Critical Making in the Humanities

This post is guest-authored by Kari Kraus, Associate Professor of English and Information Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. Professor Kraus gives a free public talk on April 22, 4:30pm, in the Macksey Room (2043) in the Brody Learning Commons at Homewood, followed by a reception. This talk is our last in the Special Collections Research Center series on "The History and Future of Libraries."

BonsignoreKrausEtAl_02The last few years have seen a growing interest among humanities scholars in what Matt Ratto has termed critical making: the embodying of ideas and arguments in things as well as words. Much of the definitional and conceptual work around critical making has emerged in fields such as design, interactive technology, and the studio arts.

Critical making might seem to be centered in specific up-and-coming technologies like 3D printing, in new code-savvy communities like maker spaces and Hacker Lab, and in the processes typical of GitHub collaboration. Indeed, some libraries have even begun to accommodate these forms of exploration and research, as an expansion of the traditional library mission.

But critical making can also be defined in relation to a broader spectrum of methodologies and technologies. In this talk I ask what, if anything, makes critical making in the humanities distinctive from other disciplines by considering a range of examples in book history, literature, archaeology, and art conservation. I’ll then show and discuss some of the critical making experiments my collaborators, students, and I have undertaken since 2010, with an emphasis on methodological mash-ups that cut across the arts and humanities, the social sciences, and the design disciplines.

Please come for the lecture, discussion, and reception!

Spring DIY

At long last the snows have cleared and Spring is upon us. What better time to get back to the earth, get your hands dirty, and DoItYourself?

Our country has, in some way or another, been a DIY nation since its early days. Be it gardening, cooking, distilling, or dressmaking, early Americans made and did by hand because often there was no other reasonable option.

As time progressed and the nation became wealthier and more mechanized, a sense of what was lost in an earlier age began to grow. Perhaps this is best exemplified in the work of philosopher, naturalist, and ardent-DIY'er Henry David Thoreau. Amidst the proprieties and formality of New England society, Thoreau sought an individualism that could express itself in an authentic life. Thoreau's experiment at Walden is itself a great example of how making carries a political message.

Today, the DIY spirit is alive, strong, and growing. Crafters, artisans, designers, gardeners, fermenters and brewers of all sorts, and so on have turned making into a movement and a message. Tired of the rising tide of throw-away culture, DIYers aim to make creation part and parcel of daily life. So pick up a shovel, dust off the sewing machine, and get out there and make something!

FindIt and Articles Demystified

I'm betting you've used FindIt before. FindIt is a great tool that lets you move from a description of an article, book chapter, or book, to the online version of that item. You'll see FindIt when you search in:

You can also go directly to a FindIt search screen to look for a particular item.

FindIt offers a lot more information than a link to the online version. See the video below for more tips on using FindIt.

 

The Roland Park Company records are OPEN!

This is the final entry in a monthly series of posts highlighting uncovered items of note, and the archival process brought to bear on these items, as we preserve, arrange, and describe the Roland Park Company Archives.

Well everyone, it’s been a long journey, and so it is with great pleasure that I can announce that the Roland Park Company records are now open for research! Click here to see the finding aid for this collection, officially called MS 504 – The Roland Park Company records.

Please note that the architectural drawings remain closed for conservation reasons.

What now? Well, come on down! Everything you need to know to use and visit the collection is available here, including our hours, directions, and the email address you'll need to request materials in advance (or ask questions).

