Command Line Mastery, Not Yet

Oh, the “risks” of data. Data is always mediated, they say. I want to challenge this sort of assumption. I think that the most efficient way to get at this is to say that there is a reverse “risk”, a sort of ideology, that wishes itself worthy of combing through the rough terrain of implicit and methodological biases, political spin and other data diseases. Certainly, I don’t hope to hold anyones cautions against them, but this kind of dubiousness can tend to stymie creativity.

Data is also the process of transformation. It is recursive. And if the privileging of the measurable defects in data leads to the failure to register the immeasurable, that is recursion playing out at the level of a faltering analysis. There is always the danger, that is, of falling into the trap that any data analyst sets him/herself. Recognizing that there are a mountainous amount of bias and spin that is outside of the purview of anyone in the room is the first step in getting beyond this. It may not make people happy to (ex)pose their humility, but I hold it to be a pretty important part of best practice, and one that the Fieldschool should adopt.

Of course, interdisciplinarity is a hedge. So is having a few experts around. Navigating the networks of authority/expertise is an important skill in this regard. That said, I think that we, as 10 slightly aimless-at-times students, have been woefully equipped to use technology in a way that is productive to this kind of exchange. I can’t stress enough how this is a byproduct of a sclerotic university system, but lol, I graduated. And granted, a few weeks isn’t any kind of time to practice, but experimentation is possible.

I would propose here some kind of elaborate lifehack if it weren’t for the above constraints. Dialogue is obviously, obviously a good. And sharing ones links, annotations and what one cares about is crucial to setting up autonomous (very much describes us) places of hacking and mastery. The title of my post refers to the command line. I see it as a sort of heuristic where people who admire simplicity are composing knowingly under the restrictions of the command line. For the sake of this posts readability, I will just tell you that the command line is anything but simplistic. Sure, there is utility to restrictive environments: the change of pace, the occluding from distractions. But it is the purity of the command line interface that works to obscure the complexity of its use.


Art of CollaborationCaptain Primate (a.k.a. Ethan Watrall), ringleader of the 2013 CHI Fieldschool emphasized on the first day of the fieldschool that as participants we would be enculturated into the CHI domain through modeling and experimentation with standards and practices of the sector.  Theoretical knowledge and practical application are important components of any discipline.  In transdisciplinary arenas like digital heritage informatics and curation, collaborative processes require soft skills, resources, and networking between institutions and teams of individuals of differing cultures, personalities, styles of communication, and levels of expertise.

Stephen Dale, Collaborative Behavior (2012)1

What does collaboration entail?  The U.S. Forest Service2 identified the following elements as important aspects to working jointly on a project:

  • Leverage differences in strength, knowledge, and power on behalf of the collective to build the capacity to achieve objectives.
  • Support equal participation, even when there are differences in power, authority, and responsibility.
  • Focus on finding common ground and a willingness to live with and learn from decisions.

The Hack Library School website recently featured an interesting post by Paul Lai entitled Praxis and the Perennial Conflict Between Theory and Practice in Library Education.  In this post, Lai touches on the significance of collaboration as a basis of library information science practice.  I believe the same standards apply, by extension, to cultural heritage and memory institutions.

This week we concentrated on applying phases of project management and visualization of time.  Working through the process of launching a project from prototype to implementation of design.  We developed vision documents, wireframes, and work plans; utilized open-source tools such as the HTML/CSS framework, Twitter Bootstrap and the web-hosting site GitHub. We also created timelines using the JavaScript library, Timeline.js.  All of our assignments this week were accomplished through collaborative effort. Stephan Dale, founder of Collabor8now, Ltd summed up the collaborative process best, stating “the most important requirement of collaborative behavior is T-R-U-S-T.”1

1Dale, S. (2012). Collaborative Behavior. KIN Summer Workshop: Knowledge and Innovation Network. Retrieved from

