Category Archives: talks

Science Fiction of Science (DH2013)

Below is the Prezi and some supplementary content for my Digital Humanities 2013 presentation on Project Hieroglyph.

You can learn more about the Center for Science and the Imagination at our website or by downloading our first Annual Report.

On the origins of Project Hieroglyph: you might want to read Neal Stephenson’s inital shot across the bow, Innovation Starvation, or some of the recent press about the project in Wired UK, CNN, the New York Times and elsewhere. You can also follow a site activity RSS feed here.

I’ll add more notes here based on feedback from the talk and any comments you’d like to leave.

You can follow the center at @imaginationASU on Twitter or on Facebook. I’m @zonal. And of course you should sign up for Project Hieroglyph yourself!

American Networks, American Nerds

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve been invited to speak at Emory University’s new Digital Scholarship Commons next week. If you find yourself in the vicinity you won’t want to miss it. Here are the details:

The Digital Scholarship Commons Presents Ed Finn, Ph.D.: “American Networks, American Nerds”
Wednesday, November 2, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Research Commons, third Floor, Robert W. Woodruff Library

Ed Finn, a recent Stanford graduate and University Innovation Fellow at Arizona State University, will speak about his network analysis of Amazon consumer reviews of David Foster Wallace and Junot Díaz, explaining how these differ from literary critics’ assessments. You can read about Dr. Finn’s work in the New York Times.
This talk explores changing systems of literary reputation in contemporary American fiction through two case studies: Junot Díaz and David Foster Wallace. Long-established models of literary production are changing dramatically as the digital era continues to blur the divisions between authors, critics and readers. Millions of cultural consumers are now empowered to participate in previously closed literary conversations and to express forms of mass distinction through their purchases and reviews of books. The bookselling behemoth Amazon has been collecting such information from its users since 1996, assembling a rich ecology of cultural data. Drawing on Amazon’s archive and a set of professional book reviews, I analyze the literary networks that readers have created for Wallace and Díaz through their collective acts of distinction. Tracing contemporary shifts in critical and commercial reception, I argue that both writers use style as a way to reinvent authorship for a hyper-mediated age. By redrawing the boundaries of dialect and slang in American English, they promote radical revisions to contemporary concepts of literary identity and community.

London Dispatch

I’ve once again fallen way behind in my blogging, but fortunately I have much to report. I’m writing from Digital Humanities 2010, where I’ll be presenting my latest research on Saturday. The conference is in London and it’s been exciting and a little befuddling to wrestle jet-lag amidst an exciting array of panels and posters.

The paper I’m giving is on Toni Morrison, the subject of the recently completed Chapter 2. It’s in its fourth iteration now, after a trial run among the friendly brains at Stanford and great panels at ASU’s Southwest English Grad Students conference and ACLA. At each point I’ve been refining my methodologies and slides (lesson one: visualization is endlessly finicky).

As before, this is a case study where Morrison’s work is really a jumping-off point for an exploration of her reading publics and the nature of literary fame. When I presented at DH2009, I was still working out how to approach these questions and adopted a kind of shotgun strategy, using every data set and methodology I could think of to see what worked. That paper, on Thomas Pynchon, had a lot going on: networks of Amazon recommendations; Wordle images based on word counts of book reviews; bar graphs of library copies; graphs of MLA citations and comparisons of MLA, Amazon and newsgroup publications by year.

Most of these ideas were interesting, but only some of them ‘stuck’ for me. The cyclical nature of academic and other kinds of publication, for example, was revealing to see but a point that probably only needs to be proven once. This year I’ve decided to focus on the richest results from the past and push the envelope. My paper will look at the social lives of Morrison’s novels, and the ‘social’ networks they inhabit online. I’ve worked hard in the past year to create collocation-based networks and to use network analysis to identify the most significant nodes and clusters in Morrison’s ideational networks online. These are the most interesting, and the messiest, of my datasets, and network analysis has revealed some surprising patterns that I’ll be sharing on Saturday.

So that’s the major news. I have a couple of other projects cooking that I’m going to write up when I have some solid bulletins to report.

I have arrived

It’s been quite a while since I updated this blog, so here’s a rapid review.

I’ve completed a draft for my dissertation chapter on Thomas Pynchon.

I’ve got a messy first half of an introductory chapter too, but I’m trying hard not to think about just how much revision that’s going to need.

All of this has snapped into close focus with the end of the academic year and my presence this week at the University of Maryland for Digital Humanities Conference 2009. After months of solitude interrupted mainly (if regularly) by the dogs, I find myself surrounded by people thinking about the same questions I’ve been wrestling with. Cool!

I’ll be presenting on Thursday and panel-hopping for the rest of the time. I’m also looking forward to meeting and re-meeting luminaries of my Twitter and podcast world.

The Future of Collaborative Culture?

[I’m cross-posting this from Open Culture–it seemed apropos to my academic pursuits as well…]

I just heard Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, speaking at Stanford Law School today. Wales is working on some new projects that he hopes will harness the community-driven collaboration of Wikipedia. He’s already had some success in branching out from the encyclopedia idea with Wikia, which is a “wiki farm” compiling information on a variety of different subjects (some of the most successful so far relate to video games).

What Wales spoke about today, however, is a new collaborative search project. The concept is still in its early stages, it seems, but the idea would be to harness the intelligence and dedication of human beings to produce search results significantly better than Google’s. This raises a few questions:

Is Google broken? It’s amazing what Google pulls up, but maybe we’ve all gotten so good at working with an imperfect system that we just tune out the spam and misinterpretations that still crop up.

Is a collaborative social model the appropriate solution to this problem? People are good at compiling encyclopedias, but they may not be good at emulating search rank algorithms. Also, Google is powered by millions of servers in dozens of data centers over the world managing petabytes of information. In other words, this may be a technology+money business, not a people+transparency business.

These issues aside, Wikipedia is one of the most amazing things to come out of the whole Internet experiment, so I’m excited to see what Wales comes up with. Has search become a basic service? Would it work better as an open-source system?

The Politics of Presence

I’ve been invited to contribute to The Politics of Presence, a multi-day, multi-continental conference experience put together by new media scholars, archaeologists, and more. I’m going to give a brief PowerPoint version of a paper I worked last quarter on terrorism and new media.

Terrorism is an interesting subject because it tends to fall through the academic cracks. This has led to a fragmented professional discourse that tends to get lost between international affairs, psychology, law and politics. Thus the old saw that there are as more theories of terrorism than there are theorists.

My take is that terrorism is essentially a communicative action: without a public to terrorize and a mass medium to dominate, there’s no point. So how do new, collaborative media change that equation? How do we deal with terrorism online? Come by tomorrow to find out.