Category Archives: Portfolio

Creating and Supporting "Black Acts"

This is the third in a series of three posts on the digital exhibitions I worked on this spring. If you need to, you can jump back to part two or part one.

It's been a good month and more since I wrote the second of three posts on my springtime of exhibits, and now I've managed to find time for the third. In between, among other things, I went to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute 2013 in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, about which I will add a post here later. More to the point for this, though, is that I'm pretty sure that the learning I did there will be fruitful as I move forward with the work started on Black Acts, an online digital exhibition for Professor Paige McGinley's African-American Studies / Theater Studies course from spring 2013.

Professor McGinley came to ITG in January of 2011 with an idea for incorporating building a digital exhibit into this spring's instance of her course, titled, simply enough, "African American Theater". As this is Yale's survey course on the matter, she wanted to structure the term by having students focus on a single performer, deeply research that person in the Beinecke Library's James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters, and compose a critical multimedia essay around the objects discovered in the collection and the story they told. In short, the idea was to put the students in the position of a professional scholarly researcher with all the labor and joy that can entail. I represented ITG on the project, whose instructional and support team also included several members of the Beinecke staff, most notably Lisa Conathan, Nancy Kuhl, Susan Brady, and Chris Edwards. (I apologize in advance for not remembering all those at the Beinecke who contributed, as this project would not have been successful without all contributions large and small.)
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American Studies Senior Project Exhibit

This is the second in a series of three posts on the digital exhibitions I worked on this spring. If you need to, you can jump back to part one. Part three is up, too.

In April, I gave an update on our Academic Commons in which I referred coyly to a senior project on which I was a technical consultant, and now that it's up and live, I can talk about it a bit less obliquely. (Yale tends to interpret FERPA fairly conservatively, and until it was clear that the student, Charlotte Parker, was going to finish the project and make it publicly visible, I wanted to maintain her anonymity.)

Humanities students don't tend to execute digital projects at Yale, especially not for their senior projects. Certainly, they engage in digital scholarship in a consuming sense by reading primary or secondary sources in technology-mediated ways, engaging in online research, or taking in digital media. In some ways, they are producers as well, but generally only in that baseline way we take for granted, that is by typing their essay on a computer. They may even submit their essays for assessment electronically, but my suspicion is that most will (by requirement or choice) at least backstop that submission with a paper copy.

So it was with real excitement that we accepted a request to work with Charlotte Parker ’13 on her senior project for the American Studies major. Charlotte was strongly influenced in her life by family friends who had connections to the Spanish Civil War and to America writers involved in it, and had been working at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library for some time. These factors joined together in an idea for an online exhibit of Beinecke material related to American writers' search for a way to write the truth(s) that they saw on the ground in Spain as well as related to writing truth in general. As such, Charlotte would have to engage in curation and analysis of a collection of materials and to engage with technological opportunities and restrictions for making her work publicly available.

Our first encounter with Charlotte came as a request for an Academic Commons site and I saw no reason to recapitulate her process of selecting a project environment, so WordPress was our site of investigation. Part of the reason for selecting our Academic Commons as the exhibit tool was that the Beinecke would like to see more student exhibits using their collections (as would many of us), and the existing infrastructure was the easiest slope. As it worked out, it was also a thoroughly appropriate tool, since Charlotte’s focus in her project was going to be less on establishing a metadata-rich repository than on presenting critical writing alongside selected objects. (In the third of this series I'll relate an investigation into an alternate tool representing the metadata-rich branch of possibility.)

In a couple project meetings, Charlotte and I decided that she would play in an Academic Commons site with the knowledge that I could undo anything she needed undone and that she would do some legwork to figure out how she wanted to theme her site. Fortunately, she was participating in a HackYale course on website UX and bootstrapped her research and learning there. As with Academic Commons for the software, there was an intellectual infrastructure present and growing that meant we could focus in the project work on the questions of scholarship and technological implementation. Naturally, this meant also that we didn't take the opportunity to walk through a critical examination of the technology qua technology and discuss how the choices being made affected the argument. For this reason alone, the next time we consult on an independent student project I will do my best to have at least one meeting of everyone significantly involved. No Yale student should graduate without critically examining technology at some point.

