Class Post

I really enjoyed Ramsay and Rockwell’s article about developing things and legitimizing digital work. One question that the authors mentioned was whether digital artifacts without accompanying discourse qualify as knowledge (whether digital things can be theories). In their opinion, a digital creation does qualify as a theory in that “it promises deeper understanding of something already given, like historical events or a literary work”. I agree with their point and do believe a digital artifact can serve as a “theory” as defined in the humanities. Digital artifacts provide detailed information on its creators and events that they memorialize.

Two examples that come to mind are the Vietnam Virtual Wall memorial and the Dead in Iraq video that we viewed earlier in the semester.

The Vietnam Virtual Wall page serves as an artifact that qualifies as a sort of theory and knowledge. While it does not have an accompanying discourse, it nevertheless provides us with a deeper understanding of the war and its soldiers. Each soldier’s name is linked to a separate page with their division information, birth/death date and images of the medals that they received. Kept together in this online database, they remind us of the costs of war and the value of soldiers’ sacrifice in our society. Will Tarry in his post talks about bias in data collection and how manipulation affects how that data is interpreted. His post reminds us of the difficulty of memorials and archives in being holistic and comprehensive at times. However, the potential of these sources to demonstrate bias does not mean that they do not qualify as a “theory”.

The Dead in Iraq video as a digital artifact qualifies as a sort of “theory” in that it helps provide a deeper understanding of the feelings about the Iraq War among presumably American teenage gamers. In this video, the author starts the online game and instead of following the standard protocol (shoot other players), he types the names and description of soldiers who have died in the war. In response, other players make fun of him, call his actions “spam” and kick him out of the game. The reactions of the various gamers to the author’s actions speak toward their desire to distance themselves from the reality of war, to achieve a separation between their “fun” shooting computer soldiers and the many casualties that real soldiers have occurred in war. Per Will Tarry’s post, these gamers likely fall into the category of gamergate supporters, individuals who decry “the death of the gamer” and are afraid of being challenged/forced to change.



Data Assessment: Ralph Johnson


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Spending two hours this afternoon in the archives was very helpful–I thoroughly reviewed most of Ralph Johnson’s files and have been able to find out more about the picketing of his business and the individuals who helped set the events into motion. I’ve also found out more specific challenges that Ralph faced (e.g. a source noted that bricks and billiard balls were thrown through his shop window at certain points). There has also been information adding nuance to Ralph’s positioning in the town as an African-American man before the Civil Rights Movement (e.g. he was strongly disliked by many other African Americans; while not allowed to normally access a segregated movie theatre owned by the Style brothers, he was given free access to watch the movies from a room next to the projector).

I’m still missing some general pieces of information (e.g. his date of passing), information on his life growing up and on his life after his barbershop went out of business. I believe that his book will provide me with this information, and I will also ask Dr. Blodgett for further guidance. I may also try to track his census records, and find about more information on the house he lived in and the properties he owned.


Digital Archives & Holistic Data Collection

Recently, per our project and in context of other posts, class discussion and our reading for today, I’ve thought about archives in general. The predominant form of data curation, at least at Davidson College, still appears to be physical archives, although digital data curation is on the rise.

In a previous post, Alec discussed the need for individuals to take responsibility and not hide behind their data. He states, “But the real danger, I think, comes not when we produce faulty data, but when we position arguments as a product of a computer or an algorithm, that we might absolve ourselves of our responsibility for them.” Alec’s words speak to the propensity of individuals to try to exonerate themselves by having their data serve as a scapegoat. While his post did not directly link this tendency to hide behind one’s data with archives, it did suggest the unchecked power that individuals who interpret data have.

These individuals who interpret our data and make judgments may be seen as analogous to the archivists mentioned in the Fuentes article for today. In it, the author demonstrates how “we produce histories of enslaved and free(d) women of colour in the Atlantic world using archives that significantly limit our efforts to access their lives.” Part of this limited access is due to the fact that the archivists valued certain things over others–in the article, property information on Polgreen (# slaves, value of property) was retained because it was valued so highly in the society during that time-period.

The limited access to Polgreen’s life as discussed in the Fuentes article was due partially to an incomplete archive and archivists who made decisions to retain certain things and throw out others. As we transition towards full digital archives in the future (if possible), I wonder how a holistic, representative set of data on an individual may be gathered.


Plentiful Information on the Business of Ralph Johnson, but is That Enough?

