Founded in 1999 under the auspices of the College of Arts and Humanities and the University Libraries with the aid of an NEH Challenge grant, the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) is an internationally leading digital humanities center that pursues disciplinary innovation and institutional transformation through applied research, public programming, and educational opportunities. The following report highlights some of our more particularly noteworthy achievements during the 2016–17 school year.
This year was eventful for MITH in terms of new curricular initiatives. Former Associate Director Matthew Kirschenbaum has taken on a new role as Director of the Digital Studies in Arts and Humanities (DSAH) Graduate Certificate, which offers graduate students a chance to combine the critical study of new forms of digital media with creative and analytical practices as well as the application of computational tools and techniques. MITH also hired Purdom Lindblad as the new Assistant Director for Innovation and Learning. Lindblad has been spearheading the integration of MITH’s research initiatives with DSAH’s teaching initiatives. In the Innovations in Teaching & Training section below, we’ve highlighted some of the more noteworthy achievements stemming from these developments.
At the core of MITH’s work as a research institute are our ongoing research initiatives. The African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities (AADHum) project, one of MITH’s most ambitious and large-scale projects to date, aims to develop intersections between the digital humanities and African American historical and cultural scholarship by actively incubating new scholarship and providing training and mentorship for new and existing scholars and projects. Alongside the Documenting the Now, which responds to the public’s use of social media for chronicling historically significant events (starting with a collection of tweets about the 2014 events in Ferguson, MO surrounding the killing of Michael Brown), MITH’s two largest current projects are either centered around, or include as a central component, a substantive discussion about the role of diversity in both society and higher education. Enriching MITH’s research portfolio is ongoing work on the Shelley-Godwin Archive (S-GA), and Citations: The Renaissance Imitation Mass (CRIM), which is expanding digital possibilities for the study and citation of musical scores. Last, but not least, in the Research Initiatives section below, you can read more about the individual research projects of MITH staff.
MITH prioritizes collaboration and openness across all of our work. To ensure that the broader public is able to engage with us, we’ve held a wide range of public programs, including our flagship speaker series, Digital Dialogues, a symposium on digital art history, a conference for textual scholarship, and two smaller events – one aimed at gathering social media data related to hate groups, and a pair of panels geared at discussion and training on how to approach endangered data. Read more about these public initiatives in the Public Events, Conferences, & Symposia section below.
Innovations in Teaching and Training
Digital Studies in Arts and Humanities (DSAH)
The Digital Studies in Arts and Humanities (DSAH) Graduate Certificate is jointly administered by the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) and MITH, with additional sponsorship from the Department of English and the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. As one of the sponsors of DSAH, MITH is committed to providing another home base on campus for students working in digital studies. DSAH students complete two core courses: Introduction to Digital Studies (MITH 610) and the DSAH Colloquium in Digital Studies (MITH 729), as well as a “praxis” course (MITH 388) and other electives. Purdom Lindblad, Raffaele Viglianti, and Ed Summers have each worked closely with Matt Kirschenbaum to develop and co-teach modules for MITH 610. These modules draw on the day-to-day work and expertise at MITH on topics such as TEI and scholarly editing, network analysis, and data storytelling. The course gave graduate students in English, Women’s Studies, and other ARHU departments a unique introduction to the wide variety of work now unfolding under the label of digital humanities or digital studies. Students transcribed and encoded 19th century manuscripts, and scraped and visualized data sets from Twitter. They got a hands-on introduction to media archaeology through MITH’s vintage computer collections, and engaged in wide-ranging discussion of the current debates and issues around digital technology in the humanities.
Student Mentorship and Research Highlights
Lindblad also supervises and mentors DSAH students completing their praxis course, MITH 388 (Internship in Digital Humanities). The internship introduces students to the theory and practice of digital research either through a small project of their own or as contributors to existing MITH research initiatives. This year’s interns, Elliot Frank and Cooper Kidd, are contributing to MITH’s social media research initiative DocNow. Elliot is exploring the use of Jupyter notebooks as a way to document how to collect and analyze data from the Twitter API. He is specifically looking at how to extract cliques of users within a specific individual’s social network to see if it can provide insight into a discipline such as the digital humanities. Cooper worked through preliminary Python modules and is working on a sociological examination of learning a new technology. Cooper’s work will help MITH restructure ways of introducing students to technical skills.
Two additional DSAH students, Robert Burgard and Brittni Ballard, spent the Spring 2017 semester pursuing a project titled “A Conspiracy of Fake News: Linguistic Links between Fake News and Conspiracy Theory.” The main goal is to ascertain whether a link exists between those who write fake news and those who write conspiracy theories. The project examines rhetorical techniques found in both to determine any commonalities and involves fieldwork and interviews with people working in various dis-information fields such as UFO sightings and Ghost Hunters. The objective is to produce a publishable paper as well as develop a tool to identify whatever linguistic links are revealed.
