Low cunning and high treachery divided them and so, ‘Islands of Hekla’ dissolved in fragments, eventually becoming “Satrapy of Yaislaxuin” and “Dominion of Clioriwen”.

The clouds grew dark, and hunger stalked the land, so sickness weakened them all and so, “Dominion of Clioriwen” and “Satrapy of Yaislaxuin” became ‘Kingdom of Amoth’.

The thirst for new lands, new glory, and the desire to distract the people, led to new conquests. ‘Broteuvallia’ conquered ‘Kingdom of Amoth’

A few years later, the Queen gave up power and fled into exile. The old ‘Iroa’ was no more; a new dawn broke on ‘Province of Vrevrela’

Standing proud upon the ruins there are only now “Broteuvallia”and “Kingdom of Abroth”and “Province of Vrevrela”.

(feature image: Chester Alvarez, Unsplash

Crafting Digital History Open Access Version Summer 2017

I’m teaching Crafting Digital History this summer (a course whose development was funded via eCampusOntario to whom I am grateful). It’s currently at its max enrolment – 60 students. But if you’d like to follow along, I have created a Slack for you and your fellow travellers; you can jump down the rabbit hole at

The course uses an instance of the DHBox  as our laboratory. I didn’t want to be doing tech support for all the myriad computer setups I might encounter, so thanks to Andrew Pullin and Doug Howe of Carleton’s Computer Science Department, and Steve Zweible of CUNY, we have our own version! Open Access participants should go to the main DHBox website, click ‘sign up’, and select the 1 month version. You should then be able to follow along without issue.

I’ll try to be active in that space at least once per day; feel free to ask questions and to connect with one another! Last time I did this, we had a core group of about 12 people. I really enjoyed learning from them. If the numbers are right, I might do a couple of google hangouts while I’m at it. Digital history – the nitty gritty of it – can drive you nuts as you try to learn it. The worst thing you can do is to try to suffer through it on your own. DigHist is at its best when it’s collaborative. So why not join us?


(Featured image by Andrew Neel)

Re-crafting Crafting Digital History

My Crafting Digital History course runs this summer. The reason for that is, I’m obliged (because of funding) to run it every calendar year, but of course, calendar years != academic years. I last ran it in the winter of 2016, and then promptly went on sabbatical. To make the calendar year square with the academic year, my only option then is to run it again in the summer term immediately after finishing my sabbatical.

All of this is to say, I find myself having to compress the course from 13 weeks down to 6 weeks. It was a pretty damned ambitious course for 13 weeks, designed to encourage students to learn a lot, to push a lot, to explore a lot, and to find value in the fail that will dog them. Unfortunately, my institution has done a lot to convince students that online courses = talking heads & multiple choice questions, so my fail-in-public schtick was always going to be a hard sell. And I also overwhelmed students, paradoxically, with too much choice and too much guidance! My attrition rates were pretty bad. 60 started, 25 finished. 20 dropped the first week when it became apparent that it wasn’t a multiple choice course, and another ten the following week when they decided to check in and discovered the same. I wrote to students frequently, encouraging them to get cracking, I held video chats, I was present in Slack every minute of every day (well, nearly every evening), I stood on my head and whistled glory hallelujah, but some students (of those who ultimately dropped it) didn’t turn up until the 10th week. Those who completed the work did amazing stuff… but only one decided to keep her domain after the year’s worth of hosting I paid for expired.

So, mea culpa certainly in some regards, but there’s something about horses & water that’s germane here…

Anyway, I’m now rebuilding the course. I’ve been reading Andrew Goldstone’s thoughts on teaching DH and Lincoln Mullen’s reflections on the same and I think I agree. I’ve been too hung up on the tech, and dealing with the small-c conservatism of History students about what ‘History’ is supposed to be about (“There’s a lot of deprogramming I have to do”, I remarked to a colleague. He responded, “and for the students, too!”). This time around, I’m going to spend less time on actual tech and tools, and more on cultivating the habits of mind that will enable the student to seek out the appropriate tool for the question they have. How to ask questions of more technically-minded folks. Where to find answers. They’re still going to learn some basic data literacy skills, but I’m thinking that with careful use of I can make this online course of some 50 (and climbing) students feel more like a seminar, more like a community, which I hope will alleviate some of the attrition rate. I’m privileged in that I’m now at a point in my career where attrition isn’t the awful will-I-lose-my-job bogeyman it was before. If this work, I’ll let y’all know so we can move forward together.