2 U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2013). Partnership Resource Center- The Art of Collaboration.  Retrieved from!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gjAwhwtDDw9_AI8zPwhQoY6BdkOyoCAPkATlA!/?ss=119979&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&cid=null&navid=121100000000000&pnavid=121000000000000&position=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&ttype=main&pname=Partnership%20Resource%20Center-%20The%20Art%20of%20Collaboration

Shhh don’t tell…We’re pulling ourselves up by our Bootstraps

This week the field school dove into the wonderful world of Bootstrap. I’ve played around with a few templates before, but I knew much less html, CSS, and javascript than I do now. It’s really great that Twitter and their developers released their code so other people can play with it. I particularly liked Bootstrap because I think front-end webpage design is one of the most important pieces to a project. Yes, the data and the database and the underlying programming has to work — and work well — but I am of the belief that no one is going to want to use a site that looks terrible. I myself have quit playing games (regardless of the story) and abandoned websites (no matter how useful the content) when I couldn’t stand the design. If I don’t like the way it looks, I won’t use it. Bootstrap helps website and project developers solve at least the basic problems of design when they don’t have more advanced knowledge to do it themselves.

Modifying a template is so much easier than trying to write “from the ground-up.” I tried the latter a few weeks ago, and while I think I can say it wasn’t ugly — it definitely wasn’t smooth, beautiful, or giving off the appearance of being created by anyone with real skill. But Bootstrap makes it pretty simple to modify the html and CSS to alter the appearance of the site, so long as you understand the basics of programming. And honestly, even if I wanted to create a brand new site without the underlying Bootstrap, I think it would be easier for me to start from Bootstrap and just continue altering it until it became completely different and mine — because I like to see how the code I’m writing is actually changing things and that’s much harder to see when writing from scratch.

The only issue I have with Bootstrap is that it is so popular and I’ve started noticing it throughout the web, particularly on the list of example projects that Ethan has shared with us. And yes, I know it’s kind of snobbish to say I don’t want people to know I’ve used Bootstrap when I did use Bootstrap — but isn’t it a good goal to aim to make my use of Bootstrap less obvious? That would mean I’m writing code of my own, right? An important element of artistic design is to produce something unique and beautiful. I just wish I was talented enough to do that, but until then I’ll just build off Bootstrap and hope no one notices.

Long time listener, first time hacker

Last weekend I spent a fun few hours following Australia’s 2013 #GovHack on Twitter.  Like the name suggests, this event aimed to encourage “open government and open data” by inviting teams to “mashup, reuse, and remix government data” at meetings held across the country. Unsurprisingly, there were some wonderful results. The theme of open data and reuse resonated strongly at the Fieldschool this week as we practised finding, extracting and manipulating not just Government statistics but any open and available data. I had thought that the technical skills needed to remix data from the web were out of my reach because I wasn’t a programmer but happily the Fieldschool proved me totally wrong. How did this happen?

1. Finding data is surprisingly simple.

Many organisations give away data in formats that are easy to interpret

Many governments (including the US, UK and New Zealand) provide giant datasets for people to reuse. Meanwhile, an increasing number of museums, galleries and online repositories are opening their data doors too. Often, all it takes is roaming around a website to find the ‘download data’ option. On top of this, data is often provided in formats that people can easily understand: a CSV file is no more complex than spreadsheet. I would hazard a guess that simply knowing useable data exists and that it can be, often, easily understood dismantles the first significant barrier to reuse.

APIs are incredible

Learning about APIs felt like being given the keys to the castle because they allow you to reuse data on-the-fly. To my non-programmer mind, APIs took a while to understand because you can only really ‘get’ how they work on their own terms (culprit #2: JavaScript functions) and the process of requesting data dynamically is more complex than downloading it once-off. APIs come in many flavors too, so you aren’t assured the same request and response format every time. But this week we learnt the basic recipe and despite the increased complexity I would never hesitate to use an API: I at least feel confident that I can figure it out.

