Digital Humanities

at Michigan State University


HASTAC Scholars – Call for applicants

Digital Humanities in the College of Arts and Letters is pleased to support a number of HASTAC Scholars for the 2017-2019 academic years.

Deadline for applicationsOctober 3

Announcement of Award: October 11

Are you an undergraduate or graduate student engaged with innovative projects and research at the intersection of digital media and learning, 21st-century education, and technology in the arts, humanities and sciences? Would you like to join an international conversation about the digital humanities? If so, you are invited to apply for the opportunity to become a 2017-2019 HASTAC scholar. As a Scholar, you will represent Michigan State University in HASTAC’s prestigious, online community. Successful candidates will each receive a $300 scholarship or travel reimbursement from the Digital Humanities Program in the College of Arts and Letters each year for two years.

HASTAC (pronounced “haystack”), which stands for Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, is an interdisciplinary, international network of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, as well as librarians, archivists, museum curators, publishers, and IT specialists. Members of the HASTAC community blog, host forums, organize events, and discuss new ideas, projects, and technologies that reconceive teaching, learning, research, writing and structuring knowledge. For more information about HASTAC Scholars and to see their discussion forums, please see the HASTAC Scholars website and also this page.

You need to apply via this application before you apply on the HASTAC Scholars website. This is how we know who we can fund and is required.

Successful candidates will:

Applications will be evaluated based on the student’s activities in the areas of digital humanities technology, research, pedagogy and service to the community. Highly motivated students with limited exposure to the digital humanities are encouraged to apply. This opportunity is an excellent way to learn more about digital media and practices.

In the applicationplease answer the following the questions:

Your application must include the name and contact information of a faculty or academic staff member willing to serve as your sponsor and mentor. Please also state your academic department and undergraduate/graduate status.

Send applications and recommendations as Word Documents to Kristen Mapes,, with “YOURLASTNAME-HASTAC APP” as the subject line. Applications are due no later than 5:00 PM, October 3, 2017.  Members of the CAL Digital Humanities Steering Committee will review applications, and the Scholars will be announced no later than October 11. Selected scholars should make an application at the HASTAC website by October 15. Details for that procedure will follow if you are selected.

Please email with any questions!

Endangered Data Week Comes to MSU

When data and open information are under threat, who’ll come to knowledge’s aid? Spartans Will. MSU Library is pleased to partner with Endangered Data Week to offer an exciting week’s worth of programming all about endangered data. Our sessions will cover what types of data are imperiled and equip you with practical skills to join efforts to preserve and ensure access to data. Our broad range of sessions will cover everything from creating your own metadata schemas, building digital communities, working with census data, and letting your representatives know how you feel about the unprecedented removal of information from government websites.

Keep an eye on this space – more events may be added!


Census Data: Access, Importance, and the Future
Date & Local Time: 2017-04-17 12:00:00 PM
Location: Beaumont West Instruction Room (Main Library: 2 West)
Census data provides some of the best longitudinal demographic data available and is used by a wide range of disciplines and research. In this workshop you will learn about how census data is collected and structured, how to access it from a variety of sources, why the census is important and what changes may be coming for census data in current proposed legislation.

Letter Writing Event – Write and Bite Back
Date & Local Time: 2017-04-18 12:00:00 PM
Location: Michigan State University | LEADR – 112 Old Horticulture
Spend your lunch break advocating for better data collection policies and for better access to government data!

A few recent topics to discuss:

  • Environmental Protection Agency was allegedly ordered to remove climate change information from its website
  • USDA removed animal welfare data from its website
  • Senate and House of Representatives have both received proposed bills (S.103 and H.R.482) prohibiting funding from being used “to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”
  • Lack of mandatory reporting of hate crimes to the FBI
  • Lack of a federal database of officer-involved shootings or citizens killed by police

Drop by LEADR (112 Old Hort) on Tuesday, April 18 any time between 12:00p and 1:30p to take part. We will provide lunch, space and materials to get in touch with your representatives in Congress, heads of federal departments, and local and state politicians to let them know that you value open government data!

