DLCL ATS round-up, winter 2023

Quinn DombrowskiMarch 31, 2023
DLCL ATS round-up, winter 2023

Winter 2023 was the quarter that everything came together for the Textile Makerspace, from infrastructure to staffing to events. A lot of things still feel uncertain in the broader DH-sphere, from social media migration to the future of other forms of social infrastructure, and I think my unease there came out in this round of my non-English DH course. In the meantime, I've made solid progress on several projects old and new, and I'm looking forward to where they go in the spring.


This year's instance of the non-English DH class (DLCL 204) felt like it never quite clicked for me the way previous versions had, even during the all-online fall 2020 session. We went down several rabbit holes together, some of which worked all right, some of which just surfaced more challenges for doing non-English DH text analysis. (Looking at you, HathiTrust data capsules.) When I was feeling a little down about how it all went before the last day of class, my ACH co-president and fellow Data-Sitter Roopika Risam reframed it for me: what I'd actually given the students was an experience of what it's like to do DH. And that felt exactly right. I usually try to bifurcate those experiences in the classes I teach, with the hands-on technical portion (this class) separate from the simulation of doing DH work (my DH RPG class). When we did our usual "here's three takes on what we've learned this quarter" wrap-up at the end of class, the students insisted they had gotten a lot out of it -- if only as a set of tools to dig more deeply into in the future as the need arises.

I've already got several students enrolled in the DH Practicum independent study for next quarter who weren't able to make the time slot of my course this quarter, and I'll need to figure out a balance of helping them work on their project and get a basic crash course on tools and methods they might find more broadly useful.

Also looking ahead to next quarter: the Making@Stanford initiative that's funded the Textile Makerspace strongly encouraged us to consider offering actual courses in our spaces, not just workshops. I put together a proposal for a 1-credit independent study "Data Visualization with Textiles" course, and intended it to be capped at 5 students. It was an experiment, I didn't even advertise it -- and due to a registration system error, I ended up with about 20 students and a full waitlist. I'm floored by the response, and it's going to require a little rethinking of how I'm going to run it, but I've got some ideas and I'm pretty excited to see how this goes.

Textile Makerspace

At this point, the Textile Makerspace seems worth elevating to its own sub-header on these quarterly write-ups. The unused, unloved computer lab I inherited from my predecessors has come into its own, between the space-reorganization help from the TAPS Costume Shop folks, furniture from Surplus, an anonymous donor gift that covered both new infrastructure (e.g. embroidery machine) and supplies (thread, yarn, crochet hooks), and now a Making@Stanford grant that's covering a little more infrastructure (shelving, computer) and the last missing piece: staffing. At this point, I have three student employees and one staff volunteer covering evening hours five days a week, each bringing their own expertise and interests.

The Textile Makerspace hosted a volunteer activity for Library staff and DLCL folks, where people knotted together fleece into "no-sew" blankets -- unless they wanted to kick things up a notch and appliqué something onto the blanket, which we were very happy to facilitate. Over the course of the quarter, we've also done three "Mobile Textile Makerspace" pop-up events at the Library, both as an add-on to the Humanities & Area Studies pop-up exhibits and as part of Love Data Week in February. Several library colleagues and I also used the Textile Makerspace in the run-up to Love Data Week to make "Valentines" promoting the Stanford Digital Repository, and to make matching outfits using fabric printed with Data from Star Trek as a little team-building activity and inside joke.

I organized a special drop-in session for the first-year DLCL grad students -- just for them to have a chance to explore the space and play. And a few weeks later, I did the same for the group of visiting students as an official part of their schedule of activities. It's been wonderful to see how visitors react to the space; it's not a huge room, but it has good vibes and seems to immediately put people at ease.