In her recent blog post, Leigh commented on the inequity with regards to memorializing individuals on the web. Through recounting her struggles with finding information on Fannie Brandon that was not a brief mention in the yearbook or the name of a fraternity, she demonstrates how access to information of those who were not privileged was and still is restricted. She says, “to actually learn about Fannie the person — not just the cook serving white college students — we have to pay”. Even if she did obtain access to data on her, it is uncertain whether much data would have been collected, at least compared to “white, privileged men”.

Similarly, I initially had trouble finding information on Ralph Johnson, an African-American businessman in Davidson who ran a prosperous business for many years: The Johnson Barber Shop. Through online searches, one can find many articles and webpages discussing how his business was picketed by Davidson students and professors, and so there is no shortage of information with regards to his business and the controversy surrounding it. Rather, I have struggled with the dearth of information concerning Ralph the person such as his childhood and life apart from his business.

Having said this, I acknowledge that I have yet to fully explore his files in the Davidson archives as well as the book he published late into his life. Yet I do believe that not enough data to holistically represent him was collected. Perhaps that partially was why he wrote his own book, to assert his own history and tell his story.


New Ways to Memorialize Individuals?

Recently, the discussion over what mode of preservation (physical or digital) is better has been revisited through classmates’ posts about the erosion of gravestones in The Graveyard Book. In his post, Will Tarry argues for the continued use of physical memorials. He writes, “Having a physical site that you can interact with always seems to stir up stronger emotions for me than viewing an online memorial. To me, this is a good enough reason to keep cemeteries around”. His post fits into the continued debate over which (physical/digital) mode is more effective. But are those the only options we have? Can we widen our definition/ conceptualization of memorials? A recent reading may help.

For Monday’s class, we read two articles, one about digital design for death and apocalypses. Focusing on various technological examples, Denisa Kera analyzes peoples’ response to the idea of death and unpacks new ways in which technology is being used for memorialization purposes. Particularly interesting are the examples “Afterlife” and the idea of transgenic tombstones. A piece meant to change conceptions of death, the first example involves converting a deceased individual’s organic remains into electricity that is stored on batteries; they are then given to the family of the deceased. The second involves implantation of human DNA into a tree, which is imagined as becoming incorporated and stored into the cells of the tree.

Both examples present novel ways of thinking about death and of preserving deceased individuals in the future. It will be interesting to see whether these ideas will take shape and broaden our concept for remembering individuals.



Silas: Our Intermediary between Physical Archives and Gaiman’s Graveyard

Recently, Leigh discussed in her post her magazines class and argued for the importance of commentary and analysis to accompany a data set. Stating that the source documents her class used were “significant on their own”, she wanted to “increase their usefulness with our own analysis”. This aspect of her argument echoed an idea from class discussion and past readings: a data set alone often means nothing when one does not have the proper information/context to understand it.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book provides another viewpoint into physical archives. Similar in structure and layout (the graveyard contains and stores the physical information/traces of the individuals who “live” within it), it provides good symbolic examples for what an effective physical archive should contain (some of which are what Leigh argues for).

The graveyard models, what I would argue, the ideal archive through the character, Silas. He is described as knowing “more than the graveyard folk did, for his nightly excursions into the world outside meant that he was able to describe a world that was current, not hundreds of years out of date”. An intermediary between both worlds, Silas serves as Bod’s guardian and keeps him oriented and alert towards what is happening outside the graveyard. In the context of physical archives, he ensures accessibility of relevant information, an important characteristic of effective archives. Asides from access, Silas also exemplifies effective interpretation of data and information. Throughout Bod’s childhood, Silas teaches him through providing information as Bod experiences the world, such that he seamlessly integrates the information into his knowledge. In contrast, when Silas gives Bod a new teacher, the results are different: “When Silas taught him things it was interesting…. Miss Lupescu taught in lists, and Bod could not see the point to it.” Context-dependent learning appears crucial here for Bod to develop a broader understanding of his world. Similarly, data sets require the proper lens to unpack and to comprehend (if we try to draw a parallel between physical archives and the grave in this story).




Data Curation: Can its Ideals be Fully Achieved?

Our reading for Friday’s class provides a nice introduction to data curation in the humanities. On this webpage, definitions for “data curation” and other terms are given in the first section, and more details on Humanities data curation are given in the second section. I really enjoyed the authors’ explanation of what digital curation was. More specifically, I like their framing of the term “curation” as having “this dual emphasis: on protection, but also on amelioration, contextualization, and effective exposure to an appropriate set of users”. The ideals manifested in this sort of formal definition can be seen as important in organizing information/data effectively and present an accurate portrayal to those connected with/invested in the data and its significance.