Some facts about the collection and how to use it:

  • The records date from 1865 to 1970, but the real bulk of the material dates from the company’s founding in 1891 to one year after its liquidation on December 31, 1959 (so to 1960).
  • The records consist of all kinds of material. The vast bulk (and I do mean vast) is correspondence, but there are also ledgers, scrapbooks, photographs, reports, meeting minutes, subject files on particular topics (like national real estate policies), and published material (like the Roland Park Company Magazine).
  • The correspondence is not only the biggest part of the collection, but also the most complex. Remember the Paper Database parts 1 and 2? To help explain that a little more, check out pages 8-10 in the finding aid. I tried to explain the correspondence numbering system as well as I could, but the best way to figure it out is to dive right in.
  • There are practically three collections in the Roland Park Company records! In addition to the company records, there are also the papers of its two presidents, Edward H. Bouton and John M. Mowbray. Take a look at the table of contents in the finding aid and you’ll see they’ve been separated into their own series for you. These were very interesting men, and they had an influence on housing policies in the United States.
  • The records are in 298 boxes, not counting the architectural drawings (which remain closed for conservation reasons), and almost all of them are housed off-site. Special Collections will require at least 24 hours’ notice to get these to you, so make sure you email us.
  • The Roland Park Company records finding aid, which is the document that you researchers will be using in order to see what’s actually in the collection, is a whopping 484 pages long! Yes, that’s long, and boy are my fingers tired.
  • The Roland Park Company had 20 subsidiary companies! Check out page 408 of the finding aid for a helpful chronology of when all these smaller companies were founded, and the various names they were known by.

So I hope you have enjoyed reading about the journey. The best is yet to come now that we can hand the work over to you, researchers of the world, to help these records tell their story to us all.

Library as Emergent Infrastructure

This post is guest-authored by Shannon Mattern, Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School, NYC. Professor Mattern will be giving a public talk on April 8, 4:30 pm, in the Macksey Room (2043) in the Brody Learning Commons at Homewood, part of the Special Collections Research Center series on "The History and Future of the Library."

For millennia libraries have acquired resources, organized them, preserved them, and made them accessible to patrons. But the forms of those resources have changed: from scrolls, codices, and LPs to ebooks and electronic databases. At the same time, the contexts--spatial, political-economic, cultural--in which libraries function have shifted. So libraries have had to continuously reinvent themselves and the means by which they provide those important information services. Plus, libraries have taken on a host of different social and symbolic functions, which have also evolved in response to the contexts in which they operate: think "library as community center" or "library as public square" or "library as student haven." The library has always been an emergent informational and social infrastructure.

In this age of e-books, Google, smartphones, firewalls, proprietary media platforms and digital rights management; of atrophying mega-bookstores and resurgent independent bookshops; of teach-to-the-test and threats to liberal arts education; of the continuing privatization of public space and economic disparity--and, at the same time, of vibrant public-led DIY and activist cultures--what roles do our public and academic libraries play?

In this talk I'll examine how today's library has evolved, and how tomorrow's libraries could evolve, to function more effectively and responsively. Examining several recent design projects, I'll focus in particular on how the space of the library--its physical infrastructure--can accommodate the library's shifting program, can embody its embrace of new epistemologies, and can embed our libraries at the symbolic centers of our cities and campuses.

De-identifying human subject data for sharing

hand-share-ID_JHUDMS

JHU Data Management Services will be giving training sessions periodically, starting this spring, in which we offer tips and techniques for preparing human subject data for public access, for both quantitative and qualitative research. More and more funding agencies, publishers, and research communities are asking researchers to make results of funded studies publicly available to other researchers. While funders acknowledge IRB and federal restrictions on protecting identities of research subjects, there are benefits to sharing de-identified datasets. These include allowing peer review, reproducibility, building upon prior research, and increasing citation rates, as well as saving on the costs of new data collecting and of administering access to restricted datasets.

Removing personal identifiers from data can be a significant effort, but our workshop offers a range of methods for more efficiently integrating identifier protection throughout the research process. These include:

  • Making sure IRB forms and participant consent forms are provided for sharing de-identified data after the project is complete.
  • Knowing what types of studies pose greater disclosure risk, such as those with small samples from geographically specific areas, sensitive topics, or protected subjects such as children, and multiple demographic variables.
  • Being alert for variables that could be associated with data from public databases or the internet, such as Facebook profiles, and ‘outlier’ subjects with unusual combinations of variables linkable to a particular region or group.
  • Removing identifiers during data analysis rather than waiting until the study is complete. Keep any documentation of changes and codes in a secure encrypted file.