This quarter has brought some new acquisitions for the Makerspace, too: two circular knitting machines (one of which I've been using to make "data scarves"), an 80's/90's vintage knitting machine, and a c. 1960s standing LeClerc Mira loom. The last of these was a victim of a 3rd floor water fountain catastrophe that led to soggy ceiling panels in my 1st floor office collapsing directly upon the loom, but thanks to some quick work and advocacy by my DLCL colleague John Richardson, it seems to have suffered no long-term damage and my Makerspace assistant Akasha Hayden has been hard at work on dressing it during spring break.

Over the course of the quarter, I've had the chance to meet more people in the Making@Stanford community and work on connecting the Textile Makerspace into the larger making network. We've received an additional $1,000 grant from the Arts Council to buy yarn to accommodate student projects that they can't fund directly (apparently a lot of people are applying with yarn-related projects these days). And around the same time I got my loom, I got to help out at the PRL as they assembled their own, much fancier digital loom, shipped from Norway on a palette.

Finally, a trip to Dartmouth for the Data-Sitters Club retreat at the end of the quarter gave me a chance to visit Jacque Wernimontt's Digital Justice Lab, and talk with Molly Morin about her KnitLab work there. That visit was really helpful in thinking through what the Textile Makerspace can be in the context of DH at Stanford, and the broader DH landscape.

Existing Projects

This quarter wrapped up with the Data-Sitters Club retreat at Dartmouth, where we promptly got into a debate about who and what the project is for (which I transcribed and we turned into Data-Sitters Club Super Special 1: Data-Sitters Debate DH at Dartmouth). This argument launched a new sub-series, Data-Sitters Little Tl;DR, which will feature concrete pointers and tips for getting started with DH. We've got books in progress on corpus-building and topic modeling, and hope to publish those in the spring.

This quarter has had a surge of interest in Transkribus, between a student using it in my course (and recommending it to his friends), Alice Staveley from the Modernist Archives Publishing Project planning to revisit it in the summer with tabular data, Fiona Griffiths considering using it and/or ABBYY FineReader on various medieval documents, and Ella Hitchcock in the GSB Library looking into it for transcribing some materials in the archives of the founder of Stanford's GSB. It comes at an awkward time from the Transkribus end: they've recently moved away from the proprietary algorithm that was the basis of most of their models, to the open-source PyLaia. This has broken things like the text/image aligner algorithm you could previously use to semi-automatically align images with previously-created transcripts. I'm hoping that will get sorted out soon, though, and this marks the beginning of a community of Transkribus users on campus and broader use of the tool.

I remain dedicated to writing up something on the 2019 Multilingual Harry Potter fanfic project, though the venue and timeline are still unclear. I'd hoped to be able to follow along on the LitLab's R crash course at the beginning of this quarter, because I can imagine it being easier than Python for wrangling what is ultimately tabular data, but I wasn't able to keep up with it. I'm hoping a couple new collaborators might help breathe life into the project in the spring.

The Global Medieval Sourcebook wrap-up remains on hold pending the final data prep work, but I have it on my list for spring.

Things have been quiet on the Cancel Culture Transfer project this quarter, but research assistants are continuing work on additional visualizations, and I imagine I'll be continuing to consult on it on and off.

This quarter marks a major milestone for the Entitled Opinions podcast, which has relaunched on a modern, externally hosted WordPress site with a podcasting plugin. No longer will the grad student assistants have to manually edit an XML file on Stanford's antiquated AFS hosting infrastructure to add new episodes: we've got a WordPress plugin that handles it all automatically when shows are added via the WordPress interface. My CIDR developer colleague Simon Wiles worked a small miracle with the WordPress CSS so that the site looks just like a fresher and more modern version of its previous Drupal incarnation. These website changes also help us reduce our use of legacy infrastructure and platforms, which is always a relief.

Le Front Culturel Sénégalais project has been on hold this quarter, but I'm looking forward to getting back to it next quarter.