An interesting aspect of the project was my indirect partnership with Nancy Kuhl (about whom more in a subsequent post) at the Beinecke, who was Charlotte's work supervisor as well as a mentor for the Beinecke-based research. We never had a team meeting for the project, something that might have been beneficial to Charlotte and something I will agitate for the next time we work similarly with a senior project. At least at some level, I think it would also have benefitted her advisor, me, and Nancy to sit however briefly around a table and have Charlotte walk through the project timeline with us. She was very well organized, as far as I could tell, but even so there was some of the usual flurry of activity hard upon the project submission deadline that would be nice to avoid. (Then again, I tell all students I encounter that a dirty little secret of the work world is that projects are not planned and executed substantially better than college-level projects.)

Springtime Is for Exhibits

This is the first in a series of three posts on the digital exhibitions I worked on this spring. You can jump ahead to part two. Part three is up, too.

Or at least that's the way it felt for me this spring. For one reason or another, my large projects this term ended up being three different forms of gallery and library exhibits, each filled with undergraduate scholarship. I'll discuss each in turn, just because they were each interesting enough that they deserve proper space for consideration.

One that I knew coming into the term I would have was the second instance of something I first worked on in the spring of 2012. Professor Laura Wexler (American Studies and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) is deeply interested in photography and its role in our lives. In particular, she has run since 1999 the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale and offers a seminar titled "Photography and Memory". You can read my writeup of last year's project, but one thing that I neglected to note then was just how excited we were about this: To our knowledge this way of getting student scholarship into the YUAG was entirely novel and this level of public exposure of undergraduate research is rare. Not all the students last year were undergraduates, and possibly even most were not, but even for graduate students at Yale, short-form scholarship for a general audience is uncommon.

Somewhat predictably, this year's edition was easier in many ways, but because I knew that was likely, I decided to bring things up a bit where I could. Where I noted in last year's writeup that “This kiosk came together in a flurry of effort and coordination,” I conveniently omitted that the recordings were done very much in a duct-tape-and-gum manner. The recordings were done in a spare room in our offices, in our conference room, and in a spare office at Photo + Design. In each case, I used Audacity, a half-decent microphone we have, and was the sole engineer and producer. There's a fog of perfection at Yale that makes doing things this way feel illicit, which is of course one of the attractions. But I also didn't want to bias gallery visitors against the installation just because it wasn't professionally recorded. Consequently, I skipped all mention of that.

This year, the recording process was also how I wanted to focus on ratcheting up the assignment from our perspective. Surely, Yale of all places has a push-button high-quality recording studio for student work? Alas, no. Some of the residential colleges have studios, and good ones, but they are limited to students in those colleges. Doubtlessly, we could have gotten around that requirement, but I've been there and would not have wanted a fellow student using up my college's resources on the down low. Naturally, the School of Music and the Music Department have their own studios, but there again, they are reserved for students in those units. Enter the Yale Broadcast & Media Center studios. All signs pointed to them as the best place to get this done. The one catch, which wasn't one, was that the work we were doing there needed to be disseminated in some way, and since we were doing audio work, we needed to make a podcast out of it. I can't call that a catch, because being pushed to make our work more public is a Good Thing.

This brings me to the major difference from the course side this year, which was that the assignment was baked into the syllabus. Last spring, the assignment was added after the start of the course, and possibly even after registration, which very much threw the students. We can look on the students' reaction more or less charitably, but possibly the most nearly neutral way to see it is that Yale students are very busy, and bristle when they encounter academic surprises. I mention this change at this point in my recap because I believe it is half of why the recording sessions went so smoothly this year. The other half is that we had a proper studio and a proper engineer in Phil Kearney from Broadcast & Media, and the students knew they needed to perform. (It didn't hurt that more than one student had some experience with Yale's student radio outfit, but most did not.) Consequently, most students got their reading done — and done well — in one take. The downside of that was that we spent far too much of the 30-minute slots I had allotted (based on last year's efforts) with time on our hands. I couldn't have asked for a better engineer, though, than Phil, as it wasn't until we had gotten most of the way through the student sessions, with only one reschedule, that he said, “You know, we could just schedule them 5 or 6 at a time and just have the next one go when the previous one is finished.”

