Archive for category Digital Humanities

HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities published

As part of the MetaLab series of books about the digital humanities, Harvard University Press has just published HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities. The book is a collaboratively authored and designed exploration of mapping cities over time.  The primary authors are Todd Presner, David Shepard, and Yoh Kawano, with contributions by Philip Ethington, Mike Blockstein, Reanne Estrada, Chris Johanson, Diane Favro, and Xarene Eskandar.  A digital platform transmogrified into a book, it profiles the ambitious online project of the same name that maps the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment. The authors examine the media archaeology of Google Earth and the cultural–historical meaning of map projections, and explore recent events—the “Arab Spring” and the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster—through social media mapping that incorporates data visualizations, photographic documents, and Twitter streams. HyperCities includes a “ghost map” of downtown Los Angeles, polyvocal memory maps of LA’s historic Filipinotown, avatar-based explorations of ancient Rome, and hour-by-hour mappings of the 2009 Tehran election protests.

The companion website to the book is:


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Mapping Jewish LA Launches

What if you could “go back in time” and visit Boyle Heights in the 1920s? What if you could hear the music and voices coming out of Zellman’s Men’s Wear or Ginsberg’s Vegetarian Café? What if you could follow the pathways of immigrant families who just landed in LA in 1900 to make a new life for themselves?

Through a partnership with the UCLA Library and Special Collections, the University of Southern California, and more than a dozen community archives, the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies is embarking on an ambitious, five-year initiative to create a multimedia, digital archive of Jewish LA. The archive will be accessed by an innovative web platform called “HyperCities” that will allow users to “drill down” at particular places throughout the city—for example, Pico-Robertson in the 1950s, or Boyle Heights in the 1920s—to uncover the traces and history of Jewish LA. The project will not only preserve the rich history of Jewish LA for generations to come, but will also make it accessible using cutting-edge digital technologies that will stimulate new research, teaching, and community engagement throughout Los Angeles and beyond.

To learn more, please visit:

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HyperCities wins Google Digital Humanities Grant for “Geo-Scribe”

HyperCities Geo-Scribe, a project proposal by the HyperCities team, has been selected to receive one of the first Google Digital Humanities Research Awards. Geo-Scribe will be an extension to HyperCities, a mark-up tool that brings together books and maps in a collaborative authoring environment for exploring the spatial dimensions of literature. The tool will allow users to create maps of places related to books, and each point on each map will be linked back to specific pages in the books. Users will be able to browse all books that mention a certain time and place, and to browse all the maps created by users that are linked to a specific book. Geo-Scribe emphasizes multiple mappings and multiple perspectives and will add a social, participatory component to the mapping projects that have already been undertaken by Google Book Search.

Below is a hypothetical screenshot of what the project might look like, taken from the proposal:

Here is a link to the official Google announcement.

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The 40th Birthday of the Internet

On October 29, 1969, a computer at UCLA sent the first message to a computer at Stanford via a rudimentary “internet” connection established between two Interface Message Processors.  Leonard Kleinrock, Professor of Computer Science at UCLA, describes the “birth of the Internet” in this fascinating video.  The first message that the team at UCLA tried to send was “log,” which was to be completed by a response message (“in”) from the Stanford team.  But the computer crashed after the first two letters were typed, “lo”!

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HyperCities 2.0 launches with Mobile Media Tours

Built on the idea that every past is a place, HyperCities is a digital research and educational platform for exploring, learning about, and interacting with the layered histories of city and global spaces.  Developed though collaboration between UCLA and USC, the fundamental idea behind HyperCities is that all stories take place somewhere and sometime; they become meaningful when they interact and intersect with other stories.  Using Google Maps and Google Earth, HyperCities essentially allows users to go back in time to create and explore the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive, hypermedia environment.

On September 26th, PDub Productions in partnership with HyperCities, The Pilipino Workers Center, Remap L.A,  USC, as well as local youth and community members, will launch the first “mobile media tours” of Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown.  Tour-goers will use GPS-enabled Nokia tablets to access audio, photos and maps that bring to life immigrant perspectives and time periods. Each guide features one central figure of the period but is augmented by many other personal stories of life in Historic Filipinotown or Los Angeles during the time period: a Filipino “Fountain Pen Boy” (1898-1945), a Filipino Farm Worker (1945-1965), a Latina Teen (1965- 2002), and a Filipina Caregiver (2002-present).