In addition to the DSAH students officially enrolled in the internship course, MITH hosted DSAH students collaborating on creative and experimental research outside of a formal course or praxis structure. Jeffrey Moro, Setsuko Yokoyama, Kyle Bickoff, and Andy Yeh recently presented their experimental research on 3D printing at the 2017 R-CADE symposium. Their panel, Critical Unmaking: DRM, Proprietary Networks, and Versioning Variances in 3-D Printing Technologies, responds to a growing “blackboxing” of technology, and interrogates paths through which to productively break down and break open the 3-D printer across a variety of critical lenses and methodologies.
Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching (HILT)
MITH once again co-sponsored the Humanities Intensive Learning & Teaching Institute (HILT). In January 2013, MITH hosted the Digital Humanities Winter Institute (DHWI), based on the model pioneered by the highly-successful Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria. Held each summer since 2014, HILT is an essential part of MITH’s continuing efforts to promote digital humanities education. HILT responds to the growing demand for additional training opportunities, the request for new types of digital aptitudes, as well as the recognition of how important these opportunities are in revealing the daily work and research lives of digital humanities scholars.
In June 2016, 125 digital humanists came to the University of Texas at Austin campus for a week-long set of courses on digital humanities methods and skills. MITH co-sponsored the institute with the University of Texas School of Information Studies, Libraries and the College of Liberal Arts. Attendees represented liberal arts institutions, research universities, and cultural heritage organizations, and more than half of attendees were graduate students, early career scholars, or humanities adjuncts.More information about HILT 2017 can be found at dhtraining.org/hilt.
Professor Ryan Long was the Vambery Distinguished Professor of Comparative Studies and MITH Vambery Fellow for the 2016–17 academic year. His research project, “Hannes Meyer in Europe and Mexico: Building, a Poetics of Displacement,” centers on architect and Bauhaus Dessau director Hannes Meyer (1889–1954), who lived and worked in Switzerland, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Mexico. His career was shaped by political persecution, resistance, and efforts to construct more egalitarian and just societies. With guidance from the staff at MITH and under the auspices of the Vambery professorship, Dr. Long is developing an interactive platform that provides simultaneous and layered presentations of Meyer’s work and its historical context.
This year MITH was also thrilled to work with Avery Dame, doctoral candidate in the department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, as the Winnemore Dissertation Fellow for 2016–17. Dame’s dissertation, “Talk Amongst Yourselves: Community Formation in Transgender Counterpublic Discourse Online,” explores the affective and structural meanings assigned to “community” in English-language transgender discourse online. During the year he worked with MITH to build and launch the Transgender Usenet Archive, a public archive of posts from targeted Usenet newsgroups which grew in popularity during the 1990’s upswing in online discussion forums, in this case around groups which were central to the development of a transgender community.
Documenting the Now (DocNow)
DocNow responds to the public’s use of social media for chronicling historically significant events as well as demand from scholars and archivists seeking a user-friendly means of collecting and preserving digital content. This two-year project was funded by a $517,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and MITH is working with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, Riverside, as collaborators on the project. The three institutions are developing a cloud-ready, open-source application that will be used for collecting tweets and their associated metadata and Web content.
African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities (AADHum)
The University of Maryland’s Synergies among Digital Humanities and African American History and Culture (AADHum) initiative is designed to bring together African Americanist scholars from across the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), the wider Maryland Campus and regional communities to re-imagine their research and scholarship through the tools, methods, and techniques of the digital humanities (DH). AADHum is structured around a collaborative partnership of MITH, The David C. Driskell Center, and the Center for Global Migration Studies (CMGS). AADHum aims to make the digital humanities more inclusive of African American history and culture and enriching African American studies research with new methods, archives and tools.
At the May 2016 project launch, Mellon Foundation Vice President Mariët Westermann offered a substantive critique and appreciation of the field of digital humanities, along with a call to the need for projects like AADHum to address the need for diversity within the field, both in terms of content and technology. Throughout Spring 2017, the AADHum team completed the project’s first sequence, Race, Space, and Place, which explores themes of African American labor, migration, and artistic expression, through a series of complementary through reading groups, incubators, Digital Dialogues, and one-on-one consultations.
In June 2017, Muñoz was appointed one of two Co-Principal Investigators for AADHum, replacing Neil Fraistat, who completed his term as MITH Director.
