Providing resources and trai­ning in the practices and tools of the digital humanities

Paper Presentations

The Musical Geography of 1920s Paris
Louis Epstein, Emily Hynes, Zhizhi Stella Li, Carolyn Nuelle, Samuel Parker,  St. Olaf College

Musicologists have long used maps to contextualize the relationship between sound, time, and place, yet have been slow to embrace the potential of digital mapping for making “place” itself the focus of inquiry. With the advent of relatively accessible GIS tools, musicologists stand to benefit enormously from new research and data visualization methods. Applying insights from recent scholarship in the digital and affective humanities, our project focuses on developing a set of interactive, map-based tools for musicology research and pedagogy. In this presentation, we demonstrate how our attention to “place” rather than “text” provokes new research questions and brings music history to life.

The Musical Geography of 1920s Paris is a web-based resource that uses maps as spatial visualizations to reconstruct the musical life of a particularly vibrant period in music history. In the 1920s, artists, writers, dancers, and musicians from around the world flocked to the city for its abundant concert venues and relatively cheap cost of living. Paris additionally served as a home base for numerous performing organizations, including several ballet companies (notably the Ballets Russes and Ballets Suédois) whose international tours spread French music around the world. Traditional narratives of interwar French music focus on composers’ contributions to developments in musical style and aesthetics. Our maps turn attention instead to the place-dependent roles of musical institutions and individuals. For example, by mapping Parisian musical venues by style – jazz, classical music, lyric theatre, popular song – we can better understand the ways writers used places as metonyms for musical style (such as Montmartre vs. Montparnasse) and we can see where certain types of music were not being made. Crucially, several of our maps incorporate an interactive chronological feature, making it possible for researchers and students to explore the diachronic evolution of the Parisian “scene.” And unlike traditional scholarship, our web-based maps allow us to embed or link to digitized primary source documents like historical newspapers and other media – including sound – thus opening place-oriented visual, sonic, and contextual archival exploration to a wide audience. For instance, in one map users can virtually attend 1920s Parisian concerts by clicking on a map marker and listening to recordings of the music performed in a specific place on a specific night. As Todd Presner argues in HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities, our context-laden maps “are conjoined with stories,” rendering them “infinitely extensible and participatory” (Presner et al 2014).

Our spatially oriented research has inspired new questions about music in 1920s Paris: exactly how did the French define “jazz,” and how often was jazz really heard? What music was made and consumed in the eastern third of Paris, where recent immigrants and working-class Parisians lived and where few formal venues existed? The research required to answer these questions renders Parisian spaces something other than mere context for traditional musicological analysis. The city stands as its own musical “text,” full of sound and awaiting further exploration via interactive mapping.

Kip Haaheim, University of Kansas

What I propose is to open up the potential of digital site, space, and place by having three musicians in widely different geographical locations perform a new composition of music in a real-time performance that would be presented ‘live’ in the conference space (and possibly also streamed on the web at the same time). The working title for the piece is ‘Contrails’ for clarinet, percussion, and computer. I have managed to interest Dr. Greg Haynes (percussionist) at Colorado State University in Gunnison and Dr. Jeremy Wohletz (clarinetist) at Dickinson State University in North Dakota to collaborate with me on this project. I chose both of them because they are truly world-class musicians who happen to also be working at ‘sites’ and ‘spaces’ that are remote and isolated in a way that precludes traditional options for musical collaboration. Because of the inaccessibility of these places the three of us would need to do the entire project using digital collaboration techniques.

The Concert Hall is a place/space of special significance in creating a musical experience for several hundred years now. Traditionally musical performance has been primarily limited to ‘sites of distinct academic practice’ that were designed (or appropriated) for the purpose of providing a defined space for a musical experience to take place – musicians and audience in a single encompassing space. I would argue that the development of recording, broadcasting, and now digital delivery technologies during the 20th century and beyond have transformed this role of place, space, and site in profound ways, opening almost anyplace where you can listen to your phone with earbuds into a site that can accommodate a potentially deep musical experience that can be separated from the performance of the music in time through recording, in space through broadcast or internet delivery, or both.