The other thing that the reworked class needs to do better is to narrow the universe of options. Before, I encouraged students to hunt datasets of interest down, or generate one themselves. Madness. This time around, we’ll work with one dataset and one dataset only: M.H. Beals’s ‘Scissors and Paste’ database of British newspapers from the 18th and 19th centuries.  The other thing I’ll be doing is weaving a continuing discussion around, as Lincoln puts it,

on how the historical sources of data that we are using were created and … how historians have used data analysis. That’s in addition to methodological readings which also deal with questions of historical thinking with data.

Here’s how I think it’ll go down:

  • domains of their own on which they’ll install WordPress and blog weekly about their fails, questions, and triumphs (a fail-blog, flog? see Mark Sample)
  • a github repo in which they’ll keep their actual notes working with their own machines. Copies of their terminal histories, that sort of thing.
  • hypothesis account with which they’ll annotate the readings, each other’s blogs, and notebooks
  • a final project visualizing some interesting pattern they’ve found in the database, which they’ll mount via their blog (or other tool courtesy of cpanel on their domain, if they’re feeling ambitious).
  • no more Slack. It worked great for some students, but for most, it was too far removed from what they were expecting. Pick your battles.

Tech topics for each week:

  1. How to read collaboratively. Setting up a domain of one’s own. Setting up a blog.
  2. Basic git. Setting up a research notebook repo (markdown). Newspaper database into CSVWTF. Data structures.
  3. Wget. Curl. Grabbing stuff from an API. TEI/XML.
  4. Regex. Networks.
  5. Voyant. Topic Model Gui Tool. Possibly simple webmapping by repurposing Matrix’s DAEA
  6. one week’s grace to recover. I’d love to teach them TWARC, twitter-bots, so many other things, so maybe I’ll do some small tutorials as time/interests permit.

As for readings, I’m putting that list together. But I’d be curious to hear what you recommend, or your thoughts on my plan.

What I did in the past, it was well thought out and well structured (ok, more or less) but it foundered on the rocks of experience. Or rather, it worked well for the 25 who got it, but it needs to be better to reach the other 35.

(By the way – I ran an open access version of the course last time, with its own Slack. That group of about a dozen interested individuals from around the world were great! So I’ll be doing that again as well. If you’re not at Carleton but are a student at an Ontarian university, you can also sign up for credit via eCampusOntario. If you’re not an Ontarian university but you’d still like to do this for credit, contact me right away and I think there are ways we can make that happen.)

Notes on running the DH-USB

Our digital archaeology textbook will be intertwined with an instance of the DHBox. One of the participants in that project is Jonathan Reeve, who has been building a version that runs off a bootable USB. So naturally, I had to give it a spin. I ran out, got a new usb stick and….

…had to figure out Bittorrent. Every time I went to install the client, every browser I had on every machine kept blocking it as malicious. Normally I can work around this sort of thing, but it was really pernicious. Turned out, my stable of computers were all quite happy with uTorrent instead. With that installed, I grabbed the torrent files from the DH-USB repository, and let them do their magic. It took 3 hrs to get the full .img file.

…had to figure out how to put that .img onto a usb stick such that it would be bootable. Unetbootin should’ve worked, but didn’t. In the end, I had to do it from the command line, per the ‘alternative instructions’:

MacOS: Identify the label of your USB drive with the command diskutil list. Then unmount the disk with diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskX, replacing diskX with your drive name. Finally, run sudo dd if=/path/to/dh-usb.img of=/dev/rdiskX bs=1m again replacing /path/to/dh-usb.img with the path to the .img file, and diskX with the name of your disk.