So I thank Phil for his skill and his patience, Professor Wexler for doing this assignment again, Davids Odo and Whaples from the YUAG for their work on the image and coordination side, and Thomas Raich of YUAG for going above and beyond in getting this kiosk up and running when driver and OS issues exploded 10 minutes before I was due on a train to Washington, D.C. I look forward to next year and how we can continue to integrate student digital scholarship with cultural institutions on campus.


The exhibit is still up in the (gorgeously new) Study Gallery at the YUAG, so if you can, do head over and see it. Neither YUAG IT nor I (nor Professor Wexler) are thrilled with some sloppiness of the touchscreen we needed to use this year, last year's being already allocated for other needs. But if you do go and find the cursor unresponsive, just touch far away from your target and then try again. We've found that tends to be better than repeatedly trying to move the cursor by small increments.

Student Work Kiosk at the Art Gallery

Recently the Yale University Art Gallery installed a touch-screen kiosk populated with work from Professor Laura Wexler's seminar titled "Photography and Memory". For the kiosk, we recorded students reading a short paper (or an excerpt of the same) written in response to one of the photographs displayed in the YUAG's study gallery space as part of this course. Thanks to the YUAG's touchscreen, visitors can browse the kiosk by person or by work to hear the students' scholarship from the seminar. Along with short and full audio files from the student readings, the kiosk presents pictures of the students and the works discussed, as well as transcripts of the readings. This kiosk came together in a flurry of effort and coordination among Professor Wexler, the YUAG, ITG, and the Photo + Design group of ITS. The kiosk will only be up for another couple of weeks, so go take a look today!

students and instructor around the kiosk

Divine Blogging

Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta's course, ITAL310: Dante in Translation. "[attempts] to place Dante's work in the intellectual and social context of the late Middle Ages by relating literature to philosophical, theological, and political concerns." Carol Chiodo, Ph.D. candidate in Italian, led a section for the course. She decided to use a blog to help students develop their scholarly voices.

Rather than have students access the Divine Comedy through the lens of  secondary sources, one assignment urges students "[to] not look any further than what you have in front of you: a careful reading of the Comedy and portions of the texts you have selected should yield some intriguing arguments which you may later want to take up for your papers." Within this structure, the students created a  number of high quality papers. Some of the papers were sent to another organization as candidates for awards.

Chiodo found that 50 minute sections weren't long enough for the discussion.  The posts created a conversation and then set a boundary for the discussion. This helped to level the playing field for students in other disciplines. All came to the text with the same set of tools. The blog became organic to the group, morphing from being an assignment to a pool of resources. Using tagging to feed a tag cloud, the students created access to their own resources.  While Chiodo would have tagged more and even require tags on each post, she was able to use the tag cloud to tailor the secondary materials.

This is not a unique use of blogging software but it highlights the benefits of giving students an arena where discussions of course topics can be explored, outside of the sections.


War and the Environment

The War and the Environment teaching and research site went live this semester! This ITG project was spearheaded by Bruno Cabanes, an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Yale and specialist of post-war transitions in the twentieth century, and Gene Tempest, a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Yale and specialist of the First World War and its cultural and scientific impacts on European societies and environments.

This site is designed to introduce students and researchers to the primary sources available at Yale relevant to environmental histories of war in the twentieth century. Sources are grouped by theme and type—from medical and culinary topics to entomological collections and beyond. Users can also choose to navigate by keyword, repository, or even search for a specific phrase. A working master list regroups all resources identified to date.

Unlike most existing environmental-military histories, the War and the Environment site is most influenced by the newest developments in the history of war, rather than springing from environmental history. This directly reflects the bias of the academic project directors: both are trained as cultural historians of war.

Instructional Innovation Interns [i3] were indispensable to the creation of this site. Sabina Mehmedovic worked with Bruno Cabanes and Gene Tempest to design the site while Ari Borensztein created the site structure using Drupal.

2011 Digital Humanities Student Poster Session

The Collaborative Learning Center was pleased to host Yale's first digital humanities student poster session in Bass Library room L01 as the penultimate Teaching with Technology Tuesday of the spring 2011 semester. Robin Ladouceur of ITG gave a brief introduction of our convener, Kristjiana Gong (CLC intern and American Studies major).

