Computers & Writing

Re-presentation of my presentation materials from the Computers & Writing Conference: slidedeck | audio

I presented “with” (I say “with” because Joe was actually in Vermont for his summer job and was there in form of a video he created) Joe Torok on slices of our MA projects that share an interest in distant reading, data visualization, the materials of the field, data mining, “the” field, access, connectivity/networks, disciplinarity, and academic activity as graduate students/newcomers to the field. Our session: #h6 “Regionalism, Heterotopoi, and Circumferences: Rethinking Distant Reading” was better attended than I expected, and I’m glad for it because I think this might have been my best presentation to date (no small feat for someone trying to craft an academic identity for themself(s)). While I’m not sure these venues will ever be comfortable for me based on my personality, I can see growth in the structuring of my talk, in timing/interplay/juxtaposition with my slidedeck, with retaining some consciousness in the blackout that always seems to shutdown my brain in presentations, and with discussion/exchanges. I think this might be attributed to me accepting myself and my position in the field: I don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s okay. Curiosity, exploration, and enthusiasm are working in my favor. I hope this doesn’t read as negligence or defiance, because the mindfulness to what I’m doing/not doing is there; it’s just a (silly perhaps) realization that I can’t compare myself to individuals who have been doing this longer than I have – I’m not there (yet).

In attendance (among other wonderful individuals) were Jason Palmeri (!), Doug Eyman (!), and Ben Miller (!) who are also interested in distant reading, data mining, and visualization, as well as Amanda Wall and Gwendolynne Reid (happy to see some other ladies interested in this stuff). Much of our session was left to conversation, which was awesome. I left humming with electricity. An aside: I would really like to record my future presentations so I can sift back through them later. Here is a reduction of the conversation:

  • a question about this focus (I’m assuming the size of my data set or my project’s scope) as fractal in relation to what could be done with this methodology
  • a question of whether Moretti’s distant reading is the proper term/lens for this work (perhaps because of the set sizes or because of the sliding scale of interaction)
  • concerns with the tools available to do this work: cost (money, time, and labor)
  • making this work public – making data available for others to work with
  • questions of what can be “given away” through these data sets (like the entirety of a journal article as plain text) – to which Doug had an answer I wish I could recall that dealt with the XML file itself, I believe
  • Google APIs
  • connecting/collective collaboration on this work
  • making visualizations that move/interact

There was much more, and this is where I wish I had the aid of an external brain in form of av equipment. For instance, there was a gentleman who is more in industry/software/programming with interest in sentiment analysis who suggested I write Python script for a visualization I ultimately imagined for my data set (which I so eloquently called a “blip map”: the fading/prominence of keywords over time from my set of Braddock essays that might make more visible trends in care/questioning of the field) that I had questions for but not the language to do so. (this feels like a missed connection…)

I’m left thinking:

  • I want to learn more about programming/coding
  • I want to discover more free tools for building visualizations
  • I want to find other people doing this work and find ways to put my work into conversation with the field
  • I want these visualizations to be interactive/animated to live up to their use(fulness)
  • I want this to keep going


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