A Not-So-Innocent Abroad: Presenting at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference

HEADERWhen I use the phrase “digital humanities,” what comes to mind? Humans using machines to analyze what makes us human? Machines pretending to be humans? A T-800 model Terminator quoting Shakespeare?

"It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. Also, prepare to die, human scum!"

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Turns out, it’s a trick question, because no one really agrees on what “digital humanities” means for sure.

That’s a big takeaway I got from a three-day conference on digital humanities (DH) held at the University of Pennsylvania last week. But the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference wasn’t just an opportunity for me to refine my ambiguity detection skills; it was actually a great opportunity to present not once but twice to a room full of humanists, librarians, archivists, scholars and generally intelligent people.

For this particular trip – my first to Philadelphia, as it turns out – I decided to capture some of my thoughts and experiences on video and to share them here in this blog post. Yes, friends: I have crossed into VLOGGING. Can viral fame be far behind? (Spoiler alert: Yes, it can, and should be.)

My first video observation actually addresses something that happened while my plane was on the tarmac at DFW International Airport, and it involves one of the most divisive subjects of our time: selfie sticks.

 

I know I’m treading dangerously close to “old man yells at cloud” territory here, but for real? You need that many versions of three people sitting on a plane, seen from an elevated angle? Oh, and they took more selfies in front of the baggage carousel.

keystone_blog-01But it actually ties in with one of the recurring themes of the conference, as it would turn out: documenting our human experience and using digital tools to tell the story of who we are as human beings. Which begs the question: what are the digital humanities, anyway?

Oh, the (Digital) Humanities!

For a quick definition of DH, let’s turn to our good friend Wikipedia:

Digital humanities is an area of research and teaching at the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. Developing from the fields of humanities computing, humanistic computing,[2] and digital humanities praxis ([3]) digital humanities embraces a variety of topics, from curating online collections to data mining large cultural data sets. Digital humanities (often abbreviated DH) currently incorporates both digitized and born-digital materials and combines the methodologies from traditional humanities disciplines (such as history, philosophy, linguistics, literature, art, archaeology, music, and cultural studies) and social sciences [4] with tools provided by computing (such as data visualisation, information retrieval, data mining, statistics, text mining, digital mapping), and digital publishing.

That’s a lot to wrap one’s head around! I think of it this way: we’re using computers and computerized data to mine, examine, interpret and provide access to centuries of human intellectual output. Per the definition above, we most fully “do” digital humanities at the Digital Projects Group (DPG) by providing access to large sets of data formatted as digital collections. For every project we put online, there are numerous avenues for scholars and humanists to take the collections, evaluate them, look for patterns and, perhaps, see something new and exciting in the process.

I’ll be honest at this point and say that there were some super intelligent – almost scary smart – people at this conference, and that made the whole “presenting on things you do for work” thing more intimidating than I had anticipated. I mean, these are people who use words like “legomenology” and “praxis” in casual conversation. What might they think about our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project or my work managing our social media a the DPG? Most of them have probably only ever heard of Baylor in terms of our famous president/amazing riverside stadium, right?

Those questions would be asked over the course of three days at the beautiful Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts on the Penn campus, housed in the Van Pelt Library. If you’re wondering how to find that library, just look for the giant broken button on the sidewalk outside. Behold!

Want a closer look at that button? Here ya go!

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Most of the sessions took place in a really cool space in the middle of the sixth floor. Some attendees likened it to being in a fishbowl, but I loved it.

keystone_blog-03During some down time on the second day, I went to a truly unique historic site: the Eastern State Penitentiary. It’s considered America’s first true “penitentiary,” in that it put all of its prisoners in solitary cells and did everything possible to make them feel repentant for what they did. This was opposed to the usual way of locking people up, which was basically throwing as many people into a cramped holding area as possible and hoping they didn’t murder each other before sunup. So, you know: progress!

The site was amazing. It has been kept as a “preserved ruin” for decades, with only minimal repairs made to show what it looked like in its original form. That’s not to say they haven’t made it really visitor friendly, though. There’s tons of great signage, and a wonderful audio tour narrated by Steve Buscemi. Folks, this thing was worth every nickel of the admission price. Oh, and if that’s not enough, there was a sign in an exhibit that gave the name of the group that got the whole thing started (which included Ben Franklin as a member, natch): The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. My goal before I retire is to borrow that name and modify it for use as an official library committee name.