Then I had to figure out how to get the damned machines to boot from the stick rather than their own hard drive. On the Mac, this was easy – just hold the alt key down while the machine powers up, and you can then select the usb stick. NB: you can also, it seems, select whatever wifi network happens to be in the air at this stage, but if you do this (I did) everything will go sproing shortly thereafter and the stick won’t boot. So don’t do this. On the Windows 10 machine I had access to, booting up from a disk or stick is no longer the straight-forward ‘hold down f11’ or whatever anymore. No, you have to search for the ‘advanced startup’ options, and then find the boot from disk option, where  you specify the usb stick. THEN the machine powers down and up again… and will tell you that the security settings won’t let you proceed any further. Apparently, there’s a setting somewhere in the BIOS that you have to switch, but as it wasn’t my machine and I’d had enough, I abandoned it. Windows folks, godspeed. (Incidentally, for various reasons, computers much older than about five years are out of luck, as some key pieces of ur-code have changed in recent years:

[you need] a modern system that supports UEFI. Legacy BIOS boot may be possible, but it hasn’t been extensively tested

I had some other issues subsequent as I tried to install R and R Studio, but I’ve sorted those out with Jonathan and by the time you read this, they probably won’t be issues any more (but you can click on the ‘closed issues’ on the repo to see what my issues were). One thing that drove me nuts was trying to persuade Arch Linux to find the damned wifi.

I eventually stumbled across this re ubuntu:

so tried this:

$ lspci -vvnn | grep -A 9 Network

and saw that I had kernal modules: brcmfmac, wl, but none in use. So I tried this:

$ sudo modprobe brcmfmac

and ran the first command again; kernal now in use!

$ sudo wifi-menu

…and connected. Kept getting connection errors; went to settings > network and connected through there, ta da!


There you have it. A portable DH computer on a stick, ready to go. For use in classes, it’s easy enough to imagine just buying a bunch of usb sticks and filling them up with not only the computing parts but also the data sets, supporting documentation, articles etc and distributing them in class; for my online class this summer maybe the installation-onto-the-stick steps can be made more streamlined… of course, that’s what DH-Box prime is for, so I’ve asked the kind folks over in the school of computer science if they wouldn’t mind installing it on their open stack. We shall see.

Workshop on Networks & Simulation for the Humanities – Nov 9, Discovery Centre Macodrum Library

Carleton University, Ottawa, Macodrum Library Discovery Centre RM 481, 11 – 2

networks-simulation-workshop-imageUnderstanding the complexity of past and present societies is a challenge across the humanities. Simulation and network science provide computational tools for confronting these problems. This workshop will provide a hands-on introduction to two popular techniques, agent based modeling and social network analysis. The workshop has been designed with humanities students in mind, so no prior computer experience required.

The workshop is led by Tom Brughmans and Iza Romanowska of University of Konstanz and the University of Southampton, two of the leading digital archaeologists. Brughmans is co-editor of the recent volume, ‘The Connected Past: Challenges to Network Studies in Archaeology and History‘ published by Oxford University Press. Romanowska edits the scholarly blog ‘Simulating Complexity‘ and is a Fellow of the Software Sustainability Institute where she promotes the use of computational methods in the humanities

Please Pre-REGISTER at

The Robotic Edward Gibbon

Continuing on from yesterday’s post and the suggestion of Steve Leahy:

I have fed The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire into my neural network. What truths about Gibbon’s writing will be revealed? A first pass: footnotes!


[Footnote 42: Herodian and Marcus, videra de Mestaem.]
[Footnote 221: See the latter of Carthage, and they not in discipline his power in this present country, the attending states of the historians, and the whole senator, which aport the Imperial son and the states of the most army as the command, and their beautiful and singular instances probable to the accustomed and public enemy. The flower of his soldiers was a magnificent spirit of one hundred and even, whose revenge in which his death, for under the emperor was the frontiers of the Hustilians. (See Palegyria, l. xiii. c. 2) in the collection of their taughters. In the emperor Maximian had renewed the mind of the mention of the conduct of the Greeks, and the great human accompanient of the whole hears of the Bratish ineffection. See the ministers of his erections and long tribes who had atthibuted a carable of military grandacts, the fixed of the death, the empire, and who gable to possess the superior successors of the throne, but even the tribunes, were filled as having thrown a proper entire, which they assembled a fliend the two triumphal princes, the accused of the nations of Augustus, in the conduct of the Gallienus.]