For technical reasons the musical experience has, until recently, been limited by the notion that the musicians themselves must actually perform at a site whose space accommodates them. Modern recording practices, particularly in Popular music genres, often negate this – e.g. very few of the musicians on M. Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ were ever in a room together at the same time. But, for the most part, the accepted norm is that the musicians must perform together to generate a meaningful musical experience. Current advances in internet technologies are beginning to change this opening the possibilities for extra-site collaboration in interesting ways.

Electronic music and its proponents have a long history of challenging this notion of place, space, and site – bringing ‘living’ musical experiences to people in non-traditional performance venues using non-traditional means of creating music. I look forward to contributing to this tradition in some small way.

Resisting Queer Erasure: Counter-Mapping As Artistic Strategy              
Danny Jauregui, Whittier College 

Despite developments made by critical cartographers to “undiscipline” the medium and scrutinize its assumptions through a critical lens (Crampton & Kryegier 2016), maps and other data visualizations still maintain an air of neutrality, power, and authority. The pervasive aura that continues to be projected on to GIS and other mapping technologies can be appropriated and used as an artistic strategy in resisting queer historical erasure and this talk will center on my interdisciplinary art project that utilizes such techniques. The talk will argue that a form of “passing” takes place when non­quantifiable datasets like memory, rumor, and creative-­misremembering (Rabinowitz 1993) are injected into mapping software thus allowing them authority and power otherwise not afforded them given their subjective, questionable, and non­scientific status. Thus a queering of the archive takes place – one in which the demand for purity in the texts that enter the archive is challenged and therefore its authority loosened.

“Disguised Ruins” is a multi­modal project consisting of a geospatial animation and accompanying video that maps and animates the opening and closing of every queer space that appears in the Los Angeles section of Bob Damron’s “The Address Book”. Bob Damron’s “The Address Book” is one of the most popular gay travel guides that emerged out of the nascent homophile movement of the 1950’s and early 60’s. The guide book was originally published by Mattachine Society member Hall Call and Bob Damron and later was self published and distributed by Bob Damron’s own Dorian Book Service (Meeker, 2006). Listing gay friendly bars, restaurants, and eventually sex clubs, bathhouses, and public cruising sites, “The Address Book” became one of the most popular ways for gay men to meet each other and form safe communities. Although extremely popular, the address book contained many inaccuracies and mistakes given that many of the “gay sites” included were largely added through word-of­mouth telling of trysts and personal experiences as well as containing many defunct spaces given the rapid turnover of gay owned businesses reliant on gay exclusive clientele (Meeker, 2006). Like many counter­memory projects before it (Harris & Hazen, 115; Wood, 2010) “Disguised Ruins” uses a data set – in this case addresses that is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies that normally would disqualify them from having any real archival use­value given its perceived unreliability, yet this is exactly what makes them a ripe source for this particular counter­mapping project.

The talk will first contextualize the above project by embedding it in the discourse of critical cartographies while also comparing it to existing counter­mapping discourse and projects. Secondly, the project will be presented in two modes: the first as a standard GIS generated animated map and the second as a video art project that uses, but expands on, the original GIS animation. Lastly, I will use my project as an example of how counter­mapping can be used to queer the archive and counter queer erasure.

Challenging Napoleonic Mapmakers – Using Digital Technologies to Uncover Tolstoy’s Decentralized Literary Cartography in "War and Peace"
Ani Kokobobo, University of Kansas

 Russian literature and culture have been traditionally structured around two centers of meaning, Peter the Great’s European city and imperial capital, St. Petersburg, and Moscow, the center of the pre-Petrine Russian state in the 15th-17th centuries and later Soviet capital. The consensus among scholars is that Russia’s 19th century literary canon reinforces these ideas of center and periphery by rendering spaces outside St. Petersburg and Moscow as provincial and nameless – the quintessential “city N.” One notable exception to this symbolic, cultural geography is Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Truly epic in scale, the novel gives bountiful attention to Russia’s regions. In the midst of Napoleon’s invasion of 1812, the regions of Smolensk, Yaroslavl, and other cities embody the image of Russia as a larger whole that supersedes the existence and survival of Moscow or St. Petersburg. In fact, we can note a progressive move away from the centers in the novel, as characters originating in Russia’s two capitals relocate themselves in other parts of the country to escape the French. Similarly, the novel introduces several different European centers, such as Vienna or Paris that at times could be viewed as both more or less central than the Russian capitals.