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In our next video clip, I give you a curator’s-eye-view of the inside of a cell, and I make a joke about working in a cube farm. Enjoy!


Don’t feel too bad for old Al, though. Given the fact that he was already famous when he stayed here, the powers that be saw to it that his accommodations were pretty far above the usual prisoner’s setup. To wit:

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Back to the idea of humanities, digital or otherwise: the museum used data about incarceration rates to make this cool infographic/sculpture in the prison yard. I thought it was a very effective and creative way of visualizing the data set.

keystone_blog-06Back at the conference, my first talk was a digital showcase on the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. I told the assembled crowd of attendees – which, because this was the sole presentation in that time slot for the day, was almost every person at the conference! – about the BGMRP, how it came into existence, and what kinds of research areas a digital humanist might find buried in the collection. Afterward, I got lots of nice feedback and some very interesting ideas about how to make the collection more useful to scholars. One idea that was proposed more than once was to provide transcriptions of the lyrics for songs in the collection, something that would allow DHers to run data analysis on recurring words, grammatical structure, use of metaphor/simile/allusion, etc. This could be a really cool Phase II or III for the project and I was definitely interested in hearing what folks from across the country had to say about one of our highest profile projects.

I was so jazzed about the presentation that I address it – and one of the big reasons to live in a city other than Waco – in this next video!


I mean, seriously: have you people ever HAD Dunkin’s iced coffee?

My next presentation was a long paper on “How to Keep the ‘Humanity’ in Digital Humanities Social Media.” I basically ran down some ideas about finding a voice for your collections, looking into the different social media platforms for the right fit, and then an overview of the ways we’re using social media to promote the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.  It was another successful presentation, IMHO, and prompted an appropriate amount of laughter when I told them we used this blog to promote our School of Music Programs by writing an open letter to an actor from “The Walking Dead.” My observations, in video form!


Oh, and my presentation took place in a room with this view:

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Not too shabby!

I’ll close this post by saying that attending this conference was enormously helpful from a content creator’s perspective because it gave me some great insights into how scholars, faculty and other users are utilizing the kinds of resources we put onto the web, and it gave me great ideas for how to further enhance our collections so that they’re as useful, findable and impactful as possible. And lastly, it gave me a great quote from keynote speaker Dr. Miriam Posner of UCLA, which I’ll present here as one of those “unrelated image/quote/speaker” memes, because I love them.

miriam_quoteAnd in case you’re thinking, after all that, that all I did in Philadelphia was eat cheesesteaks and visit museums, here’s pictorial evidence of me talking to a crowd, courtesy Amelia Longo, via Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 4.06.11 PMOh, and for the record: Geno’s Cheesesteaks 4 life.


The Keystone Digital Humanities Conference website has a full list of the speakers and attendees for your consideration. To see all the Twitter backchatter, search for #keydh. The portrait of sassy Ben Franklin is from the collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a.k.a. the place with the Rocky steps.

“Sound in Collections” Episode 3: Giving “Pie Man” The “Serial” Treatment

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By now, you’ve likely heard of the NPR-based podcast Serial, a weekly serialization of an investigation into a 1999 murder case in Baltimore, Maryland. Journalist Sarah Koenig narrates the This American Life spinoff that has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning hotly contested activity across the Internet (most notoriously on a very active subreddit) and its own meta-podcasts where people dissect the way the original podcast was created. It is endlessly listenable, and highly worth your time. At its heart is the human need to dive into a complex story where no one is a clear-cut hero, and only the victim is easily identified.

Inspired by this 21st century investigation into a 20th century crime, I decided to launch an investigation of my own into something documented in the pages of The Lariat, our campus newspaper. It comes from the December 8, 1988 edition, and it deals with a sneak attack by an entity (or entities?) known as Pie Man. Obviously, it’s not nearly as serious as the topic covered by Serial, but it has enough mystery, late-1980’s flair and lingering questions that I thought it would be fun to see what we can discover about a spate of dessert-based sneak attacks that plagued the campus in the waning years of the Reagan administration. (Potential spoiler: President Reagan visited campus in September 1988, the first event held at the Ferrell Center. The event outlined below took place in December 1988. Coincidence? [Probably.])

