Towards a Mobilized Humanities: On Making Do and Nimble Tents (Video)


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  • It all begins — at least for me,
  • in terms of these types of projects
  • and socio-technical formations
  • that allow us to do the impossible
  • — when I and a team of others,
  • a group of others
  • decided that digital humanities--.
  • How many of you have heard
  • of digital humanities?
  • How many? Oh!
  • A good number of people.
  • Alright, cool.
  • So [Inaudible]
  • decided that digital humanities
  • community at a global scale
  • was representing itself
  • as being this kind of European,
  • and North American, Canadian,
  • and Australian formation
  • while the rest of the world
  • was being ignored.
  • There was a map done around that time
  • by Melissa Terras
  • and [Inaudible] really quick here.
  • Global DH,
  • should come up on Google Images.
  • Oh, map.
  • There it is.
  • There's this map is circulating
  • around the world
  • showing you where the centers
  • of digital humanities are.
  • So this is the only representation
  • at this particular time.
  • This is about eight or nine years ago.
  • That is giving you a sense
  • of how digital humanities
  • is being practiced around the world.
  • By focusing on centers, though,
  • it creates this huge, vast
  • landscape of yellow spaces
  • where apparently nothing's happening.
  • Now, of course, many of us go back home
  • and work with the global south,
  • we knew that that was not simply the case
  • That there was a lot
  • of digital humanities activity
  • that this map makes invisible
  • by focusing on centers.
  • Now the reason is that, well,
  • that's not exactly how digital humanities
  • is produced in the global south.
  • So we decided to do our own map.
  • And this one was the first time
  • I ever tried to do
  • one of these social experiments
  • where I was trying to latch on
  • to these kinds
  • of crowdsourcing formations.
  • But do it in a funky way
  • so that we could achieve what we want.
  • A representation of digital humanities
  • around the planet
  • that focused on the people
  • and the projects
  • that were being produced
  • around the planet. In order to do so,
  • I
  • sent out a tweet with a link
  • to a spreadsheet on Google Sheets —
  • Google Sheets was already around,
  • it's like eight or nine years ago
  • — asking my friends on Twitter to help me
  • fill out this spreadsheet
  • with the projects around the world.
  • There were several tasks on this parti--.
  • Each representing a region of the world,
  • and we use the categories defined
  • by the United Nations [Inaudible] list.
  • Stay away from trouble.
  • Identities can be a difficult subject
  • to discuss on social media,
  • as we all know.
  • So we just said
  • we're just going to grab
  • the UN [Inaudible]
  • to describe the regions of world.
  • The Middle East,
  • Australasia, South America, et cetera.
  • And well
  • that tweet then started circulating.
  • People started coming in.
  • I asked further
  • if somebody could help me translate
  • that tweet into other languages.
  • I myself could translate it
  • into French, Spanish, German
  • and Italian.
  • Others helped me
  • translate it into Arabic,
  • into Portuguese.
  • As my network,
  • I think, started growing,
  • the tweet started circulating
  • and then all of a sudden
  • this master spreadsheet
  • starts filling up.
  • Next thing you know,
  • I am sitting on 250 projects,
  • or something like this,
  • that are really good,
  • and they're all around the world.
  • And
  • obviously, I can't really represent
  • 250 projects really well
  • and it's going to
  • disturb the equilibrium.
  • So I decided amongst the same people
  • that helped me fill it out,
  • I was going to create a pool of editors.
  • And they were each going to pick
  • eight projects.
  • It was around this time, also,
  • when I started seeing
  • that I needed a story.
  • So obviously I was saying, okay, let's--
  • a story that a lot of people know around
  • the world. This Jules Verne's
  • travel around the world in 80 days.
  • So I said we're going to do it like this.
  • So eight projects by region
  • and we're going to do it in one summer.
  • We're just going to visit one project
  • each day.
  • In that way,
  • the whole world will get a sense
  • of what is happening
  • in the rest of the world
  • because I knew that every time
  • one of these thoughts
  • popped up,
  • the people in that countries
  • were going to circulate the whole project
  • just to show that they too
  • had a project here.