[Footnote 35: Adopis, is of these generils of his monarchys of the End and military enjoyments. The consuls of Valerian followed the applausing of the army. [32] Had obtained on the tenting of the little distinction of the conquest of their manners. They were been disciplined by their government which were the guards of particulars and accused of the first names of a luxury of their insolence, and the expedition of the emperor Maximian from the collected sentence of the son who shared the son of the Arminian greatness, supposed to the former the three were cluins, which had only distributed the senate had the honor and expression of the empire. The ancient world, and the first defence of the army alled the military property.]


I waited for quite some time, then ran it again with the temperature dialed close to 0. When you have things arranged that way, you get a sense of the core issues apparent in the writer. In Mr. Gibbon’s case:


The senate was the senate and the senate and the senate and the constitution…The provinces of the Romans were supported by the soldiers who had been subsisted by the emperor the senate, and the provinces of the emperor was confined to the provinces of the senate, and the constitution of the emperor was supported by the soldiers of the Roman empire


No surprises there: Roman history is political history. But if we dial the temperature all the other way, we get a bit more creativity, a bit more … humanity… in the writing:


The Roman Empire was related by the immediate and refulary influence of its expiess in faction: which became the multitude of poperal prophet, which can the most sepurity from every prince, who admitted, in a country of importance and successful sense, or attended on this prince to divide a magnificence, particularly formed from his life and name. When Diocletian was a common tolerant murder of polished the latter, which must have could be found in the remainder, which is safe by Trajan, as the Agrispan and a hundred emperors, the theatres of emperor inferiors in fortifications of ancient pity, which cut the confession of the former disciplined Aurelian into a single and powerful design of attributes, and more sounded and became a sense of stones, they against his superiority of conquest and inconsiderable successors.

[Footnote 23: The Porticular might recover on the acclamations of the Several assent of various numbers and his own historian, to expect with the object of the history of the Paastis, considerated them to the separate respect of the world from the easy on the choice of Herodian. The contemporary church of Decia, and Shohians in the successors of Therspation; [14] the title of Goths and garding of the Romans deperded by their virtues under the conference of his possession.

[Footnote 83: See the city of Maximian into which it any life is impossible against the family of his own provinces. It is by preserved, that Sirman is supplied by the Gibbon sesters, and provided like the throne and his declining antiquity, and described the funishmentang and foundation of climate, by religious and the emperor of their government, formed contest to destroy the wails, expired them, and dreaded the villages of the most noble respectable taxes, both supported their consulship. A serious party the creation of government were alleged to the barbarians of his accounts the prudence of the three country, and in the enterprises of the larger Galicies.


For the Terry Pratchett fans amongst you, all of this is probably an abomination unto Nuggan.


update: at around 8000 and 8500 iterations, we’ve got this: and Now I shall feed it every blog post from this blog…

On Punctuation

Posters of various literary works by Nicholas Rougeux – as represented by the punctuation therein- have been doing the rounds lately. They’re lovely; in the absence of words we intuit something of the nature of the work from the pauses, the parenthesis, the short staccato dashes and dots; a kind of telegraphy of meaning.

Adam Calhoun posted some of his own reflections on this kind of work, and helpfully, posted some python code for doing the same. Now, one might want to adjust the resulting output to be more wonderfully evocative as Rougeux’s work does, but for getting started, it’s a great little piece of code.

So I had to try it out. Behold! The sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr-Traill both published reflections on life in the wilds of Canada in the 19th century, and happily, both ‘Roughing it in the Bush‘ and ‘The Backwoods of Canada‘ are available on the Gutenberg Project. So what does the punctuation reveal about the sisters’ characterization of Canada / literary style?

A detail of the opening of Roughing it in the Bush:

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.29.36 AM

… you can really see changes in style quite clearly this way – what appears to be bits of dialogue and then lots and lots of exposition.

A detail of the opening of The Backwoods of Canada:

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.32.06 AM

…certainly a very different style, that much is clear. More variety? More richness? Someday, I must actually go and *read* these things… Today’s post is just really a reminder to myself to come back to all of this.

postscript Sebastian Heath mused on twitter about sonifying this punctuation; I immediately thought that drums would be the best way to do that. So I mapped the ascii values for the punctuation to sound, and I’ve started to play around. Have a listen:



Can we fix it? Yes we can! #DHAnnotates Feb 8-12

With apologies to Bob the Builder, and perhaps also Obama.


