Passing on the Scissors and the Quill

Digital Humanities, NULab, Viral Texts
Faithful readers of this blog (all one of you) will notice that I haven't posted in almost a year. It's not that I've had nothing interesting to say, but rather that I've been too busy with those interesting things to write about them for the blog. Here's a brief rundown. In the summer of 2014, my family moved to Fairfax, VA, when my husband was hired by George Mason University. For the 2014-2015 school year, I commuted to Boston from Virginia almost every week so I could finish my coursework at Northeastern University. In August 2015, I passed my comprehensive exams and defended my dissertation proposal, officially becoming a PhD candidate. For the past year, I've been researching and writing my dissertation, as well as continuing to work on the Viral…
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Civil War Navies Bookworm

Digital Humanities, Naval History
If you read my last post, you know that this semester I engaged in building a Bookworm using a government document collection. My professor challenged me to try my system for parsing the documents on a different, larger collection of government documents. The collection I chose to work with is the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. My Barbary Bookworm took me all semester to build; this Civil War navies Bookworm took me less than a day. I learned things from making the first one! This collection is significantly larger than the Barbary Wars collection---26 volumes, as opposed to 6. It encompasses roughly the same time span, but 13 times as many words. Though it is still technically feasible to read through all 26 volumes, this collection is…
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Text Analysis on the Documents of the Barbary Wars

Digital Humanities, Naval History
This past semester, I took a graduate seminar in Humanities Data Analysis, taught by Professor Ben Schmidt. This post describes my final project. Stay tuned for more fun Bookworm stuff in the next few days (part 2 on Civil War Navies Bookworm is here).   In the 1920s, the United States government decided to create document collections for several of its early naval wars: the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary Wars, and the Civil War (the War of 1812 did not come until much later, for some reason). These document collections, particularly for the Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars, have become the standard resource for any scholar doing work on these wars. My work on the Barbary Wars relies heavily on this document collection. The Barbary Wars collection includes correspondence,…
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Named Entity Extraction: Productive Failure?

Digital Humanities, Naval History
This past week in my Humanities Data Analysis class, we looked at mapping as data. We explored ggplot2's map functions, as well as doing some work with ggmap's geocoding and other things. One thing that we just barely explored was automatically extracting place names through named entity recognition. It is possible to do named entity recognition in R, though people say it's probably not the best way. But in order to stay in R, I used a handy tutorial by the esteemed Lincoln Mullen, found here. I was interested in extracting place names from the data I've been cleaning up for use in a Bookworm, the text of the 6-volume document collection, Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, published in the 1920s by the…
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On Newspapers and Being Human

Digital Humanities, NULab, Viral Texts
Last week, an opinion piece appeared in the New York Times, arguing that the advent of algorithmically derived human-readable content may be destroying our humanity, as the lines between technology and humanity blur. A particular target in this article is the advent of "robo-journalism," or the use of algorithms to write copy for the news.[ref]The article also decries other types of algorithmically derived texts, but the case for computer-generated creative fiction or poetry is fairly well argued by people such as Mark Sample, and is not an argument that I have anything new to add to.[/ref] The author cites a study that alleges that "90 percent of news could be algorithmically generated by the mid-2020s, much of it without human intervention." The obvious rebuttal to this statement is that algorithms are…
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Introducing the Boston Maps Project

Digital Humanities
This semester, Northeastern University's history department is branching out into new territory: we're beginning a large-scale digital project that is being implemented across several classes in the department. The goal of the project is to investigate urban and social change in the city of Boston using historical maps. We're very excited to be partnering with the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library for this project. This project was originally conceived as an offshoot of a group project from Prof. William Fowler's America and the Sea course last spring. The original plan was just to think about how the waterfront changed, but it has expanded significantly in response to feedback from faculty in the department. Our focus has become both the topography and the culture of Boston, and how…
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McMullen Naval History Symposium Recap

Digital Humanities, Naval History
This weekend, I had the privilege of presenting a paper at the McMullen Naval History Symposium. It was my second time at the U.S. Naval Academy, and I have had a great time. Our Panel I organized a panel titled "Politics of the Sea in the Early Republic," in which the panelists looked at how the navy and maritime concerns influenced political discourse (and vice versa). Bill Leeman argued that Thomas Jefferson's approach to the navy in the Barbary Wars was more pragmatic than idealistic. The question of who could declare war--was it the president or the Congress?--was a live one in the early republic. What were the president's powers when a foreign country declared war first? These are the questions that Jefferson had to grapple with as he sent…
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Passing on the Scissors and the Quill: Editorial Tenure in Viral Texts

Digital Humanities, NULab
The newspaper business was highly variable in the nineteenth century (in different ways than it is in the 21st century). Changes in editorship, political affiliation, and even location were frequent. Editorial changes were particularly significant, since very few editors maintained exactly the same newspaper that they inherited from a predecessor. Editors came and went quite often, passing on the "scissors and the quill," in the words of the outgoing editor of the Polynesian, Edwin O. Hall. [caption id="attachment_426" align="alignnone" width="1545"] A Hoe press, of the type made famous by John McClanahan, editor of the Memphis Daily Appeal (Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user jwyg)[/caption] (more…)
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Digital History and Naval History: Ships in the Night

Digital Humanities, Naval History
  Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing; Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence. ---Henry Wadworth Longfellow This month I attended two very different professional conferences. The first, THATCamp CHNM (aka THATCamp Prime), is so unlike normal conferences that it's billed as an "unconference."[1. If you want to know exactly what an unconference is, read the THATCamp About page.] It brings together people from a wide swath of academic disciplines to talk about digital humanities. Sessions ranged from talking about programming languages to teaching digital history to talking about size and scale in academic research. Many…
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Another Look at Our Diplomatic Graph

Digital Humanities, Naval History
I wrote yesterday about my network graph about U.S.-Barbary diplomatic relations. The graph I showed was color-coded by nationality. That code was hand-inputted by me, no computation or algorithm necessary. A perhaps more interesting, and enigmatic, color-coding is the result of running a modularity algorithm in Gephi. This algorithm creates sub-communities from the large network graph. I will not lie: I do not understand the math behind the result. But the communities created by the algorithm are quite interesting. I find a few things interesting about these communities: James Leander Cathcart and Hasan, dey of Algiers, are in two different communities. This is interesting because Cathcart is probably the person with the most access to Hasan in the entire graph. He was an American captive who worked his way up…
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