To learn more, visit:


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The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, or Why this Professor Loves Wikipedia

As the fifth in a series of reports commissioned by the MacArthur Foundation to explore digital media and learning, “The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age” examines how institutions of learning (from K-12 to universities and beyond) have changed–or, more precisely, failed to change–in light of the new affordances for shared and interactive learning made possible by the Internet and the wide-range of collaborative digital tools.  The report, written by Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, the co-founders of HASTAC, has been published by MIT Press and will form the basis of a larger book.  Earlier versions of the report were made available on the blogging engine, Commentpress, and the final report engages the rich conversations of more than 300 contributors, who commented on the blog and/or participated in various symposia.

The argument rests on the observation that institutions of higher learning are remarkably unchanged since their inception in the Medieval period.  They are still physically and intellectually sequestered places, often with highly guarded archives and libraries, where admitted students engage with professors in a rigidly hierarchical setting in order to learn the rules and structures of knowledge of increasingly specialized fields and subdomains.  As Michel Foucault, the late French philosopher of discursive systems, argued in his inaugural address at the College de France, “The Discourse on Language” (1970), the production of knowledge at such institutions has always been tightly “controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed” according to systems of inclusion and exclusion, procedures that codify what is and isn’t knowledge, and institutions of support that enable and promote truthful utterances (whether the book-system, publishing, the tenure and promotion system, etc). It is, by and large, a self-enclosed, circular system in which knowledge is handed down from generation to generation, doled out from expert to student.  The problem, as Davidson and Goldberg argue, is that learning institutions are acting “as if the world has not suddenly, irrevocably,  cataclysmically, epistemically changed” (19).  What happens when anyone or perhaps everyone can create, curate, publish, share, and interact with knowledge using the most basic tools of digital media (say, this blog or YouTube)?

What if Wikipedia–rather than facilely dismissed, as is so often the case–was taken seriously as a new learning institution: A multilingual, global, and collaborative knowledge-generating community and platform for authoring, vetting, distributing, and versioning knowledge.  It could, in fact, be a model for rethinking institutions of higher learning, which are all-too-often fixated on “individual training, discrete disciplines, and isolated achievement and accomplishment” (14).  Not only would we have to rethink how knowledge gets created, but we would also have to rethink who gets to create knowledge, how it gets legitimated and authorized, and how it is made accessible to the whole world (rather than just a select community of scholars, those who Foucault sardonically calls “fellowships of discourse”).

In so doing, Davidson and Goldberg argue for the vitality and flexibility of open networks for knowledge creation and distribution that place a primacy on process, collaboration, access, interaction, and creativity.  Indeed, this is the time for bold, visionary thought, if learning institutions are to have a future that is not a conservation of their past and a one-way ticket to 21st century irrelevance.  Wikipedia is a model for this kind of new learning and could even be held up as a banner for what the future of learning institutions can be (ie, global, open, multilingual, collabarative, virtual, and iterative).  This is why I encourage my students to use it–that is, consult it, contribute to it, try it out in different languages, analyze the processes of versioning and editing, critically interrogate the content of the articles and make them better based on their own fields of expertise and knowledge.  Wikipedia may turn out to be the most comprehensive, representative, and pervasive participatory platform for knowledge production ever created by humankind.  Indeed, every teacher should be inspired by this.


Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 Launched


Derived from “raising the hand” (manus), a manifesto is a call to action, a decisive intervention at a critical moment.  It is a genre characterized by pithy statements and suggestive formulations, which are simultaneously playful and deadly serious.

The purpose of the Digital Humanities Manifesto is to arouse debate about what the Humanities can and should be doing in the 21st century, particularly concerning the digital culture wars, which are, by and large, being fought and won by corporate interests.  It is also a call to assert the relevance and necessity of the Humanities in a time of downsizing and persistent requiems of their death.  The Humanities, I believe, are more necessary than ever as our cultural heritage as a species migrates to digital formats.  This is a watershed moment in the history of human civilization, in which our relationship to knowledge and information is changing in profound and unpredictable ways.  Digital Humanities studies the cultural and social impact of new technologies as well as takes an active role in the design, implementation, interrogation, and subversion of these technologies.

To quote from the Manifesto: “Digital Humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences. The Digital Humanities seeks to play an inaugural role with respect to a world in which universities — no longer the sole producers, stewards, and disseminators of knowledge or culture — are called upon to shape natively digital models of scholarly discourse for the newly emergent public spheres of the present era (the www, the blogosphere, digital libraries, etc.), to model excellence and innovation in these domains, and to facilitate the formation of networks of knowledge production, exchange, and dissemination that are, at once, global and local.”

Authorship: The manifesto has been published in two “Commentpress” blog instantiations.  Version 2.0 is also available as a pdf file.  Parts of the manifesto were written by Jeffrey Schnapp, Peter Lunenfeld, and myself, while other parts were written (and critiqued) by commenters on the Commentpress blog and still other parts of the manifesto were written by authors who participated in the seminars. This document has the hand and words of about 100 people in it.