Author Archives: madi

Where do the ‘others’ fit in?

I’m writing this amidst a whirl of thoughts and tracks. Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s views on authorship and the status of private scholarship are impinging on my decision to write to a paper for the final assignment. On one hand, I am glad I read her while battling the dataset project, on the other, she is making me think where my final paper fits in the evolving landscape of scholarship. I am suddenly not satisfied to leave the paper to seclusion. And I am beginning to see the wisdom of having a blog and our instructors’ encouragement of documenting our ‘play’ with datasets. Even as blogs give ‘voice’, it also seems that the essential output remains writing, which, contrary to my decision to write a paper, I’m not entirely comfortable with. I’m still wondering why thoughts presented in writing alone qualify as scholarship; can’t a painting or music do the same? I know there are brave folk who’ve battled this, Nick Sousanis and his dissertation, written and drawn entirely in comic book format, comes to mind. But none of that is considered mainstream. It seems that  exchange and communication can expand when ‘intermedia’ becomes a reality, moving beyond the notion of ‘interdiscipline’? In the light of DH being a challenger of notions, how ‘other’ forms of expression can be included in scholarship is a thought to ponder.

For further reading on unusual dissertation forms, I invite you to browse through the following

Stitching on the Old to the New: Tracking Change through Maps

I recently attended a workshop on Map Warper at NYPL that dealt with ‘georectifying’, an often arduous and tedious post-digitizing processing of maps, that the NYPL Map Division has managed to turn into a fun and engaged activity by opting to crowdsource it. Funded by the NEH, the Map Warper is a tool suite, used by library staff but also open to the public, to align (or “rectify”) historical maps to today’s digital maps, adding valuable geographic context to old maps. Importantly, all work done is in the public domain. In NYPL’s words,

“Tile by tile, we’re stitching old atlas sheets into historical layers, that researchers can explore with pan-and-zoom functionality, comparing yesterday’s cityscape with today’s. Along with other tools — such as one for tracing building footprints and transcribing address and material information found on the maps — we are laying the groundwork for dynamic geospatial discovery of other library collections: manuscripts and archives, historical newspapers, photography, A/V, ephemera (e.g. menus) etc.”

Given our discussions these past weeks, it seems to me that the points of departure are numerous. I’m reminded of Sarah’s post on mapping the urban setting of fictional characters, when I think about how this tool can help recreate the urban setting of historical characters/personages in today’s context. All one needs is a time period and location, if the Map Division has a corresponding map, lo, and behold! you can see the past and present streetscapes simultaneously.  From an urban planning perspective, it is fascinating to see how the cityscape wears the passage of time and explore possible lessons for urban design. I expect it also will help planners visualize and chart the imperceptible movement of real estate, the steady shift of the cityscape over the underlying landscape, which is only possible with tools such as this.


Source: Map Warper, NYPL Labs

“The above image shows a warped map sheet from an 1857 William Perris Real Estate Atlas depicting a section of Manhattan to the southwest of Union Square (see it in the context of the Warper). By stitching this to its sibling sheets from the atlas, we can build a complete 1857 historical layer of Manhattan, observing changes in the street layout and conjuring the ghostly footprints of old buildings. This is just step 1 in a larger integration effort, in which we can pull together archival records, newspapers, photography and other literary and historical documents that are associated with places on the map.”

Link –

For those of you interested, there is also a helpful tutorial video on their website to get you started on the project, and helpful Map Division staff are available for tech support.


I started off Week 2’s readings with the belief that I belonged to the ‘hacking’ group. It has always seemed to me that actions speak more eloquently than words do; if something existed, that, validated its presence, there was no need to probe further. There was also social conditioning – probing was considered the prerogative of the affluent or the premise of the indolent; only those who had no need to labor (manually or mentally) were free to theorize. Then, while reading Tim Sherratt’s ‘It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People’, I found myself agreeing that every act(creating/building/hacking), in fact, the very structure (physical, social, material, etc.) of our lives is instigated by the questions asked by those before us and with us. Probing questions and their motivations, theorizing in general, seems essential for interacting with information and shaping knowledge.

To develop from Geoffrey Rockwell’s contention that DH is a craft, if DH as a craft is a way of doing/bringing our ideas to life, then theory pertaining to DH is the thought that arises post production. It is the formal assimilation of ‘knowing’ into a body of knowledge for later use. Thus DH projects are the knowledge base from which theory springs. When a large body of projects come into existence, invariably, theorizing begins; I believe DH has reached a stage where the knowledge base is large enough to support strong theorizing. Once a discipline reaches such a stage, the ‘yacking’ and ‘hacking’ begin to coexist and feed each other. Each will become strong enough to question the other and even perhaps proclaim independence of the other.

The ‘hacking vs yacking’ debate continues to exist because of the separation of academe from ‘industry’, where technology workers ‘craft’ projects into existence away from the academic spotlight. When scholars make ‘commercial/industry-driven’ projects their objects of exposition, they do so in the company of and for the consideration of their peers, quite oblivious of the ‘craftspeople’. Self-initiated scholarly projects are just as insular, carried out as they are with graduate students and ‘alt-ac’ staff. In my opinion, the values of DH (openness, collaboration, diversity, collegiality and experimentation), will serve it best when not limited to the field but rather extended to the ‘external’ world as well. Scholarship which collaborates with ‘craftspeople’ in the quest for knowledge advancement is an ideal Digital Humanities can aspire to. In this sense, I would like to see more of ‘hacking + yacking’.

Digital Humanities – An Experiment with Myself

‘The Life of the Mind in the Heart of the City’ as the MALS program website so aptly declares, is what I seek to understand during my time here at The Graduate Center. For if there is one word that sums up my interest, it is ‘living’ – the act of living, of dealing with one’s life as it unfolds, and finding satisfaction and enjoyment in it. And, I believe that for anyone seeking an answer to the question of ‘life’, human life in particular, it becomes very important to understand the process of cognition.

Surely, understanding how my mind approaches and processes new information/experience can help me understand my life better? I propose to do just that by observing myself undergoing a new experience and tracking my thoughts, perceptions and feelings as I do so. Enrolling for the Digital Praxis Seminar is an experiment with myself, to see how I react to and respond to a new paradigm in research and inquiry; to know if the life of an academic, subject to constant overhauling of ideas and perceptions, is something I can live.

Until now, I have been a passive user of technology, usually upgrading my technical skills as and when required. This is the first time I have proactively enrolled for new technology-driven coursework, that I feel very much like a stranger to most of the ideas that are discussed in class. And this is exactly the kind of experience I am looking for, so I am very glad that I chose to enroll for DH. No matter that I may feel frustrated and experience self-doubt at times, I expect to feel exhilarated and overjoyed by the discoveries I will have made at the end of the semester. I expect DH to expand my horizons and reset my thinking process. As someone who has returned to academia after a good nine years, I hope it will be an apt launchpad to dive in to the sea of research and inquiry.