In a course that has received a grant by the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities  (SLAV 512: “The Russian Novel Through the Digital Humanities”), I will be working with graduate students and relying on strategies of “distant reading” (Moretti) like digital mapping to illustrate how Tolstoy challenges centric understandings of space in War and Peace. In this paper I present some of those results, by interpreting maps of War and Peace from a geocritical (Westphal) perspective in order to reveal how Tolstoy constructs the novel’s larger “literary cartography” (Tally). In many respects, War and Peace is the quintessential “hypertext” as a novel, with close ties to a broad corpus of embedded cultural, historical, biographical, and military sources. Through Digital Humanities tools such as Google Earth, ArcGIS, and CartoDB we can visualize these competing geographies embedded within the macro-geography of War and Peace.

As I argue, in a novel with a massive ensemble cast of characters that has been described as a narrative without a single center, Tolstoy uses literary cartography to create his own decentered view of Russia that challenges official geographies. Tolstoy repeatedly shows individuals interacting with cultural centers of meaning like St. Petersburg or Moscow. For instance, during the novel the novel’s epilogue, Pierre Bezukhov is drawn to the capital and away from his family’s center by political ambition. Similarly, in a gesture of absolute narcissism and megalomania, instead of gravitating toward a pre-established center the novel’s antagonist, Napoleon, seeks to remake himself into the center of the world. Tolstoy challenges Napoleon’s and other notions of centrality by creating a fundamentally decentralized novelistic cartography, as each character seeks a special place of their own, a pastoral locus amoenus, usually in the form of a gentry estate.

Decoding the Database: A Critical Analysis of Open Source GIS Tools for Humanistic Mapping                         
Alison Link, University of Minnesota     

Humans have long been aware of the connection between spatial perception and human experience. Mnemonics such as the “method of loci” demonstrate that even our ancient ancestors recognized an intimate linkage between human memory and spatiality [1]. This suggests that space is, in some fundamental and essential way, a highly humanistic concept. And yet, existing geographic information systems (GIS) technologies often seem like an entirely different beast altogether. GIS is a child of the technocratic era: its language is jargon­y; its narrative structures – to the extent that one can say it has “narrative structures” – feel discrete, disjointed, and geometric.

A humanist examining geographic information systems, moreover, may well sit back and wonder: Where are all the people? The current state of GIS affords for, at best, only oblique references to humans and human embodiment in spaces. If a line of inquiry can’t be crystallized into points, lines, and polygons, it is not likely to conform well to GIS analysis. GIS may indirectly reveal the effects of human activities, but does not afford for a highly robust exploration of the reciprocal relationship between humans and space. Indeed, GIS is a key example of what Drucker calls “a kind of intellectual Trojan horse, a vehicle through which assumptions about what constitutes information swarm with potent force” [2]. How, then, can humanists make sense of all this? With our current GIS systems, humanists must generally engage in some level of decoding, re­problematizing, or re­subjectifying information that has been stored in databases or formats that are not emically humanist.

This study focuses on GIS technologies and their unique potential and pitfalls within the humanities. My analysis will assume what Wilson calls a “techno­positionality” – one that is “simultaneously about and with the technology”, but that assumes the perspective of a “conflicted insider” [3]. I will turn a critical lens on existing GIS technologies by identifying some fundamental humanistic critiques of existing GIS paradigms, backed up by conversations occurring in humanities literature as well as semi­structured interviews I’ve conducted with humanists across several disciplines.

