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March 7, 2018

Pictures and Conversation

March 7, 2018 | By | No Comments

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’

Pictures and conversations have been dominating my thoughts on digital projects over the past few weeks, thanks to my work in a digital humanities class. Just as Alice astutely noted, most in the work done in my particular field of history is heavily textual, analytic, and descriptive. While within the discipline of history a book full of text without pictures is the norm, on the other hand a wall of text on a web site is a daunting thing to present to a site visitor, if by daunting you mean a sure fire way to make people click away. Over the course of the last few blog posts I laid out the vision for my project and my ideas to make each part work within a whole. Now, I’ll be working through the implementation of these concepts although not without a little more philosophizing on the idea I am trying to project through my site. In my related digital humanities course I have begun to question the textual dominance of digital projects and have been asking myself how to bend images and nontextual sources towards creating a conversation between the material and a site visitor. History prides itself on writing–a lot of writing. If I’m going to be mining cliches, if a picture if worth a thousand words, a 360 image should worth at least be a novella. Now my dilemma is a practical one: how to incorporate these concepts and images into a digital project?

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Cody M


March 6, 2018

LGBTQ Video Game Archive Preservation Update

March 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, I’ve been working with the LGBTQ Video Game Archive, founded by Adrienne Shaw at Temple University, to record and preserve cases of LGBTQ representation in video games since the 1980s. One of the difficulties the Archive has faced in recent years has been the ephemeral nature of many of the digital sources the Archive draws on to provide evidence and information for its entries. Many of these sources are blogs, personal websites, or social media posts, and as soon as their creators stop maintaining them they can disappear suddenly. An example of this was, a website for LGBTQ players to discuss games and gaming cultures that went dark without notice in May 2016.

To help prevent the loss of queer representation and culture in games, the Archive has been storing copies of the sources its entries draw on for storage at the Strong National Museum of Play. For this blog, I thought I’d lay out the process I’ve been using to do that copying/storing/preserving, and to welcome suggestions for how to improve the process in the future!

The first step of the process is saving all of the webpages that the Archive uses as HTML files.We’ve organized these sources according to type (article, blog, etc.), and I plug the list of URLs for these pages into Chrome Download Manager, a Chrome extension that downloads each URL as a HTML file. Chrome Download Manager makes it easy to do this in large batches, and allows one to designate the filename convention for the resulting HTML files. I usually save them as *URL*.html, where *URL* in each case is the source’s URL. This helps keep them in a specific order to it’s easy to rename them and store them.

Once I have all the HTML files, I first rename them to a simple unique identifier. Something like, A1, A2, A3, etc. for articles, and so on. I then use a Mac Automator script to convert all of them to PDF files (the Strong Museum’s preferred file format for preservation).

This process has made it relatively easy—and fast!—to store sources as both HTML and PDF files. There are a few hiccups usually in doing this with large batches of files, specifically with converting HTML to PDF. But in general it’s easy to fix those issues and to have quality PDFs on the other side. For videos, I’ve been using Youtube-dl, a command-line tool for downloading videos from URLs.

While this process isn’t perfect, it’s functional, and it doesn’t require individually downloading each and every source. If you have suggestions for how to improve on the process (or have gotten wkhtmltopdf, another command line tool, to be more cooperative), please contact me!



March 6, 2018

Project update: refining my map

March 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

In the past month, after several weeks of despairing tinkering, I finally got the features in my GeoJSON files to appear as points on my map. I now feel much more comfortable playing around with Javascript to see what my map can do. Currently my map looks like this:

Now that the basics of the map are there — markers for each testimonial advertisement in a newspaper, clusters for concentrated areas of markers, and a sidebar with click-able information — I want to add more complexity to the map to represent more information about testimonials and the history of consumer culture in South Africa. One of the things I’m interested in is highlighting differences between urban and rural writers of testimonials. Since I haven’t been able to find an appropriate historical map of South Africa from the time period, Ethan Watrall gave me the idea to create different-coloured markers for urban or rural locations. Now, I’m working on this task, using population information from the 1936 census. My goal is to represent urban or rural status using different coloured markers, with different shapes representing the different newspapers that the information comes from.

Adding this additional complexity to my map will force me to consider exactly how to define “urban” and “rural”. One metric I’m considering is whether or not a town is listed in the 1920 census list of “towns and villages possessing some form of urban local government.” But this is perhaps a problematic category, as the structures of “urban local government” might have been granted differently depending on the racial make-up of a locale. In that case, my best option may be to pick a certain number that I consider to represent the border between urban and rural, and simply trust that the 1936 census gives a fairly accurate population count.

