You won’t find much if you search Twitter for forensic anthropologists. This is partly due to the sensitive nature of the work they do. For ethical and legal reasons, casework involving active investigations (e.g., homicide or positive identification of a John/Jane Doe) cannot be shared. As a field, we have remained very pad-and-pencil. However, the integration of methods and traditions of human osteology with the user-friendly, readily-accessible technological platforms will be critical to our continued relevance and growth as a field.
Recent methodologies have been developed in forensic anthropology using complex 3-dimensional imagery and statistical methods like Elliptical Fourier Analysis. These methods are sound (and new and exciting!), but there are equally valid methods that have been developed through the 20th century using simpler math.
The problem with our tried-and-true methods is that they are mired in their original journal articles, spread out through many volumes of various journals over many decades. The most recent compilation of trusted methodologies is Standards for data collection from human skeletal remains (Buikstra 1994). Standards serves as a field manual and guide for standards (obviously) for many forensic anthropologists in the United States. As some researchers in forensic anthropology trend towards the use of high-tech (read: expensive) new techniques, the path is open to bring older, trusted methods into the twenty-first century.
Searches for “osteology,” “forensic anthropology,” and “stature regression” on the Apple App Store and the Android Market websites returned no results. I propose to compile a few dozen of the most commonly used bioprofiling methodologies into one easy-to-navigate application, allowing forensic anthropologists to create a biological profile for a skeleton without hard copies of articles or books. Forensic anthropologists make use of a variety of methods to determine aspects of an individual’s biological profile from skeletal remains such as sex, age, height, and ancestry.
The end product will be a mobile app for recording and analyzing osteological data in the field. The first phase of programming will consist of cataloging relevant methodologies with their references and noting the appropriate area of application. Each article contains the necessary information (e.g., what measurements to take, what equations to plug them into, and the standard deviations of resulting estimates) spread through an extensive report. All sources will be cited – this is a reorganization of trusted material, not the creation of new untested information. The next phases will pull out all of that information and attach it to the reference within the app.
Ultimately, this app will allow users to plug in their measurements and see the output of a particular method and allow multiple data points from one set of remains to be saved as a file with the associated references. I’m anxious to get this project off the ground, both in terms of learning the programming language necessary and in reviewing seminal literature in my field.
In my introductory post as a CHI fellow I briefly described my interests in the football clubs of 1950s and 60s Buenos Aires as ways to study politics, civic association, and mass consumption. After a few months of discussion and planning, I have decided to split my project into two components:
The first segment of my project will entail growing footballscholars.org into an interdisciplinary web platform for football scholarship. I co-founded the site with Peter Alegi four semesters ago to bring together authors of football scholarship with fellow researchers and academics. Since then we have enjoyed great success in these meetings and have also developed a number of resources on the website. The project now includes a Zotero group library, film database, audio archive, academic directory, and syllabus repository. As the community grows, it is important that the web platform develop alongside our expanded interests. Over the next semester, I will be applying some lessons in CSS and HTML to redesign the site.
While I am still searching for models and answers on how best to integrate our growing body of resources, there are some concrete challenges that I will address. I will be developing an A-Z guide to downloading, installing, registering, and using Zotero so that FSF members can add their citations to the group library with one helpful guide. The film database would ideally include a simple commenting system so that one can get a sense of the usefulness of films in a classroom setting. For example, a few lines describing the themes, conflicts, or issues discussed in the ESPN 30 for 30 “The Two Escobars” would inform site visitors that the film is an excellent exploration of drugs, politics, and sports in Colombia. The academic directory would also benefit from tagging geographic location so that scholars can know who is where and what they are studying.
Boca Júniors’ Ciudad Deportiva
The second segment of my project will be constructing a model of my future digital dissertation by developing an exhibit around one of my proposed chapters. The chapter deals with the curious case of the Ciudad Deportiva, a mix between a stadium complex and amusement park. It was built over seven artificial islands on sixty hectares of land filled in the Rio de la Plata. Besides an enormous 140,000-seat stadium and various athletic facilities, the project was to include an aquarium, mini-golf, mechanical rides for children, and a drive-in movie theatre for 500 cars. This project combined public and private funds, embodying a new vision of middle-class consumption that fit into city planner’s designs for a modern city with ample leisure space. Yet, a combination of poor engineering, financial mismanagement, and political disputes ensured that the ambitious plans started in 1965 would be largely abandoned by the 1978 World Cup deadline.