The Shelley-Godwin Archive (SG-A)
The Shelley-Godwin Archive, an online digital resource comprising the manuscripts of some of England’s greatest romantic writers, has been ongoing since 2011 with partner institutions New York Public Library and Oxford University. Various stages of the project have culminated in a release and upgrading of features and functionality between fall 2013 and the present. In April 2017, MITH announced the award of a grant from Queen Mary University of London for digitizing the manuscripts of William Godwin’s two greatest works, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Caleb Williams, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Read more about this phase of the project on the MITH website here.
Citations: The Renaissance Imitation Mass (CRIM)
MITH Research Programmer Raffaele Viglianti is heading up the current phase of a research project called Citations: The Renaissance Imitation Mass (CRIM), which is extending the idea of the quotable text for music in an innovative and open way. The project utilizes the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI), an XML standard that serves as the basis of the digital music editions, and capitalizes on the enhanced capabilities of addressing scores with pinpoint accuracy developed during two recent NEH-supported projects, The Lost Voices Project (2010–14) and MITH’s Enhancing Music Notation Addressability (2014–15). CRIM will extend addressability that give meaning to musical citations themselves, via a participatory multi-author publication system using Linked Open Data technologies such as the Web Annotation Data Model and Nanopublications. CRIM was originally funded by the Transatlantic Research Collaboration, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Maison science de l’homme (Paris), and is being continued by Richard Freedman at Haverford College, working with David Fiala of Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance at the University of Tours, France.
Staff Research and Projects
In addition to the research initiatives above, the research faculty at MITH also investigates and develops new projects as part of each member’s allocated research time. These are tailored to their specific backgrounds and interests, and can range from training in a new software or tool, to fully developing a funded project. Here are some highlights (in alphabetical order).
Purdom Lindblad’s research surrounding “Advocacy by Design” has been the subject to two keynote lectures and a workshop in the past year. Her work seeks to expose the range of existing critical and applied work related to advocacy, social justice, and Digital Humanities, and asks how librarians, archivists, and digital practitioners can practice an Ethic of Care in explicitly anti-racist and anti-violent ways. She presented on this subject as the keynote speaker at University of Maryland Libraries Research and Innovative Practice Forum in June 2017, and with Jeremy Boggs at Purdue University’s Day of DH in April 2017. The latter talk was in conjunction with a workshop where participants learned how to evaluate, use, modify, and critique existing tools and methods suitable to their backgrounds and research goals; practiced scoping and prototyping their own projects, and began developing research and development plans.
Trevor Muñoz’s research focuses in two major areas: one, humanities approaches to data curation; and two, design and sustainability of interdisciplinary research collaborations. Muñoz’s work on collaboration has paid special attention to the strategic opportunities and challenges of doing digital humanities work within the institutional and cultural structures of academic research libraries. In the area of humanities data curation, Muñoz collaborates with Katie Rawson of Emory University on a long-running project titled Curating Menus, which is based on open data from the New York Public Library’s crowdsourced transcriptions of historic menus. As part of Curating Menus, Muñoz and Rawson have written about one of the original collectors of menus for the library, as well as about how to theorize common data science and data curation workflows such as “data cleaning” in a humanities context. Rawson and Muñoz have recently expanded this work on data curation to African American history and culture as part of an interdisciplinary collective of scholars.
Stephanie Sapienza’s research revolves around the intersections between digital humanities and audiovisual archives: how audiovisual archival media objects function as primary historical documents, and what kind of digital resources and user interfaces facilitate the means for exploring that media in the context of its original production and reception. She’s been developing and trying to fund a project entitled Unlocking the Airwaves, which aims to use linked data approaches to reunite the split audiovisual and paper collections of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB) into an online resource, complete with digitized and OCR’d text documents, program transcripts, and authority records to link all elements together. She’s also working with UMD Film Studies professor Oliver Gaycken on a project about the history of labor and race in film and radio, in conjunction with the AADHum project. This will eventually culminate in a ‘story map’ about how films and radio programs were created to inform, train or provide commentary on race relations throughout the history of labor in the US. Lastly, she’s working with Dan Streible of NYU’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation program on developing an online portal for the study of films and presentations from the Orphan Film Symposium, an ongoing forum for the study, preservation and discussion ‘orphan films’ – educational and ethnographic films, newsreels, home movies, advertisements and experimental films, etc – which fall outside the commercial mainstream and are ephemeral in nature. Read more about these and other projects on the research page of her website.
