Word Searches and Database Management

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 5.18.50 PM

With stop words filtered out

As we’ve entered the second half of the semester, I’m increasingly thinking about how to arrange, present, analyze and set up my project for the Digital History course. This document introducing tabular data analysis provides some interesting options and considerations. I’m working with about 30-35 magazine articles from the 1940s to 1960s. They are either photocopied, photographed, or scanned (among the ones I physically have). For this semester, I’m realistically going to set up a flat file database to put the material up. The text analysis software, is an interesting option to explore as well considering, my analysis will look at discourse and language used to describe menopause in the postwar years. However, my biggest barrier to using text analysis is the quality of my copies. When I first collected these articles, I was working on a standard seminar paper. My intent wasn’t to digitize them and build a small database. As a result, many copies are barely legible, sentences are separated into different scans and photos, and depending on my photocopying skills that day, text closest to the magazine’s spine stretches and fades. One option is to put these documents through optical character recognition anyway and see what comes up. Another option is to transcribe these articles, either through typing them or reading them into a voice transcribing software. I’ll have to brainstorm further options to move my projects beyond a flat file database.

In the meanwhile, I played around with Voyant Tools and searched words in this blog. The results are not as exciting as I’d hope. My most frequently used words tend to not be significant ones such as “and,” “the,” “to,” “a,” “my,” etc. But I do notice “women” is moderately large in the word cloud. I do find it useful to select words and trace its frequency. Perhaps this blog isn’t the most useful document to analyze, but it was an exercise worth doing to see the tool’s potential for my own research.

On Spatial and Geographical Tools

From arcGIS Server 9.3 Help

From arcGIS Server 9.3 Help

As a spatial and visual learner, I’ve been curious about GIS (Geographical Information Systems) since I first learned about it during my time as a public health program evaluator, several years ago. Although our evaluation team never built a GIS database (while I was there), we discussed its potential in relation to some of our projects. For example, how could this database system add to our project evaluating fruit and vegetable food quality in select distributors across urban Honolulu? We also looked at street walkability and measured pavement quality (if a sidewalk existed), lighting, buffers between the walking space and road, signage, among other features.

In the larger public health context, I find spatial mapping an invaluable tool. Ian Gregory brings up a sample project investigating infant mortality rates from 19th century Britain in this blog post, which compares urban and rural locations and their changing rates of infant mortality. I also remember seeing conference presentations that visually represented increasing obesity rates in America, by state, over the past century. While these “obesity maps” of America were jarring, the data served largely to visualize a health epidemic, which then served as a segue into a discussion on particular interventions to combat the situation. In these instances, the visual map, which looked at geographical and temporal factors, served little more than a shock factor. It would have been more interesting and perhaps more meaningful to layer additional variables, such as socioeconomic factors, urban versus suburban versus rural sprawl, access to types of food establishments, etc. As Richard White argues in What is Spatial History? tools for spatial history are a means of doing research, not the end point.

While statistical tools can tell us the correlation between BMI and percent likelihood of chronic fast-food consumption, a geographical relationship between communities with overweight and obese individuals with their lived environment offer additional insight. For example, it can show us the ratio between types of food establishments and grocery stores. It can also show us whether those areas are conducive for walking (safety, lighting, buffers from road, etc). A geographical relationship may also show us a historic relationship between increasing rates of obesity with increasing rates of encroaching corporate food industries. Does it matter how many blocks away you live from certain establishments? Is there even a relationship at all with BMI and fast-food restaurant proximity? With geographical datasets, a new set of questions can be asked to commonly researched projects.

For my own project, which I mentioned in my last post, I’m wondering how I can create a spatial or geographical component to it or whether that would even contribute to my research. I’m dealing a lot with language and discourse around white middle class women’s aging bodies in postwar magazine articles. I’m not entirely sure how spatial history can be part of my research tool-set (for this project) but I’ll keep open to the possibility.

“Change of Life” Pathologizing Menopause

Change of life GH 67 - 1

From Good Housekeeping September 1967

In my Digital History course we’re moving onto the “doing” or hands-on part of the course. It’s a bit overwhelming but also incredibly exciting. In many ways I feel as though my imagination is the limit for this project, and then I return to reality. Taking two other demanding courses and teaching Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays is more limiting than my humble imagination.

So I’m reaching for a low-ish hanging fruit. Not necessarily in terms of “easiness” but in terms of producing a project that would be more cohesive, build-able, and with a decent amount of data, rather than starting from scratch. I’m hoping to create a digital manifestation of a previous term paper titled, “Pathologizing Menopause: Surveillance Over Aging Women’s Bodies.”

As with many papers, after turning them in, all I can think about is how I want to change, rearrange, and further edit my work. This digital history project will offer just that opportunity in a much more creative way.