Cody M


March 2, 2018

Pokémon GO and Narrative

March 2, 2018 | By | No Comments

Pokémon GO was, and is, one of the most interesting examples of gaming culture in the last two years. Many players and critics have commented on how fad-ish the game was: it became instantly and massively popular upon its release, but the number of active players quickly fell off after a few months. The game brought people together from around the world to capture Pokémon; it got folks outside and exploring; it allowed players to interact with the world around them in unexpected and emergent ways; and it got people to invest a great deal of time and money in its augmented reality.

It’s Pokémon GO’s augmented reality that makes the game so effective, and it’s the limitations of that augmented reality that made the game have relatively little staying power. By providing the ability to catch Pokémon in the world around players, the game seemed to finally deliver on a fantasy many fans of the franchise had had for a long time: living in and experiencing the world of Pokémon. Yet the augmented reality of the game could not really deliver on that promise. Players grew tired of catching what seemed like their millionth Rattata, and augmented reality’s reliance on the actual world meant players constantly bumped into the real limitations that come with our world. These limitations ranged from the legal (trespassing on private property) to the ethical (catching Pokémon at the Holocaust Museum) to the simple physical (crossing a large region takes a lot longer in the actual world than it does in digital game worlds). Perhaps the best example of these limitations was the disastrous Pokémon GO Fest, held to celebrate the game’s first anniversary in Grant Park in Chicago. Constant network difficulties and game glitches made the game completely unplayable at the event, and Niantic (the company that made the game) had to issue refunds and rewards to frustrated and angry players.

What I think Pokémon GO demonstrates quite well, however, is how we construct and perceive realities, and the significant role that narrative plays in those processes. Narrative is much more than a static, pre-determined series of events; games like Pokémon GO suggest it is a lived, embodied process that unfolds in the moment to moment experiencing of a game. As we move around and experience augmented reality with Pokémon GO, we are constructing narratives that shape our perceptions and understandings of ourselves and the world around us. Pokémon GO’s augmented reality coheres and functions because of the confluence of these narrative processes that it contains: first, the narrative of Pokémon that developers write into the game; second, the narratives players generate as they play and experience the game; and third, the narratives that emerge when players come together in groups (such as the narrative of Pokémon GO Fest as a disaster).

Pokémon GO reveals how narrative is one of the primary processes we use to understand and navigate the world. Narrative helps construct our senses of ourselves and the things we experience, including augmented reality. It does so by bringing our different determined, personal, and collective narratives together to form a unique reality. Psychologist Jerome Bruner gets at this when he discusses narrative as a system that actively constructs and organizes consciousness and the perception of reality (Bruner, 2000). Games have pointed us in this direction for a long time, but we have yet to fully appreciate the breadth and power of narrative processes in our play.

By doing so with games such as Pokémon GO, we can better understand our current (augmented) realities, and further use narrative to build new and potentially transformative ones. The narratives of Pokémon GO are our stories, and they have a lot to tell us about ourselves and what we can do and imagine.

Note: This blog is a short preview of my book chapter for an upcoming collection, tentatively titled Not Just Play: Essays on Motivations and Impacts of Pokemon GO, edited by Jamie Henthorn, Andrew Kulak, Kristopher Purzycki, and Stephanie Vie. Keep an eye out for the full collection, and read more about these ideas there!

Julia DeCook


March 1, 2018

Ideological Celebrities and Connective Action

March 1, 2018 | By | No Comments

After having a few conversations with my dissertation chair about my dissertation topic, it made me start thinking about my own CHI project trying to map out the celebrities of the far right and how they are ideologically connected. The idea of connective and collective action rests upon something simple, yet incredibly difficult to maintain: the idea of an “us” for there to be a motivation for a fight against a “them”. Indeed, Tajfel’s social identity theory introduced us to the idea of the in-group and out-group in the 1970s, but I think it goes far beyond reducing it to an in and an out. There also must exist connective tissue, for the muscles to adhere to the bones, and together they all move together. In political ideologies and movements, the connective tissue are the celebrities of the movement, the celebrities, the easily identifiable figures upon which a common identity is built.

These celebrities are instrumental in proselytizing the ideology and are easy to find on social networking services as well as other forms of social media like YouTube and others. With their status and platform visibility, they rally people around a common narrative that they then are constantly spreading across different groups that may otherwise be disconnected, except for the common ideological basis that brought them all to the same celebrity. As such, these celebrities are strategic in the content that they produce and the appearances they make – like other politicians, there is a method to their madness, and what is notable about the far right is their savviness in using digital technologies to form coalitions – although dispersed – that are not only built on the same political beliefs but also political figures that symbolize them.