I will be using soviethistory.org as a model for this digital chapter, integrating text with primary sources and media from my research. I will use Kora to organize the sources and develop a functional front-end for users to interact with the database. This project will be evolving as my research develops, but I already have enough scholarship and digital content to form the skeleton. The chapter will be published under a creative commons license, a step that will provide me with the opportunity to practice and reflect on the meanings of open access scholarship as a graduate student. This will be an important experience for crafting an open access digital dissertation, the importance of which I have written about recently.
Say you’ve set up a Twitter account for your [insert institution here: lab, office, international space station]. With personal accounts, you follow whoever you want, find your friends through your connected accounts, and proceed on your merry way. However, I found myself directionless and hesitant to make mistakes as I created and began administrating my lab’s Twitter account.
In my last post, I talked about justifying an institutional account to The Boss and covered the information for which Twitter is a platform. Once the barrier of creation has been crossed, though, and The Boss recognizes Twitter’s value, you suddenly represent the office.
The Boss almost always has a strong idea of how they want to handle public relations. I recommend a short conversation on the topics below to get an idea of their preferences. Be prepared to explain the alternative answers for each topic – like the benefits of following 25 vs 400 accounts.
My boss articulated his hesitation by saying that he didn’t just want to give me carte blanche on the lab account, and I think that’s a reasonable concern. If you and your boss can agree to allow you-as-lab the latitude to do what’s best for the account, you can always correct trajectory as you go.
What personhood should be used? We? I?
Most institutional accounts avoid pronouns or using a royal “we.” However, as the Chronicle pointed out, professors with personal tweets get high credibility marks, and this pattern likely applies to institutions as well – making it clear there’s a (fun, helpful) human behind an account. When @MSULibraries tweeted something like “Thanks *chomp* to whoever left the *chomp* candy corn in the office!” it made me fall for them as a follower. Although it feels awkward, try to phrase things in the third person or express sentiments directly. Examples: Volunteers from the #MSUFAL will train officers from @MSUPolice on search and recovery 9/14; Thanks to @MSUPolice for making the training event such a success!
Who should the lab follow?
Ours is a conservative strategy. The Lab follows other academics in our department, outside agencies with whom we work, and accounts that might be good resources for our followers. As the lab’s graduate student, I follow all accounts that the lab follows – about 100 carefully chosen accounts. On the other hand, following hundreds of accounts may create more visibility and those individuals might follow The Lab back.
Should we curate the Lab’s followers?
Yes, don’t be afraid to do this and to block spammers – unwanted followers actually make The Lab’s profile look messier.
As administrator, can you “intra”-act with your personal account?
Forge past awkward feelings and intra-act between your two accounts just like with anyone else. Thank yourself for RTs (retweets), etc. Just don’t be overenthusiastic as a follower (don’t flood the @mention column!), and you won’t stick out weirdly as the admin.
In summary, learn from the institutional accounts you follow, see if you can get The Boss to look at some of your tweets, and adjust as necessary. Keep in mind that this is a learning experience for them as well as for you – don’t be afraid to stick to your guns, though. You do know what you’re doing (and, as a last resort, tweets are delete-able…).
Like Alex, HASTAC V was the first digital humanities-centric conference I have attended. However, I have not had the pleasure of attending any THATcamps yet, so it was the first time I’d shared the same physical space with so many other scholars who are as excited as me about DH. It was invigorating and I left the conference feeling inspired and motivated.
The conference’s theme was digital scholarly publishing and many scholars’ talks focused on how they have been doing digital scholarly publishing already or their vision for why or how the current model of scholarly publishing is flawed and in need of change. Highlights for me include a keynote panel featuring Richard Nash, Dan Cohen, and Tara McPherson as well as Doug Eyman and Cheryl Ball’s discussion of managing Kairos, an online scholarly journal founded in 1996. These talks, both reflective and rallying, felt like exciting calls to action by scholars who have been working to change models of academic publishing for many years, if not decades.
I was particularly enthralled by Josh Greenberg’s keynote talk, “Data, Code, and Research” (video; notes). I’m a big fan of metaphors and Greenberg had one fantastic metaphor that has stuck with me in the month since I heard his talk.
“What if we wrote scholarship like code?”
This metaphor falls flat to people who don’t code, so let me clarify. Greenberg referred to “version control” in his talk, referencing programmer collaborative platforms like GitHub. On GitHub, programmers can share their work so that other programmers can “pull” it down, play with it, improve it, and “push” it back out to the community; or a programmer could “fork” the original code and make something new out of it. Forking would preserve the genealogy of academic work by linking to common ancestors. Rather than producing one publication, scholarship would be tagged for release like software: My Awesome Thesis Version 1, My Awesome Thesis Version 2, etc. Greenberg’s metaphor describes a scholarly culture that embraces collaboration, innovation, and remix. This is an upheaval of the current paradigm of academic work where single-authored scholarship is most valuable, “definitive” works rule, and ideas are personal property. By changing the scholarly workflow as Greenberg proposes, academia can become an even more fertile ground for cutting edge, revolutionary work.