Getting DARIAH, the European DH infrastructure, to recognize Alíz Horvath and Maroussia Bednarkiewicz's Multilingual DH working group has helped nudge things along with establishing a similar group through ADHO, the international organization of DH organizations. Merve Tekgürler (a History PhD student working on Ottoman Turkish at Stanford) and Till Grallert (who runs an active German Multilingual DH group) will be the coordinators of the group. Towards the end of this quarter, I've laid the groundwork for restarting Around DH 2020, which profiled a handful of non-English DH projects at the beginning of that year (as a follow-up to Alex Gil et al's "Around DH in 80 Days" from nearly a decade ago) before the world ended. The other ADHO intrest group I run, DH-WoGeM, has had less success getting to the top of my to-do list, but I'm hopeful that DH 2023 this summer will provide the infusion of energy I need to wrangle together a program of activities for it.

When Chloé Brault MacKinnon's digital humanities project took a different direction than we'd initially discussed, my DLCL dissertation project went on hold; I was struggling with, among other things, identifying and parsing the bibliographies, which were interfering with my efforts to cluster the texts by named entities. But from what I've been seeing in colleagues' experiments with ChatGPT gives me hope of being able to parse and use the bibliographies after all. I'm hoping to make time to revisit the DLCL dissertations, perhaps as a set of experiments for my Data Visualization with Textiles class.

Corpus-building came to a sudden halt at the beginning of the quarter when the Windows laptop I used for ABBYY FineReader OCR died, and it took a sizable chunk of the quarter to manage to get a new laptop, and get the software approved, purchased, and installed. My scanning hit another roadblock later in the quarter when I fell, injuring my hand and giving myself a concussion. While I recovered fairly quickly from the concussion, scanning is the one activity that I haven't been able to find a comfortable workaround for that isn't painful for my hand. For the moment, I'm hoping that giving myself a break and scanning while my hand fully heals will be the best route forward.

The Star Wars project with the LitLab that returned in the fall had its moment as I was teaching this quarter, where I was able to reuse code I'd written for that project (on finding "distinctive character verbs") with my students' languages.

No progress this quarter on the various Django databases I've been building, but the summer will be better for at least the historic TAPS costume collection database. After successfully OCRing a couple of the Jewish cookbooks I did test scans of in the fall, Eitan Kensky and I secured funding for a student assistant to scan more cookbooks for a data project. Hana/Connor Yankowitz wrote up a blog post about their work on the feminist and gender studies classes at Stanford last summer.

Early in the quarter, I finished rebuilding Debbie Anderson's Script Encoding Initiative project site, as part of her moving the organizational home for the project to Stanford. I've been involved in some of the discussions around what kind of administrative arrangement makes sense for SEI this quarter, and I'm excited about the direction that's shaping up for that project.

On the library side of my job, I've ended up on the Web Archiving Service Team, where we're wrapping up the Browsertrix Cloud pilot with a video presentation for the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC), whose online conference will take place in May. The pilot was a useful experiment in what it might look like to add a tool to our standard toolbox that better supports archiving social media data, along with other dynamic sites (including, for instance, many legacy DH projects.) The next few months will bring the more challenging work of figuring out what it would look like to support it longer-term, and using what technical and financial resources.

In my ACH co-president hat, I've mostly been working on establishing several memorial awards in honor of colleagues who have passed away in the last few years, along with maintaining (and documenting) the ACH technical infrastructure. I've been involved in planning a project to get input from the community about their needs and interests around publishing in a variety of venues. I also surveyed our members about their perceptions of ADHO, the international DH umbrella organization we belong to, as part of an effort to get constituent organizations to articulate what they think ADHO is and should be. We had a robust slate of 19 nominees for the ACH exec this year, and it's wonderful to see how the direction we've taken the organization seems to resonate with the community.