You may be able to scrape it

Scraping is the process of extracting unstructured data from an HTML document (i.e. webpage) and structuring it so that it can be manipulated for visualisation. Our technique was so straightforward that all we needed was a Google spreadsheet and tabular data from Wikipedia. I did learn that it is not a fail-proof technique: my spreadsheet went a little bit haywire when I tried to scrape this table later on. (Bonus points for anyone who can figure out why it didn’t work).

2. Cleaning data is surprisingly fulfilling.

While we learnt that cleaning data is crucial to successfully reusing it, opinions vary on how enjoyable this process is. Using a powerful tool like OpenRefine meant that I was surprised at how enjoyable it was. If you enjoy meticulous activities like jigsaw puzzles or knitting then take my word for it: cleaning data is genuinely absorbing.

3. Meanwhile: Data licensing is incredibly important

One important point we learnt this week (if not from the Fieldschool, then from the media) is that data is not neutral or free floating. When remixing, you have to be aware of use limitations placed by the person providing the data.  But, even then, licensing is not the impenetrable brick-wall that you think it might be. Navigating licensing can be as simple as familiarising yourself with the Creative Commons. A handy tip for the remainder of the Fieldschool is that visualisations are derivative copies.

3. Knowing what you want to do with data becomes wonderfully obvious

The last exciting discovery of this week is that I actually have ideas about what I’d like to make. I thought I’d have ‘hackers block’ about what to do with data, but I’m relieved to discover that’s definitely not the case. As soon as we learnt about various sources and techniques for extracting data, 1000 ideas appeared from nowhere. It obviously just took learning about what was possible for my mind to leap into action.

Essentially, while I can’t step out and immediately build the world’s best data-driven app, this week has proved that many of the barriers to remixing data I’d anticipated are roughly a day’s worth of (hard) concentrating away from being dismantled.

Codecademy: A Reflective and Thoughtful Review

These last two weeks have been fun and informative, but the real work definitely began before May 28th at nine am (five thirty am if you are me).  Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about  Codecademy has been the ‘go-to’ source of information and learning that make up the fundamental building blocks that this fieldschool has been built upon.  It has been extremely valuable and a great learning tool; however, I think it would have worked better to go over the lessons in class and then have done Codecademy as homework.

Codecademy made me so frustrated at parts that I wanted to pull out my hair and throw my laptop from my second floor balcony onto the cement parking lot below.  At other times I appreciated the information so much that I thought everyone should go to the site if they were interested in learning how to input code or create websites.  The site starts with Web Fundamentals covering both HTML and CSS.  These two went relatively quickly and easily without very many mishaps or confusion.  Most of the trouble came with JQuery.

Not everyone in the class decided to start JQuery before JavaScript, but regardless of the order, everyone had difficulties.  The site becomes more picky in these two sections and the code hasn’t been universal in our class.  For example, if I want to do a console.log function on my account it is necessary to input: ‘console.log=’ while in other students’ accounts it didn’t require the ‘=’.  In one particular exercise in JQuery, I had two other students input their exact codes word for word that they had used to pass the exercise and my account would not acknowledge it as correct.  The unanimously agreed to be the most difficult course was JavaScript but I had a hard time just getting to it.  I read the code and i understand how to use it and what code does what, but I just can not seem to get my account to work on certain exercises so I eventually gave up.  I am still writing down the code and I have been using it in class, but I don’t see an end to the frustration of not being able to make the account work.

Overall the site is useful and I plan on reviewing the covered material again as I go throughout the course, but I don’t think it is useful to make it a prerequisite for the fieldschool.  It was much more useful to be able to talk to the other students face to face about the different exercises and try them out together than it was to try to do it on my own.  The site doesn’t always explain certain lessons clearly and the more advanced students, or maybe rather the more insightful students, helped a lot with the more vague lessons.  In my opinion, this site is definitely at least an 8.3 out of 10 in terms of usefulness and awesomeness with the major need being more descriptive lessons and less finicky grading.