I will follow up these critiques with some technical “tidbits” that seek to expand the sense of possibility that GIS can offer to humanists. In the spirit of advancing open inquiry, I will focus my efforts chiefly on open source spatial and data analysis tools:

  • PostgreSQL + PostGIS for spatial data management
  • QGIS for spatial visualization
  • R for spatial data analysis

Ultimately, this study seeks to interject voices into what Pavlovskaya describes as the “silences that are produced by the prevailing narrative of ‘GIS as a quantitative tool’” [4]. This project will offer both narrative and code snippets representing a few critical angles to help humanists deconstruct and critique GIS in technical parlance.

Alison holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Grinnell College and a master’s degree in Multicultural College Teaching and Learning from the University of Minnesota. She currently works as an academic technologist for the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts, where she has grown excited about the potential of mapping to empower new analytic approaches across the liberal arts. She also loves participating in hackathons and civic technology projects that encourage communities to explore their own agency and creativity in shaping the technologies we live with.


Deep Mapping of Spatial Data in Testimonies of Children Who Survived the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda                         
Musa Olaka, University of Kansas


Voices of children in a genocide and in contested spaces in Africa have tended to be muted, ignored, and excluded in discourse as if these children are invisible yet they bear the brunt of atrocities committed during the conflict. To better understand experiences of children in a genocide, such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the notion of place and time play a critical role when analyzing, interpreting and understanding these experiences. Situating what survivors of this genocide experienced in space and time during the genocide therefore becomes a critical component that could offer validity to their testimonies. It therefore becomes important to use spatial and temporal data analysis and visualization to bring to the fore subtle trends of activities reported in testimonies of survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Despite the abundance of spatial information in testimonies of these genocide survivors including those of children who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, spatial information has been sparsely used in trying to better understand what was happening at different levels in the country during this genocide. Gitarama Prefecture was one of the major killing fields during the genocide. It became a contested space with the government of the day and radical Hutu elements wanting to reclaim this prefecture devoid of any Tutsi. On the other hand, Tutsi whose homes were in this prefecture also wanted to reclaim this space as it is what they call home although they were outnumbered by Hutus – some of whom were extremists and whose sole objective was having Gitarama with no Tutsis. In late 1999 and early 2000, IBUKA, the umbrella organization that is the voice of survivors of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, undertook a pilot task of collecting testimonies of children from Gitarama Prefecture who survived the genocide. IBUKA collected close to 1000 testimonies and to date, this is the most comprehensive collection of testimonies of children who survived that genocide. This paper explores how deep mapping using GIS technology can be used to examine, analyze, visualize and help in interpreting spatial information in the testimonies of these child survivors by looking at aspects such as locations where various atrocities took place; places where the children escaped to; places where they hid; locations from which they were rescued; escape routes; places where they witnessed killings; distribution of atrocities across the Prefecture; comparison of atrocities based on different administrative subdivisions such as commune, sector and cellule; and a host of other issues related to spatial information.

Musa Wakhungu Olaka is a Librarian for African, Global and International Studies at University of Kansas. He has previously worked as a librarian for the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center at University of South Florida before becoming the Assistant Library Director & Head of Information Services at Southeast Missouri State University. He holds a Ph.D. in Information Science and Learning Technologies from University of Missouri and previously worked as a librarian and as a teacher in Kenya and in Rwanda for more than 6 years. His research interests include: Information Policy, Human information Behavior, Library and Information Science Education, and Genocide Studies.

Student Showcase – Visualizing the Red Summer of 1919
Karen Sieber, Loyola University, Chicag0

The Red Summer, a series of dozens of riots and lynchings throughout the Unites States in 1919, is one of the most significant yet rarely told stories in American History. While lynchings and riots were not new occurrences, the sheer magnitude and frequency of the events were what made the Red Summer of 1919 unique. For some, it is a key moment in the civil rights movement, when African Americans began fighting back against their attackers and oppressive treatment.

Unfortunately, little research has been done on these events. Most existing research on the summer’s deadly events focuses on a specific location and riot, with only two short books that look at the summer as a whole. Thousands of primary documents exist on the events that summer but are both difficult to find and scattered in collections and archives across the country in dozens of locations, making it difficult for scholars to get the big picture. I created Visualizing the Red Summer in hopes that it would facilitate further, more comprehensive research on the race riots of 1919 by putting all of the available information and documents in one place, a website.