You Can Dig the Same Hole Twice: The Development of a Metadata Scheme for Archaeological Archives
Date & Local Time: 2017-04-18 4:00:00 PM
Location: Michigan State University | REAL Classroom (Main Library: 3 West)
Speaker: Jon Frey, Associate Professor, Classical Studies Art History & Visual Culture
The “digital revolution” in archaeology has brought with it a number of exciting opportunities. From GPS to laser scanners and sophisticated databases, archaeologists can now utilize with relative ease a number of new data collection tools that promise to speed and simplify our research. A somewhat less glamorous but equally important advantage of the digital age concerns our ability to scan and share large quantities of paper-based legacy documents kept in archaeological archives around the world. This presentation reviews some of the challenges faced by a team of researchers here at MSU as they develop a new metadata scheme to as part of the digitization of an excavation archive at the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia in Greece.

Crash Course in Research Data Management
Date & Local Time: 2017-04-19 9:30:00 AM
Location: Michigan State University | Library 3W
Speaker: Scout Calvert, Data Librarian, MSU Libraries
Have you ever lost a project file? Been unable to find the most recent version of a document? Suffered hard drive failure or had your laptop stolen? Been unable to open old files? Been told your data management plan wasn’t detailed enough? Forgotten which file was which? Even small research projects can generate enough data and digital material to become confusing and vulnerable to loss. Start your next project (or class) with a plan to keep your project organized and your data safe, from inception until you are ready to share, reuse, or revisit the project whether next month or years from now. This workshop will provide strategies and insights for managing your data for effective collaboration, to meet funder requirements, or to preserve it for reuse or sharing in the future. There will be bagels and coffee provided.

Overview of High Performance Computing for Data Analysis
Date & Local Time: 2017-04-19 12 noon – 1:00:00 PM
Location: Michigan State University | Library 3W
This talk describes High Performance Computing (HPC) for a non-expert audience, and how it differs from desktop and cloud computing. This event is part of the Endangered Data Week.

Safer Online Browsing and Texting Practices Workshop
Date & Local Time: 2017-04-19 12 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Location: Michigan State University | The Writing Center, Bessey Hall, Room 300
This event is put on by the Michigan Indigena/Chicanx Community Alliance and facilitated by Les Hutchinson. In this workshop, you will 1) learn some basic internet safety practices; 2) discuss changes in internet privacy policies and laws, and 3) give input on planning a future workshop series on safer digital and online practices. There will be free food provided!

Internet Privacy 101
Date & Local Time: 2017-05-20 9:30:00 AM
Location: Michigan State University | Library Beaumont Instruction Room (2 West)
In light of recent legislation regarding how our browsing information may be collected by our internet service providers, there has been a lot of talk about internet privacy. If you’re hearing about VPNs, browser tracking, and more, but aren’t sure what concrete steps you can take, this workshop can help. For best results, bring your own laptop and/or phone so you can adjust settings on your own devices. There will be bagels and coffee provided.

These events are part of the National Endangered Data Week:

Endangered Data Week is a new, collaborative effort, coordinated across campuses, nonprofits, libraries, citizen science initiatives, and cultural heritage institutions, to shed light on public datasets that are in danger of being deleted, repressed, mishandled, or lost. The week’s events can promote care for endangered collections by: publicizing the availability of datasets; increasing critical engagement with them, including through visualization and analysis; and by encouraging political activism for open data policies and the fostering of data skills through workshops on curation, documentation and discovery, improved access, and preservation.

