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Julia DeCook

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December 1, 2017

User Generated Archives as Sites of Knowledge

December 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

The cliché of “the Internet never forgets” and my own work has gotten me thinking about how the Internet itself and its functionalities serve as a giant archive for the netizens that inhabit it. Even if the materials themselves aren’t necessarily being carefully selected, curated, and organized according to archival logic, the way that the Internet allows for users to generate their own content and have it exist for as long as that platform does (or if they choose to remove it) positions it as just one large archive with different sections and materials.

Of course, there is the Internet Archive, whose sole purpose is to share access to materials like books, movies, etc. as well as billions and billions of web pages. But the Internet Archive is just one kind of archive, and it seems as though it serves as more of a catch-all place to remember as opposed to some user-generated communities and archives that serve as a space of socialization. Reading Doreen Lee’s book Activist Archives and then seeing materials on FemTechNet and even smaller subreddits that create their own archives for their members to access, reference, and use to help maintain a political movement is what I want to focus more of my attention on.

How do we conceptualize archive in a place where the very modality of communication and sharing can be thought of as an archive itself? When we think about our own bodies and experiences, do we in our minds maintain an archive of ourselves? In what way are political movements using net-based archives for their cause, and how are they being used to socialize (and sometimes indoctrinate) old and new members? In a lot of ways, I guess the Internet and user-generated archives disrupt previously held conceptions of what an archive is and how it “should” be organized and how it should serve others. One commendation of the Internet was how it would serve as a space to democratize knowledge, but if the epistemic violence that exists in [particularly colonial] archives just follows us from the physical to the digital, is this really knowledge democratization or does it just reifies social institutions that already exist?

I’m not going to say that the Internet hasn’t given people access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge – of course it has – but beginning to analyze Internet archives as merely mirrors to already existing archival logic has made me think of the many ways in which the Internet is a space that is embedded with its own biases in how it is developed and maintained. Is knowledge really democratized when it’s inaccessible by most of the world? Is knowledge really “more” accessible when it functions similarly to “physical” archives in that there are still gatekeepers, violence, and oppression that lie underneath the surface of a “free and open” space?

As it has been said time and time again, for those of us in the world who are on the Internet, the Internet is merely a reflection of social actors and does not exist as a separate space – even though it does provide the affordance of being able to transcend space and time for human interaction and access to events, knowledge, etc. But the Internet, like the archive, is built upon a certain kind of logic that privileges certain kinds of knowledge above others, and algorithms function in this regard as well because they are made by people. Has it made knowledge more accessible? I guess it depends on what kind of knowledge we’re talking about.

dixonel7

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December 1, 2017

Multimodality vs. Making

December 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

As we prepare to submit our proposals for our projects, I’m still working through my own thoughts about queer multimodality as a means to “defy death” through a resistance to linear composing and therefore neat, tidy, death-like conclusion. This resistance is also an actionable way to create more bearable worlds for queer thinkings and creators. The trouble I’m encountering, which I mentioned in my last post, is about the concept of “multimodality” as a whole, vs. simply the act of making.

“Multimodality,” just like the phrase “new media” is used to describe practices of making that existed long before linear, alphabetic text was seen as the most legitimate form of discourse among Western scholars. Jody Shipka suggests that an embrace of the word “multimodality” or phrase “new media” becomes just another limitation: “in an attempt to free students from the limits of the page, we institute another, limiting them to texts that can be composed, received, and reviewed on screen” (11). In this case, Shipka describes the limitations of understanding multimodality as just the digital, and I agree.

However, I also argue that the concept of multimodality that includes non-digital composing is still limiting in the sense that it becomes a buzzword, an experiment, a means to a still very Western, very traditional, very white end. Indeed, Shipka later argues “when our scholarship fails to consider . . . the complex and highly distributed processes associated with the production of texts (and lives and people), we run the risk of overlooking the fundamentally multimodal aspects of all communicative practice” (13). In essence, long before the word “multimodality” was being used, every means of making and communicative practice in which we engaged was already multimodal. It is slapping the word “multimodal” onto that act of making that limits the concept and demarcates it as a signifier for white, Western, neo-liberal and academic logics. This issue is reminiscent of what Malea Powell et al argue about cultural rhetorics: “the project of cultural rhetorics is, generally, to emphasize rhetorics as always-already cultural and cultures as persistently rhetorical” (1.1). Rhetorics have always been cultural, before they were named as such; to demarcate some rhetorics as cultural and others as not suggests a neutral territory that does not actually exist but is usually coded as unbiased (read straight, white, hetero, male). Thus, just the word multimodal seems to miss the mark in the same ways.