  • And this happened in the summer of 2014
  • or something like that.
  • After the team selected
  • the eight projects,
  • we went around the world for eighty days.
  • And each day
  • a different project from around the world
  • was highlighted.
  • This, of course, was
  • an exercise in building
  • an impossible community,
  • a community of scholars
  • working in each of the continents
  • of the planet.
  • My favorite one is, of course,
  • the Online Dictionary of Cook Islands.
  • If you know
  • a little bit of geography,
  • Cook Islands are tiny.
  • But even in that island in the Pacific,
  • there were folks already
  • trying to do some digital humanities work.
  • Completely
  • ignorant of the sort of activities
  • that were happening around the world
  • and not anymore.
  • After we finish this project,
  • of course, I'm
  • a young graduate student
  • right now,
  • I believe that I am capable
  • of doing impossible things.
  • Which can be a dangerous thing.
  • Something I had to fight over the past
  • decade to tame my own arrogance.
  • We'll get to that.
  • Because I know, of course,
  • also that our society
  • was starting to be eaten away
  • by San Francisco arrogent code bros.
  • That was super evident at that time.
  • It is now, I think, mainstream knowledge
  • in our time.
  • But after this I
  • said, okay, so we need to start map
  • all of the world's knowledge.
  • That was part of the arrogance
  • that needed to be tamed down.
  • And I found other people
  • that actually were also interested
  • in mapping out
  • all of the world's knowledge.
  • We needed to understand
  • how the material record was constructed.
  • We were younger and graduate students
  • or junior faculty.
  • We've given up on the dreams of
  • mapping out the world's knowledge.
  • But obviously the world has some--
  • knowledge, has a material reality,
  • whether it's analog or it's digital.
  • There is a finite number
  • of documents in the planet.
  • There is a finite number of books
  • in the library here.
  • How many books that we have here?
  • AUDIENCE: Four and a half million.
  • Four and a half million books.
  • That is a finite number.
  • The aggregate number of books
  • in all the libraries of the world
  • is also finite,
  • and the digital is now less ethereal.
  • Sorry, no, it's not.
  • It's not more ethereal than this.
  • It's just as material as this.
  • There's a finite number of bytes
  • and files all around the world.
  • And if we're just
  • looking at PDFs or databases,
  • that is also a finite number,
  • and we know that that is where
  • the world's knowledge is held
  • and we wanted to map that out.
  • So we decided to do several things.
  • Several of us at that point —
  • I was transitioning to my first job
  • as a librarian,
  • which is the perfect place to work at
  • if you want to map out the world's
  • knowledge —
  • we became friends
  • with the pirate librarians.
  • We became--
  • this is a bunch of eastern Europeans
  • in Croatia
  • and Ukraine, Kazakhstan
  • and Tajikistan
  • that have built
  • libraries that are larger than ours
  • on the digital scale,
  • mostly by
  • taking or freeing, as they call it,
  • the knowledge held by what they call
  • the knowledge cartels.
  • Elsevier, Proquest, et cetera.
  • The best of kind is, of course, Sci-Hub,
  • who figure out that
  • you don't need the files.
  • All you need is the passwords of people
  • who already have access
  • to those documents.
  • So they created database of passwords.
  • Fantastic.
  • Now you can find anything
  • you ever needed there in those libraries.
  • So we started a series of conferences
  • to hang out with them.
  • They have--
  • one of my best friends speaks Russian,
  • which is needed
  • if you want to hang out
  • with the community of pirates.
  • The other community,
  • we wanted to hang out
  • was publishers themselves,
  • so we started hanging out
  • with a bunch of publishers
  • to understand what their game was like.
  • But the one project
  • we started to throw funding around
  • with the help of the Sloan Foundation
  • was one in which we wanted to understand
  • all the syllabi in the world.
  • If texts have a finite reality,
  • we wanted to
  • understand what texts were being taught
  • in English language.
  • So this project started around
  • six years ago, seven years ago.
  • At that time, we had like--
  • we sent out spiders
  • into the internet to collect,
  • it was at that point
  • 1,000,000.2 documents
  • that came back to us.