Reflecting on DHSI

Though it’s been a couple months since DHSI, I’ve still been thinking about the things I learned that week. But first, I want to talk about my overall impression of the summer institute. Before I walked onto UVic’s (University of Victoria) campus and became apart of the DHSI community, I thought this program would be filled with graduate students who were all attending classes that would likely be their field of study. However, I realized that the DHSI is widely attended by undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and community members from all over the world. In fact, I realized that many people from all disciplines attended DHSI classes to supplement the knowledge they already had. Some even came because UVic offered a course on something they always wanted to learn. My class was called “Sound in Digital Humanities.” I felt that instead of having a week-long lecture about our course topic, we worked together to share and build knowledge about listening, recording, sound mixing and editing. The DHSI community is very welcoming and it’s truly amazing that this group connects so many people from different backgrounds to work together.

More specifically, the course I took at DHSI supplemented the things I’m learning in my graduate program in order to record and build better sonic projects. I sat in a classroom filled with people who had their own recording equipment and had been recording music for many years, and people like me who had very little technical knowledge. My instructor gave us a crash course on how to hold a microphone, how to record the best sound so it doesn’t need to be fixed in postproduction, and much more. But then a great deal of our week was spent going out on the campus and trying to record as much as possible. It was nice walking around the wooded campus and just listening for sounds to record. I am really grateful that this class allowed for time to capture well-recorded sound before we moved onto the editing stage. Finally, the class created an artifact for the final show-and-tell event for all DHSI goers. This project combined all the sounds the class recorded that week. Again, I felt my biggest takeaway from my class was the relationships I made while proposing and revising sonic projects with my classmates. This program is really valuable in that it connects you to so many people and the amount you learn from each other in just five days.

Register for a Workshop!

We have some exciting workshops set up for this fall. We hope to see you there!

Also save the date for LOCUS at the end of the semester — this edition will be on modeling, broadly.

Meaningful Intersections in Trendy Humanities

Summer is almost gone, and it seems a good time to reflect on the exciting opportunities it brought. To briefly introduce my reflection (though many of you already know me): my name is Cody Mejeur, and I am a PhD student in English working on video game narrative–particularly the interrelationship of narrative and play as cognitive processes. In June I had the honor and pleasure to take part in the Cognitive Futures in the Humanities 2016 conference in Helsinki, Finland, and to present my work at the “Cognition and Digitisation: Joint Future for the Humanities?” workshop that preceded the conference. The workshop was led by Anne Mangen (University of Stavenger) and Caroline Bassett (University of Sussex), and explored the question how cognitive and digital studies could relate to one another in current humanities work.

The discussion at the workshop focused around cognition and the digital as trendy topics in the humanities, with all of the exciting opportunities and blindspots that come with that territory. Many of the participants expressed concern with how uncritically we sometimes engage with technology, accepting it as part of “progress” that we are unable or unwilling to alter. Similarly, cognitive studies can easily be seen as the humanities kowtowing to the sciences and giving into the need to be more objective and measurable. Such concerns are serious and necessary, and we should neither hand-wave them nor use them to avoid engaging with cognitive and digital studies.

My own presentation shared my design for a fMRI experiment with games and narrative that aims to test common assumptions about narrative and play. In game studies (and more generally) we still often think of narrative and play as separate elements of games, or at most we gesture towards their interrelationship. But what are the actual sites of the relationship? And what do we miss when we treat them as separate entities? I hypothesize that narrative and play are interwoven processes, and a study of them in games and other texts will reveal surprising insights for how we think and make meaning. New colleagues at the workshop helped me think through a number of important questions for my study, such as: 

I look forward to taking these questions with me into my future work. The workshop topics have already helped me cultivate an awareness of the limitations of both digital and cognitive work, and I think that awareness is essential for those of us who work in the digital humanities. We have to continually challenge what our own tools and methodologies mean, especially when they are new or trendy. It’s actually that challenging that keeps us rooted in the best tradition of the humanities–being critical.



Playing with Digital Meaning: Video Games, Narrative, Cognition from Cody Mejeur

Further adventures in the digital humanities?