However, I’ve also been engaging in the work of scholars of color and indigenous scholars who are enacting multimodal work but don’t label it as such. For example, work by Gloria Anzaldua, Qwo-Li Driskill, Andrea Mukavetz, Malea Powell, and Angela Haas, and in these pieces I was seeing scholars engage in multimodal work without ever articulating that multimodality is what they were doing. Furthermore, their making processes were not discussed as a metaphor for something else or an enactment of a theory (like ethos, pathos, or logos). Instead, these scholars’ making was the work, and the enactment of that work was the entirety of the piece. For instance, Driskill discusses doubleweaving, a way to weave baskets where the inside of a basket is woven in a different pattern than the outside, but they are woven together. Driskill argues that they are double-weaving stories of queerness and indigeneity in the same way to create an interwoven understanding of two-spirit existence. Doubleweaving in this sense is not a metaphor; it is a practice. This practice allows Driskill to (re)build a world in which queer indigeneity is acknowledged and decolonized. Driskill’s doublewoven baskets is just one example of the multiple ways I saw the act of making a thing turn into the act of making a world. This enactment is the orientation toward multimodality that I was looking for because it engaged with the work of scholars of color and it got closer to what I feel myself when I create a video, a collage, a zine, and especially when I dance or sing.

The concept of multimodality is decidedly limiting to me because of its cultural and scholarly baggage. I’m beginning to understand what an orientation toward making instead can do for my thinking, and for this project as a whole. I’m looking forward to getting started.

ellio252

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November 15, 2017

How to Visualize Changing Cultural Practices

November 15, 2017 | By | No Comments

Our project proposals are soon due, and I have been thinking about what I would like to show on my future website. In my previous blogs, I have focused a great deal on showing how the physical space that is Moscow has changed, considering the intersections of Soviet and post-Soviet. Today, I turn my attention toward Soviet socialism’s influences on labor migration policies in Russian today, which will serve as the main focus of my website.

During the Soviet period, migration solved the problem of labor shortages in Moscow. Since 1932, the internal passports and domicile registration regulated movement within the Soviet Union. In order to live in the capital, would-be residents needed to prove they had employment within the city to then procure a domicile registration. In 1932, the domicile registration curbed rural to urban migration spurred by collectivization, industrialization, and famine, but by the 1970s, Soviet academics argued that such registration prevented urban sprawl and poverty seen in capitalist countries.

Restricting migration to Moscow (and other large Soviet cities for that matter) created a conundrum. Economic planners continued to open factories in Moscow, which then spurred the need for additional housing, schools, and the construction workers who made it possible. Although technically barred from in-migration, many Soviet citizens eagerly left behind rural villages for the city. To facilitate the symbiosis of a rural exodus to cities short on laborers, economic planners and the Moscow Soviet (city council) issued a temporary domicile registration and a bed in a dormitory to these labor migrants. In the course of four to six years, such migrants became eligible for permanent residency.

The Soviet practice of issuing temporary domicile registration offered migrants a sense of security – the legal right to live in the city (even if only temporarily at first) and a place to live. Additionally, many dormitories offered cultural development programs that provided classes for improving work qualifications, excursions throughout Moscow and the Soviet Union, and participation in intramural sports. Migrants became incorporated into a community, while enterprise directors also viewed these policies favorably, arguing that migrant involvement decreased hooliganism and absenteeism.

