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October 17, 2014

The Digital Bridge from History to Business

October 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

When undergraduates majoring in history tell people about their academic interests they are usually asked “What are you going to do with that?” or “Are you going into education or law?” This is alarming for two reasons. All employers claim that they want to hire people who can do things like write clearly, conduct research, work independently, and solve abstract problems. History majors should be able to find jobs wherever they want. Many undergraduates who major in history do in fact leverage these skills to find work, but it is overly optimistic to think that the market does not privilege technical knowledge. In a December 2012 New York Times article Professor Homni Bhabha declared that the humanities are now endangered in the developed and developing world. He stated that “In India for example the humanities are more or less dead, and professional schools and the study of business and technology are in the ascendant.” Digital methods can bridge the perceived gap between the scholarly and the technical.

Non-academics have good reason to suspect that historians are disconnected from reality. Since the 1980’s many scholars using post-colonial and post-structural theories have eschewed quantitative and scientific methods. Business, however, never made the cultural turn. Instead, as the aforementioned article indicates, the demand for specialized technical knowledge has increased, hence the perception that the History students might lack skills that the market values.

The incorporation of digital methods in the undergraduate class room can ensure that students have much of the technical knowledge that is in demand without compromising the broader skills that the study of history develops. Today data mining is a research method and web design is form of intellectual output, there is no reason History as a discipline should not embrace this reality.

Earlier this month my advisor asked me to speak to a group of alumni and donors at the opening of MSU’s leader lab. I thought the invitees would like to know exactly the kinds of skills digital history developed and the value of those skills outside the academy. I told them about a project I worked on that adapted the online tools used in market research to collect information on how people remembered Mandela around the world in real-time as the public posted their thoughts to twitter. At the reception I began to think of the numerous other technical skills students at leader will develop and how those skills are important in a variety of fields. In addition to data mining and blogging students will build web sites, create digital archives, use mapping tools, manage digital projects, and network online.

While this post contrasted the turn to the digital against the last important movement in the discipline of history, digital methods are in no way opposed to critical theory of any kind. I am using literary theory to write essays for a website I am developing that introduces undergraduate students to Edward Said. I hope to make the site slick enough that undergrads can use it on those dreaded smart phones and tablets.

While this may not be the innovative marriage of critical theory and digital methods some of my colleagues in the CHI program, like Santos Ramos, are imagining far more creative ways to bring theory to the digital. As technology becomes increasing common in all classrooms scholars will be able to use it to connect their disciplines to the technical skills that are currently in demand in today’s market place.



October 15, 2014

Decoloniality & The Digital: Confronting Techno-Seduction in the Digital Humanities

October 15, 2014 | By | No Comments

Techno-seduction is a theoretical framework I’ve developed to better understand the ways in which scholars and activists come to be seduced by the false promises of technological determinism. In “Digital is Dead: Techno-Seduction at the Colonial Difference, From Zapatismo to Occupy Wall Street,” I draw from the work of decolonial theorists to argue that the digital functions as a colonial identity construction that advances the logic of technological determinism and, thereby, technocratic capitalism. I look to recent social movements in order to examine their treatment of digital technologies, and I find that the sustainability of these social movements correlates quite convincingly with the methods by which they choose (not) to incorporate these technologies into their organizational frameworks.

The issue becomes concerned with velocity. In a capitalist framework, time is monetized to the extent that it nearly becomes synonymous with capital. And, especially considering the continued neoliberalization of university systems, we know academia lies not outside of this relationship, but wedged somewhere within it. The busier we stay—because time is money and a large part of our job as academics is to spend our time chasing money—the less we strategize our own tactics. The more we lift up aimless conceptions of “practice,” the deeper theory gets cast into the shadow of colonialism.

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Lisa Bright


October 10, 2014

Osteology and Digital Data

October 10, 2014 | By | One Comment

There has been a lot of talk in recently about having a digital presence in anthropology. Some portions of the field have adapted to new technology more readily than others. Connecting with social media and blogging is great, but how do we move our data collection, storage, and sharing into the 21st century?

Sharing data is a touchy subject for many scholars. This information is precious, formed after many months (more likely years) of hard work, set backs, and endless hours. Making that data broadly accessible to the greater anthropological community can be a scary notion. In the short term, that information is needed for future publications, and is integral to the scholar as a brand for employment. But what happens to the data when you’re done with it? Unfortunately, most of the time it languishes in dissertation appendixes, remains trapped in grey literature, or sits unused in outmoded private database formats. A few people, such as Dr. Killgrove, have made skeletal databases publicly available, but instances like this are rare.