Ed Summers’ research is focused on the web as a sociomaterial infrastructure that supports data curation, preservation and research practices. Trained as a software developer, Ed uses a software studies approach to better understand how archives of web content are being assembled, distributed and used around the world. He is currently the Technical Lead on the Documenting the Now project, which is a two year effort to help build tools and a community of practice around the ethical archiving of social media content. This work has led to the development of several tools this past year including the Twarc for collecting data from Twitter, Hydrator for sharing Twitter research datasets and DiffEngine, monitoring changes to the news media. The project has been written up in the New York Times and the subject of an interview by Australian Public Radio. He has presented this work at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) and the The Archival Education and Research Initiative (AERI) where he received 2nd place for the Best Poster Award. In collaboration with the University of California at Riverside and the New Museum Summers was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Studies to host a national symposium on ethics in web archiving, that will be held in New York City in March 2018. Additionally with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council the Documenting the Now project will be helping convene the Archives, Activism and Social Media forum at the University of Cambridge in September 2017.
Raffaele Viglianti’s research revolves around digital editions and textual scholarship for both literary text and musical scores. He is currently an elected member of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) technical council and an advisor for the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI), which produces guidelines for the digital representation of music notation with a focus on scholarly requirements. As part of his work with the TEI, he has been working on reducing the complexity and entry-level barrier of two fundamental TEI uses: 1) the creation of richly annotated collations and 2) the customization of TEI vocabulary and rules to specific project needs. Working on the first issue resulted in the creation of coreBuilder, an online tool for authoring stand-off markup (markup that explicitly refers to a text in a different location as opposed to tagging it in place), which was nominated for the Rahtz Prize for TEI Ingenuity in 2017. To tackle the second issue, the one of TEI customization, Viglianti is currently developing a web user interface to simplify the customization process and replace an older existing system. Viglianti’s work also explores the shaping of music performance practice by the use of digital music scores and editions. He has recently worked in collaboration with the composer Joseph L. Arkfeld on a piano piece, Chance of Weather, with a dynamic score that changes with weather conditions at the location of the performer.
Public Events, Conferences, and Symposia
During the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 semesters, MITH’s signature lecture series Digital Dialogues hosted 13 nationally prominent speakers, representing a wide variety of research specialties including the history of public media, early origins of online transgender discourse, new digital tools for ‘sounding’ poetry, black representation in video games, and more. Speakers were given the opportunity to meet with and discuss related projects and potential collaborations with select UMD graduate students and faculty before their talks.
Art in Digital Dimensions
In October 2016, MITH and the Department of Art History and Archaeology presented Art History in Digital Dimensions, a three-day symposium in Washington, D.C. and College Park. The symposium aimed to unite diverse audiences and practitioners in a critical intervention for the digital humanities and digital art history, providing a cogent and inclusive road map for the future. The symposium was supported by the Getty Foundation and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. It launched with a keynote lecture at The Phillips Collection given by Paul B. Jaskot, Professor of Art History at DePaul University, on the theme “Why Digital Art History?” Further sessions in College Park included roundtables, break-out sessions, lightning round presentations, and plenaries about collaborative models of research, the implications of data-driven approaches to art history, legal and ethical obligations of scholars and museum professionals in the digital world; and the innovative array of objects for study presupposed by digital art history.
Night Against Hate
In October 2016, a group of students, scholars and activists gathered in the evening at MITH for an event called the Night Against Hate. The goal of the event was to work together to link groups and individuals documented in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Extremist Files to their respective Twitter account, so that social media researchers are better able to study the ways that these groups are operating online. This event also provided an opportunity for the community to respond constructively to the rising tide of hate in online and offline spaces.
Endangered Data Week
Together with UMD Libraries, MITH organized a series of local events in April 2017 for Endangered Data Week. This is a new, international, collaborative effort, coordinated across campuses, nonprofits, libraries, citizen science initiatives, and cultural heritage institutions, to shed light on public datasets that are in danger of being deleted, repressed, mishandled, or lost. MITH’s contributions, organized by Purdom Lindblad, included a panel and hands-on workshop to scope questions of endangered data as well as specific practices researchers could use to protect their data.
Textual Embodiments / STS 2017
In May 2017, MITH hosted the Society for Textual Scholarship’s 2017 International Interdisciplinary Conference. The conference theme was “Textual Embodiments,” which engaged a range of issues involving the materiality of texts, including their physical, virtual, or performative manifestations as objects that can decay or break down over time. Through five free pre-conference workshops and over 50 presentations, panels, roundtables and fishbowl sessions, 95 attendees from all over the U.S. explored the processes of inclusion and exclusion through which bodies of texts take shape in the form of editions, archives, collections, and exhibition building, as well as the ethical responsibilities faced by textual scholars, archivists, conservationists, media archaeologists, digital resource creators, and cultural heritage professionals engaging in these processes.