In my graduate seminar on digital/public history, I framed the course as ‘Digital History Methods as Public History Performance’. I did this deliberately to riff on my colleague David Dean’s amazing seminar and research on perfoming history; students in that class were making videos, writing music, putting on vignettes. It’s been amazing to watch. But digital history methods as performance? I wanted to suggest to my students that working with digitized materials necessarily involves a performative element, even if that element is hidden away in the final published works (where eg we pretend we actually consulted the 1856, June 15th edition of the Globe and Mail). My goal then for the course was to expose these, and by doubling down on the ‘how to’, the ‘why should I’ and the ‘what’s in it for me’ naturally would emerge.

Thus, the seminar presentations are not on various readings, but rather, on the various tutorials of the Programming Historian. The task of the discussion leader is to tie the method into their thesis research, into the readings from other classes, into the wider world of historical meaning-making. (I do give them some suggestions to read, of course). The final project involves making some sort of public-facing object “using the tools of gaming, a work of digital history that simultaneously explores, comments, critiques, or teaches, digital history.”

Meanwhile, Amanda Visconti and I had been talking about some sort of collaborative project to annotate a crucial text in the digital humanities world using the tool. That is, a public work of digital humanities that simultaneously explores, comments, critiques, or teaches, digital humanities. Worlds have collided! So here’s the plan:

Collaborative Annotation Fest #DHannotates

  1. Create an account on Hypothesis.
  2. During the week of February 8-12 visit the Programming Historian’s lessons and see what other annotations people have left.
  3. Try out some of the lessons, and leave annotations on the page that discuss where things went well, went off the rails, remind you of some other useful resource, reply to others’ annotations (Hypothesis allows for threaded conversations in the annotations) or whatever kind of note strikes you.
  4. Tweet the link to your annotation with the tag #dhannotates .
  5. Amanda and I will monitor the tweets and the feed of annotations. If you get stuck, or you need help, feel free to tweet or email Amanda or myself (@Literature_Geek or @electricarchaeo)

Won’t you join us? Friends don’t let friends do #dh alone!

For more on the nuts-and-bolts of annotation and how Amanda and I plan to support you all, please see her post

Reactions to Battlefield Recovery episode 1

Battlefield Recovery, an execrable show that turns the looting of war dead into ‘entertainment’, was shown on Saturday on Channel 5 in the UK. I won’t dignify it by linking to it; instead see this article in the Guardian.

I wondered however what the tweeting public thought about the show – keeping in mind that Channel 5 viewers may or may not be the same kinds of folks who engage with Twitter. I used Ed Summer’s TWARC to collect approximately 3600 tweets (there are likely many more, but the system timed out). The file containing the IDs of all of these tweets is available here. You can use this file in conjuction with TWARC to recover all of the tweets and their associated metadata for yourself (which is approximately 19 mb worth of text). You can explore the language of the tweets for yourself via Voyant-Tools.

So the most retweeted interventions show a pretty strong signal of disapproval. I have not looked into users’ profiles to see whether or not folks identify as archaeologists. Nor have I mapped users’ networks to see how far these messages percolated, and into what kinds of communities. This is entirely possible to do of course, but this post just represents a first pass at the data.

Let’s look at the patterns of language in the corpus of tweets as a whole. I used the LDAVis package for R to create an interactive visualization of topics within the corpus, fitting it to 20 topics as a first stab. You can play with the visualization here. If you haven’t encountered topic modeling yet, it’s a technique to reverse engineer a corpus into the initial ‘topics’ from which the writers wrote (could have written). So, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not ‘truth’ we’re seeing here, but a kind of intellectual thought exercise: if there were 20 topics that capture the variety of discourse expressed in these tweets, what would they look like? The answer is, quite a lot of outrage, dismay, and disappointment that this TV show was aired. Look particular at say topic 8 or topic 3, and ‘disgust’. Topic 1, which accounts for the largest slice of the corpus, clearly shows how the discussants on twitter were unpacking the rebranding of this show from its previous incarnation as ‘Nazi War Diggers’, and the pointed comments at Clearstory Uk, the producers of Battlefield Recovery.