I traveled 7,500 miles during the summer of 2015 as part of my Senior honors thesis to collect over 700 primary documents related to the riots, from court records and newspaper articles to photographs and telegrams. Over 25 cultural institutions provided material for the archive I created. Users are able to filter results to only look at documents related to a particular city’s riot if they wish, but are also able to filter the archive by topic to help better gauge the interconnectivity between the riots, or to look at regional trends. The filter also allows researchers to easily track down ephemera related to their field of research, narrowing down the results to view only court documents or political cartoons.

In addition to the archive, Visualizing the Red Summer also includes a spatial analysis of the riots. This interactive map allows for better comparison of the riots as a group and helps answer questions like: How did Southern riots differ from Northern? Which were more deadly, urban or rural riots? What were the causes of the riots? By breaking down the information in this way it helps users better understand the motivations behind the violence of the summer of 1919.

With additional funding, I hope to expand the archive and map to include riots and lynchings that occurred in other countries in 1919, fueled by similar factors like the recent world war or the Bolshevik Revolution. Alternately, the project could also expand to include other riots throughout US History to analyze how race riots have changed throughout the years in scope, magnitude and instigating factors. Lastly, it is my top priority to create a proper memorial page for those who lost their lives or were wounded during the events, as no such list currently exists.

Karen Sieber is a first-year PhD student in American and Public History at Loyola University Chicago with research interests in urban history, social and cultural history, civil rights and travel and leisure. Karen received her B.A. from the University of North Carolina in 2015, with a double major in American Studies and Urban History (Interdisciplinary Studies). After graduation, she continued to work in UNC’s Digital Innovation Lab, most notably managing the Mapping the Mill Village in 1920 digital exhibit featured on the site Digital Loray and in the Loray Mill’s history center. In her spare time, Karen curates exhibits for the Museum of Durham History in North Carolina. She is passionate about helping the public access the tools and resources they need to preserve and share local histories.

Student Showcase – Commerce by Design: Beacons, Smartphones & The Production of Networked Commerce      
Cole Stratton, Indiana University, Bloomington        

In the past ten years smartphones have become one of the most pervasive and important technologies in our everyday lives. In addition to restructuring the daily practices of users, smartphones have become the premiere commercial platform within digital capitalism – offering sophisticated market research data, personalized advertisements, and a number of ways for users to purchase products and services. In addition, the ubiquitous connectivity and locative abilities of the smartphone enable a new kind of networked commerce that integrates the data-rich, personalized, online selling environment of e-commerce with in-person, brick-and-mortar store spaces. This kind of ubiquitous commerce doesn’t simply emerge accidentally, but is created by design. Such a system is constructed by a number of different components, one of which is a new, emerging technology called beacons. In this paper, I analyze beacons in order to better understand the smartphone’s evolving role as a commercial platform.

Beacons are small devices that when placed in physical locations allow a smartphone to precisely orient and locate itself, thereby enabling apps to perform context- and location-specific functions such as informing the user about what they are looking at, or directing the user to a specific location. Beacons are overwhelmingly deployed in retail contexts as a place-making technology designed to close the inherent open-endedness of space by offering marketers and retailers a range of tools to channel or guide users towards consumptive behavior. Beacons are thus part of a networked shopping infrastructure that enlists the smartphone in the production of new kinds of commercial spaces structured to support the interests of retailers.

In order to better understand beacon technology and the kinds of commercial place-making it enables, I offer a case study of Estimote, a leading beacon manufacturer that has played a central role in the deployment of retail beacons. I analyze the company’s website, its promotional materials, interviews, and trade press articles to describe the company, its product, its partners, and its vision. In the process, I draw on the work of Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski to offer a critical media infrastructure analysis of the beacon, as well as the theoretical work of Henri Lefebvre and Gilles Deleuze to make sense of the power dynamics at work in the production of such spaces.