In certain ways, temporary labor migration to Moscow is similar to its Soviet predecessor. Today, the Moscow City Council sets quotas of foreign workers by sectors of the economy. Companies can then hire these workers on a temporary basis. Migrants can temporarily register their presence in the city and often live in dormitories or hostels. Despite the bureaucratic similarities, today’s migrants are often left more vulnerable. Companies do not run the dormitories, and therefore, few, if any cultural development programs exist. A lack of shared Soviet citizenship has also left migrants from the former Soviet republics with fewer legal protections.

My next task is to determine how to illustrate these changes. During my summer research trip to Moscow, I took pictures of Soviet structures to illustrate how they function today. I have archival information on Soviet and post-Soviet labor recruitment practices, but I will spend the next weeks discovering means of visualizing this information.

Julia DeCook

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November 10, 2017

Ethics of digital data collection: The debate continues

November 10, 2017 | By | No Comments

The conversation around digital data collection and ethics behind it often default to rules/laws that exist in “face-to-face” data collection: if it’s in a public arena, then the rules are the same for observing people in physical public spaces. However, as many within the realm of digital data know, the idea of “public” can vary in the virtual sphere, and further, questions have been raised whether or not we as researchers have the right to use posts and other digital artifacts posted by users if they posted them without the intention of the posts being discovered and used without their consent by researchers. Basically, if someone knew that eventually their content would be used in research, would they have posted it at all? It’s the digital Hawthorne Effect.

This brings up a few issues with the approach of studying online communities, particularly on Reddit where they have the option to go private and the larger issue of there being Discord Servers, IRC channels, Slack channels, etc. where the members congregate. This then brings up the issue of gaining consent from every single member that frequents those closed access communities, and even on Facebook there are a number of closed groups that require membership to view their content. Although we can all agree that when something is closed it is no longer in the “public sphere” of the Internet, there’s one thing that I’ve grappled with in terms of looking for things using hashtags – if I happen to come across, say, an Instagram account because they used a hashtag once, can I then look at their account and use other posts by them if there are no hashtags on any of their other posts?

Basically – is visibility and “searchable”-ness (through hashtags) a facet of what constitutes “public” data, or is the mere fact that the account itself is public (i.e., not locked down and private) sufficient? If it doesn’t have a hashtag, does it exist in the public sphere?

Digital research can become incredibly messy, not just because of the types of content that exist online that help to paint a picture of social and cultural life through multiple modalities, but also because of the questions of ethics that arise throughout these processes. Postill and Pink (2012) talk about “hashtag sociality” in their work discussing ethnographies in virtual environments, and that hashtags are not merely a part of online culture but serve as an organizing function for topics like a web forum does (Solis, 2011). This still complicates my earlier question in whether or not content from an account that has hashtags on some posts but not others are still “public”.

The Intenet as a public sphere has been a topic of discussion for decades now, but laws surrounding internet privacy and mobility still challenge the status of “public-ness” and “open-ness” that the Internet is typically known for. It is more complex, and because of its ever-changing nature, constantly being differentiated from traditional notions of public-ness.

Hashtags are now ubiquitous in online interactions, and may be complicating some of the questions of ethics surrounding what data is “open” and “public” and what is not. I wonder where these conversations surrounding digital data ethics will go, especially since now there are so many concerns about how so much of our lives have gone digital and the risk of privacy involved in using this data in research without the person’s knowledge (not necessarily consent, but maybe even consent). There are clear and defined expectations and rules for what is public and private (open versus closed group), but what is someone just posts something without granting it discoverable markers? Is it still public then? I don’t know if this adds an unnecessary complciation to the ethics debate, but it is one that I’ve been curious about throughout my own research.

Nicole Raslich

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November 9, 2017

Maps and Landscapes

November 9, 2017 | By | No Comments

Having completed a recent digital mapping exercise in CHI, maps and digitization has been a part of my daily thought process for several weeks now. As a kid, I always loved maps. I would stare at them and dream about all the places I wanted to go and the adventures I would have. An entire wall of my bedroom was a large map of the United States, by large I mean at least 6’ x 5’, from the Air Force. It was so fun to stand on my bed and read the names of cities all over the country and see where Air Force bases were located. As an adult, whenever I travel to a new country, a map is the first thing I order to take with me or buy when I land. I have a collection of atlases and maps from everywhere I have traveled, including historic maps of some foreign countries I have been too. My office walls are full of antique map and globes. I even enjoy maps from places that are not real.