As anticipated on this very blog, I recently spent a week in Indianapolis attending a workshop on computational text analysis at HILT 2016. We spent our time surveying a number of different tools, techniques, and concepts related to text analysis, so I walked away with a greater appreciation for data cleaning, Weka, HathiTrust, metadata, Python, and much more. The most frustrating part of the workshop was that we visited each topic so briefly and that we had so few opportunities to apply these techniques to our own work. I can’t fault the workshop organizers for these decisions—helping participants take a dozen wildly different datasets through deep dives into a particular technique would have been difficult—but I was excited enough by a lot of the concepts we covered that I was itching to try them out myself. This was the most true of topic modeling, a technique for identifying different “topics” (or themes, or discourses, or…) in the documents of a particular corpus. As we tried out this technique on a corpus of slave narratives, I was amazed at how an algorithm was able to tease out what seemed to be clearly distinct themes within and across these narratives. One of our instructors warned us against being too impressed, explaining that the underlying math was actually really simple. He certainly had a point, and I know the importance of not being blindly wowed by what an algorithm seems to do, but to not think of topic modeling as amazing because it really comes down to conditional probabilities seemed to me akin to choosing to not recognize the wonder of the French language because at its roots, it’s an arbitrary collection of mouth sounds. That said, neither French nor topic modeling can be really useful or truly amazing for me unless I spend some time figuring out how it works. I went to HILT hoping to learn a couple of neat tricks, but I came away convinced that topic modeling could have some real value for me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve added to my notebook full of dissertation brainstorming scribbles a number of references to topic modeling, and over the next few months, I hope to learn more about the process, dive more into the details, and make this a part of the work that I do.

Getting Ready for DHSI

In order to get to DHSI in Victoria, BC I had to take two planes, four buses, and a ferry. This trip was weighing on me as I began to realize I would be up for almost two days getting to Canada. I started to ask myself, why would I spend my summer taking a class for fun? The plane ride was fine and the ferry ride was beautiful, but even when I reached land in Victoria I was still feeling uneasy. Once I retrieved my keys for the dorm, I walked around aimless for only a few minutes before not one, but three DHSI members walked me directly to my room. They gave me a heads up about the ins and outs of campus and where to get the best dinner down the road. I was nervous that I would find it hard to talk to or get to know anyone at this event because DH is only a related field, not entirely the discipline I study. But I was wrong. It’s exciting to know that tomorrow I will be in a classroom with people all enamored with sound. I’m the only person studying sonic rhetoric in my department at MSU right now, but I knew that people in this class would understand my interests, appreciate my knowledge, and ask smart questions about sonic work.

New Adventures in the Digital Humanities

In a few days, I’ll be heading down to Indianapolis to attend a workshop on computational text analysis that runs from June 13th through June 16th. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who’s had to listen to me ramble about my research: I’ve been waist-deep in R for a while now, there’s a digital methods category on my research blog, and I certainly haven’t been shy about wanting to pick up some text analysis skills to add to my repertoire. The one thing that could turn heads, though, is that I’m a PhD Candidate in an Educational Psychology and Educational Technology program headed to a Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching workshop. In many ways, though, this venture into Digital Humanities really isn’t that surprising. When, as a junior at Brigham Young University, it became time to ditch my major and find a new one, I was sorely tempted by Computer Science before settling on French Teaching. When, a year later, I learned that BYU’s CHum minor (which has since been replaced by a DH one) might let me combine both fields, it was tempting (but ultimately impractical) to change course again. To top it all off, all that work I did typing up all the dialogue in Astérix chez les Helvètes for a friend’s MA thesis looks—in hindsight—like it was going to be used for a text analysis not too different from the ones I’ll be learning to do next week. I even managed to attend some sessions at HASTAC last year under the not-entirely-wrong impression that it was an educational technology conference like the ones I’d been attending: I’d first heard of HASTAC because of their work with Mozilla Open Badges, one of the ideas that first piqued my interest in ed tech. So, maybe HILT is the natural next step given this series of near-misses with the field of digital humanities. Or, more accurately, maybe this is part of my realization not only that an educational technology researcher can move in DH circles but also that I’ve been doing so for a while and would benefit from taking a closer look. After all, I’m constantly clamoring for education departments to not forget history, languages, and literature as they focus ever more on STEM, the MSU DH Slack has been a great resource for me to lurk in, and there’s something about the awe and wonder of studying teachers’ use of Twitter that reminds me a lot of the feeling I got studying French history and culture as an undergrad. I’ve still got a foot planted in the humanities, and my research is increasingly being defined by the digital, so going to HILT, taking a DH seminar in the Fall, and continuing to explore this new world (for me) is probably the way to go.