Hello from Cynthia

My evolution from the analog age was by default. I am a storyteller and since 1991 I have dedicated a large part of my research and artistic life managing outreach and media collaboration with community-based organizations in documenting the U.S. small farm experience. On the whole, most these projects have generated media deliverables to include oral history interviews, documentary video, and black and white photographs. This repository has been developed in the traveling exhibition, Voices of American Farm Women, the MSU Museum’s Voices Project, and three documentary videos that were aired on public television.

I was inspired by the local food, farm, and land movement across the U.S. and in 2006 enrolled in MSU’s Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures department with a Specialization in Gender, Justice and Environmental Change. My intellectual experience at MSU has helped me focus my skill set and scholarship direction…and now with the CHI fieldschool experience, I plan to share my digital repository with the general public, scholars, and fellow digital storytellers.

In Sardegna, I was fascinated Nuragic civilization-lasting from the (18th century BC) to the 2nd century AD. The Nuragic peoples built conical shaped tower fortresses that can be seen across the landscape. I have learned that around these sites is some of the most fertile soil and indeed there are still natural springs or evidence of natural springs as well as Roman churches near the Nuragic ruins. Another fascinating aspect of Sardegna is the medieval use of land-people were given the freedom to use the land in common. There are rules and governance now shaping local organizations in an effort to maintain these ancient rights. Sardegnians still speak an ancient dialect: in fact there are nearly 270 different dialects, some endangered. Therefore, the old land maps have place names (typonames) that represent how the land was used and by whom. I am in love with Sardegna, for all of these reasons and moreover, the contemporary peoples still have a deep connection to the land and a pastoral way of life. Oh, and I did my dissertation research on a heritage breed of cow, called the Sardo-Modicana.

I am certain that Cultural Heritage Informatics can help communities recognize their cultural capital and in the case of Sardegna, help bridge the gap between disciplines (humanistic/social science/natural sciences). I am part of a feasibility study with faculty in Sardegna to create a Center for Digital Research in the Humanities based upon the assumption that active citizen participation can steer change towards sustainable development. I believe Digital Humanities can be harnessed for strengthening a territories’ cultural capital through interaction, creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. Indeed, by exposing young people to the potential that lies in their digital skill-set embedded in their everyday practices from text-messaging with their cell phone, to social media such as facebook and twitter on their personal computer, to interactive animations or movies on a portable media player, they can teach others, like us born-analog folks.

I am learning to embrace technology, thanks to our fearless leader and all of “you young-folk!” And I love: Interactive Visualization:

Introduction to Cindy Nguyen

I’m originally from Los Angeles and in a little over a month I will move back to California for the Ph.D. program in Southeast Asian history at Berkeley. In my time here at Michigan State, I finished an M.A. in history, experienced ‘seasons’ for the first time, and developed a curiosity for digital humanities. My work on the MSU Vietnam Group Archive, a digitization project spearheaded by the MSU Department of History, MSU Archives & Historical Collections, and MATRIX, initially sparked my interest/confusion of the possible combination of ‘digital’ and ‘humanities.’I particularly enjoy the collaborative nature of many digital humanities projects including the Vietnam Group Archive. I’m still learning about this wonderfully exciting world of dh resources, events, and centers, and hope that this summer’s field school will continue to broaden my understanding.

 I am also interested in the methodological possibilities of digital humanities in the representation of space and movement. My current research explores the flourishing culture of Vietnamese travel embodied by the surge in travel stories (du ký) and advertisements published primarily in romanized Vietnamese newspapers between the 1920s and 1940s. With the work of data crunching and GIS software, I hope to also ‘translate’ the textual representations of travel into a visualization of Vietnamese movement more broadly from the 16th century to 20th century. In this wider comparison of the rich sources of precolonial and colonial travel stories, maps, and itineraries, I seek to shed light upon the distinct changes and literary continuity over time. I believe that digital tools, larger data sets, and GIS can be useful tools for textual based research and can help bridge to the divide between ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ research. For more on my research, see my page.