For our mapping project, we did the land of Middle Earth and mapped the journey of Frodo and Bilbo, overlapping various points throughout the stories where they intersect. This lead to me thinking about other kinds of maps I use. Being an avid gamer, one of the most important features of any game, is the map. Any massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) requires the use of a map, that’s why it is so important to explore the realms and reveal the map on any game. Even on racing games, a map is essential. The evolution of landscapes, both digital and real are fascinating to look at through topography and cartography. If anyone has ever seen a map of Michigan from the 1600’s, you find it looks like a weird, triangular piece of earth, jutting into the lake.

map of michigan 1600's

Click here for more information about this map.

This looks nothing like the beautiful mitten we all know and love today (unless you’re from Wisconsin maybe).

xray of michigan and wisconsin

 

Click here to learn more about the real mitten state.

Our sense of self-identity is tied to maps and the landscapes we consider home. What do you say when someone asks, ‘Where are you from?’ What image does this question bring to mind? Now this brings me to something I am excited about. At BlizzCon recently, the new World of Warcraft expansion was announced, complete with trailers and new maps.

Much like our own cartography, the maps of our MMORPG’s change and evolve with new continents being discovered. This expansion shows to be no different (Expansion News). Those of us that have played WoW since it’s early beta days in 2003, know all too well the familiar terrains of Azeroth and are only too excited to explore the new lands opened with each expansion. As a player, you become familiar with the capital cities, the paths there and the various terrains and animals encountered in each. We know intimately the homeland of our chosen race and the home continent of our allegiance, be it Horde or Alliance, much as we know the familiar stomping grounds of our physical homelands. These digital landscapes change as much as our own physical ones through time. Compare Azeroth here at the origin of WoW, in the days of old when we could only travel via foot, flight path or boat.

map of azeroth

Here you see the map as it looks now, six expansions later.

draenor world map

As the game has evolved over time, new continents have been revealed along with new races on these inhabited lands, much like the coast of Michigan. This entire train of consciousness has been brought on because the Thanksgiving holiday is quickly approaching, and I hope to have time to flee back into my favorite digital and/or physical glades be they in the eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, the Upper Peninsula or somewhere new.

The landscapes we inhabit are our home. We become used to them as we travel the slopes and explore the depths of the worlds around us and sometimes fail to notice the small changes that take place until we are away for a significant time. Over the U.S. holiday, take the time to enjoy your homelands and their associated families, both digital and physical. Notice the landscape both beneath your fingers and feet and appreciate their beauty. Happy Thanksgiving!

For Azeroth!

ellio252

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October 30, 2017

Mapping Moscow’s Past and Present

October 30, 2017 | By | No Comments

For the last several weeks, the CHI fellows have been working on a mapping challenge, in which we have made maps with a specific theme, complete with pop-ups. For my final project, I too hope to have a map to illustrate the locations of Soviet factories and dormitories, while my overall project will examine the relationship between Soviet and post-Soviet, socialist and capitalist. Working on our mapping challenge has made me consider the benefits as well as the limitations of using maps to illustrate how Moscow has changed from the 1970s to today.

The Russian Army Theater (formerly the Soviet Army Theater), located on the Street of the Soviet Army.

During the Soviet period, Soviet socialism was inscribed into the landscape. Streets and squares had names like “the 50th Anniversary of October” and “Dzerzhinsky,” referring to the surname of the first director of the Soviet secret police. Street names constantly reminded citizens of their collective history from the Great October Revolution to victory in the Great Patriotic War, the name given to the Soviet Union’s fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Many Soviet names remain in Moscow. I lived on October Street, a name that denotes the month of the Bolshevik victory over the Provisional Government in 1917. Soviet street names, it is worth noting, replaced tsarist ones. My street had previously been Alexander Street in honor of three of the Romanov tsars. Renaming streets not only served as a reminder of a shared Soviet history but also replaced the previous imperialist one.

