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. Also, prepare to die, human scum!”

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.

Documenting 64 Years of Joyful Noise: The School of Music Performances Programs Collection is Complete!

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 3.40.10 PM

Header for Ann Northum’s performance program, March 28, 1950. See the whole program here: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-somprog/id/620.

They were written on typewriters, word processors and laptops. Some used italicized fonts, others used “high tech” typefaces and the most recent ones feature the Baylor University Judge Baylor/Pat Neff Hall wordmark. They could be one page, two pages or dozens. In short, while the School of Music Performances Programs collection may seem like a one-trick pony, there are actually more than 8,000 ways to document and preserve the performances of Baylor’s musically inclined students dating back to 1950.

The completion of this project means 64 years’ worth of music performances are documented online for the first time in Baylor history. Prior to the digital collection’s unveiling, students and scholars had to request bound copies of the original programs – organized by year – and thumb through their pages until they stumbled upon the information they sought. Now, they can instantly discover any number of interesting things within the collection with a simple search, things like:

The number of performances at Roxy Grove Hall since 1950 (4,167 since 1957)

The number of times a student performed Bach’s Fugue in D Major (264 times)

How many performances are attributed to longtime faculty member Helen Ann Shanley (164)

The number of years carilonneur Joyce Jones performed at Baylor during her tenure (1969-2014)

What performance was scheduled for 8:00 PM on September 11, 2001 but was impacted by that day’s terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C. and New York City (“Baroque in the Browning” by Christina Edelen)

And more!

This project came about after a request from our colleagues in the Crouch Fine Arts Library who wanted to find an easier way for music students to access these important – but cumbersome, in their printed form – resources, and we worked for the better part of a year to digitized them, create separate PDFs from the volume-level books, generate original cataloging metadata and generally just push through the time-intensive process of getting them onto the web. The result is an easily searchable, robust collection that details the evolution of musical instruction on our campus dating back to the 1950s, with an aim toward adding each semester’s performance programs as they become available from here on out.

We encourage you to take some time to search through the School of Music Performances Programs collection and see what hidden gems you can find. And if you’d like to embarrass/talk to two of our own staffers – Darryl Stuhr and Stephen Bolech – you can see programs related to their time in the School of Music here and here.

(And as always when we finish a big project: Fire the Cannon!)

Small But Mighty: Introducing the Armstrong Browning Library Photographic Archive

Boy howdy, it’s been a few days since we last blogged! [Checks calendar, sees it’s been almost two months, feels regret.] Let’s make up for that today, shall we?

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new collection based on holdings of the Armstrong Browning Library. The new Photographic Archive will feature items digitized from the photographic holdings of the ABL, starting with the ten photos from the Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) Collection. The collection includes several images of Robert Browning, the son of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and family and friends of the photographer. A few examples can be seen below, or click here to view the entire collection in our Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections site.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.56.37 AMRobert Browning, 1865. Photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.58.51 AMStella: Study of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth, 1867. Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.00.52 AMHallam Tennyson, son of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1864. Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron.


You can see the entire Armstrong Browning Library Photographic Archive in our Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections. We’ll be adding new content in due time, so check back often!

An Open Letter to Andrew Lincoln, a.k.a. “The Walking Dead’s” Sheriff Rick Grimes

open_letter_andrew_lincoln_header Dear Mr. Lincoln,

That all of us at the Digital Projects Group are big fans of your work on America’s #1 Zombie Apocalypse Themed Television series is no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. Over the course of five seasons we’ve seen you grow from startled victim to grizzled leader of a hardened band of survivors. And far be it from us to tell you where you should go with Rick’s character development in season 6, but we found some information in our Baylor archives that we think would add some unexpected depth to a man pushed to the edge by events he can’t understand, let alone control.

I’m talking, of course, about playing the organ and joining a fraternity.

Now, hear me out. At first glance those don’t seem like the kind of skills RICK GRIMES would need in his tool set. But that would mean ignoring the contributions of two very real men named Rick Grimes, who happened to be Baylor students in the 1960s and the 1970s.

Rick Grimes I (The Organ Playing One)

The first Rick Grimes to show up in our records does so by way of an announcement of his junior organ recital.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 1.58.59 PMSee the original, full item here.

It was such a big deal, it even got coverage in the Lariat, the campus newspaper.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 2.02.11 PMSee the full newspaper issue here.

“Big deal,” you’re probably saying to yourself in your real, English accent. “So he could play a bunch of songs on an organ. How does that help Sheriff Rick?”

Well, take a listen (and look) at this clip of what the Toccata and Fugue in D minor sounds like, and tell us if that isn’t the perfect score for the post-zombie apocalypse.


Aside from it being atmospherically perfect for the blighted, paranoia-inducing nightmare landscape Sheriff Rick has to operate in every single day, the sheer complexity and overwhelming nature of it would stun every walker within a two-mile radius into complete submission by its awesomeness.

And 1961 Baylor student Rick Grimes played it – and five other pieces – to perfection.

Sure, toting around a gigantic pipe organ would be unrealistic. We’ll give you that one. But Sheriff Rick Grimes’ group spent time in a church this past season, and it’s not unrealistic to think that, now that you’re all in Alexandria, VA, you couldn’t just pop over to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and use its 1938 Skinner and Son Organ Company organ to effectively neutralize the zombie menace in our nation’s capital. We’re just saying.

Rick Grimes II (The Fraternity One)

Maybe more practical skills are the kind of thing you’d like to bring to your character next season. Fine – how about the companionship, leadership abilities and general bonhomie to be found in a fraternity? Then you could take a tip from 1970s Baylor student Rick Grimes, who was a member of Kappa Omega Tau (KOT), a local fraternity.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 2.21.43 PMClick here for full item in the 1974 Round Up.