After some brief remarks, Kristjiana first introduced Laura Wexler (Professor of American Studies; Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies; and Co-Chair of the Women Faculty Forum at Yale). Wexler noted that she was speaking on behalf of herself and Inderpal Grewal (Professor and Chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies) as teachers in the fall 2010 course WGSS 380, "Gender, Sexuality, and Popular Culture", the source of some of the projects shown. She thanked Yianni Yessios of ITG for his presence in the course as a digital artist and teacher of the humanities lab portion of the course. The projects shown represented the completion of an assignment to create a digital street “somewhere other than here, some time other than now,” with an emphasis on using Yale University Library resources and on primary sources in particular. In particular, Wexler highlighted that the students brought an inspiring, impressive, and energizing “force of creativity” to their projects.

Our next panelist was Jessica Pressman (Assistant Profesor of English), introduced by Kristjiana. Pressman stated that she was pleased to show the positive results of teaching with technology, and echoed Wexler’s comment about students’ force of creativity and imagination. Her courses often center on, as she describes it on her website, “how technologies affect our understanding of literature, both in terms of aesthetics and reading practices.” Students in Pressman’s fall 2010 ENGL 391, “Digital Literature“ course were assigned the challenge of creating a web-based analytical essay. This avant-garde format extended her teaching about form and how form and content are inextricable. Put another way, student projects needed to embody and to discuss how content is presented and the reasons for presentational choices.

Finally, Kristjiana introduced Julie Dorsey (Professor of Computer Science). Dorsey is one of the founders of the Computing and the Arts major at Yale as well as of Creative Consilience of Computing and the Arts. In the Computing and the arts major, students take all the required courses for the Computer Science major and select a track in the arts (e.g. music or theater) to weave into their computing scholarship. Student projects showcased today were from senior class majors, demonstrating an interdisciplinary fusion researched, learned, and forged over their tenure at Yale.

Student projects showcased were very impressive. Among those featured:

  • A multimedia walk down a street in Pontochō district of Kyoto in 1958.
  • A hypertext with Blue Hyacinth as its starting point, composed of two sets of four paragraphs that can be shown independently and with integrity, or remixed on the fly in mousing over it.
  • An interactive map of Jamaica during emancipation (1834/1863), set in Google Earth and drawing heavily on images from Yale's digital collections. Included a guided tour through the created world.
  • A complex game and game platform, “The Groov Cosmos,” involving elements of strategy gaming, combat gaming, puzzle gaming, and in-play musical adjustments, created in C#.
  • A web-based digital essay analyzing and building on the work of The Jew’s Daughter and Blue Hyacinth to create a destabilized text locating meaning in chunks below the discourse level. Added a game aspect by allowing user to re-arrange text in apparently the correct order (or, rather, the original order), but this is a mirage.
  • A close reading of the use of sound in three works of digital literature: Sooth, Nippon, and Project for Tachistoscope. The project also incorporates the tactic of close-writing, borrowed from the aesthetics of Sydney’s Siberia by inserting sound into a piece that was originally silent.
  • “All Roads Lead to Toads,” an interactive fiction that tries to capture the feeling of a branching structured game, taking the emphasis off of the completion of either puzzles or the game and placing it on exploring actions, environments, and characters.


Elihu Rubin,  Assistant Professor of Architecture and Political Science, and his students have been creating a New Haven building archive. His current course, "Urban Research and Representation" explores the utility of research and representation techniques and presents that work as a multi-media group exhibition in the form of  an interactive web-map of historic New Haven architecture, organizing five years worth of research by both graduate and undergraduate students. Professor Rubin's students have been collecting New Haven building data since 2007.

The current website allows students to capture their drift in a particular neighborhood through images, maps, prose and other ephemera. Students enter data about a building such as original tenant and purpose, architect, year built, and architectural style. This listing of a particular building is added dynamically to a Google map of the area. This ongoing data collection will also include crowd-sourcing, allowing readers in the community to add images, anecdotes and personal histories associated with New Haven architecture. These practices of walking, flânerie, photography, and cinema give students a key role in understanding, participating in and portraying the city.