Monthly Archives: March 2016

Kathleen Fitzpatrick on “The Future History of the Book”

Kathleen Fitzpatrick gave an excellent talk on “The Future History of the Book” on Monday, March 28th, to the UB English Department. Fitzpatrick delivered a wide-ranging and lucid examination of how we in the academy, as readers and scholars, use the various forms of the book available to us at present and often resist – perhaps reflexively – digital ones. Rather than another mournful decline-of-reading narrative, which she characterized as “highly conservative,” Fitzpatrick’s presentation was a reminder that the book is constructed, used, and valued according to the economic and social realities of its time, not a unitary object of knowledge entitled to privileged status. Yet neither did she lead a cheer for the digital; forms of both are historically contingent, and ought to be treated as such rather than naturalized. While she acknowledged that we use different reading practices to attend to print and digital books – the former via “deep attention” (per N. Katherine Hayles), which we as academics tend to valorize, the latter “on the prowl,” typically regarded as a lower or “degraded” form of reading – her point was that enforcing a hierarchical relationship between the two gets in the way of a serious engagement with either. Any authority that a printed book might have has been, and continues to be, a matter of negotiation; Fitzpatrick argued eloquently that rather than shunning digital books, humanities scholars must engage consciously in those negotiations by which these new forms of text acquire meaning, utility, and cultural weight.

Josh Flaccavento, PhD Student, UB English

Mellon DH Fellows Conference in Rochester, April 15-16

On April 15 – 16, 2016, the Andrew W. Mellon Fellows in Digital Humanities at the University of Rochester will host “Hard Coded Humanities.” This interdisciplinary conference will “challenge traditional distinctions between software and hardware in scholarly contexts,” according to their announcement. In addition to keynotes by DH scholars Matthew Kirschenbaum and Kari Kraus; there will be workshops on electronic literature, video game music, and physical computing. The physical computing workshop will be led by Joshua Romphf, who recently co-led a Digital Scholarship Week workshop on Reconstructing Historical Structures here at UB. There will also be special-topic panels featuring an international roster of humanities researchers.

All events are free to attend, but the workshop spots may fill up quickly. More information and registration at

Reconstructing Historical Structures Workshop, led by University of Rochester’s Digital Humanities Center

Posted on behalf of Joshua Flaccavento (PhD student, UB English):

I attended Michael Jarvis’s talk on Friday the 4th about his Virtual St. George’s Project, an essentially historical project that brings in aspects of gaming to make the historical record more widely accessible. I knew absolutely nothing about St. George, the former capital of Bermuda, before this event, and I still can’t claim to know much, but among the other things I absorbed from Dr. Jarvis’s presentation was a clear picture of why this site was of such particular interest to him as a historian. The island’s ties to both Great Britain and America position Bermuda in a larger Atlantic world that many of us rarely stop to think about at all; the Virtual St. George’s Project is both a novel effort to change that and a fascinating example of how DH projects come into being.

Jarvis’ effort is essentially outward-facing; his interest in gaming engines as platforms for exploring historical research is tied up with his pedagogy, both in the sense that he recruits students to work on the Virtual St. George’s Project directly and that he intends it to reach out to a more public audience than most works of academic history typically invite. He could have taken a radically different approach, conceiving of VSG as a trove of interconnected documents and their accompanying metadata – along the lines of something like the Blake archive – but by setting out to render history in three dimensions and to make it interactive, Jarvis set in motion a complex process of finding, testing, and trying to implement multiple technological tools. That most of these were largely or completely unknown to him, as a humanist scholar, at the beginning of this endeavor is a testament to his curiosity and investigative rigor.

Attending the Reconstructing Historical Structures workshop the following day gave me the “inside look” at VSG; the team of technologists from Rochester who led our efforts that day took us through the results of what they’d learned in the process of assisting Jarvis on the project from the beginning to its current state. What I found most interesting about the workshop was the narrative arc of their work, the dynamic relationship they formed with Jarvis, who acted as both “instigator” and investigator, bringing new tools into the project (such as the Xbox Kinect cameras) to which the tech team would respond. From what I gathered, it sounded like a kind of feedback loop had formed between them, a mutually (in)formative dialogue that continues to push everyone involved to challenge their own assumptions about the theoretical commitments of their disciplines as well as the possible range of practices available to them.