We can also look at patterns in the corpus from the point of view of individual words, imagining the interrelationships of word use as a kind of spatial map (see Ben Schmidt, Word Embeddings). If you give it a word – or a list of words – the approach will return to you words that are close in terms of their use. It’s a complementary approach to topic models. So, I wanted to see what terms were in the same vector as the name of the show & its producers (I’m using R). I give it this:

some_terms = nearest_to(model,model[[c("battlefieldrecovery", "naziwardiggers", "clearstoryuks")]],150)

And I see the interrelationships like so:

…a pretty clear statement about what 3600 tweets felt, in aggregate along this particular vector. Of the tweets I saw personally (I follow a lot of archaeologists), there was an unequivocal agreement that what this show was doing was no better than looting. With word vectors, I can explore the space between pairs of binaries. So let’s assume that ‘archaeologist’ and ‘looter’ are opposite ends of a spectrum. I can plot this using this code:

actor_vector = model[["archaeologists"]] - model[["looters"]]
word_scores = data.frame(word=rownames(model))
word_scores$actor_score = model %>% cosineSimilarity(actor_vector) %>% as.vector

ggplot(word_scores %>% filter(abs(actor_score)>.725)) + geom_bar(aes(y=actor_score,x=reorder(word,actor_score),fill=actor_score<0),stat="identity") + coord_flip()+scale_fill_discrete("words associated with",labels=c("archaeologist","looter")) + labs(title="The words showing the strongest skew along the archaeologist-looter binary")

which gives us:

You can see some individual usernames in there; to be clear, this isn’t equating those individuals with ‘archaeologist’ or ‘looter’, rather, tweets mentioning those individuals tend to be RT’ing them or they themselves are using language or discussing these particular aspects of the show. I’m at a loss to explain ‘muppets’. Perhaps that’s a term of derision.

So, as far as this analysis goes – and one ought really to map how far and into what communities these messages penetrate – I’d say on balance, the twittersphere was outraged at this television ‘show’. As Nick said,



The humane hack – a snippet of an argument

[this is the snippet of an argument, and all that I’ve managed to produce today for #AcWriMo. I kinda like it though and offer it up for consumption, rough edges, warts, and all.  It emerges out of something Shawn Anctil said recently about ‘the Laws of Cool‘ when we were talking about his comps which happen this Thursday. In an effort to get my head around what he said, I started to write. This might make it into a piece on some of my recent sound work. Alan Liu’s stuff is always wonderful to read because it turns my head inside out, and I make no warrant that I am doing justice to Alan’s ideas. It’s been a while since I last looked, and I realize I really need to block out several days to do this properly. Anyway, working in public, fail gloriously, etc etc, i give you a snippet of an argument:]

Alan Liu, in 2004, wondered what the role of the arts and humanities was in an age of knowledge work, of deliverables, of an historical event horizon that only goes back the last financial quarter.  He examined the idea of ‘knowledge work’ and teased out how much of the driving force behind it is in pursuit of the ‘cool’. Through a deft plumbing of the history of the early internet (and in particular, riffing on Netscape’s ‘what’s cool?’ page from 1996 and their inability to define it except to say that they’d know it when they saw it ), Liu argues that cool is ‘the aporia of information… cool is information designed to resist information [emphasis original]… information fed back into its own signal to create a standing interference pattern, a paradox pattern’ (Liu, 2004: 179).  The latest web design, the latest app, the latest R package for statistics, the latest acronym on Twitter where all the digital humanists play: cool, and dividing the world.

That is, Liu argued that ‘cool’ was amongst other things a politics of knowledge work, a practice and ethos. He wondered how we might ‘challenge knowledge work to open a space, as yet culturally sterile (coopted, jejune, anarchistic, terroristic), for a more humane hack of contemporary knowledge?’ (Liu 2004: 9). Liu goes on to discuss how the tensions of ‘cool’ in knowledge work (for us, read: digital archaeology) also intersects with an ethos of the unknown, that is, of knowledge workers who work nowhere else somehow manage to stand outside that system of knowledge production. (Is alt-ac ‘alt’ partially because it is the cool work?). This matters for us as archaeologists. There are many ‘cool’ things happening in digital archaeology that somehow do not penetrate into the mainstream (such as it is). The utilitarian dots-on-a-map were once cool, but are now pedestrian. The ‘cool’ things that could be, linger on the fringes. If they did not, they wouldn’t be cool, one supposes. They resist.