The training will discuss statistical techniques for de-identifying variables in quantitative studies, and also ways to de-identify qualitative data, including audio/video.

A goal of disclosure protection is to increase the level of uncertainty for identifying any given subject, without removing too many variables and limiting the utility of the data for further research. The level of identity disclosure risk is at the researcher’s discretion to an extent, so always check with IRB for their assessment of whether a dataset is adequately protected before sharing it with others or online.

Join JHU Data Services for training sessions on De-identifying Human Subject Data for Sharing. The next session is:

April 10th, 12-1:30 PM Homewood, Brody Learning Commons, 4040

Please RSVP to datamanagement@jhu.edu to attend.

Sci Fi, Fantasy, Anime, Games!

JohnCon 2014 is almost here!

This 48-hour extravaganza will begin on Friday, April 4, at 5pm, and will not stop until Sunday, April 6, at 5pm. The admission fee is "Pay Whatever You Want to Pay."

The highlights include panels by +2comedy and Nella from Chez Apocalypse, tournaments of various flavors, and games all throughout the con. Here's the schedule of events.

Vendors include Maryland AnimeWinged Arts, Walt's Cards & Games, and a variety of artists.

Want to get ready for the big event? Check out the library's related resources.

GRAPHIC NOVELS: Put the phrase “graphic novels” in the subject field. There are 160+ hits, but limit it to the years 2000-2014, as shown. The tricky part is finding the graphic novels themselves instead of books about them, but scroll through the list and check out what we have.

SCIENCE FICTION: Not nearly as big a problem, because we do have some. Do the same kind of search – the phrase “science fiction” as a subject – you get more than 1,300, even if you change the years to 1940-2014. We also have plenty of SciFi films – 338, as a matter of fact – but click language on the left: only 299 of them are in English! Have some fun watching SciFi films in French, Japanese, or 11 other languages (Esperanto, anyone?)

Our JohnCon is only one of several fantasy/science fiction/anime/comics-related conferences and events near Baltimore. Here are a few others:

See you at JohnCon!

Korean Movies!

If you’ve ever left a movie theater disappointed, convinced you were born in the wrong time, cheer up: a golden age in film is happening right now. It’s not happening in the United States, nor in Italy, nor France. Right now, some of the best movies in the world are being made in South Korea. And, we have a number of them right here in the library's Audio-Visual Department.

Bong Joon-Ho is a director whose work has been described as “black comedy written with invisible ink” in a book about international cinema. He has garnered a lot of scholarly attention recently in journal articles, too. His movies are as thoughtful, dark, and profound as they are riotously funny. The Host (2006), which remains the highest grossing South Korean movie of all time, is about a creature of disgusting proportions spawned from military industrial waste mismanagement. The monster is scary enough that they don’t shy from showing it throughout (unlike most monster movies where they show it finally at the end and it just has a flattened nose or a squid forehead or something), but the real horror results from the government’s stringent efforts to control the damages. The film is a brilliant rendering of the old adage, “we have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

My favorite Joon-Ho film is Memories of a Murder (2003), a crime drama based on the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer in 1986, followed closely by Mother (2009), which tells the story of a widowed acupuncturist who searches for a murderer after her only son is apprehended for the crime. In 2013 Joon-Ho put out an English language film called Snowpiercer, yet to be released in the North America, starring Tilda Swinton, Chris Bell, and Octavia Spencer, which will hopefully be shown at the Charles Theater. Joon-Ho is reportedly quite unhappy with the final cut it will have in the U.S., so brush up on his work now so you can tell your date how you really prefer the surpassing wit of his earlier films.