Michael Jarvis (University of  Rochester) presents Virtual St. George’s

How can we reconstruct the past? The question, while intractably difficult, does not seem quite so abstract after listening to Michael Jarvis describe his work on the Virtual St. George’s project that he directs from the University of Rochester, where he is also Associate Professor of History and Director of Digital Media Studies. Jarvis’ talk surveyed his ongoing efforts to digitally reconstruct St. George’s, the first capital of Bermuda and the oldest town in English America. Building off his many years of archival and archaeological work on the island, as well as the huge collection of historical and geographical data that he amassed along the way, Jarvis has embarked on a massively ambitious effort to synthesize historical, visual, GIS, architectural, and archaeological data into a detailed, immersive 3D model of the town as it existed in 1775, with eventual plans to create additional models for other key points in Bermudan and Caribbean history. Drawing from examples of existing 3D models of historical buildings and places, Jarvis explained that while these models are often of interest as objects in their own right, too many of them fail to really challenge or engage their viewers beyond an initial perusal. To increase the impact of the reconstruction he’s creating with his team, Jarvis appealed not so much to other architectural modelling projects as to the visual realism of contemporary video games, such as Assassin’s Creed. What if the graphics and gaming engines that fueled the loosely-fitted historical cityscapes and implausibly gory missions of such a game were redirected toward a painstaking and archaeologically sound model of a real historical city and actual historical people and events? Could a Virtual St. George’s become a vehicle to explore gender, race, and class from immersed, first-person perspectives for its gamers?

Virtual St. George’s is developing apace. Jarvis and his field team only just returned from their most recent trip to the island to collect additional photography and other data, and the project has already accumulated a huge trove of data that will continue to be stitched together with yet further resources culled from public and commercial sources such as Google Earth. The best place to keep updated for now is Jarvis’ Smiths Island Archaeology Blog or his faculty page, where new links will be added as they become available.

I’d highly recommend continuing to check in online, as well as to join the project’s technical leads tomorrow at the Reconstructing Historical Structures workshop (Clemens Hall. rm. 128, 10am-2pm). Josh Romphf, Blair Tinker, and Jim Barbero of the University of Rochester’s Digital Humanities Center which will give a hands-on sampling of the GIS, visualization, and animation techniques needed to create historically accurate, interactive 3D models.

Micki McGee (Fordham) Talks DH with UB Faculty and Students

Micki McGee of Fordham University joined us for two sessions at Digital Scholarship Week to share some of her personal experiences leading digital projects and a variety of tool and tips related to the kinds of projects that UB faculty and students might be interested in pursuing. She very helpfully aimed her talk to address participants who may be coming from a range of backgrounds or attitudes, which she described as “the beguiled,” “the curious,” and “the wary.” By drawing on her own broad experience and the development of her digital projects, Dr. McGee suggested the multiple trajectories that can land scholars in the terrain of “the digital humanities,” and the various motives and needs that can contribute to the decisions that one has to make at different stages in project planning and execution, as well as what happens after your initial development or publication is over, and you need to secure a viable future for your work.

In describing her own unfolding work, Dr. McGee explained how project cycles, funding cycles and requirements, and the structure of graduate programs or tenure tracks contribute to a shifting calculus, rather than any single equation for success. She encouraged us all, at whatever stage we might be at, to ask “Who’s the community for me and this project?” and to seek out the kinds of advice, precedents, collaboration, and other connections that can embed digital scholarship within the kinds of networks that are required to ensure it is used, valued, and sustained.

Thanks to Dr. McGee for contributing to Digital Scholarship Week!

“The Marianne Moore Digital Archive Notebooks Project, With Reflections on the Future of Digital Scholarship and Funding”

Tuesday afternoon Cristanne Miller, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Edward H. Butler Professor of Literature in the University at Buffalo’s English department, gave a talk on the Marianne Moore Digital Archive. Miller, the director of the project, presented some of the first looks at the archive’s website and its significance while also speaking directly to the groundbreaking work that is being done on the archive, which contains 122 notebooks with a variety of information from reading quotations, to notes and observations on concerts Moore attended, conversations overheard at the circus, comments from her mother, and early drafts of poems. As an example of the innovative techniques being explored, the Moore Archive is currently working with the Center for Unified Bioinformatics and Sensors (CUBS) at UB to develop a handwriting recognition model that will allow for the digital reading and retrieval of the poet’s slanted handwriting in order to better organize and record the archive’s contents. The project received the 2015 IMPACT Award from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

