September 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.


September 11- Project Showcase and Workshop–Eruptive Art, Melissa Schlecht

Melissa Schlecht, a visiting scholar at the NULab for Texts, Maps and Networks, presented her project Eruptive Art: The Depiction of Atmospheric Anomalies after Major Volcanic Eruptions in American Artworks of the 19th Century.  Her project focuses on “the reconstruction of the geographical extension of atmospheric anomalies after volcanic eruptions across the United States as well as their influence on artistic production.” 

Her research looks at the possibility of tracking atmospheric anomalies in artwork, especially in the aftermath of volcanoes.  With the help of astrophysicists, an analysis of color ratios in paintings can determine the chemicals present in the atmosphere that the painting may have mimicked. For now, Schlecht is focusing on the effects of the eruption of Krakatoa, in 1883, but hopes to expand to include others. An example of this, is a genre of artistic works identified as the Tonalists whose landscape paintings often depict a yellowish-green haze and which aligns with recorded post-Krakatoa atmospheric anomalies. But, Schlecht recognizes that comparison amongst many artists is necessary to determine the influence of atmospheric conditions versus an artist or group of artists’ own style. 

This highly interdisciplinary study, drawing from art history, digital humanities and astrophysics brought up important questions for each of these fields.  For both art history and digital humanities, the need to compare many works brought up questions of representation in a set of data. For example, not all works of art are kept for museum archives depending on who created it or what its assessed value was at the time.  Artists of color and women artists often having been left out. For art history specifically, this project suggests the potential for a disciplinary paradigm shift and with it the challenges of persuading others in the field. Schlecht hopes that atmospheric anomalies and environmental factors can be recognized as one of the influencing factors for artistic trends and can be used as another avenue for discussing cultural production.  An attendee also commented on the potential significance of this research for climate change studies and that astrophysicists could use the chromatic analysis of paintings to help track the length of time that certain chemicals remain in the atmosphere after an environmental event. 


September 18- A Diary goes Digital, Roland Kamzelak

Roland S. Kamzelak from the German Literature Archive presented his project, A Diary goes Digital: The Edition of Harry Count Kessler’s Diary Online.  He shared how the diary has been edited and published in a hybrid print and digital edition.  

At the beginning of the session, Kamzelak shared background on the German Literature Archive in Marback, Germany, whose museum was originally built in 1903, and the sort of materials and literary estates it collects.  He explained that literary estate acquisitions include manuscripts, but also consist largely of letters and notes. Therefore, archivists must create a ‘network of collecting’ in order to track down matching letters that were sent to other people by the author. 

Kamzelak also provided background on Harry Count Kessler, his significance as a figure in European culture and why the transcription and digitization of his diary is so important. Kessler came from a wealthy family and as a result was able to spend his time and money serving as a patron for the arts.  He kept his diary for 57 years, beginning in 1880 at age 12, and used it as a place for reports on society and describing the places throughout Europe he visited. While Kessler does not write much about himself, the diary is important because it covers a breadth of topics and places from Kessler’s travels and interactions with foreign diplomats. 

The transcribing of the journal began in 1994 and was completed last year, resulting in nine printed volumes. For the digital version of the journal, the first step was to focus on the document itself before analyzing Kessler’s writing process or the thousands of people he wrote about. Kamzelak noted that at the time the digitization began, TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) did not include standards it has now for names and people, so a database was created alongside the text files to serve as a key for the diary.  This also left space for later research to fill in the biographical and associated information about the individuals Kessler wrote about. 

Researchers can now utilize and add to an Oracle database that is used for all the editions completed at the Marbach archive.  Users can search for people described in the diary as well as link out to their own projects and research references. Kamzelak closed his presentation by sharing the future plans for use of the diary.  He is especially interested in exploring statistical data that can be drawn from the diaries, as well as maps and visualizations for the connections between the people and places that Kessler described. 


September- DH Resource Sharing and Workshopping

At this session, attendees took the opportunity to discuss challenges they have faced in their research or project endeavors when it comes to capabilities of available tools or finding tools that fit their needs.  Fellow attendees contributed ideas for possible solutions and shared their knowledge of resources and tools that could help with the project in question. As a group attendees also brainstormed functions that they hope can be developed within the tools they are already using, particularly within in the realm of open-source tools.

Discussion themes included: 

-The readability of programming language and the programming style that should be encouraged for students

-Tools for analyzing the semantics of social networks

-Maps that allow for deeper interactions between time and space for a particular data set

At the conclusion of the session some attendees noted that tools serving a particular function are often driven by the same type of data structures. Something can be helpful when learning how to use and work with new tools. 


Have any questions or ideas for an upcoming DH Open Office Hour? Contact Mahala Nyberg at with ideas and feedback!