The very gloomy, at times devastating director Kim Ki-Duk also came out with a new movie in 2013 that is yet to be released stateside called Moebius which has been banned in its uncut form in Korea, a prohibition made more surprising given that there is no dialogue in the entire film. Kim Ki-Duk’s movies are violent and controversial but in my opinion his haunting films transcend these cheap descriptors. These are films you think about for days afterwards. Pieta (2012), Bad Guy (2001), Dream (2008), and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003) are favorites.

If you are feeling fragile already and need lighter fare, try Kwak Jae-Yong’s rom-com My Sassy Girl (2001), Jang Joon-Hwan’s sci-fi romp Save the Green Planet! (2003), or Kim Sang-Jin’s very funny Attack the Gas Station (1999). Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008), a western set in 1930’s Manchuria, is also excellent.

To read more about the incredible explosion of Korean film since the early 2000s go to D Level where these books are located: Kim Ki-DukKim Ki-Duk (same title, different book!), New Korean CinemaNew Korean Cinema: Breaking the WavesKorean FilmExile Cinema: Filmmakers at Work Beyond HollywoodThe South Korean Film Renaissance: Local Hitmakers, Global Provocateurs.

Why do certain places and periods allow for very ambitious creative output? Is it a supportive arts infrastructure? Political turmoil or harmony? A handful of geniuses and a legion of fans? Or is it something as ineffable as a national mood, a gathering intensity? I have no idea, but let's worry about that later! A golden period in film is like witnessing the northern lights; quiet the voice of scrutiny as you sit there and behold.

Ways to Share Research Data

Many funders and some publishers are placing increasing importance on the sharing of research data. This trend for more access to research data will soon be increasing (see OSTP memo). As a consultant with JHU Data Management Services, I get asked by scientists how to share research data? The diagram below illustrates how research data can be shared through a variety of mechanisms, but each solution has pros and cons that researchers need to consider.

ease-of-access

Ease of Access

Researchers need to consider how public they want to make their data. What are your funder’s or publisher’s expectations for sharing research data? How much time are you willing to devote to responding to requests for data and then responding to follow-up questions about your data? How do others in your research community share data? Please note that data with any legal/ethical restrictions on it, such as confidentiality, security, intellectual property, and privacy concerns, should not be shared.

Providing data through peer-to-peer correspondence allows scientists to retain control over who is using it and doesn’t require upfront preparation for sharing as a website or data archive would; however, the onus for finding, sending, and explaining the data remains with the scientist.

Persistence of Data

For persistence of data, researchers need to consider their ability to preserve and understand their digital research data in the future. Can you maintain multiple copies of your data? Can you ensure that, in the future, your files can be opened and are not corrupted? Will you be able to find and understand your data in three or more years?

The more time that has elapsed between when data are generated and when data are requested, the greater the probability that 1) technological problems with the data will have occurred such as loss of file integrity, and/or obsolescence of media, software, hardware, or format and 2) the ability to find and understand your data will diminish. File sharing services and repositories provide the technological infrastructure for preserving data. In addition, because data in repositories can be better organized, documented, and cited, it is easier for others to find and understand data without having to contact the scientist who generated it.

Data Repositories

Data repositories, digital systems that actively manage data, provide the most robust access and persistence services. Repositories differ in their capabilities, but most include the following to varying degrees:

  • Providing a web-accessible interface for discovering and downloading research data collections.
  • Managing preservation of digital objects such as file integrity checking and redundant offsite backups.
  • Using identifiers, such as DOIs (digital object identifiers) to give datasets persistent location links and citations, which are more stable than URLs of websites
  • Describing projects and files, and ways to include documentation sufficient for using the collection without contacting the researcher.

Search for repositories in your field on the Re3data website, or contact us for assistance in locating a suitable data repository.

In addition, while some academic disciplines have established research data repositories, many fields of research do not have easily available options for archiving and online access. At Johns Hopkins University, JHU researchers may deposit their research data into the JHU Data Archive. If you are interested in archiving your data here, please contact us at datamanagement@jhu.edu to discuss your research and data access needs.