My goal is not simply to think about beacons, but to think with them, and in the process to illuminate some important and problematic tensions between the smartphone as a tool for user empowerment and the smartphone as a tool for capitalist influence. Central to this tension is the question of user agency in a world designed and controlled by capital. As smartphones become necessary to participate in society, critical attention must be paid to their role in the imperializing strategies of powerful institutions. The smartphone as a commercial platform within digital capitalism is an important domain in which to consider how our most personal devices are simultaneously an important interface with the capitalist system.

Student Showcase –  The New Orleans Mortality Project: Using Spatial Analysis and Historical GIS to Uncover Nineteenth-Century Disease Terrains and Assess the Impact on Community Development
 S. Wright Kennedy, Rice University

Ten years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and gave the world a glimpse of the gross injustices under the surface of the Crescent City’s facade. Katrina thrust issues of environmental justice, socioeconomic stratification, and racial segregation into the national spotlight, yet, until recently we have lacked the tools and methods to study the nineteenth-century genesis of these detrimental processes. We cannot understand the urban development of the United States without understanding the conditions that molded cities, neighborhoods, and people. Disease, race, and poverty were central to this process.

This paper discusses new approaches to history, in particular historical geographic information systems (HGIS), which have enabled the examination of how health, environment, and socioeconomics impacted urban and community development in New Orleans, 1877-1910. Scholars from disciplines including history, geography, sociology, and economics increasingly have turned to HGIS to answer questions about the evolution and mechanics of urban processes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (e.g., Villarreal et al. 2014, Lafreniere and Gilliland 2014, Logan 2012, DeBats 2011). This paper builds on the methodological innovations of these recent groundbreaking studies. Furthermore, it explains the interdisciplinary methods used to construct and analyze an HGIS based on a large individual-level mortality dataset.

Spatial analysis and HGIS provide researchers with new ways to study the connections between health, race, poverty, and place. The New Orleans Mortality Project uses georeferenced historical maps and city directories to reconstruct the built environment of New Orleans. The individual death records, census records, and tax records have been geolocated through historical address locators to create the HGIS. Spatial analytical methods from epidemiology are being employed to reveal the spatial health processes at work in the city. These methods are generalizable and important to other studies in the humanities. Further digitization and standardization of historical vital records will significantly increase the possibilities for largescale comparative and cooperative studies, along with deepening our understanding of the past and present. This approach is only recently possible thanks to the development of computing technology and geographic information systems. The results of this analysis are revealing the process of the mortality transitions and the evolution and effects of the urban disease terrain on individuals and communities, crucial information in the history of public health and urban development.

The New Orleans Mortality Project is interdisciplinary in nature and brings fresh perspective and new approaches to understanding the genesis of urban problems. It has already begun expanding the source-base, with the development of a 50,000-person mortality database, and creating research tools for studying development and decline from the individual to the city level. This research promises to revise and expand the historiography of urban history, history of medicine, and America in the Gilded Age, along with broader notions of the limits of humanities research. This paper details the methods and findings of the New Orleans Mortality Project.

S. Wright Kennedy is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Rice University. His primary areas of interest are spatial history and nineteenth-century U.S. health and economics. While earning a master’s degree in geography, he specialized in geographic information sciences and spatial analysis. His master’s thesis used historical geographic information systems (HGIS) to uncover the spatial origins and spreading patterns of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee. From 2012 to 2015 he served as the project manager for the imagineRio project at Rice University. Currently he is studying New Orleans in the Gilded Age (1877-1910). The New Orleans Mortality Project uses HGIS to examine the impact of health, environment, and socioeconomics on urban and community development.

IDRH on Twitter
Join the IDRH Reading Group this month in a discussion of electronic literature, textual studies, & archival practi…

Directory of DH Scholars

Looking for collaborators, expertise, or other scholars with related interests?

Please see our list of affiliated scholars at KU.

If you would like to be included in this list please complete our affiliated scholars form.

Subscribe to our mailing list
Email Address *
First Name
Last Name

KU Faculty/Staff
KU Student

KU Today
Home to 50+ departments, centers, and programs, the School of the Arts, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration
KU offers courses in 40 languages
No. 1 ranking in city management and urban policy —U.S. News and World Report
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times