Osteoware Inventory Screen

Osteoware Inventory – source

A major challenge physical anthropology encounters is the usability of collected data, after humans remains and objects are repatriated. How do we ensure that the data is usable once the item is no longer physically available? Another issue facing that data is a lack of standardization in collection methodology. Although many people base their methodology and forms off of Buikstra & Ubelaker’s “Standards for Data Collection from Human Skeletal Remains”, or utilize the Osteoware data entry system, the way that osteological data is documented is practice, is far from standardized.

The historic skeletal collection I plan to work with for my dissertation is scheduled to be cremated in 2024. One challenge I’m faced with is how do I create the most useful database possible? Not only for my own personal research, but to be used by students and scholars at the institution it is being temporarily curated, as well as after the remains are cremated. I will be starting the database with the data collected on-site, with the hopes that the contextual information from those forms will add to later scholarly research.

I’ve been advocating for open data, so I have to admit that while the remains are curated at the University, some of the data will have to remain private. The cemetery was excavated in a CRM context, which means that the remains, and data belong to the client, in this case a County. However, at some point the data should be made available for collaborative research.   How we get to the point of larger scale collaborative date sharing, is something that will take a lot more discussion.



October 7, 2014

Digital Ethics

October 7, 2014 | By | No Comments

Lately, I’ve been contemplating the next phase of my digital scholarship.  Currently, I am working on revamping Imbiza (from 1.0 to 2.0) and helping test the beta-version of the KORA plugin.  But, as I’ve discussed previously on my personal blog, some people might be surprised to discover that South African football is not the focus of my own personal research, although it features prominently in my digital presence:  as, obviously, the focus of Imbiza, the subject of my blogs for Football Is Coming Home, and the specialty of my doctoral adviser, Peter Alegi.  But I’ve been seriously considering lately (maybe) slowly introducing my dissertation research (which I most commonly liken to a helpless child) into my digital presence and scholarship.

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September 25, 2014

CHI Fellowship Introduction: Becca Hayes

September 25, 2014 | By | No Comments

Greetings! I’m a third year PhD student in Rhetoric and Writing. I earned my BS in Psychology with a Writing Studies minor and my MA degree in English with an emphasis in Composition from North Dakota State University. My MA thesis was an archival project on the rhetorics of identity surrounding abortion legislation and activism in North Dakota, prior to Roe v. Wade.

In addition to continued work on iterations of that research, I also have an ongoing project examining how cisgender women and LGBTQIA folks use storytelling and digital media and tools to organize against street harassment, and I’m working on a book chapter theorizing rhetorics of fetal ultrasounds and gender normativity, alongside my own experience of stillbirth, using a queer framework. Last semester, I was a member of the first cohort of writing residents at MSU’s Broad Museum. Through my public readings, I explored ideas of art, activism, history, and social memory.  If you’re interested, check out the residency archive on the Broad Writing Residency Tumblr.

On the pedagogical side of things, I’m interested in decolonial community-engaged approaches to research and writing in writing courses, especially classes on issues of culture and justice. I’ve taught a few different community-based courses, including a first-year writing course in which students engaged in research with communities and used WordPress and Google Maps platforms to share community stories.

As you may be able to tell, my scholarly interests are many; however, they generally fit within queer and feminist rhetorics, community-engaged methodologies and pedagogies, and public rhetorics and activism, both historically and currently. I’m increasingly interested in questions at the intersections of LGBTQIA communities and digital heritage, such as:

  • How is digitization reshaping the herstories and archiving of queer communities?
  • How have queer cultures preserved their stories, practices, knowledges, languages, and hestories through print and material culture? How is digitization shifting those practices?

I think thosse questions fit well within the interdisciplinary field of cultural heritage informatics and digital cultural heritage in that they focus on the how, that is, the methodologies of, cultures and communities in recording and preserving their pasts, presents, and futures, and I’m looking forward to exploring those issues within the context of the CHI Fellowship this year, although I have yet to settle on one specific project. I’m also incredibly excited to increase my technical skills by building with digital tools and applications, and, already, I’m enjoying the collaborative experience of engaging with and learning from the other CHI Fellows.



September 22, 2014

CHI Fellow Introduction: Christine Neejer

September 22, 2014 | By | No Comments

When we think about business and industry in the nineteenth-century United States, a few archetypes come to mind: the wealthy tycoon, the factory worker, the inventor, and the small business owner. Most of us usually imagine these people as men. This is not an accident, but a result of what we learned in high school and college history courses about nineteenth-century life. Images of young girls working in textile mills may come to mind, but rarely do we picture nineteenth-century women filing patents of their own inventions, running a store or building complex machinery. Yet, with a little detective work, one can find a variety of sources which showcase the diversity of women’s engagement with business in the nineteenth-century.