Our latest edition of the “Sound in Collections” podcast explores the Pie Man saga in the instantly familiar tone of an episode of Serial. We hope you’ll enjoy it – and that Sarah Koenig, Ira Glass et al. will see it with the obvious love and respect with which it was created. Enjoy!

Click Play in the window below to play the episode, or click the down arrow to download the MP3.

Additional Resources

The Original Story

The best documentation of the “Pie Man” saga comes via a story in The Lariat written by reporter Preston Smith. We’ll reproduce it here verbatim so you get a full sense of the magnitude of the events in question.

Pie Man hits man in class

By Preston Smith, Lariat Reporter

A man entered a class in the Hankamer School of Business at about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday and struck a student in the face with a pie, Chris Colihan, a student in the class said.

The man had long, black curly hair and was wearing a concert T-shirt.

The institution of the Pie Man was assumed over when Baylor police apprehended him in a sting operation earlier in the semester.

Colihan said he was in Professor Leslie Rasner’s Business Law 3305 class when he heard the door to the class open. He said the assailant came into the room, shouted an expletive at a student, hit him in the face with a pie and then ran out of the room.

Jim Wyatt, the student who fell victim to the new Pie Man, said that the incident happened so fast he never saw his attacker.

“I was just sitting in class looking at my notes when I heard this guy say ‘hey’ and then I looked up into a pie,” he said.

Wyatt said the pie was all over his face and glasses, so he went to the restroom to clean up.

Witnesses said the class was laughing about the incident when Wyatt left the room, but the Pie Man would soon strike again.

When Wyatt went to the restroom, he still could not see because of the cream covering his face, so he was not ready for the Pie Men waiting for him in the bathroom.

The assailants struck him with several more pies, but he still never saw the attackers, he said.

Rasner said Wyatt came back into the room and said, “There was more of them in the bathroom.” Wyatt was completely covered in pie cream, he said.

At this point, several students ran to the bathroom to catch the pie men but found the bathroom empty. Wyatt gathered his books and went home, Rasner said.

The class was just beginning to settle when the Pie Man made a third appearance.

The class heard running in the hall, and then the Pie Man opened the door, stuck his head into the class, and yelled, “Hey Gina, you’re next,” Rasner said. Students in the class immediately ran out the door in pursuit of the man, he said.

Steven Spoonemore, a student who chased the Pie Man, said the assailant was already out of the building when he entered the hall. Spoonemore and the other students ran out separate doors to the outside of the building and saw the Pie Man running to a get-away car parked behind the business school.

Spoonemore chased the Pie Man to the other side of the car. The Pie Man shouted at the girl driving the car to “move over” and then got into the driver’s seat of the car, Spoonemore said.

Spoonemore said that Larry Vasbinder, another student involved in the chase, was trying to get into the passenger side of the car, while he forced his way into the driver’s seat with the Pie Man.

“I jumped into the car and turned it off twice, but I wasn’t able to get the keys out of the ignition,” he said.

Spoonemore said the Pie Man was screaming at him, and the woman in the car was screaming at him and hitting him.

Chris Moseley, another witness to the incident, said Spoonemore stayed in the car until it ran a stop sign at about 20 mph. He then pushed himself out of the car and rolled several times on the street.

After the episode, students had mixed reactions to the Pie Man. Wyatt, who said he had “no idea” who was behind the plot, brushed the incident off as a joke.

“I’m kind of laughing about it now,” he said. “It tasted pretty good anyway.”

Gina Gee, the woman whom the Pie Man threatened in class, said, “It really upset me. I have no connection with the guy who got it in the first place.”

Rasner had stronger feelings on the Pie Man. “If I had a deadly weapon I would use it in my defense,” Rasner said. “It is embarrassing. It is degrading. This just should not go on in a university – it is past a joke.”

The Baylor Department of Public Safety was contacted on the incident but the director could not be reached for comment.

A Timeline of the Events of Fall 1988, the “Autumn of Pie Man”

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Read All Issues of the Lariat with “Pie Man” Related Content

 

 

Spotlight On Graduate Student Scholarship: Digital Exhibits From MST 5327, Archival Technology and Digital Collections Management

One of the great privileges afforded by my work with our digital collections is the opportunity I’ve earned to teach some of Baylor’s finest graduate students from the Department of Museum Studies. Over the past three years, I’ve taught several courses on technology, marketing, historic preservation and digital archival management, and I can say that it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.

