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Fall Scholarship Celebration 2022

By Chris McNulty

The Digital Scholarship Group and the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks gathered on November 9th for the annual Fall Scholarship Celebration. This is a chance for scholars affiliated with the DSG and the NULab to showcase recent or ongoing projects, and for the wider Northeastern digital scholarship community to recognize and celebrate their work. Participants gave lightning talks on four projects, exhibiting creative methodologies and striking analysis across a range of humanist and social scientific subjects.

The first project on show was “Ignatius Sancho’s London,” presented jointly by Nicole Aljoe, Professor of English and Africana Studies at Northeastern in Boston, and Olly Ayers, Associate Professor of History at NCH London. The pair described the salience of Ignatius Sancho in Black literary and social circles in eighteenth-century London, and the richness of the collection of letters he left behind. With four undergraduate colleagues, Aljoe and Ayers have mapped Sancho’s letters: key locations from his life, those of his associates and of other prominent Black Londoners, as well as locations from University College London’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery. Using GIS mapping methods allows users to see, literally, Black presence and activity at the heart of a global empire embroiled in the slave trade. Increasing public and scholarly interest in this subject and the need for accessible ways of communicating Black British history makes this a very timely project, indeed.

A sliding view of Whitehall from “Ignatius Sancho’s London.”

Next up was Cassie McMillan, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern in Boston, who shared the project “Towards a Networked Contact Theory: Adolescent Friendship, Intergroup Contact, and Attitudes Towards Sexual Minorities.” She introduced Allport’s contact theory about the relationship between group interaction and the reduction of prejudice, and explained how the project tests this theory against the experiences of Dutch adolescents. The project uses survey data from the Peers and the Emergence of Adolescent Romance (PEAR) study, interrogating it to discern whether interactions between non-sexual minority and sexual minority peers reduces homophobic attitudes over time. McMillan and her colleague Brandon Craig have applied computational network methods—specifically, four sets of Stochastic Actor-Oriented Models (SAOMs)—to this data. Showing change over time, they have uncovered individual- and network-processes that demonstrate intergroup contact often represents “preaching to the choir.” This work evidences that each sexual-minority friend increases acceptance of LGBQ peers among adolescents, as well as complicating our understanding of intergroup contact.

A network visualization from “Towards a Networked Contact Theory.”

The next presenter was Alauna Safarpour, a visiting postdoctoral fellow at Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute and postdoctoral fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Safarpour presented an analysis from “The COVID States Project.” The project investigates whether Americans have approached COVID-19 cases and deaths in the same way they approach casualties of war. The project tests survey data from the two winter surges in 2020 and 2021 against three hypotheses: that the public becomes desensitized as the number of casualties increases, that more recent casualties evoke a greater response, and that spatially proximate casualties matter more than distant ones. These hypotheses are measured against gubernatorial approval ratings, and the results have shown desensitization and temporal proximity are consistent with public reception of casualties of war, but that spatial proximity is less significant. In this sense, Safarpour explained that the American public have viewed their state governors in a similar way to wartime presidents. These results make for particularly interesting reading in the wake of the recent mid-term elections.

Results from “The Covid States Project.”

Closing out the celebration was Giulia Taurino, postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Experiential AI at Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences in Boston. Taurino picked up where David Smith left off at last week’s Speed Data-ing event, returning to the “photo morgue” of the Boston Globe, this time in service of “Seeing Our Neighborhoods: Providing Public Access to the Boston Globe Photograph Collection.” To make these photographs accessible, Taurino and Smith have devised a multi-stage methodology that prioritizes handwriting transcription in the first instance, image recognition in the second, and retrieval of web-based contextual information in the third. Using eScriptoriam—a virtual research environment designed for the Kraken engine for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR)—“Seeing Our Neighborhoods” aims to flesh out the details within the photographs and the context around them, highlighting patterns and connections between them while refining their classification and cataloging. Taurino concluded her talk by emphasizing the relevance of this work to archivists, journalists, scholars and the larger public—, and it certainly promises to make a substantial contribution to all of these parties.

An example of a transcription from “Seeing Our Neighborhoods.”

In explaining their innovative methods and speaking to the relevance of their respective projects, these four brief presentations did justice to the important and engaging work going on in the Northeastern digital scholarship community, and were truly worthy of celebration.

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