This quarter marked the one year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as well as SUCHO. Around then, we gave several talks: a presentation for the Comics: More than Words DLCL research unit, an event on Ukraine for the University of Tennessee, and a keynote for the German DH association conference. As I keep explaining to people, the work continues -- we're not sitting around waiting for the war to be over. There's memes to capture, digitization equipment (and arguably more important right now, power banks) to get delivered, and curation on the web archives. I've also been working on the logistics for a week of SUCHO events in the spring at Stanford and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

New projects

Between teaching the non-English DH class and attending a session for the CESTA Graduate Fellows, I've done a fair amount of limited-term consulting on various projects this quarter. Of these projects, the only one that's involved much hands-on work has been Chloé Brault MacKinnon's CESTA fellowship project looking at the reception of Pierre Vallières's Nègres blancs d'Amérique through digitized Patrimoine québécois sources from the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. It's been a good opportunity to dust off the web scraping code I originally wrote to gather multilingual fanfic; BAnQ doesn't have a convenient API for accessing their holdings, but they also don't forbid scraping, which is handy.

I've also been planning with Laura Wittman to offer a three-part workshop for grad students on the latest AI technologies and their implications for teaching. The first part will be basically explaining what the current generation of large language models is, how they work, and their quirks and limitations. The second part will survey some of the things that people have been doing with these models in an academic context (especially pedagogically). As homework, participants will design their own assignment for a language or literature class that either uses a large language model in a creative way, or is designed to be "AI-proof". In the third part, the participants will test out their assignments on one another, both in good faith and "adversarial mode" to see how well they work and/or fall apart.


I haven't done much writing this quarter other than lots of emails -- including dealing with contract sign-offs for several pieces I wrote pre-pandemic that might make it to print in the next year or so.

Talks and Events

In addition to the SUCHO talks mentioned above, I was a panelist for the University of Buffalo Digital Scholarship Studio & Network event "We've Been Here All Along": DH and Invisible Labor. I also presented on "(Re)Considering Digital Preservation 10 Years after Bamboo" as part of workshop on long-term sustainability at the DH Nordic/Baltic conference. At the same conference, Agnieszka Backman (a postdoc at Stanford in 2019-2020) and I presented on the Swedish translations of the Baby-Sitters Club.

It feels awkward to mention in a year when apparently the discourse on Twitter is all about how many long-time DH scholars were rejected from DH 2023, but a panel I organized on youth literature (including Antonia Murath, a visiting student at DLCL this quarter) was accepted, along with a poster on SUCHO, and several other things others wanted me to participate in: a panel on copyright issues, a panel exploring DH "borderlands", and a pre-conference workshop on multilingual taxonomies.

Other Things

I've been off Twitter since November, and at the end of January published the results from the academic Mastodon survey I conducted in November. It's been a strange and disorienting time, given how central Twiter was to how I did my DH work for the longest time. I still have some of that dynamic on Mastodon, where I've resumed live-posting talks and events, but it feels different. I can't see myself going back to Twitter, even though there are many people I miss who haven't (or haven't meaningfully) migrated. I continue to be surprised at how personal the takeover of Twitter feels, not least because it's a local company, and so many of the people laid off in the most chaotic, careless way are in some sense my neighbors. I've never felt much kinship with the local Tech Crowd in the Bay Area, but something about this is different. I struggle to viscerally understand how so much of DH Twitter is still there, but I can only conclude that maybe for people farther away from it, it's just another awful tech company, like so many we use every day despite awfulness.

I'll be curious to see what the dynamic is like at the international DH conference this summer. It seemed like -- to my great surprise -- our SUCHO keynote for the German DH association actually made an impact on people and organizations (like the German organization itself) vis-a-vis moving to Mastodon. But there's a difference between making a gesture of moving, and staying active in a new space. For myself, once the API paywall was announced, I used the last few days to delete all my tweets, after downloading my own archive. It's hard to know how things will shake out with DH in the social media platform landscape, but Twitter isn't something I can imagine being a part of anymore given its leadership and trajectory.

Spring is going to be busy, between the DH Practicum and Data Visualization with Textiles courses, several projects re-activating, some travel, and preparations for the summer's conferences. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works out.