Throughout her talk, Miller emphasized the changing role of the humanist in digital scholarship, which is one that requires that the keen eye and contemplative insight of the philologist be applied to the intricate networks and capacious potentialities of digital information systems. The presentation posed important and thought-provoking questions about the future of the humanities, publishing, and knowledge production in the twenty-first century. What is the digital equivalent to the university publishing system? How are projects such as the Marianne Moore Archive disseminated and used to create new avenues of interpretation and new junctures of thought? How do the systems of critical thinking and close reading fit into the increasingly digitized structures of the contemporary world? The presentation showed the necessity of thinking hard about how the humanities, always a domain of the historical, can be reimagined for the future.

As a specific and practical illustration of the Moore Archive’s philological utility, Miller demonstrated the toggling motion of the scholar as she mines the truly fascinating particulars from Marianne Moore’s notebooks in order to better understand Moore’s distinctive and confounding poetry. For example, Miller examined “The Buffalo,” first published in a 1934 edition of Poetry magazine, in relation to Moore’s drafted bits of the poem’s beginnings. By reading through the notebooks we can see some of the initial sketches of the poem’s first lines, we can see how the poem developed over time, what lines and ideas made it in to the final draft and what didn’t. In the notebooks we can track the originary traces of Moore’s verse not simply for “The Buffalo” but for a vast majority of her poems. Of course, this kind of information is invaluable not only to the Moore scholar, but to the scholar of modern poetry in general. Scrutinizing any one of the notebooks contained in Moore’s archive—currently held at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, which is only open 18 hours a week to scholars—could easily prove a life-long project in itself.

Miller quoted, on several occasions, from one of Jerome McGann’s most recent books New Republic of Letters, in which he argues that “[d]igitzing the archive is not about replacing it. It’s about making it usable for the present and the future. To do what we have to understand, as best we can, how it functioned—how it made meanings—in the past.” The project of the present, McGann tells us is to “design a knowledge and information network that integrates, as seamlessly as possible, our paper-based inheritance with the emerging archive of born-digital materials” (22). With the Marianne Moore Digital Archive, Miller shows this in action.

Works Cited: McGann, Jerome. New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

Brandon Boudreault —


Check out the MMDA-hosted Workshop this Sunday!

Digital Scholarship Lightning Talks

This afternoon several faculty from across UB departments and a digital librarian participated in a “Lightning Round” to kick off Digital Scholarship Week. With only five minutes each (!), the presenters gave an excellent snapshot view of the breadth of digital work taking place on campus. The presenters–Melanie Aceto (Theatre & Dance), Peter Biehl (Anthropology), Neil Coffee (Classics), Jordan Geiger (Architecture), Jeff Good (Linguistics), Walt Hakala (English), Molly Poremski (UB Libraries), and Rohini Srihari (Computer Science & Engineering)–suggested many exciting possibilities for fostering interdisciplinary, collaborative scholarship at UB.

We learned about local or university materials that can be explored and represented digitally in innovative ways, such as the objects in the Cravens Collection at the Anderson Gallery that Peter Biehl and his team have 3D scanned and reproduced as interactive multimedia exhibits, or the Black Student Union periodical collection that Molly Poremski is building into a searchable, annotated web archive. Melanie Aceto’s archiving and analysis of the transmission of influence and traditions in various communities of dance performers opened horizons for digital archiving and the representation of complicated networks. Additionally, connections between methodological questions arose that might foster focal points for continued dialogue across departments and projects. For one example, I noticed multilingualism and translation played central, if very different, roles across the projects of Neil Coffee and the Tesserae Project he co-directs, Jeff Good’s research on the many languages of the Lower Fungom region of Cameroon, Walt Hakala on Urdu, Hindi, and Persian lexicography, and Rohini Srihari on tailoring messages and content for specific communities and users around the globe. Jordan Geiger’s imaginative spatial work was another highlight, and the possibilities for expanded integration of GIS technology into humanities research and teaching also came up in the Q&A.

Special thanks, also, to Erik Seeman, Libby Otto, and the Humanities Institute, as well as the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development for their efforts and support in putting together these events. Looking forward to the rest of the week!

~Nikolaus Wasmoen (