Friday, April 27, 2012

Publishing Libraries

[The American Antiquarian Society conference in Worcester last weekend had an interesting rider on the conference invitation--they wanted 500 words from each participant on the prospects for independent research libraries. I'm posting that response here.]

Here's the basic idea:


Monday, April 9, 2012

Visualizing Ocean Shipping

I saw some historians talking on Twitter about a very nice data visualization of shipping routes in the 18th and 19th centuries on Spatial Analysis. (Which is a great blog--looking through their archives, I think I've seen every previous post linked from somewhere else before).

They make a basically static visualization. I wanted to see the ships in motion. Plus, Dael Norwood made some guesses about the increasing prominence of Pacific trade in the period that I would like to see confirmed. That got me interested with the ship data that they use, which consists of detailed logbooks that have been digitized for climatological purposes. On the more technical side, I have been fiddling a bit lately with ffmpeg and ggplot (two completely unrelated systems, despite what the names imply) to make animated visualizations, and wanted to put one up. And it's an interesting case; historical data was digitized for climatological purposes, which means visualization is going to be on of the easiest ways to think about whether it might be usable for historical demonstration or analysis, as well.

So here are two visualizations.

[Update 11/12: For more of this, see my discussion of American shipping, and whaling in particular, from 1800 to 1860.]

The first one is long: it shows about 100 years of ship paths in the seas, as recorded in hundreds of ship's log books, by hand, one or several times a day. I haven't watched the whole thing at once, but skipping around gives a pretty good idea of the state of the database (if not world shipping) at any given moment.

You can watch either of these in much higher resolution by clicking around here or on YouTube--I definitely recommend 720p.

This shows mostly Spanish, Dutch, and English routes--they are surprisingly constant over the period (although some empires drop in and out of the record), but the individual voyages are fun. And there are some macro patterns--the move of British trade towards India, the effect of the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and so on.

The second has to do with seasonality: it compresses all those years onto a single span of January-December, to reveal seasonal patterns. I loop through a couple times so you can get a better sense, but the data is the same for each year.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Turning off the TV

I'm starting up a new blog, QwiksterProchronism (an obscure near-synonym for 'anachronism') for anything I want to post about  TV/movie related anachronisms and historical language. There are two new posts up there right now: on the season premiere of Mad Men and Sunday's night's episode.

People are interested in TV anachronisms, and I find the patterns it unveils really interesting for understanding language change. (A lot of my dissertation research focuses on just the sort of below-the-radar language changes). But I made this blog for working with large textual sources and posting occasional off-the-cuff rants about digital humanities, and the posts have gotten longer with time. I don't want swamp it with too much about television. Minor week-by-week rundowns of Mad Men would fall under that category, as would random Deadwood visualizations and a bunch of other things I have sitting around and may want to dole out.

I think we could have a mildly interesting discussion about the role of TV and film criticism in the digital humanities, which retains a bit of stodginess about its subject matter in order to secure acceptance for its methodologies. (I tend to think this is a wise bit of strategic positioning, but am open to the opposite perspective). Though I do have a fair amount of early broadcasting history in my dissertation, I can't bring myself to do a full-throated defense of writing about TV right now and passing it up as a somehow academic endeavor--chalk me up as part of the problem.

I'll probably follow the Andrew Gelman model and crosspost on some things with dual relevance. So whenever I get around to savaging Edith Wharton for her tin ear in The Age of Innocence, it will be here as well.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Digital Collections, Research Libraries, Collaboration

[The following is a revised version of my talk on the 'collaboration' panel at a conference about "Needs and Opportunities for the Research Library in the Digital Age" at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester last week. Thanks to Paul Erickson for the invitation to attend, and everyone there for a fascinating weekend.]

As a few people here have suggested, there's a lot to be suspicious of in the foisting of collaboration on unsuspecting researchers. To those worries about collaboration that have already been brought up (including by myself elsewhere), I'd add the particular suspicions that early-career scholars often bear. Collaboration is often one of those ambitious things that successful scholars only seem to turn to in earnest with the security of tenure, like transnational history or raising children.

But in the last few years, I've turned more and more to working with digital sources; and in doing so, it turns out collaboration is essential. It's impossible to escape. And, as everyone says, it really is wonderful.

But the forms that digital collaboration takes, particularly when it's most helpful, are very different than the traditional forms of heady engagement around a shared codex, blackboard, or meal that tend to get us most sentimental when talking about collaborative work. And that has important implications for libraries like this, because it suggests that the way you find your collaborators may be quite different. In some cases, you may not even know who they are. And the attributes it takes to attract these invisible collaborators can be quite different from those that libraries traditionally try to display, though they remain one that a library like this may have in abundance.