Thus, it is not that people like Richard Spencer or Alex Jones themselves are the threats, but rather what they represent. They are merely poster children for a movement, an easily targeted rally point, and they are not necessarily “leaders” but merely the public faces of a larger political movement. Looking at the list of celebrities I’ve compiled so far, some are universally appealing to far-right groups whereas others are more divisive, thus demonstrating that not even the celebrities themselves are necessarily accepted across certain boundaries. Although the network I am building does not necessarily identify central figures and other measures of networks, it is still going to be an interesting visualization of how these movements are converging upon central figures within them. They are merely the human face to a larger subculture, and placing responsibility upon one person to be the “face” of an organization is not a new concept. The ways in which they are conducting this old practice of “representation” however is particularly compelling, and articles examining the prevalence of young conservatives (The Kids Are Far Right) point out the ease of which they achieve fame. This then begs the question – are there so many celebrities in this movement because they truly believe in it, or rather are they people who longed to be famous and decided to go the route of political extremist because of the attention they knew they’d receive?

Are they just exploiting a media landscape that privileges outrage?

Grumpy Cat is cute but also angry

In order to explore some of these larger questions, I’ve been going through and trying to give attribute values to my network nodes (the celebrities) by gender, age, and other dimensions to help better visualize differentiating aspects between far-right celebrities. Although I initially didn’t think that this project would connect to larger work that I am engaging in, it has really helped to illuminate the ideas of collective action around media figures – a creation of a “us” for a certain subset of people, and the celebrities then rally the “us” around a “them”.

Ethan Watrall


February 19, 2018

Call for 2018-2019 Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellowship Applications

February 19, 2018 | By | No Comments

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative invites applications for its 2018-2019 Cultural Heritage Informatics Graduate Fellowship program.

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellowships offer MSU graduate students in departments and programs with an emphasis on cultural heritage with the theoretical and methodological skills necessary to creatively apply digital technologies to cultural heritage materials, challenges, and questions. In addition, the fellowships provide graduate students with the opportunity to influence the current state of cultural heritage informatics and digital heritage, and become leaders for the future of cultural heritage informatics.

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February 16, 2018

Project Plan Overview

February 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

For my CHI fellowship project, I hope to use the theoretical framework I have created in my previous project to begin considering how queer modes of making act as a form of world-making. In particular, I want to focus on the ways in which queer communities make “things” in order to make their worlds (more bearable). Often, in rhetoric and composition, we are understandably preoccupied with composing practices that follow linear logical progression, and thus linear alphabetic text is privileged as the primary mode for rhetorical creation. However, I wonder how might a preoccupation with lines of text—to linear logic in particular—leave out queer thinkers who see the world differently? In what ways does telling those thinkers that they are “wrong” through a constant focus on neat arguments leading to finite conclusions lead them to lose hope?

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February 16, 2018

Learning To Code….Twice

February 16, 2018 | By | No Comments

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, I’m working on a project that illustrates and advocates for non-linear, queer composing as a death-defying act of world-making. To do this in a digital project, I’ve been making my project using Twine, self-described as  “an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.” I think most people tend to use Twine to create a kind of “choose your own adventure” story-game. In this way, the platform works perfectly for my project. I want users to click through it and feel like their experience is completely random and different every time they come to the site.

The weird thing about Twine is that it has its own coding language, plus it uses html, css, and javascript. It won’t let me just code using html, but rather I’ve been doing a combination of both html and Twine’s style of coding. So, to get a bunch of overlapping pictures like this:

I have to code it like this:

Plus some css on another page.

I’m not great at coding in the first place– I knew nothing about it until starting this fellowship, so having to both continue to learn the basics of html, css, and javascript, as well as Twine’s formatting is a bit of a chore. To be frank, it took me six hours to get those pictures randomly on the screen and turn them into clickable buttons. Still, I love working with Twine because it offers up a cool way to think about creating a website/story that is random and non-linear in the way that I need it to be. This is what my collection of pages look like right now:

I’m so excited to keep working and build an even bigger web of pages. Wish me luck!



February 13, 2018

Introducing the Basics of My Website!