As a master’s student trying to plot my path to and through the digital humanities, HASTAC V was an incredible experience. Though I’ve been following the work of many DH scholars on the web through blogs and Twitter, it was truly powerful to put voices with the names and faces of so many people I admire. Digital humanities as a field can sometimes be difficult to put a finger on and I have been doing my best to follow along using the web, but it has become apparent to me that it is essential to attend conferences, talks, and workshops on DH topics to be part of the conversation. Furthermore, because digital humanities is not a field that is always embraced with open arms in some academic communities which can amount to some frustration, especially for graduate students, conferences like HASTAC are essential resources for learning the arguments that can help us get to do the work we want to do.
We’ve all done it. At the end of those funding proposals, we proclaim making our research more accessible through publications and conferences, which is fine and necessary for most academic disciplines. I myself have been guilty of this practice. A practice that has been drummed into my head after attending several grant writing workshops over the years. In retrospect, I realize that I wasn’t saying much at all. How is this anything different from what funding organizations are already assuming we would/should do if awarded? With that being said, is it really enough? Accessible is a nice word and an exceptional one for funding applications, but what does it really mean?
For medical anthropologists, especially those conducting research in the United States, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) represent two significant largest funding sources. According to NSF’s Award and Administration Guide, it is expected that grantees will share ‘primary data, samples, physical collections and other supporting materials created or gathered in the course of work under NSF grants’. The language around exactly when and how this information should be shared is broad as the organization suggests ‘within a reasonable amount of time’. After browsing NIH’s website, I was discovered their public access policy, which requires grantees to submit their peer reviewed publications based on research funded by the organization to their digital archive, PubMed Central. It is apparent that the funding organizations are engaging conversations about sharing and accessibility, but these discussions are limited within medical anthropology.
While I am certainly not advocating against citing publications and conferences as a accessibility platform within funding applications, I do think that these areas deserve more attention and creativity and not just for funding opportunities. As a CHI fellow, I have come to the realization that digital humanities possess the capacity to discuss and directly address concerns around accessibility and collaboration. For example, while at the 2011 American Anthropological Association meeting, I witnessed special interest groups being formed. Potential publications and collaborations were discussed. As part of a working group meeting for the first time at the AAA’s, one of our main tasks was to gather ideas for generating further discussion and attention around our topic and potential platforms to house a growing bibliography. I briefly suggested a digital repository and it turned out a number of group members thought that it was a good idea. Conferences are a fertile ground to engage in conversations about new forms scholarly communication and collaboration at different stages. Sometimes, it’s worth it to speak up.
Before December, my experience in DH conferences was limited to three THATCamps. I broke the unconference mold by attending HASTAC V at the University of Michigan. At THATCamps, I spent time talking, typing, and working for large portions of the day. At HASTAC (partially due to my own session selection and time constraints), I was primarily sitting and listening. I also presented a poster on footballscholars.org to showcase our contributions to online scholarly collaboration, but the poster session was held at a distant location at the end of the conference and had limited visibility. The highlights of the conference were three of the keynotes talks, in which I learned a great deal about publishing and thinking in the humanities.
Two talks on publishing provided the most provocative material in the conference. Siva Vaidhyanathan discussed the challenges of writing a book about Google. I found the talk to be most useful in simply learning about the process of publishing with both academic and trade presses. Siva was open an honest about the failure of his initial draft and the enormous benefits that came from starting over.
A panel on the future of digital publishing included Dan Cohen, Tara McPherson, and Richard Eoin Nash. The three gave brief talks on changes in digital publishing, many of which were exciting for those producing digital scholarship. However, the talk sounded an overly optimistic note on the equity of opportunities to publish for academic ‘credit’ in the digital realm. One graduate student asked what our own place is in digital publishing. Tara mentioned that we were in a better position to pursue innovative projects than perhaps junior faculty, while Richard noted that the demise of the academic press was opening new opportunities.
While both comments are correct, I followed up on the question by pointing out that this does not really address graduate student concerns with getting credit for digital work. Junior faculty are gainfully employed and the demise of the academic press is making the credential of publishing with them even more valuable. Tara alluded to the reality that success in both the job market (requiring traditional publishing credentials) and in the digital humanities (requiring innovation, acquiring skills, producing ideas) requires double the work. Only by reforming promotion and rethinking graduate training can the two goals begin to overlap. It is vital that we provide graduate training in which digital practitioners do not remain a fringe group, but actively demonstrate the disciplinary transformation that digital scholarship can achieve.