Carnegie Mellon University

ACH and CMU English logos

August 13, 2019

CMU English Welcomes the Association for Computers in the Humanities (ACH) to Pittsburgh

By Angela Januzzi

This past July 23-26, The Association for Computers in the Humanities (ACH) held its first US-led conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While sponsored in part by Carnegie Mellon University, the Department of English also represented CMU’s digital humanities work, featuring innovative projects from over half a dozen members of the Department.

Department of English attendees included: Literary & Cultural Studies faculty members Christopher Warren and Stephen Wittek; Ph.D. students Steve Gotzler, Laura McCann, Hannah Ringler, Calvin Pollak, Pierce Williams, and Avery Wiscomb (from Literary & Cultural Studies and Rhetoric); and Chloe Perry, former M.A. student in the Department of English and current Predoctoral Fellow at the Laboratory for Social Minds.

Professors Warren and Wittek presented their work in the panel “Print and Probability: Computer Vision Approaches to Clandestine Publication.” Joined by Shruti Rijhwani (CMU LTI Ph.D. Student) and Matthew Lincoln (CMU Digital Humanities Developer), the concept grew from Warren’s National Science Foundation-funded “Print and Probability” research. 

While over 100,000 early modern books and pamphlets’ printers remain unknown, now that over 130,000 books have been digitized by Early English Books Online (EEBO), anomalies and variations in the printing materials of this era may hold the key to identifying the original printers. Warren and Wittek offered two case studies based on this work identifying such anomalies (Wittek’s focused on Thomas Middleton’s infamous 1624 play, A Game at Chess), derived from computer vision and machine learning. Amid addressing topics such as anonymization, piracy, and false publisher imprints, the panel also reflected on potentials and pitfalls of developing an online resource for these emerging new identifications.

Gotzler and Wiscomb presented their recent work developing lightweight digital reading editions. The presentation focused on MARXdown, an online digital edition of Marx’s Capital Vol.1 they have developed using the markup language Markdown, in coordination with CMU’s Contemporary Marxist Reading Group (CMRG).

Digital reading editions like MARXdown are designed to support group annotation of texts in the classroom, and function as an accessible online space for communities of readers to critically engage with marginalized texts. Editions such as this project are an effort, Gotzler and Wiscomb explain, “to leverage minimal computing principles to imagine projects that help give us what we need in the spaces of our work, while continuing to unsettle and question the consequential dimension of technology for our labor as workers in the humanities.”

Perry presented her work with Simon DeDeo (CMU Assistant Professor Ph.D. in Astrophysics) and Zhenzhen Liu (CMU student in Statistics and Machine Learning). Their talk titled “Incels, The Red Pill, and Three Waves of the Manosphere” addressed the ongoing reported violence connected to online men’s sites and forums, collectively known as the “manosphere.” The group presented a timeline documenting the material and ideological shifts that take place in the “manosphere” using a combination of close and distant reading approaches; LDA topic modeling to isolate key authors and texts for their timeline of events; and documentation of related histories to political and social movements in the United States in the 1960s into the present.

Additionally, McCann drew on her Andrew W. Mellon Grant-funded work for her panel with fellow Ph.D. student Pollak, also featuring and Alicia Urquidi Díaz (University of British Columbia). McCann and Pollak’s areas of the presentation, titled “Mixed Methods Research as Storytelling with Data: Making Sociohistorical Meaning from Digital Projects,” explored how media discourse travels online and influences people’s views on political issues related to the Internet. 

Pollak’s presentation analyzed blog posts about government surveillance published by the American Civil Liberties Union, comparing the keywords and rhetorical strategies featured before the 2013 NSA leaks of Edward Snowden to those featured after the leaks. McCann presented her work considering how The New York Times’ coverage of the Equifax and Cambridge Analytica data breaches was recontextualized through public discourse. Together, their work asks how narratives develop intertextually after information is circulated by major media institutions—and people read and react to their stories—with project questions such as: “Who is represented in our datasets? And what stories do digital datasets allow us to tell that we might otherwise overlook?” 


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