To get that more humane hack that Liu seeks, Liu suggests that the historical depth that the humanities provides counters the shallowness of cool:

“The humanities thus have an explanation for the new arts of the information age, whose inheritance of a frantic sequence of artistic modernisms, postmodernisms, and post-postmodernists is otherwise only a displaced encounter with the raw process of historicity. Inversely, the arts offer the humanities serious ways of engaging – both practically and theoretically- with “cool”. Together, the humanities and arts might be able to offer a persuasive argument for the humane arts in the age of knowledge work” 2004:381.

In which case, the emergence of digital archaeologists and historians in the last decade might be the loci of the humane hacks – if we move into that space where we engage the arts.

We need to be making art.


If I could read your mind – Sonifying John Adams’ Diary

Maybe the question isn’t one of reading someone’s thoughts, but rather, listening to the overall pattern of topics within them. Topic modeling does some rather magical things. It imposes sense (it fits a model) onto a body of text. The topics that the model duly provide us with insight into the semantic patterns latent within the text (but see Ben Schmidts WEM approach which focuses on systems of relationships in the words themselves – more on this anon). There are a variety of ways emerging for visualizing these patterns. I’m guilty of a few myself (principally, I’ve spent a lot of time visualizing the interrelationships of topics as a kind of network graph, eg this). But I’ve never been happy with them because they often leave out the element of time. For a guy who sometimes thinks of himself as an archaeologist or historian, this is a bit problematic.

I’ve been interested in sonification for some time, the idea that we represent data (capta) aurally. I even won an award for one experiment in this vein, repurposing the excellent scripts of the Data Driven DJ, Brian Foo. What I like about sonification is that the time dimension becomes a significant element in how the data is represented, and how the data is experienced (cf. this recent interview on Spark with composer/prof Chris Chafe). I was once the chapel organist at Bishop’s University (I wasn’t much good, but that’s a story for another day) so my interest in sonification is partly in how the colour of music, the different instrumentation and so on can also be used to convey ideas and information (rather than using algorithmically purely generated tones; I’ve never had much formal musical training, so I know there’s a literature and language to describe what I’m thinking that I simply must go learn. Please excuse any awkawrdness).

So – let’s take a body of text, in this case the diaries of John Adams.  I scraped these, one line per diary entry (see this csv we prepped for our book, the Macroscope). I imported into R and topic modeled for 20 topics. The output is a monstrous csv showing the proportion each topic contributes to the entire diary entry (so each row adds to 1). If you use conditional formatting in Excel, and dial the decimal places to 2, you get a pretty good visual of which topics are the major ones in any given entry (and the really minor ones just round to 0.00, so you can ignore them).

It rather looks like an old-timey player piano roll:

Player Piano Anyone?

I then used ‘Musical Algorithms‘ one column at a time to generate a midi file. I’ve got the various settings in a notebook at home; I’ll update this post with them later. I then uploaded each midi file (all twenty) into GarageBand in the order of their complexity – that is, as indicated by file size:

Size of a file indicates the complexity of the source. Isn’t that what Claude Shannon taught us?

The question then becomes: which instruments do I assign to what topics? In this, I tried to select from the instruments I had readily to hand, and to select instruments whose tone/colour seemed to resonate somehow with the keywords for each topic. Which gives me a selection of brass instruments for topics relating to governance (thank you, Sousa marches); guitar for topics connected perhaps with travels around the countryside (too much country music on the radio as a child, perhaps); strings for topics connected with college and studying (my own study music as an undergrad influencing the choice here); and woodwinds for the minor topics and chirp and peek here and there throughout the text (some onomatopoeia I suppose).

Garageband’s own native visualization owes much to the player piano aesthetic, and so provides a rolling visualization to accompany the music. I used quicktime to grab the garageband visuals, and imovie to marry the two together again, since qt doesn’t grab the audio generated within the computer. Then I changed the name of each of the tracks to reflect the keywords for that topic.

Drumroll: I give you the John Adams 20: