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NULab and DSG Host Fall Scholarship Celebration

By Caroline Grand and Julianna Wessels

The NULab for Digital Humanities and Computational Social Science and the Digital Scholarship Group hosted a Fall Scholarship Celebration on October 6, 2020 to welcome new graduate students and faculty members to the digital humanities community and showcase new and ongoing projects in the field.  Elizabeth Maddock Dillon and Amanda Rust provided opening remarks and reaffirmed the generative, long-term collaboration between the NULab and the DSG.  Speakers presented short, informal “lightning talks” in two panels, with discussion and questions after each panel.

Simon Rabinovitch, Associate Professor of History & Jewish Studies, kicked off the first panel with a presentation on his pedagogical collaboration with the DSG and the NULab’s Digital Integration Teaching Initiative. In his undergraduate class, students are learning DH tools and skills like StoryMap, Tableau, and computational text analysis to examine the history of Jews in Boston.  They alternate exploring the streets of Boston with classes dedicated to practicing new technologies, and are ultimately working towards a collaborative publication, creatively formulated, directed, and executed by the students.

Next, Jessica Linker, Assistant Professor of History, spoke about collaborative learning through history and 3D technologies, particularly through the digital reconstruction of a biology lab at Bryn Mawr College in 1900.  Her project makes women’s scientific labor visible through immersive VR experiences of the space and textual, interactive objects therein.  Furthermore, the 3D rendering of the space allows for dynamic interrogation of the gendered history of the lab: how did the space affect women’s labor, and how did gender expectations shape the space?  Professor Linker hopes to begin a similar project on the reconstruction of a schoolhouse for African American girls in Philadelphia in the 1830s.

Katherine Haenschen, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Political Science, is researching the impact of digital media on political participation, particularly through social media interaction with the March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, and School Strike for Climate movements.  Her current project investigates the influence of news coverage on readers’ perceptions of these movements, and on their perceptions of themselves as effective agents of political and social change.  In an online experiment, Haenschen framed these movements as successful or failed to young readers, and found that negative framing diminishes readers’ perceptions of both themselves and the movement, and depresses the notion of government as responsive to these movements; thus, news organizations with negative coverage of activism may be unintentionally inhibiting political change in the US. Professor Haenschen hopes to conduct similar experiments on teens aged 13–17 in the spring.

Ryan Gallagher, a fourth-year PhD student in Network Science, spoke about his research on measuring affective dynamics in polarized event networks on Twitter.  Gallagher is collecting Twitter data about contentious events and hashtags and using sentiment analysis to measure the expressed emotions from different ideological groups and how these emotions evolve over time. Gallgher is adapting existing sentiment dictionaries for machine learning to estimate the sentiments of new phrases and hashtags like Black Lives Matter, and investigating sentiment averages to see if they express something meaningful about online conversations.  These sentiment averages will be measured against the emotion perceived by human readers with the help of Volunteer Science crowdworkers, who will also generate their own annotations of the sentiment associated with specific words and phrases.

Laura Johnson, a PhD student in English, spoke about the Primary Source Cooperative, a collaboration between the Digital Scholarship Group and the Massachusetts Historical Society to publish digital editions by editors for scholarly and public access. The project is currently working with four editorial teams—John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, Roger Brooke Taney Papers, Catherine Maria Sedgwick Online Letters, and Ellen Swallow Richards Digital Archive–through 2022.  They are developing a workflow for historical transcription and encoding using a Word Enhanced Template (WET), which runs according to a schema that identifies markers in Word documents and transforms them into XML tags.  They will create a semantic encoding database for names, subjects, and geographic markers, and ultimately hope to produce a scholarly digital editing & publication framework that can be packaged in an easy-to-use format.

Alanna Prince, a PhD student in English, shared the ongoing work of the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. The ECDA’s primary goals are to uncover an accessible literary history of the pre-twentieth-century Caribbean and bring together scholars, students, creators, and heritage historians to reimagine and re-envision what it means to do Caribbean research.  In 2020, they are focusing on expanding and revamping their website, particularly with regards to their digital exhibits, which give scholarly introductions to archived works with contexts and historiography, and invite people to look at the material from a decolonial lens.  The Barbados Runaways Project, a site of collaboration across many programs and institutions, is ongoing; as a dynamic analysis of runaway slave ads, the project networks, maps, and recontextualizes the lives of the figures in those ads, and brings their stories to the forefront.

After a short break, Amanda Rust, Associate Director for Services for the Digital Scholarship Group, Avery Blankenship a PhD student in the English department, and Danielle Rose, an MA student in the History department, started off the second half of the Fall Scholarship Celebration presenting the current projects of the Boston Research Center (BRC). The presenters explained that the BRC is a digital community history archive lab based in the Northeastern University Library and that the BRC’s mission is to help bring Boston’s neighborhood and community histories to light through the creation and use of new and sustainable technologies.  Rose then highlighted how the BRC has several oral history projects currently in development with community partners and that she has been working closely with the Boston Public Library on creating and implementing an Oral History Toolkit with the goal to help others plan and implement their own oral history projects. Blankenship then outlined her use of word embedding models to search through hyper local community documents, such as the East Boston Community Newspaper, to uncover how communities think of themselves and envision their futures.

Ángel David Nieves, professor of African Studies, History, and Digital Humanities and Director of Public Humanities followed the BRC presentation by speaking on Apartheid Heritage(s) and the Social Justice Studio (SJS). Professor Nieves explained that the core of his research is focused around answering the question, “How does an online publication platform display deep annotation tools for writing spatial history while also paying particular attention to feminist, intersectional and social justice based research methods?” Professor Nieves also shared that he has been engaged in forensic digital practices to examine anti-apartheid activism and that he is seeking to document human rights violations and how social justice can be achieved using DH skills in the humanities through examining oral histories. Finally Professor Nieves shared his current desire to develop a social justice studio to serve communities in the US and abroad  in documenting lost or hidden histories and bringing about forms of restorative justice.

Ninth to present, Cassie McMillan, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology and Criminal Justice shared her current focus on researching individuals as a way of understanding larger social contexts. Professor McMillan explained that she has been examining how social connections and inequalities relate as well as how local structures and macro level phenomena correlate. Gina Nortonsmith, Project Archivist for The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project then followed Professor McMillan with a presentation on the CRRJ project, explaining that the archive is racially motivated and full of record repositories, indexes, searchable databases, and resources for family members, scholars, and journalists. Nortonsmith outlined the archive’s goal to have a searchable database to tell stories of victims, communities, and perpetrators to help families and communities and stressed the importance of starting with the stories of victims to understand how acts of racism have impacted communities. Finally Nortonsmith noted that the CRRJ Northeastern University collaboration project has a projected completion date of fall 2022.

The last presenter for the Fall Research Welcome Presentation was K.J. Rawson, Associate Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Professor Rawson presented his working with the Digital Transgender Archive and discussed the archive as a discovery resource with a focus on helping to make trans history more accessible to the public. Professor Rawson noted that he is in the process of thinking critically about what is in the archive and that he is attempting to see what is working well and where the archive can further develop. In his closing remarks, Rawson mentioned his additional work with Homosaurus, an international LGBTQ linked data vocabulary that, among other functions, serves as a correction to the Library of Congress subject headings, which have not helped accurately describe queer cultural heritage materials.

In closing, the 2020 Fall Scholarship Celebration was a robust gathering of bright minds within the Northeastern University Digital Scholarship Community. The diverse array of digital projects and research being carried out at NU this year brings exciting new opportunities for current students, professors, and the wider Boston DH community to become involved.

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