A Paper Database Part 2: Decoding the Key to the Roland Park Records

Part of a monthly series of posts highlighting uncovered items of note, and the archival process brought to bear on these items, as we preserve, arrange, and describe the Roland Park Company Archives.

This is Part 2 of the two-part post titled A Paper Database. Be sure to read Part 1 here!

So now it’s a time for a post that offers some very real and important insight into the Roland Park Company Records, and it’s information that I hope will aid researchers when they come to use the collection at the Sheridan Libraries. It’s also probably going to be a pretty long blog post, but you might thank me one day.

So let’s get straight to it: The vast majority of the RPC Records are correspondence files; they make up around 200 boxes worth of material. Normally, correspondence in archival collections is organized either alphabetically or chronologically or a combination of the two. Say they’re organized by year, and then organized by correspondent, so both chronological and alphabetical.

Well, if there’s one thing I can tell you that is simple and clear, it’s that the clerks at the Roland Park Company definitely organized things chronologically. That’s the good news! The bad news is that within each year they used a system that you probably haven't seen before (with nuances that even I hadn't seen before!).

Did you read my very first blog post? In it, I gave the example of one box that was described as both “Letters 662-970” and “General correspondence A-Z.” Well, A-Z makes sense, but what did 662-970 mean and how can it be the same thing?

Well, it turns out that the clerks used a numerical filing system, which is a system where a concordance (a list of numbers like an index) is assigned to topics. So, say you filed all your credit cards under the number 5, all your tax returns under 10, and all letters from your cousin under 432. This doesn’t make sense on a personal scale, but it does make sense when a huge company corresponds with over 1,000 entities. So somewhere in the Roland Park office there was a list of almost 1,000 numbers, and each number represented a correspondent.

Here is an original finding aid for the collection (archivist nerd joy!), used by the clerks to find correspondence files in filing cabinets in their basement. You see that they started using this numerical system in 1902.

This is a single page from a document titled “Index of Books, Letters, Vouchers, etc. filed in the Basement of 4810 Roland Avenue,” written circa 1933.

 

The hand-written note at the top of this document instructs the clerk to file this under number 882. Tellingly, the second hand-written note at the bottom shows an insistence on proper filing, which is good for us!

In the first half of this blog entry I talked about the importance of keys in relational databases; in other words, the important link between two kinds of information. In this case, there is [a numbered document], shown above, and an unknown [topic or correspondent]. The link/key between them is the number [882].

Are you ready for the really bad news? There is no key!! For whatever reason, the list of 1,000 numbers and what they mean did not survive, and so huge parts of the Roland Park Records are numbered, but we don’t know what those numbers mean! This paper database does not have a key! As a Real Life Information Professional, my suggestion is to panic!

So of course, some hope does exist. In trying to figure out this system I started a spreadsheet that attempts to re-create or de-code the numerical key. I didn’t come close to finishing, but more importantly I determined that the system is consistent and helpful once you figure it out.

This is a selection of samples from my concordance. Here are some important observations: #68: The number stayed the same even when the company changed names, and was consistent for 30 years! #84: The topic changed, but once it did it was stable for over 15 years. #454: The number again stayed the same even when the company changed names.

So there remains one unanswered question: how can “Letters 662-970” and “General correspondence A-Z” be the same thing? The answer is that the Roland Park Company clerks filed correspondence first by year (chronologically), then by both number (numerical) and by letter (alphabetical).  It kinda looks like this:

The numbers 1-100, filed A-Z. Then the numbers 101-200, filed A-Z, then 201-300, and on.

Confused? Don’t worry, you should be. But, I can promise future researchers that once you get elbow-deep in the files, and read the painfully long explanation of this system provided both here and in the finding aid, you will find that while complex, the numerical system really is dependable and useful.

Doesn’t this just make you appreciate real databases all the more?