Following the success of a combined technology/marketing course first offered in the Spring 2013 semester, I worked with the MST department and my excellent supervisory chain in the libraries to split that coursework into two new courses: Archival Technology and Digital Collections Management (Fall 2014) and Outreach and Community Relations (Spring 2015).

For the Archival Technology course this semester (which was limited to second-year students only), their capstone project was to create a new digital exhibit using curated materials from our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. In this post, I’m excited to reveal the excellent work they’ve done, and to encourage you to check out their insights into four themes that interweave the collection: dance, humor, love and war.

Each student chose their own pieces from the more than 5,600 pieces in the digital collection that illustrated their assigned themes. They chose the WordPress templates and plugins they felt best displayed their work, and the contextual research they conducted helped make the topic more relatable and enhanced users’ engagement with the items from the collection. In short, they had total editorial and creative control on their exhibits, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Without further ado, I present the capstone projects of MST 5327: Archival Technology and Digital Archival Management!

Click the image of each project’s homepage to access the exhibit.


Let’s Dance! Dance in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Popular Sheet Music (Jennifer Browder)

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Humor in Music of the Early 20th Century (Becca Reynolds)

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American Diversity and Love in Early 20th Century Popular Music (Raquel Gibson)

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Masculinity and Music in Turn of the Century America: An Examination of the Spencer Music Library (Erik Swanson)

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Big thanks to Becca, Erik, Jennifer and Raquel for their outstanding work this semester. You can learn more about the Baylor University Department of Museum Studies at their website or on Facebook

Unheard for 100 Years No Longer: A Graduate Student Adds Audio to Selections from the Spencer Collection

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For the past two semesters, the DPG has been working with Baylor University Museum Studies graduate student Hannah Haney Lovell on her graduate project, which involved adding a batch of new items to the Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music and enhancing them with recorded audio versions of those pieces. Last Friday, Hannah successfully defended her project in front of a group of her peers and the Museum Studies faculty, so we wanted to give a brief recap of her work here on our blog to celebrate!

Getting Started

Hannah came to me in the summer of 2013 after speaking with graduate adviser Dr. Julie Holcomb about what form Hannah’s final project for her master’s degree should take. After discussing several options, we settled on her working with the Spencer Collection in some capacity; given Hannah’s love of and background in music, it seemed like a natural fit. I agreed to serve as her project adviser, and she quickly set to work identifying materials to digitize as part of our ongoing work to digitize and catalog the sheet music from the Spencer Collection.

Hannah chose the subject area of Silent Movies as her starting point. Mrs. Spencer had assigned a large number of titles to this homegrown category, and the pieces included songs from actual movies as well as pieces inspired by movie stars, the social aspects of going to the movies and more. Hannah chose 155 items from the Silent Movies category and set about digitizing them on our newly-acquired CopiBook HD scanner. In fact, she was the first person to thoroughly utilize its scanning capabilities, as hers was the first project to get started up after it arrived in the RDC. (Thanks to Hannah for being a good sport/guinea pig for us!)

The Trouble With Scheduling

Digitizing the materials went smoothly, and Hannah generated a series of scans to be sent to our off-site music cataloging contractor, Flourish. Flourish takes the materials we send them and creates rich metadata files for us to add to the digital object once it’s ready for upload. Hannah incorporated Flourish’s metadata with her scans and added the 155 pieces to the Spencer Collection during the Fall 2013 semester.

All along, Hannah and I had planned on adding an audio component to her pieces that would enhance the user experience by giving them a tangible sample of what these pieces sounded like when performed by musicians and vocalists. Hannah spent many hours working to schedule performers from several student music performance groups who had volunteered to add their piano performances and/or vocal performances to the project, and we scheduled a recording session for a Monday night in late February.

The drawback to relying on undergraduate students – who are, by nature, a harried and … well, sometimes flaky bunch – is that they tend to need lots of corralling and getting them to stick to a plan is difficult. Unfortunately, through no fault of Hannah’s, the various performers who had committed to help with the recording process had to back out at the last minute; a rescheduled date for the following week met a similar untimely end.