  • Spiders are this little robots
  • that do this searching for you
  • instead of you going
  • and downloading a PDF one at a time.
  • These spiders just go out there,
  • find anything
  • that you
  • already told that "looks
  • like a syllabus" brings it back.
  • Obviously, it's
  • going to bring a lot of trash.
  • So we use a little bit
  • of machine learning.
  • It was early back in those days
  • to actually sort out the
  • trash from the wheat.
  • What do you get?
  • The wheat from the chaff?
  • Sorry, I'm not American.
  • I get the idiomatic expressions
  • all wrong.
  • So eventually we ended.
  • The original database
  • had 900,000 syllabi,
  • but once we had it,
  • then we did another process
  • that we know in digital humanities
  • called citation extraction.
  • Then we can get
  • what documents are being cited
  • in those syllabi,
  • eventually putting them all in a database
  • and allowing people then to
  • browse through them.
  • What you're seeing now
  • is the 2.0 version of this.
  • Much cleaner
  • than the one we made at the lab
  • and carried on by another team
  • but the same method and same idea.
  • This is the list of
  • the top texts being taught
  • in the English language.
  • If you click on one of these tags
  • so you can find out what
  • is being taught next to it.
  • So this is the Republic by Plato, it's
  • usually taught
  • next to these other texts
  • and tells you how many--
  • what is the score
  • or frequency of these texts being taught,
  • where they're being taught.
  • And my favorite thing about it, it
  • actually creates a map of knowledge.
  • So this is the Republic
  • right here, close to it
  • are the dots that are being taught--
  • anything-- any dot size in the case
  • that is being--
  • if it's big circle,
  • it means it's taught a lot.
  • The circles that are close to
  • it means they're usually taught with it.
  • So this-- around this area
  • cluster the ideas of
  • cluster, the other texts
  • that are being taught along with Plato
  • in an area we call philosophy.
  • The words obviously were added by, well,
  • the second team.
  • There was an earlier version
  • of this map in which we did work.
  • But
  • here is
  • kind of a sense of
  • at least human knowledge in English
  • and the texts that are being used,
  • the data still there and around.
  • But anyways
  • for us, for this story I'm telling you,
  • this was a process of making connections
  • that you were not making before.
  • And
  • since we were interested
  • not only in what was being taught,
  • but in everything else.
  • this was, of course, to be the prelude
  • of understanding the world's knowledge.
  • And in a sense, it involved
  • a really weird
  • combination of players in the team.
  • Because in order to get the data,
  • we had to combine a coder
  • with a librarian,
  • with a metadata librarian,
  • with a couple of faculty
  • focused on epistemology, and, of course,
  • the person who became the lead
  • of the second part of this,
  • a guy who works in communications.
  • All right.
  • Moving on.
  • By then,
  • by the time this is in the first stage,
  • which I cannot show you,
  • we've already formed what is called, now,
  • the Xpmethod Group
  • or the Group
  • for Experimental Methods
  • and Humanistic Research.
  • There are four founders to this.
  • But now the group has grown
  • to about eight moderators.
  • They're--.
  • The founders are me, the Russian guy.
  • He's not Russian, he's Moldovan.
  • He gets so angry
  • every time I call him Russian.
  • He's not Russian, he's from Moldova.
  • Dennis Tenen, me, Manan Ahmed,
  • who is a specialist of medieval
  • South Asia,
  • are the three founders that survive.
  • And now we have Francis Negron,
  • who focuses on Puerto Rico.
  • We have Kaiama Glover,
  • who does Haitian history,
  • and Durba Mitra,
  • who does sexuality in South Asia
  • as moderators.
  • And in the past seven years,
  • this has been the group
  • that grew out of these ideas
  • of understanding the world's knowledge
  • in experimenting with weird things.
  • By now has about
  • 37 projects cataloged here done
  • both by the moderators
  • and by people
  • who have contributed to the lab.
  • This group meets every Friday
  • or has met every Friday
  • for the past seven years
  • from three to five.
