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Kindred Britain: A sign of our times

Today marks the public release of Kindred Britain, a new interactive scholarly work that explores the role of family in British culture. Integrating geospatial, temporal, and network information visualization, this project attempts to demonstrate the genealogical interconnectedness of the British elite. In doing so it expands the notion of Britishness, and the notion of society and culture in general, such that through family ties we can see George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Sigmund Freud, and Kevin Bacon all included among these kindred British. To achieve this took significant effort not only in writing code, but in envisioning how to present so much information of so many different kinds in a way that did not overwhelm a reader. I want to stress the concept of the reader here, rather than a "user" since to create a site like this one has to move away from the stereotype of the user with their short attention span and incapacity to grasp complexity. It doesn't pay to create works for users, and buy into the myth that no one reads anything on the Internet and that a website has to be designed for someone with a ten-second attention span. Works like Kindred Britain and ORBIS not only include much flashy and interactive content, but vast quantities of text.

Text Analysis IN the Library, FOR the Library

For those of you who don't know, I'm still fairly new to Stanford (as well as being new to what I lovingly refer to as "library land"). When I initially started my PhD in English, specializing in Text and Corpus Linguistics and Digital Humanities, I never really thought about how text mining (and more specifically corpus linguistics) could be useful and impactful to the university research library. It also has been extremely refreshing that SUL goes another step beyond just supporting digital humanities research to actually encouraging it to occur within the library. For example, a few months ago, Chris Bourg, the Stanford University Libraries AUL for Public Service, approached me about developing a methodology for text mining acknowledgements as an alternative metric for measuring library impact

Women in Programming (or the Lack Thereof)

When I first read Dave Winer’s blog post about the lack of women in programming, I braced myself. He suggests that women are not “very patient,” and that this explains why they are not very present in CS. Unsurprisingly, this does not conform to my experiences.

One of the largest purported CS interest groups is teenage males, who -- at least in the case of personal experience -- have little to no patience. My mother, who raised five children, has incredible patience, and no interest in CS. Patience can’t be the driving factor behind the field.

Then something occurred to me -- most people reading Winer’s post are either men who are interested in CS, or women who are interested in CS. Regardless of their opinions about why women are more absent than men, they’re united by a common interest in the subject.

Most people don’t choose CS, men or women. It requires a highly specialized set of skills -- in my experience, intense focus and a desire to understand how technical things work -- that belongs to a minority of people. More of that minority is men than women, but what separates the group from the masses is their interest, not their gender. The question should not be “why are there so few women programmers?” but “why are there so few programmers in general?” when some level of programming is essentially ubiquitous for navigating today’s digital world with proficiency.

Women in CS (and the Digital Humanities)

According to Dave Winer’s blog post on his website a few days ago, women are a minority in programming because they lack certain qualities – namely patience – that allow them to succeed in the profession. He writes that because men have evolved to be more patient than women, and because of specialization, “programming as it exists today is a mostly male thing”.

Taken by itself, this statement can very easily be interpreted as one made by yet another “old white male” seeking to oppress others. But I think it’s the next sentence that’s worth focusing on, one in which Dave asks, how “can we make it so that [programming] can better-use the abilities of the other half of our species?”

I’m not well versed in the ongoing gender discussion and gender essentialism, but I don’t think that knowledge is necessary for me to disagree with Dave’s suggestion that men have the patience to program that women do not. Patience itself, frequently described as a virtue, seems to me to also be a skill, one necessary for programming (among many other things) – even if it’s a skill just as difficult to be learned as, say, recursion.

So if it’s not a matter of patience or lack thereof, what’s keeping women from going into computer science?

On Digital Humanities and Surveillance

Over at my blog, I just posted a piece about the role digital humanists should play in discussions of government surveillance. Some key questions:

Is there a chilling effect already in place? Are we afraid to speak out against the expanding erosion of privacy? Or are we already so reliant on Google, Facebook, and the other digital oligarchs that we have resigned ourselves to being watched by Big Brother's ever-vigilant eyes?

I won't repost here, so go read it there, if you're interested.

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