Look at that group of fresh faced young men, ready to take on any challenge … including an outbreak of a killer virus that turns the recently deceased into ambulatory corpses. Yes, even that!

This image of 1970s Baylor Rick Grimes – taken from the KOT photo for 1972 – shows an upright, clear eyed young man with an eye toward his future …

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.00.51 AM… not unlike a certain group leader, whose steely reserve has seen his ad hoc family through a series of increasingly desperate trials.

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 9.30.57 AMYou’re practically twins!

We’d never presume to tell you how to play your character next season. Heck, we’re just so excited to see what you’ll do now that you’re poised to assume an even larger role in the leadership of the Alexandria Safe Zone that we’d be happy if you wound up doing a total 180 with Sheriff Rick and turning him into some Father Gabriel style pacifist. (Actually, scratch that. We wouldn’t like that at all.)

But if season 6 finds you seated at an immense pipe organ, wearing a sash with Greek letters on it and grimly dispatching of rotters, walkers, biters and the like with just the skill in your fingers and the determination in your heart, we wouldn’t have a problem with that, either.


This post is part of a series of Open Letters to musicians, authors and others that we hope will connect our collections to prominent people in America. If you have someone to suggest, or if you’re the subject of this post and want to drop us a line, send us an email (digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu).

Season 6 of The Walking Dead premieres this fall. You can follow them on Twitter at @walkingdead_amc.

Caps, Gowns and College Towns: Collegiate Life in The Spencer Collection

It’s cap and gown season here on the campus of ol’ BU, and the class of 2015 has a lot to celebrate. Years of study, focus and passion come together in a 20-second walk across the stage to acquire their sheepskins and cross the threshold into alumni-hood.

Themes related to college life find unique expression in a collection of early 1900s sheet music found in the Frances G. Spencer Collection. We thought it’d be fun to look at a few – including their lyrics! – as we say “adios” to the men and women of ’15.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.16.03 AMCover, The Co-Ed Waltzes, by Clara Douglas, 1909

We think the young lady on the cover bears a striking resemblance to one of Baylor’s own 1909 graduates: Mary Elizabeth Walker.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 11.22.53 AMAbout Walker, this was written in the 1909 Roundup:

Mary is a studious Senior, though at times one might question her dignity. She ran for Baylor’s old maid in ’08 and, much to her sorrow, was defeated. She has made a splendid record in Baylor and has won the confidence and respect of her classmates. She hopes to have a red automobile by the time school is out, like the one she saw in England.”

It’s worth noting that the tone of the early yearbooks is often quite comedic, so there’s no reason to think Ms. Walker would actually have her dignity questioned. But we do suspect she saw a red automobile in England; that seems too specific to be contrived.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.34.07 AMCover of Lincoln’s College Flag by Heelan and Helf, 1912

The lyrics to this piece indicate that, while other young people pledge their commitment to the flags of their alma maters, young Abraham Lincoln pledged his life to the service of the United States.

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.12.39 AMCover for And They Say He Went To College, by Moran and Furth, 1907

Lest you think the folks of 1907 gave too much deference to college educated men, check out just the first verse and the chorus of this song from the musical comedy The Orchid.

VERSE
In a Restaurant the other night, the best one in New York
I saw a man who vainly tried to eat soup with a fork
My heart went out in pity, every time his fork would plunge
He didn’t know the right way to eat soup is with a sponge

CHORUS
And they say he went to College,
Where he gained a lot of knowledge
He acted like a lobster with an amputated claw
When a bowl near him the waiter laid
Why he wash’d his hands in lemonade
And they say, they say he went to college
Rah, rah, rah!

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.32.02 AMCover, Her Eyes Are Blue For Yale, by Hough, Adams and Howard, 1909

Women don’t make out especially well in the comedic college-related songs of the era, either, as this tune about a girl who’s pledged her love to collegiate beaus of varying hues.

VERSE
Never give your heart just to one
No man’s worth it under the sun
Keep them guessing and they’ll adore you
It’s lots of fun

College days are full of joy
Play the same game with ev’ry boy
The College flirt wears her favorite colors
Combined in one

CHORUS

Her eyes are blue for good old Yale,
Her lips are Harvard’s hue
And her golden hair with a bow of black
Are Princeton’s colors too
She wears Chicago’s old maroon
Ann Arbor’s maize and blue
Because to fifty college men
She’s trying to be true

You may say her heart is untrue
Still what can a pretty girl do?
Why on earth should she save all her charms for
Just one or two

College days are fleeting as Spring
Youth and joy and love may take wing
Still in memory’s tender dreams
Come back to you

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 10.26.21 AMCover, Here Comes A College Boy, by Horwitz and Bowers, 1909

Lastly, here’s a piece about the chaos that attends a college boy’s return to his hometown. Waiters and theater owners beware!

VERSE
Who’s that walking down the street
Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah
Rather young and rather neat
Hip-a Hip-oo-ray!
Walks as if he owns the town
Will he turn it upside down
Spreading news about the town
Here comes a college boy

CHORUS
Oh joy, oh joy! A noisy college boy!
Here comes a college boy
He is his daddy’s joy
Full of knowledge learn’d at college
Boxing, rowing, football knowledge
Now give the college cry
Um-pa, um-pa, ump, oh my
Close the theaters, tell the waiters
Here comes a college boy

VERSE
Who’s that spending money there
Rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah
On a lady young and fair
Hip-a Hip-oo-ray!
Who’s that fellow opening wine
Asking ev’ry one to dine
Treating everybody fine
Why, that’s a college boy.


To all our graduating Baylor Bears, we say best of luck in the great, wide world, and watch out for tricky bowls of soup!