  • Our secret — I will reveal the secret
  • as my story develops —
  • is the consistency of which we meet
  • and the fact that we
  • try to focus on prototypes,
  • which is now in the description of the
  • about page.
  • We focus on rapid prototyping.
  • Part of what has made us so productive
  • is the fact that we don't marry ourselves
  • to long term projects.
  • So even the open syllabus project,
  • which was really cool,
  • it was even being picked up by the
  • [Inaudible]
  • claiming that
  • the Academy and that,
  • of course, we're Marxist.
  • Marx's Communist Manifesto
  • is the fourth most taught text.
  • And Aha, we got you. This kind of thing.
  • Even though
  • that was actually getting
  • a lot of attention,
  • we needed to divorce ourselves from it
  • and pass it on.
  • So that we can remain nimble
  • so we can remain flexible
  • so we can move from one thing to another,
  • if we were going to pursue
  • our original mission.
  • To experiment,
  • to try to understand
  • the world's knowledge.
  • And
  • we still are
  • meeting every Friday from three to five,
  • I'm going to move on
  • to some of the other projects
  • that followed
  • after we decided
  • that we were going to stay nimble
  • and that we were going to stay minimal.
  • Two concepts
  • that actually make up the core of what
  • our philosophy has been come to known
  • minimal computing and nimble tents.
  • The future of the lab once the
  • founders, the two founders
  • who started the lab with me,
  • get tenure —
  • one of them already did
  • like about three weeks ago,
  • and we're hoping the second one,
  • Denis, gets tenure in this month
  • — we'll probably grow into a center.
  • And we'll probably change the name
  • to Group for Experimental and Mobilized
  • Methods in the Humanities.
  • And you'll see why in a second.
  • All right.
  • Around that time,
  • I continued exploring the pirates, and
  • that was around the time
  • when the
  • ideas of minimal computing
  • were being sort of explored.
  • This was around the time we met.
  • I was--
  • I traveled to Cuba
  • and I learned that they were doing this.
  • They had this really weird and surrealist
  • ecosystem for producing knowledge
  • and sharing it.
  • So, for example,
  • there were journals
  • that were being "published"
  • by circulating them in email chains,
  • and that was how
  • the journal was produced.
  • There-- the way they were getting access
  • to articles and essays in
  • their fields
  • was by having potluck parties
  • for people who came from outside Cuba.
  • This is before
  • the internet opens up.
  • At that point,
  • there was only 10% penetration
  • to the intranet,
  • which is an internet
  • that they built just for Cubans.
  • And there was 1% of the population
  • had access to the internet,
  • which is the internet we all know.
  • Now, people come from the outside
  • would bring-- they were
  • asked, like I was asked
  • when I visited, to bring USBs
  • full of essays from JSTOR.
  • And I would get a list
  • of themes and categories,
  • and I would just fill
  • my USB and I would arrive, and of course.
  • And then I'm welcomed into a party
  • and they do soup and the rum,
  • and then everybody brings their own USBs
  • and everybody gets the essays.
  • And this is how the library circulation
  • was operating in Cuba
  • at this particular moment,
  • especially for people
  • who are more leftist
  • than the Castros, the Black radicals,
  • the LGBT community, et cetera.
  • People for whom
  • the revolution was incomplete.
  • Now
  • coming back with this kind of exposure
  • to this strange system,
  • I started combining our ideas
  • of like global knowledge
  • with the differences
  • in global infrastructure.
  • I started understanding that everywhere
  • in the world, knowledge production,
  • learning and research,
  • happen in different environments,
  • and it was important for anybody
  • who wanted to understand
  • what the world
  • looks like in terms of its knowledge
  • to understand
  • how different
  • the material conditions of that knowledge
  • distribution is.
  • So, of course,
  • nobody anymore
  • does global without doing local.
  • So we needed to understand
  • what were the differences in New York.
  • And this is where the Rikers Bot
  • project comes from.
  • Rikers Bot was the
  • social-technical experiment
  • in which we partnered with social work
  • at Columbia University and Rikers Island
  • and the government of the city
  • to be able to go on Saturdays
  • to Rikers Island.