Even before sifting through my primary sources (magazine articles from the 1940s to the mid-1960s about menopause), I’m expanding and narrowing my scope simultaneously. On the one hand, I want the digital expression of this project to also address how the language to describe menopause is historically contextual and has changed since the postwar era. Tracing the language used to describe (or pathologized) a condition is especially important for my project not just for purposes of analytical inquiry, but important for data organization and search functions. On the other hand, keeping narrow my primary sources allows me to make this semester project manageable.

Back to terminology, on the simplest level, the term “change of life” was equally, if not more, prevalent in the early postwar years. For a large part, the discourse around menopause had a mysterious aura to the naturally occurring condition. Also, many articles explored the ways menopause can be adverted completely. So terms like “prevent,” “cure,” and “avoid” were pervasive. Tracing the evolution of these terms give historical context on how menopause was constructed as a disease and also significantly impact how I set up my data for visitors.

With this project, I’m primarily interested in illuminating how the postwar years was a rich time in American history when women’s bodies were scrutinized and pathologized, which appropriated a “normalizing” rhetoric that enabled heightened surveillance and medical intervention over them. My hope is to trace a fairly recent genealogy that sheds light on how society does or doesn’t pathologized women’s bodies today.

In the spirit of open collaboration, I’m going to try to set the project up to allow contributors and discussion. Depending on my level of success, I’d like to expand the time frame beyond and preceding the post war years, respectfully, as well as including other historically pathologized “conditions” like menstruation, hysteria, pregnancy, and homosexuality.

I’ll be blogging about my successes and challenges with this project along the way.

My spatial brainstorming mapmap thus far via VUE:


Digital Humanities and the Future of my Academic “Work”

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社  [From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Black face caricature circa 1928. Publisher Seibundo Shotenkaisha 誠文堂商店界社 [From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection]

Although, I have problems with David Bell’s tendency to over essentialize an issue against print monographs in the academic sphere, I do find the conversation about new ways to view academic “work” exciting.

I’m especially interested in bridging the knowledge and accessibility gap between academic research with the public, so some of Bell’s arguments for the Internet’s democratizing potential resonates. But I don’t buy that digital tools are as democratizing or decentralizing as the authors of From Counterculture to Cyberculture suggest; however, the conversation about increasing public access to research and knowledge, and the notion that academics should consider a larger audience is appealing.

Bell’s essay also questions the value and feasibility of printed monographs. This is quite unnerving for a humanities academic.

“They are also passing the cost pressures on to those authors they do accept; it is becoming routine in some fields for university presses to demand subsidies of $5,000 or more to publish a book, and to insist on strict limits on length. In some fields, the printed academic monograph seems dangerously close to extinction.”

Before taking this Digital History course the notion that the academic monograph is in danger didn’t register on my radar. Isn’t this a cornerstone for tenure? I definitely want to be part of a larger dialogue within my department and the university to understand the direction in which we’re headed. My professional well-being relies on what the academe constitutes as “work.”

But how do we begin to redefine the notion of “publish or perish”? Will it look different in different fields? Arguably, digital projects vary to a far greater degree than books and printed work, so is it necessary to establish some sort of standard or protocol to submit non-monograph work? Is the notion of a standard counter-productive to the digital age’s “decentralizing potential”?

“[S]cholars are, after all, professional readers” Bell asserts. But according to this essay it seems as though “reading” is taking on new meanings as well.

I started browsing the University of Hawaii’s digital collections to get a sense of this new kind of work humanities scholars are moving toward. This project on Japanese commercial graphic designs from the 1920s caught my attention; I love looking at early 20th century advertisements and never had the opportunity to look at a collection of them from Japan.

In addition to the 1920s graphic designs, what interested me about this digital archive was this tiny little link at the bottom of the home page. I wanted to know more about the open source software the collection works with.

From the Japanese Commercial graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

From the Japanese Commercial Graphic Design 1920s, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection

This hyperlink lead me to another set of interesting digital archives and projects formerly inaccessible to the public. Streetprint.org’s goal “is to make formerly inaccessible texts and other artifacts available in an exciting new way to researchers, students, and the general public alike.”

These are the kinds of projects that make me excited about where humanities work is headed within the digital evolution. My venture to other sites via hyperlinks also speak to Bell’s (among other scholars’) argument about non-linear and infinite learning potential guided by the reader’s interests. This project also brings up questions about open source work, which seems to be a hotly contested issue within this larger conversation about academic work in the digital age.

As I addressed in my post last week, I’m overwhelmed with more questions than a definite understanding of what digital humanities is and what it means for my professional future as well as my stress level.

Information Technology: Friend or Foe?

It wasn’t until this week I really started appreciating the academic crossroad I currently exist in. This predicament is in reference to how the digital age is inevitably shaping and challenging the world of learning and what we consider academic quality work.

As a doctorate student I need to start concerning myself with publishing papers or producing a monograph (as expected in the humanities). What I didn’t consider until now is that the advent of the digital age is challenging conventional notions of “publish or perish.”