However, while the effort at preservation and curation has earnest goals, will it actually live up to its idealized potential? As discussed in class and past blog posts, there is a reasonable doubt as to whether curating efforts are effective or desired—Hannah Grace’s recent blog post talks about the overwhelming plethora of online data and the potential to misrepresent individuals “as they saw themselves and how they fit into the larger history.” Kim in her post questions the choice and effectiveness of digging through curated data to “recover” those from our pasts. Their arguments challenge the ideal outcomes that the curation website indicates.

In sum, while the ideals of data curation sound great, it may be a challenge to fully achieve those goals.

Mid-semester audit

In DIG 215 to date, we have covered numerous interesting topics and read many engaging articles. I would say that overall, our posts have grappled with and questioned the apparent permanence of the digital medium. The only difference is that we have approached this question in different ways during the weeks.

Most of our initial posts asked whether the digital platform maintains the integrity of the memories/values it seeks to preserve. There were many posts about Galindo’s exhibit and her pieces’ goal to call attention towards a marginalized group. It seemed that at the time, if her pieces are on the internet/are digitized, they will remain forever and get the point across, right? Perhaps not. In her post on the exhibit, Leigh argued that “the internet….[is] keeping us at a distance from what we choose to look at”, making it easier to ignore content that makes us feel uncomfortable. Kim added that “Digitalization changes the work…these works even in the digital realm only exist if we experience them”, adding to the notion that continued engagement in the material is necessary for individuals and their ideas to be remembered, something that may be difficult on the internet/ on a digital medium.

Our more-recent posts have taken-apart the supposed immortality of the digital medium and its information by extending our definition of “digital death” to include hindrance of one’s online presence. I wrote in a recent post, “Perhaps digital death can occur without a theoretical full wipe of an individual’s data- perhaps it can occur when an individual becomes silenced”, referring to the silencing of Zoe Quinn through various death threats made by gamers in the #gamergate movement. Following posts gave other examples that fell under this definition of digital death.  Hannah Grace further connected this new definition to the concept of public shaming, noting that “the movement of virtual silencing is unconcerned with its real-world repercussions on the individual.” The fact that individuals in groups on the internet can cause the “digital death” of others through public shaming further challenges our notion of permanent selves in the digital age.






Amended list of Digital Artifacts with Theoretical Orientations

Facebook memorial page–There is a specific memorial page for a friend that I’m interested in, who passed away two years ago. He was one of the first friends I had when my family moved to the eastern shore of Maryland 15 years ago. On his page, there are numerous posts by friends recounting fond memories and anecdotes. Interestingly, there are also numerous pictures of individuals posing with a sticker that happens to have his initials on it. I’m interested in unpacking this page and investigating how it ties into the theory behind digital death and whether it follows the general pattern with online memorials or is its own unique entity.

It will be interesting to look at the artifact while considering themes of sequestration of death and models of grief. The ubiquity of social media sites has made it possible to memorialize my friend online–I wonder though if there is something lost in this form of remembering. 

The relationships between my deceased friends and others has definitely changed as well. Their posts with my friend’s initials remind me about the Continuing Bonds model about grief. 

Dead in Iraq–Growing up, I’ve played a slew of video games that resemble the one shown in this video. I noticed immediately how some players typed messages to attack the person and thought he was spamming them. My younger self could relate, as I understand the desire to zone out other thoughts and focus on the game. However, given my new knowledge about digital death and online memorials, I couldn’t help but wonder why those individuals pushed back so much against the memorial- were they trying to enjoy this shooter game while ignoring the real-life implications of such warfare? It would be interesting to unpack their reactions.

It will be interesting to consider the other gamer’s reactions to this form of online memorial. To do so, I will have to consider general reactions to online memorials and the theory behind validation of certain mediums of memorialization. I might also try to explore more on the identity of gamers in general as related to gamergate and shared interests to unpack why they act the way they do. 

Harry Potter characters memorial video–

My generation grew up with the Harry Potter series. I remember reading the books and eagerly awaiting the movies upon watching each trailer. I think that the series embodied the capacity for wonder and innocence for our generation. Now, many years later, it is interesting to look at this video memorial of characters that have fallen in the series. I think it will be very interesting to unpack our reactions to their deaths and what individuals who enact these memorials are trying to preserve.

Here, I will consider the theory behind the need to memorialize and unpack what’s at stake for individuals like me in remembering this series. It may be interesting as well to consider models of grief such as Continuing Bonds to characterize our relationship to these fictional characters.