  • Where our young Black and Brown
  • kids are being unjustly imprisoned.
  • To teach them how to code enough
  • and tell stories enough
  • that they could do
  • bots on Twitter
  • to talk about their stories,
  • their lives within Rikers Island.
  • So of course,
  • the reason we're going
  • there is because we know that right
  • a few blocks right away from where
  • Columbia sits,
  • there's this place
  • where nobody has access to computers,
  • except for the cops, the authorities.
  • Where the kids
  • have zero technology
  • other than the memory of technology.
  • So we're teaching them
  • how to code on blackboards,
  • which they do have, and chalk.
  • And they're writing their code
  • and their tweets
  • in little notebooks with little pencils
  • that we brought.
  • So we have to wait.
  • The cycle is
  • they keep the little notebooks
  • for a week. And when we come back on
  • the next Saturday, we
  • pick up the notebooks.
  • We take them back to Columbia and our own
  • graduate students
  • transcribe them into into text.
  • And the code that they wrote
  • on their little notebooks,
  • they transcribe it into the computer
  • so they can be actionable.
  • We, of course,
  • clean up the code a little bit
  • because it is very hard to code
  • without actually seeing
  • what the results are of the code.
  • You can only see the results
  • after you put them in the machine,
  • but they were learning
  • and it wasn't that much tweaking
  • that we had to do.
  • What the bot did was,
  • of course, randomized
  • so that they would be anonymous.
  • So that
  • it was impossible for the authorities
  • to know who tweeted what.
  • We had to make some compromises
  • with the authority about some censorship,
  • like authorities
  • didn't want the kids to say anything
  • like fuck the police that directly.
  • They're really sensitive
  • about particularly that phrase.
  • Now what we get, though,
  • is a series of
  • critical tweets that actually,
  • they're reflective of the society,
  • reflective of the exercise,
  • critical of the prison system
  • and the judicial system,
  • combined with personal stories
  • of suffering and joy
  • within this very oppressive environment
  • in which we keep our Brown
  • and Black young kids.
  • Well, I hope that--
  • just so I make sure that these ideas
  • are accumulating with you
  • as the story progresses
  • because I'm using a frame of a story arc.
  • And now we have arrived at the moment
  • in which we understand different
  • infrastructures and different formations
  • that are possible
  • within both
  • a local and a global difference
  • in infrastructure.
  • And documents
  • and knowledge can be produced
  • from many different angles,
  • depending how you are clever
  • about going about
  • using the resources that you have at hand
  • and overcoming constraints.
  • All right.
  • So there are no computers
  • inside the prison.
  • Well, bring a notebook
  • and then we'll take out the notebooks
  • and then change the temporality.
  • And then
  • the kids will be able to tweet
  • if we do it this other way.
  • All right. Moving on.
  • I'm going to skip a bunch
  • of projects because,
  • like I said,
  • there are 37 projects up in here.
  • I'm going to move
  • right up to PR Mapathon,
  • which is only about three years old.
  • Let me see.
  • PR Mapathon NYT.
  • Here it is.
  • So this is a picture of the first one.
  • This is the one organized
  • at Columbia University Libraries.
  • What was PR Mapathon?
  • Well after Hurricane Maria devastated
  • the island of Puerto Rico and Dominica,
  • among others.
  • We were meeting
  • one of those Fridays,
  • three to five, in our lab,
  • and I'm talking to Moacir,
  • I'm talking to Manan and Jeremiah.
  • And in particular--
  • at that particular table
  • that weekend happened to be guys.
  • We have--
  • although we have,
  • we tried to have a balance,
  • that table consisted of a few guys.
  • So please don't kill me. Don't judge me.
  • Don't cancel me on Twitter.
  • And the guys were like,
  • we got to do something.
  • What are we going to do?
  • And I think it was Manan or Jeremiah,
  • I can't remember, saying,
  • you guys remember
  • how people got together
  • after the Tibet earthquake
  • and started using open street maps,
  • task manager to help rebuild?
  • We should do something like that
  • for Puerto Rico.
  • Then our conversation advances.