Learning Data Visualization Strategies at HILT

Lupi visualized a week of getting dressed.

As a I prepare to travel to Indianapolis for the HILT (Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching) Institute, I’ve been reflecting on my connection to Digital Humanities research and pedagogy. As a researcher of visual/digital rhetoric, I have been consistently fascinated by the ways researchers take diverse data sets and communicating the findings visually. The data visualizations I find most interesting are industry-based, like Graphic Designers Surveyed by LucienneRoberts+ and Stefanie Posavec, or Posavec’s blog-turned-book Dear Data. Partnering with Giorgia Lupi, Dear Data catalogs a weekly data visualization based on the personal aspects of Lupi and Posavec’s lives. My favorite week was “A week of getting dressed” (see above). Despite how much I am intrigued by these visualizations, I haven’t turned to data visualization much in my own research. My hesitancy is based entirely on the sheer volume of technologies and tools that are available–what technology is most appropriate for my data? Does this technology align with my methodology? Where do I start?

Because I have all these questions, I am both excited and relieved to attend the HILT session “DATABASE DESIGN FOR VISUALIZATION AND ANALYSIS” with NICOLE COLEMAN. This session focuses on predesigning data models before attempting visualization, and promises to teach me how to collect, create, manage, and manipulate data in a variety of forms (maps, network graphs, charts). There is also mention of using data-magic-tool OpenRefine. This session is five, intense days so I know I will learn SO much about visualizing data from my instructor and from the other HILT students. 

Conference report: Black Studies and the Digital Humanities – New Developments

I recently attended two fantastic conferences that covered a range of new and interesting scholarship and activism happening at the intersections of the Digital Humanities and the interdisciplinary Black Studies field. My research draws on developments in the digital humanities that document histories of oppression and black resistance in the African Diaspora. I presented highlights of my research on shared consciousness, social ties, and race/ethnicity before the Haitian Revolution, and how it is facilitated by digitized runaway slave advertisements from colonial Haiti, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, and other developments in the digital humanities.

Important themes of the #Envisioning Black Digital Spaces Conference and the Digital Blackness Conference included documenting police brutality via the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other forms of online resistance; claiming online spaces to assert Black pride, critical black thought, and gender identity; using social media to forge transnational solidarity across the African Diaspora; employing the digital humanities as educational tools to engage offline communities; and developing creative media productions on internet-based platforms.

The #Envisioning Black Digital Spaces Conference at Dickinson College on April 9th featured co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, Alicia Garza, as the keynote speaker. The Digital Blackness Conference, at Rutgers University from April 22nd-23rd, held several sessions and plenaries featuring Melissa Harris-Perry, Professor at Wake Forest University and former MSNBC correspondent; Professor Mark Anthony Neal, creator and founder of the Left of Black weekly webcast; Jessica Marie Johnson, Assistant Professor and creator of the African Diaspora, Ph.D. curated blog; Mara Brock Akil, creator of the hit television series Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane; and several other journalists, academics, and activists. The plenary sessions and keynote address were recorded and can be viewed here.

I was able to gain insight on innovative pedagogical tools such as AfroCrowd, an initiative aiming to increase the number of people of African descent who actively contribute to Wikimedia and other open source knowledge platforms. Librarians with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and Wikipedians help instructors design course assignments for students and community members to do research and contribute to and/or correct Wikipedia entries on a range of topics. I’m very glad I was able to attend and share about my research and learn more about new research and teaching developments in my field.


Image courtesy of