The landscape of Moscow has also evolved since 1971, the year in which my research project begins. First, the borders of Moscow have expanded. In 1961, the Moscow Automobile Ring Road opened, demarcating the official boundaries of the capital. Since then, what were once “sleeping suburbs” outside of the Ring Road became neighborhoods of the capital. Second, the advent of capitalism in the former Soviet Union has also refashioned the appearance of streets. Designer shops now line Tverskaya Street the main drag heading north of the Kremlin, and shopping malls have emerged throughout the city. Since the early 1990s, tiny kiosks that served as grocery stores and cafes sprouted up on sidewalks and in alleyways until they were demolished in early 2016. Third, and perhaps most dramatically, new high rises are replacing older Soviet apartment buildings, inciting both the ire and support of Muscovites.

Maps have the power to shape reality, but which reality will I show? Simply comparing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods can obscure the over 25 years that separate the end of the Soviet experiment from today. The kiosks which shade my memories of my first trips to Moscow would be lost in a then-and-now comparison, but they played an important role in Moscow’s post-Soiet history. Maps can also only show so much. Even if Moscow’s landscape is decidedly market-oriented today, red stars and hammers and sickles also adorn that same space.

dixonel7

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October 27, 2017

Making as World-Making

October 27, 2017 | By | No Comments

Part of my goal in the CHI fellowship has been to explore an idea I have been developing over the last year about queer multimodal composing: that the act of making things can make worlds. I’m definitely not the first person to have developed an understanding of making as world-making, and I owe much of what I know from the work (and in many cases personal mentorship) of Malea Powell, Angela Haas, Jacqueline Rhodes, Qwo-Li Driskill, Gloria Anzaldúa, Trixie Smith, and Dànielle DeVoss, Andrea Riley Mukavetz, among many others.

In this fellowship, I would like to particularly focus on how queer modes of composing and making can create more welcoming, beautiful, livable worlds for queer people. What follows is some history and background of my project, alongside some of my own art.

Queer Composing as Life-Affirming and World-Making 

As the Cultural Rhetorics Conference in 2016, I sat in on a panel on queer mentorship. At this roundtable, a director of a writing center at a women’s college told us about her writing center as a queer space. She had multiple students who identified as LGBT and she worked hard to cultivate a welcoming space for them. Still, at one point, as she discussed her students’ struggles with self harm and thoughts of suicide, she tearfully asked the group of us: “My queer students are literally dying. What can I do?” We remained silent, blinking at the enormity of the question.

How many of us had asked ourselves this? How many had asked our mentors? Probably everyone in the room. We went on to share some stories of possibility and hope, but the questions stayed with me long after the session. It still sticks with me. I want to know what I can do as a scholar, a student, a teacher, a practitioner and a mentor to defy the deaths of my queer siblings, friends, mentors, teachers, and students.

Because it is what I am perhaps best at and what I care about most, I want to think about how queer work in writing and rhetoric especially can defy death.

Terrific, Radiant, Humble

In “Cultivating the Scavenger,” Stacy Waite writes,

I advocate for queer methodologies because I am queer, because queer teenagers all over the world are killing themselves at horrifying rates, because if oppression is really going to change, it’s our civic duty to think in queerer ways, to come up with queer kinds of knowledge-making so that we might know truths that are non-normative, and contradictory, and strange. (64)

Like Waite, I want to spend my career thinking in queerer ways, encouraging my colleagues to think in queerer ways, teaching my students to think in queerer ways. Developing and foregrounding the queer imagination is one way to counteract the normative structures in place that delegitimize and erase queer ways of knowing. For instance, Waite recalls a time in the second grade in which, as an answer to her teacher’s question, “what saved Wilbur from being killed in Charlotte’s Web?,” Waite responded “writing” instead of “Charlotte.” “I remember she said my answer was ‘kind of out there'”(65), Waite writes. Indeed, how many of us have been told our work, our desires, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, were ‘out there?’ How many times can we hear it before we grow too weary to go on?

I wonder, in what ways can writing, composing, world-making save us, as it did for Wilbur?