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September 19, 2014

Hello there! CHI Fellowship Intro: Jennifer A. Royston

September 19, 2014 | By | No Comments

My name is Jennifer A. Royston and I am very excited to be a CHI fellow this academic year. While I’m not ready to announce my project just yet, I do have some interesting ideas up my sleeve! Stayed tuned…

I am a fourth-year doctoral student in the Department of English. Before coming to MSU I earned an MA in ‘Shakespeare in History’ from University College London. And before that I taught high school English at an International Baccalaureate school. I specialize in Renaissance literature, specifically drama, and the metadramatic function of paintings and painters on the Early Modern stage. I explore why Renaissance playwrights were invested in dramatizing painters, and why visual art was so often staged or otherwise evoked through verbal means. I am especially interested in the rise of English artistic theory and how this body of literature differs from its paragone predecessors, especially when represented on the London stage.

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September 17, 2014

CHI Fellowship Introduction: Santos Ramos

September 17, 2014 | By | No Comments

Like many other Chican@s, my father’s family immigrated to Michigan from the Texas/Mexico borderlands in search of work. For us, this migration came a couple generations ago. So I grew up in Michigan, but have spent the past 3 years engaged in teaching and research experiences in Virginia and Cambodia. I am now back in Michigan as a PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures department here at Michigan State University. I’m excited to be a CHI fellow this year, especially as a newcomer to cultural heritage informatics in search of more technical skills to compliment my theoretical, content-driven brain.

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September 16, 2014

CHI Fellowship Introduction: J. M. Bradshaw

September 16, 2014 | By | No Comments

I study the history of greater Western Sahara, an area that stretches from southern Morocco to the upper reaches of the Senegal river. The project I plan to develop with Matrix through my CHI fellowship will take a broad look at the African Islamic World as it appears in Anglophone media. I will present the relationship between the Anglophone world and Islamic Africa. I will also explore the different ways Anglophone art, and literature have exoticized Islamic Africa. The intellectual framework for my project comes from a long standing fascination I have had with the idea of Islamic Africa’s early involvement in the Atlantic world.

This interest began when I was an undergraduate at the College of Charleston when my advisor and mentor Assan Sarr showed me runaway slave advertisements that featured Muslim names. I hope to showcase some of the work Sylviane Diouf and Ralph Austen have already contributed on this topic. However, the part of the project that I am most excited about is an analysis of 19th century travel literature that told stories of shipwrecked sailors enslaved in the lands of Islam. This literature appeals to me in for two reasons. First I think a cautious and studious reader could glean bits of usable ethnographic information from these accounts. Secondly I am interested in them because they are in a way a kind of slave narrative. They offer not only accounts of individuals, but insight into the discourse of race, abolitionism, and human rights at the time they were written.


What will this project look like? I would like to use MSU’s Overcoming Apartheid site as a model. My project will have the Overcoming Apartheid site’s mix of visual components and essays.  I will also write and design for undergraduate students interested in Africa and the Islam. Like many things in academia these deliverables are subject to change, but I think talking about my digital project gives some insight into my academic interests.

Lisa Bright


September 12, 2014

CHI Fellowship Introduction: Lisa Bright

September 12, 2014 | By | One Comment

I’m excited to be returning to MSU, and working with digital humanities. I completed my B.S. in Anthropology at MSU in 2007, and went straight into the M.A. program at California, State University Chico. At Chico, I focused on forensic anthropology, and my thesis involved the use of remote recording equipment and geographic information systems to monitor and track scavenger impact to pig carcasses. After graduating I worked as an osteologist on the excavation and on-site analysis of a historic paupers cemetery in Northern California. I then went on to work as a lecturer for the CSU, Chico anthropology department, as well as teach an online anthropology course for a community college.

I’m back at MSU to study mortuary archaeology. Specifically, I will be analyzing the pathological conditions found at the paupers cemetery I worked on, and compare them to a more urban paupers cemetery from a similar time period. My goal while working as a CHI fellow is to create a digital database/archive for the collection, starting with the data collected on-site. I feel that this is especially important because all of the skeletal remains are being cremated for repatriation at the end of the study period, in approximately ten years. By incorporating digital technology from the beginning of the research, I hope to create a more productive environment for scholars to use the information now, and after the remains are cremated.