  • He says, Yeah,
  • but it shouldn't only be us
  • because then we're only going
  • to fix a small part of the map.
  • We need more than that.
  • Oh, by the way, thing is that
  • in these kinds of situations, the map--
  • you need reliable maps for the aid
  • workers, rescue workers
  • to be able to do their job.
  • My problem is
  • sometimes these maps fall out of date,
  • sometimes making the work
  • of relief harder.
  • So mapping is
  • something that is always needed
  • after a disaster.
  • There was a lot of mapping
  • happen around Katrina,
  • there's a lot of mapping happen
  • after most of the disasters of the world.
  • There's constant community of people
  • doing this kind of relief mapathon.
  • But what we came up with
  • was something that was not
  • particularly tried before.
  • So we know
  • the world,
  • the anonymous community
  • of internet
  • denizens come together
  • in times of disaster
  • to do this kind of thing.
  • But what we wanted to do
  • was actually take that same activity,
  • but organize
  • it all around the existing
  • infrastructure of libraries.
  • So what I created was a step
  • by step guide
  • while we were organizing ours,
  • getting a room, getting pizza,
  • getting posters.
  • We were trying to organize ours
  • in six days
  • because of course,
  • the Red Cross needs that yesterday.
  • So while I'm organizing mine,
  • I'm also sharing with colleagues
  • in other libraries
  • the step by step instructions
  • on how to organize it.
  • Things like talk to your administrator,
  • try to secure
  • support from administrator early
  • so that you can have
  • the communications office in your library
  • help you with the posters,
  • help you with securing a room, et cetera.
  • You know, common sense stuff,
  • but until you see it
  • all in one place, it's
  • not that common sense.
  • Talk on social media, learn the tool, or
  • talk to your GIS librarian.
  • They probably already know
  • how to use the tool,
  • bring them into the conversation,
  • et cetera.
  • And this document that I created starts
  • being shared on Facebook
  • and on Twitter by librarians.
  • Eventually, 25 universities
  • in the United States of America,
  • mostly libraries,
  • joined
  • to create the same event
  • we created at Columbia,
  • in their own universities.
  • And they all kind of look like this.
  • Ours had like about
  • 150 people in two rooms of the library.
  • Here you can see
  • pictures of different teams
  • doing it in different universities.
  • This is 2017.
  • All around the United States,
  • people came together.
  • One of the things that connects
  • this narrative arc I'm building for you
  • is that
  • we were taking advantage
  • of structure that already existed.
  • We knew, yes, it's cool
  • to have anonymous internet
  • users fix maps.
  • What I think is even more powerful
  • is to convince
  • the whole professional institution,
  • a whole profession
  • that they already have
  • the infrastructure to do the same
  • and they can do it more effectively.
  • They have rooms,
  • they have communication offices,
  • they have a little budget for pizza.
  • That's something libraries always do
  • have.
  • And lo and behold, in one month
  • and a half, we had
  • rebuilt the whole map of Puerto Rico.
  • I was in communication
  • with the Red Cross in Puerto Rico
  • since this was being developed.
  • They were printing out the maps
  • we were making in big sheets because this
  • there's no internet in the places
  • they needed to go to,
  • so they needed to print out
  • everything we were doing.
  • They had just parked themselves
  • in the Univision
  • building in the center of San Juan.
  • They finally, eventually
  • thanked us in a footnote
  • on the report they made
  • about their rescue efforts.
  • All right.
  • So
  • again, and none of this was done
  • actually
  • by asking anybody to learn anything.
  • Even the workshops themselves
  • for how to use this tool
  • actually took advantage, leverage--
  • I'm starting to sound platonic, right?
  • Plato always said,
  • we never learn anything new,
  • we just remember what we already knew.
  • The workshop itself consists of teaching
  • like a room like about this
  • in all of like 10 minutes or 15 minutes,
  • how to fill out a form
  • and how to draw geometries on an image.
  • Because that's what
  • the mapping consist of.
  • You saying, this looks like a building,
  • so I'm going to draw a square
  • with a mouse, and that is it.