Introduction: Mel

Hi! My name is Mel Walker and I’m originally from Livonia, Michigan, It’s a pretty unsuspecting suburb in metro Detroit. Currently, I’m an undergraduate here at Michigan State. I’ll be going into my third year with a major in Anthropology and a newly added minor in Geography. I signed up for the Cultural Heritage Informatics field school because it sounded like too interesting of an opportunity to pass up. I had originally looked into doing an archaeological field school but was unable to work it in this summer. When I heard about this field school opportunity, I jumped at the chance to take. I still haven’t figured out exactly where I want to focus within Anthropology so I’m trying out new areas to discover what all is out there.

Digital technology is advancing faster than ever these days and is absolutely vital to just about any career out there. This field school seemed like a great opportunity to gain a basic working knowledge of many important concepts and skills. I’ve always been rather bad with technology and despite spending an unnecessarily large amount of time online I had no idea how any in or on my computer worked. This is a chance for me to improve my knowledge and also learn how to apply it to my future academic endeavors.

First go by @jaredbidlow


Finding the field school’s method of instruction and subject matter of interest, I have come to know it, since traveling to Michigan to take part, as a platform for expressing incipient social research concerns. How people relate to cultural materials, especially digitally, is important as we enter into an age when these materials worth will have to significantly secured, restructured and reconsidered. I’m especially interested here in critical resource insecurities as they come to manifest changes in social practices. Also of concern is the prolonging of the financial crisis and the deepening of inequality.

Within the confines of digital humanities, itself a contested term, there arises the related responses of 1) an urgency to embracing sophisticated platforms to both the self-application of them to scholarly practice and the the extrinsic application of them to archives, cultural/material artifacts, etc. and 2) a progressive harnessing of these technologies to hopefully be fruitful in bridging the gap between the multiple disciplines which make up the university and the broader public. I believe that 2 is often uncritically deployed. Therefore, I have real concerns with the aligning of digital humanities projects with financial interests. I have as well to face the more immediate concern of the crisis in employability of humanities graduates in the US. So I guess you could call me a digital skeptic with regard to its status in enabling my personal pursuit in the humanities, at least within the academy in its present state.

However, I have a love for “the digital”, digitally-enabled solidarity and friendships, and I also have a tremendous appreciation for the utility of digital algorithms to solve complex problems in the world. Here I think that engaging at the level of rhetoric is useful: to ask, for example, how our experiences of the world are mediated by things is to ask how the digital transforms perspectives, for good or not. This is the site at which games and critical interfaces can push incremental changes in perspective on their users.

So, basic concerns outran any form of personal introduction. I have a cat that I miss in Pennsylvania, where I enjoy hiking on the Appalachian Trail. I’m a graduate of Temple University. As I attended school, it became clear that a set of activist political orientations would be what I would devote a large amount of time acting out. I am still informed by the way that plural interpretations of political activity are put in relation, where intersections are around shared necessities.

INTRODUCTION: Celeste….Gypsy Womyn

My name is Celeste Â-Re.  I am a New Jersey native, raised in Detroit, and an alumna of Michigan State.  I currently reside in Washington, D.C.  Nine years ago I ventured outside of my comfort zone to pursue an offshoot of my interest in libraries and archives.  Trusting I could transfer skills developed over the span of my career as a performance arts manager and educator in New York, I enrolled part-time in graduate school and received a master’s degree in library information science from Long Island University.  My aim has subsequently evolved into the current iteration of my development from cultural worker to digital curator.

In 2012, I took a sabbatical from the Library of Congress to begin doctoral studies at the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science. As a first year Cultural Heritage Informatics fellow, my research interests are developing towards critical approaches to:

  • Mapping the cultural ecology of transformative learning communities.
  • pragmatic approaches to tacit knowledge.

My objectives are informed by my stagecraft and librarianship/archival experiences combined with my interest in community informatics, indigenous episteme, and digital cultural heritage.

I’ve been eager to collaborate with the CHI Initiative since I learned about it in 2010 and look forward to participating in the fieldschool.  I hope to expand my understanding of trends and issues in cultural heritage informatics; develop practical skills as a digital curator, and foster a network of colleagues and collaborators.