Resisting Linearity, Resisting Conclusions, Resisting Death

In “Opening New Media to Writing: Openings and Justifications,” Ann Wysocki asks, 

How might the straight lines of type we have inherited on page after page after page of books articulate to other kinds of lines, assembly lines and lines of canned products in supermarkets and lines of desks in classrooms? How might these various lines work together to accustom us to standardization, repetitions, and other processes that support industrial forms production? (114)

Just as Wysocki likens rows of text to rows of groceries or desks, I think about the rows and rows of gravestones in a graveyard: we live and die by (hetero)normativity.

I believe one way to avoid that kind of slow, organized death is to move beyond the boundaries. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Our rows and rows of alphabetic texts are products of Western normative thought, and each neatly concluded seminar paper equates to a little death: a finished product. To avoid these little deaths is to embrace the death-defying queer possibilities of non-linear composing and creation. A resistance to neat death-like conclusions is a figurative act of defying death. But, at its most literal, an embrace of queer multimodal composing offers up a space in which queer ways of knowing are valued, and an embrace of queer ways of knowing has the potential to save queer lives.

Jack Biggs

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October 18, 2017

The Future of the Past

October 18, 2017 | By | One Comment

Archaeologists and anthropologist back in the day (say around the later Victorian era and the early 20th century) had it easy in terms of research and methodologies.  Study subjects and specimens were abundant while strict and standardized methodologies were not.  Researchers just went out and both literally and physically grabbed data. They weren’t data necessarily that they needed, but data they wanted.  Many times, collection techniques were…less than completely ethical, but as has been the long trend in human history, we learn from our mistakes.

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dixonel7

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October 18, 2017

Introducing Elise Dixon (CHI Fellow)

October 18, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hi Everyone! I’m Elise Dixon and I am a third-year PhD student in the Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures program. I am very excited to be a part of the 2017-2018 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowship– it fits very well with my research interests. My research focuses on queer and feminist multimodal composing through a cultural rhetorics lens. In most of my work, I employ feminist, queer and cultural rhetorics orientations to think about the ways queer people, military wives, and writing centers “compose” themselves through writing and creating. These may seem to be disparate interests, and in some aspects, they are. However, in all of my research work, I am focusing in on how people and organizations express their identities through various composing practices.  Because of these interests, the CHI fellowship is a perfect fit.

I am working through my comprehensive exams currently and I have been ruminating quite a bit on what I plan for my dissertation. I was originally planning to make my CHI fellowship project my first foray into my diss. In my comprehensive exams, I am focusing on how multimodal composing can support queer and feminist rhetorics. What I am bumping up against is that the voices most amplified in queer and feminist rhetorics are often white voices. This does not mean that people of color aren’t doing queer and feminist multimodal composing; it means that the modes of composing discussed by scholars of color are undervalued by these disciplines that have been shaped by many multiple white people. I am trying to find ways to address this in my work, and hopefully I can integrate that into my CHI fellowship project.

 

My original plan for my CHI fellowship project was to examine some pieces of ephemera and zines from the MSU Queer Archive and Zine Archive and create a small digital archive of my own of them. I still intend to do this, but now I intend to be careful to look at the creation of these objects from a cultural rhetorics lens and foregrounding the work of people of color.  I look forward to exploring this project more through this CHI project. I think it will help me develop some direction for my dissertation and give me time to practice and learn how to code and make digital projects from scratch.

 

I’m so grateful to have this fellowship this year. Working alongside the other fellows is a highlight of my week, and I am looking forward to working hard on this project throughout the year.

fandinod

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October 15, 2017

Future Tense – Digital Humanities, Technology, and the Scholar

October 15, 2017 | By | No Comments

As a historian in training in academia today, the question of technology goes beyond the subjects I study into the current state of the profession I have chosen to enter. In teaching digital tools to undergraduate classes I see a break as substantial as the line between the generation before and after the advent of the internet. Part of my motivation to become a Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow was to explore how the digital humanities have transformed other disciplines and find ways to work on a digital project that incorporated my own philosophies and worked in tandem with my future research goals.
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