Rather than get discouraged, Hannah came up with an alternative: using a music generation software called Finale, she would utilize the scans of the sheet music to create high-quality MIDI files of a subset of the collection. This would give users an example of the piano part and a computer-generated vocal line of the main melody, resulting in a very representative example of what the pieces sounded like without relying on human performers (and their tendencies to have busy lives, scheduling conflicts, etc.).

Ultimately, Hannah generated MIDI files for five pieces from her curated collection of scores, a remarkable turnaround in the last few days running up to her schedule defense date. The resulting pieces are listed below; the audio files are presented as MP3s within the structure of each score’s digital compound object.

Hannah’s project taught us a lot about enhancing our digital collections, including alternatives to live performances, selecting materials from a larger sample, and insights into how to utilize student labor to its best effect.

We extend our congratulations to Hannah on her successful completion of her project, and we’re thankful for the work she’s done for us over the past year. Click on the links below to hear the results of her labor, and let us know what you think of this new feature for our Spencer Collection!

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At the 10 Cent Movie Show (1913)

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Let’s Go Into a Picture Show (1909)

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At the Moving Picture Ball (1920)

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Take Me to the Movie Show (1919)

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Take Your Girlie to the Movies (If You Can’t Make Love at Home) (1919)

 

Where The Bears Made Their Dens Back Then: A Multimedia Visualization of Baylor Student Housing From 1913-1914

Student housing, 1913 style. From “Baylor University Students of 1913-1914: A Multimedia Project,” via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

Welcome back to a new year and a new post here at the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections blog! We’re excited to be back on campus and look forward to another year of providing you with unique insights into our ever-growing array of digital collections.

This week, we’re taking a multimedia look at a pair of resources related to Baylor University and Waco history: the 1913-1914 Waco City Directories and Baylor Round Ups

Abel Maud Miss, student Baylor Univ, res 727 S 17th

This entry for Maud Abel, a student at Baylor in 1913, is the first student-related entry in the 1913 Waco City Directory. The directory – which contains the names, addresses, ethnicities and occupations of Waco’s citizenry – is a rich resource for students of Waco history. While updating the navigation for a number of volumes this collection, I noticed a large number of entries for Baylor students and had an idea: what if we used Google Maps to plot the known addresses of those students on a current map of the city of Waco? And what if we added select photos of those students to the map, so modern researchers could get a sense of where Baylor students in the early 1910s lived during their tenure as Baylor Bears?

And so the Homes of Baylor University Students of 1913-1914 project was born. Using the names listed in the 1913-1914 directories and the 1913-1914 Round Ups, I plotted the hundreds of names in a custom Google Map, along with a sampling of photos of students, some single headshots and others group photos taken on the front steps of their boarding houses.

Exploring the Project

The Google Map plotting the student housing locations of 1913-1914. Click the image to access this resource.

The housing map is simple to navigate, but here are a few helpful tips to make your browsing more enjoyable.

–       You can navigate directly to an address by clicking on it in the list at the upper left of the screen. An entry marked with a blue star indicates a location marker that also includes a photo of the student(s) who lived there. Green markers indicate female students, yellow markers indicate male students, and brown markers indicate either mixed gender residences or students whose gender is unknown.

Navigation panel for the Google Map.

–       As you zoom closer to campus, you’ll see a green rectangle. This roughly represents the boundaries of campus as they stood in 1913-1914.

–       Clicking on a marker will pull up a list of the students who lived at that address. For large dormitories – like Burleson Hall – there are multiple markers with long lists of names.

Location marker for Maud Abel’s home address, 727 S. 17th St.

The photos for the project are housed as a set in our Baylor University Libraries Digital Collection’s Flickr photostream. In the descriptions of each photo, you’ll find a link to the corresponding page in the Round Up from which it was taken so you can explore each photo in its original context.

The Flickr set of images for the project. Click the image for access.

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We hope you’ll enjoy exploring the topography of Baylor’s student housing in the earlier 1910s through this multifaceted project. Leave us your comments on what you found enlightening, interesting or confusing – we’d love to hear from you!

Images from the 1913-1914 Baylor Round Ups via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections, digitized from originals held by The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX. To see the digital copies of the Waco City Directories or the Round Ups, visit our Digital Collections homepage. To arrange access to physical copies, or to see more resources related to Baylor and Waco history, contact The Texas Collection.