February 13, 2018 | By | No Comments

Since returning for the spring semester, I have been hard at work on getting my website up and running. As I have discussed previously, my website focuses on urbanization and migration to Moscow from other parts of the former Soviet Union from 1970 to the present. Today, Moscow is a world capital with designer boutiques and Michelin rated restaurants, but its socialist past is still visible from the metro system to its prefabricated apartment blocks. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx argues that bourgeois industrialization saved peasants from “the idiocy of rural life.” The 1970 Soviet census recorded that for the first time, more Soviet citizens lived in urban centers than rural ones. Soviet demographers, geographers, and others argued that this “urbanity” symbolized the ultimate success of socialism in the Soviet Union. This website examines Soviet urbanity as it existed and developed in the last two decades of the Soviet Union, tracing its afterlife in present-day Moscow. Drawing upon the research of scholars of second world urbanity, the website demonstrates how the Soviet project of building socialism focused on making citizens both urban and urbane. The socialist city was, in short, a social contract with its residents, providing them with their basic needs.

This website uses temporary labor migration to explore what urban and urbanity meant and still means in Moscow and interrogate who reaped the benefits of the (post)-socialist city. The website will showcase several essays that explain: (1) the centrality of Moscow for access to goods and services; (2) the process of temporary labor migration; and (3) the outcomes and consequences of migration for migrants, Muscovites, and the city itself. The website focuses on the trajectories of 4 locations: the Olympic Village, the Olympic Center, the Likhachev Automobile Factory, and the Lenin Komsomol Automobile Factory. The latter two were built by migrants, and the third employed several thousand migrant laborers. All three have left important traces in Moscow today, offering housing and cultural centers.

This project has two main areas of importance. First, it provides a case study of temporary labor migration, comparing socialist and capitalist practices. Crossing the Soviet and post-Soviet divide is a comparison itself that elucidates what is unique and what is not to socialism. Moreover, this website provides information that will allow others to make comparisons with other guest worker and postcolonial migration patterns. Second, this website both preserves and explains the history of Moscow. Projects for building new apartments and updating infrastructure for the World Cup are recreating and erasing the Soviet legacy. This website explains movement toward these goals while providing a repository of information on part of Moscow’s past.

The website will consist of a landing page that outlines the history of labor migration to Moscow and its economic and social outcomes from 1971 to 2002. The landing page will also host an interactive timeline of events related to population growth, labor migration, and larger events in Soviet history. The website will have five subsequent pages that will each address: (1) the practice of allocating labor in the Soviet Union; (2) changing demographics and borders of Moscow; (3) perceptions of migrants; (4) the history of labor migration related to automobile factories in Moscow; and (5) the history of labor migration related to the Olympics. Each page will act as a stand-alone historical analytical essay that elucidates a specific aspect of temporary labor migration to Moscow through text and interactive elements.

Page one will host two maps, one of the Soviet Union and one of Moscow, illustrating where migrants left and where they worked in Moscow. Page two will consist of four line graphs that will illustrate changing birth, death, migration, and population growth rates in Moscow. Page three will have a line graph to illustrate the changing places of origin for migrants. Pages four and five will show photographs that I have taken.

The website will use a multipage bootstrap to host the various website pages. For the timeline on the landing page, I will use Knight Lab since it allows me to use my own pictures and to illustrate 3 distinct timelines of population change, labor migration, and other events in Soviet history.

For the map on the first page that describes the history of labor migration to Moscow, I will use leaflet.js to construct a map that shows the 15 largest migrant-sending regions of the Soviet Union. Each pop-up will contain the area’s population in each census year (1970, 1979, 1989, 2002, 2010) as well as the number of migrants sent to Moscow in those years. I will also construct a map of Moscow that shows the 12 largest migrant-employing enterprises, and each pop-up will provide information on how many migrants worked there, the size of the overall workforce, and the type of work done at each location.

For the graphs that will chart the changes in birth rates, death rates, migration rates, overall growth of the city, and changing place of origin from 1970 to the present, I will use AM Charts, with Frappe being my backup. I opt to use either because they provide pop-ups that include data information and an explanation if necessary.




February 6, 2018

Project update: learning to tinker

February 6, 2018 | By | No Comments

A month into building my Mapping Consumers project, and this is what my page looks like:

I’m building my web map using Bootleaf, trying to tinker with the original code to make it fit my purposes and display my map. Until last week, I hadn’t been having much success. Replacing the map tiles in the original with another Mapbox tileset was trickier than I expected. But, as you can see, with some help from fellow CHI fellow Brian Geyer, I’ve now got the Mapbox.dark map displaying, and centred the map on South Africa. Doing this has meant learning to tinker with Javascript, and developing a strategy for which parts of the Javascript to alter, in which order.

So, my next step, now that I have the map displaying, is to link my geoJSON file containing the data about my pins to display. This will mean replacing all the code referencing geoJSON features with the features in my geoJSON file. Wish me luck!