For example, in his essay “How to Read Hypertext: Media Literacy and Open Access in Higher Education” Richard Rath (a University of Hawaii history professor) juxtaposes the conventional peer review and print publication process with the growing movement for open access scholarship via information technologies. Rath foregrounds this juxtaposition in the context of struggling university presses as well as a need to teach critical media literacy. What I find exciting about this discussion is for its potential to critically evaluate how the proverbial “ivory tower” serves (or doesn’t serve) the public.

Also, information technologies potentially offer greater access to academic knowledge. I’m cautiously optimistic about the anti-hierarchical and decentralizing potential for digital tools like the Internet in academia especially.

Beyond academia, in the book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Fred Turner writes a history of, and relationship between, information technologies and resistance dating back to the cold war, predating the Internet. Turner follows the careers of key pioneers such as John Perry Barlow and their approach to the digital world as analogous to westward expansion:

“By summoning up the image of the electronic frontier, Barlow transformed the local norms of the WELL, including its Whole Earth-derived communitarian ethic, its allegiance to antihierarchical governance, and its cybernetic rhetoric, into a universal metaphor for networked computing” (162).

Upon reading this I immediately think of the Indian Removal Act. Obviously, I’m not taking this analogy literally but the frontier parallel conjures questions about the digital divide. For example, who’s left out, forgotten, or eradicated in the digital landscape? Who’s writing the digital history and how does it matter? Are we adopting “manifest destiny”-like attitudes in pursuit of claiming digital space?

These questions may seem esoteric or overly meta-analytical but I’m genuinely concerned about them. An architecture friend of mine who looked at technology in elementary schools (for his dissertation) once told me that we’re not really using technology in innovative ways that drastically change our way thinking. Rather, teachers often use, lets say, a smart-board to replace the whiteboard; or instead of turning in a physical paper, it’s turned in electronically.

This anecdote reminds me that technology’s counterculture potential in academia (and to a larger extend the world) is equally met with its ability to reinforce existing structures.

Online Identity Crisis

I’ve grappled over this issue before – how to create/maintain my digital identity. In hindsight, I wish I wrestled with this online from the get-go rather than in my head and notebook (or in a course assignment requiring me to blog on the topic). For starters I would have spent more time productively blogging than feeling paralyzed over how to articulate my pseudo professional status. (Which by the way I’ve settled on “professional student,” “educator,” “PhD student,” and “masochist” depending on my mood that day.)

I first started seriously considering my online presence after joining a small word-of-mouth group called “permanent beta.” This was a few years ago. We are a group of women that gather once in a while to bounce professional concerns off of each other (I’m the only academic). Almost every meeting we chat about online presence and social media issues. Two large takeaways I got from this group are that our online identity isn’t fixed and that it’s better to actively take charge of it than passively hope we look okay in internet-o-shpere.

This Stanford piece on virtual identities had me at the first sentence, “First impressions have gone virtual.” Among two other very interesting courses (American Sexuality and Autobiographical Writing) I’m taking Digital History, which once again brings me to consider my online identity. Here are a few self-inflicted roadblocks I’ve faced preventing an active investment in my online identity (and by extension blogging more frequently):

  • I have no idea when I’m going to graduate so I assume I won’t need to worry about this for a while.
  • I’m not aiming for a traditional career path so I don’t know how to tailor my profile, “about” section, Linked-in, etc.
  • Speaking of Linked-in, I have small insecurities about having quit my full-time project management job to go back to school (read: I don’t have a “real job”) so I’ve avoided signing on and updating my profile.
  • Re: blogging. My audience and biggest fan is my husband. After that, an occasional friend. Writing into the digital abyss is taxing on the creative spirit.
  • Time! I’ve never worked so many long hours in my life. When I’m not reading or writing for school I feel guilty. It feels a bit self-indulgent to spend time building up my online self.
  • My Facebook privacy settings are on pretty high. I’m safe right?

That felt good to write.

And now the things I’m doing (or will do) to address the issues above:

  • Take a digital history course where weekly blogging and research on digital identities (practical and meta-analytical) are mandatory.
  • Make a list with all my social media accounts and update each profile. Assign a due date (within the next two weeks) and ask a friend to look at it.
  • Write a post now! (Which I’m doing.)
  • Remind myself that I can change or update my profiles anytime. Just like real identities I have many ways of being me and they’re rarely fixed one way.
  • Regularly follow other bloggers and digital historians/humanists.

Speaking of which, here are some blogs I follow that keep me interested and inspired. One relates to digital learning, the other is an interesting digital history project on American Foodways, and this last one is about being a PhD student and creative writer. And for those struggling to be an effective blogger (like I am), this article might be useful.

Rather than starting a new blog (for the Digital History course) I’ll be using this one to write about my academic experience this semester. There’s something nice about building on an existing blog instead of starting, yet another one, from scratch.

I leave you with this bootleg video of a scene from The Office. Dwight Schrute in Second Life.