October 2019 Open Office Hours

Each week during the academic year, the DSG hosts a “Digital Humanities Open Office Hours,” where beginning and experienced researchers share knowledge about how to use different tools, or discuss turning an idea into a solid project. We also share current and completed projects, as well as our experiences with many different facets of the DH world.  September hosted some very exciting sessions. If you did not get the chance to attend, check out reflections on the sessions below.


October 2-  Introduction to Data Cleanup with Spreadsheets

Bahare Sanaie-Movahed, Sr. Research Data Analyst at Northeastern Library led an introductory session on data cleanup using spreadsheets.  She demonstrated the basic steps in cleaning a set of data using Excel spreadsheets so that it can be used to create a Google Map. Attendees learned about the challenges of downloading large data sets and tips for cleaning and maintaining data.

The example used for the session was a set of Boston homicidal data from the Boston Police Department.  Although data sourced and downloaded from online databases is often very messy, using Excel it can be organized and used to make simple visualizations.

In the case of the Boston Police Department Data, it had been formatted in such a way to support printing, so it needed to re-formatted in Excel so that it was readable and then formatted as a table so it could be manipulated.  By formatted in a table, the data can be filtered in ways that are useful for your research questions. The primary goal for wrangling a data set is to adapt it so that it fits the parameters of your project.  

It is important to preserve the original data set, so Sanaie-Movahed recommended copying the data into a new spreadsheet before manipulating it or removing fields that are not useful for your research or intended visualization.  She also noted that for visualizations, you will often need separate spreadsheet files because most programs do not understand the concept of having multiple sheets within a single Excel file.  

If you are interested in finding downloadable data sets for your research Sanaie-Movahed recommended visiting The Humanitarian Data Exchange, which often has data that is already clean and ready to be interpreted for research or visualizations.


Oct. 9- Sharing Design for Diversity

Amanda Rust, Digital Humanities Librarian and Assistant Director of the Digital Scholarship group presented on Design for Diversity, a teaching and learning toolkit designed for classroom and workplace use that is now ready to share. The Design for Diversity project, supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, focuses on the ways in which information systems embody and reinforce cultural norms, asking how we can design systems that account for diverse cultural materials and ways of knowing. 

The idea of ‘designing for diversity’ is not only the title for the project, but an initiative at the Digital Scholarship Group for inclusive information systems.  There were two main tasks that Design for Diversity sought to accomplish. The first was to focus on the “ways in which information systems embody and reinforce cultural norms.” Second, the project “asks how we might design systems that account for diverse cultural materials and ways of knowing.”

The project was funded through an Institute of Museum and Library Science Forums Grant in 2016 and as part of the grant requirements, it needed to be widely disseminated and assess the museum and library field in terms of inclusive cultural information systems. 

Design for Diversity began by looking at existing Library Science systems and conclusions were drawn for both classroom settings and the workplace. For students, the results were that inclusive design was not being addressed in their cataloguing classes.  Within professional setting, people were aware of the need for inclusive design but needed to learn more about how it could be implemented. The outcomes of the grant include a summary of the conclusions from the study and an online toolkit resource.  

Conclusions and suggestions for inclusive information systems: 

-Consider what tools you can create to empower the person or group you are working with. 

-Refine ideas of optimization to focus on  “what is optimal for the relationships with communities and organizations and what you can do to forge the best relationship with them,” as opposed to high input for digitization.

-Maintain an ethical pace, meaning make sure you have time to consult with all your partners for a given project

The purposes of the toolkit include: providing more circulation of resources, a place to house impactful publications and useful topics and a series of case studies and study paths all related to inclusive design. 

The case studies show examples of working with communities that a particular organization or researcher is not a part of and potential steps for reconstructive histories. 

The study paths bring up the importance of considering questions such as how metadata can affect curatorial processes and how objects need to be thought about in terms of emotional or personal perspectives as well as the object itself. 

The next steps involved for Design for Diversity are centered around the development of the Boston Research Center.  The BRC will focus on underrepresented and underserved groups in Boston and foster connections between community archives in Boston.  The BRC is not only a place where inclusive design principles can be applied, but it also has the opportunity to be built with the principle in mind. 


Oct. 16- 3D Printing at Cultural Institutions

This session featured a discussion on the applications for 3D printing at museums and cultural institutions.  Attendees were able to ask questions as well as contribute to the conversation and share projects they have heard about.

Discussion Questions and Topics Included: 

-Why is 3D printing becoming popular at museums, universities and other cultural institutions? 

-What are some of the pros and cons of using this technology? 

-How can 3D printing expand on visitor experiences historic sites? 

-The use of 3D printing to create ‘Data physicalizations’

-The challenges of communicating with visitors about hypothetical renderings (such as 3D prints or virtual 3D spaces) of historical objects or spaces.  As well as the opportunities for hands-on learning.

Follow the links below to see some of the projects shared by attendees that demonstrate themes, such as pedagogy and preservation, from the discussion. 

Virtual Vizcaya, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

3D Hot Bed Teaching Tools

“Touch this Page!”


Oct. 23- Project Showcase and Workshop-Romantic Cartographies, Asko Nivala

Asko Nivala, a visiting scholar at the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks, shared his project, Romantic Cartographies: Lived and Imagined Space in English and German Romantic Texts, 1790-1840.

His project analyzes the “spatiality of Romantic texts by reconstructing geographic maps they implied.” The goals of the project include building a database of place names from these texts which can be used for spatial visualization and continued research by future scholars.  To accomplish this, Nivala has utilized both Named Entity Recognition in Python and GIS (Geographic Information Systems). Once a place name is identified through Named Entity Recognition it is geo-located and plotted using GIS.  

Nivala noted that he is specifically using historical maps in order to align with the place names and borders that are contemporary with Romantic novels. This comes with its challenges as the low resolution of historical maps sometimes requires towns that are close to one another to be mapped as one location.  Typically there is a separate pin placed for each time a location appears in a text. This then demonstrates the importance of certain places for a given novel. When factors like political contexts or the populations of cities are considered, interesting patterns can emerge regarding which places are heavily mentioned or neglected.  

The final site will allow users to browse by author, novel or place so that they can explore patterns of popularity for different places.  Nivala envisions future developments that would allow users to compare German and English texts, as well as some experimentation with three-dimensional maps which would allow for interpretation of the significance of mountains, lakes or other geographic features.

Nivala’s overall hypothesis for this research is that there will be patterns that will emerge based on factors like population and industrial versus non industrial centers.  He anticipates an emerging pattern that will demonstrate certain places as centers for Romantic literature and others as peripheral places. This would then provide the opportunity to further interpret trends in Romantic texts.