  • That is all that is
  • needed to do the work that is
  • needed to reconstruct maps.
  • On a conclude now with
  • Torn Apart/ Separados,
  • which I am sorry for those of you
  • who are already in the
  • workshop this morning
  • because you're already seen it
  • and everything I'm going to say now,
  • you already heard.
  • The idea here,
  • the project here was started--.
  • Actually, that's not the concluding one,
  • I'll have a final note about Lorgiafest.
  • This project was done in 2018,
  • in the summer.
  • And we started doing it
  • at the moment in which the images of kids
  • being separated from their mothers
  • and their fathers
  • and their cousins at the border
  • was circulating around social media.
  • And all of the United States,
  • right wing and left wing, were shocked
  • by what they were seeing and angry
  • and nobody wanted
  • those kids, that I know,
  • separated from their parents.
  • And of course,
  • the discourse about what caused
  • it was different,
  • perhaps, in different political spheres.
  • But the sentiment that this was cruel
  • and wrong was shared by most Americans.
  • And we knew that was a moment
  • in which we needed to act.
  • Had a similar conversation.
  • Manan, are we're going to do something?
  • Yes, let's do something.
  • In this particular case,
  • the social arrangement
  • that we set up was different.
  • In this one,
  • I put together a team of seven people,
  • three graduate students, one postdoc,
  • three faculty, and one librarian.
  • Two-- 1.5 librarians
  • because the postdoc
  • was working in a library.
  • So two librarians and
  • three faculty
  • and they all
  • had a role that I knew
  • they could play well.
  • I knew also that this team
  • did not need to be taught
  • how to do things.
  • And let me show
  • you a little bit about what
  • the project we built is.
  • And then ask you —
  • I did this exercise
  • already in the morning workshop,
  • so I won't bother those who already--
  • and please don't-- no spoilers.
  • The project consists
  • of a series of visualizations,
  • a series of essays
  • written by experts and scholars
  • who specialize in border
  • studies, migration studies,
  • a map of allies,
  • directory of allies
  • in the United States
  • that help immigrants, an essay written
  • by the team itself
  • reflecting on what we had just done.
  • It was done in three languages
  • and the point of the project
  • was to represent ICE
  • infrastructure,
  • especially the carceral infrastructure.
  • This has a volume two,
  • which does the ICE financial structure,
  • but this one was trying to figure out
  • the physical material reality of ICE,
  • immigration and control enforcement.
  • Now each of these orange dots
  • represents an ICE facility,
  • and there's data
  • behind each of the orange dots.
  • The blue dots represent
  • where the kids were,
  • where they had the kids.
  • As opposed to the orange dots
  • that were for adult populations,
  • we decided not to share
  • too much information
  • about where the kids were.
  • And we can talk about that
  • in the question and answer session.
  • This visualization, for example,
  • takes you to what
  • these places look like
  • in your neighborhood.
  • Do we get a lot of e-mails?
  • People were like,
  • I didn't know that in my neighborhood--.
  • Just to please our social scientist
  • friends-- .
  • Sorry. Charts.
  • Just to please
  • our social scientist friends,
  • we had this kind of your typical
  • social scientific data breakdown.
  • Here's the average daily population
  • of immigrants
  • being incarcerated in this country
  • just for being an immigrant,
  • at least in 2018.
  • Here
  • is a sense of the essays
  • that were written by experts,
  • their scholarly essays.
  • Here's our own essay
  • on the research we did
  • in which we included both reflections
  • about what we had just done
  • and also things that we
  • couldn't put into our final project,
  • For example, during our research,
  • it came up that people were using
  • Google Maps
  • and Facebook groups
  • to ask about their kids.
  • This is a lady on Google Maps,
  • on the entry for Southwest key
  • asking information about her daughter.
  • This is kind of information
  • we couldn't represent on the map,
  • so we wanted to include some of it
  • in there.
  • In any case,
  • all right, give me an estimate.
  • How long did it take to build this and
  • how much money did we spend building it?
  • Sorry, this is two with the money.
  • Let's just focus on one.
  • How long a team of seven people
  • with jobs?
  • I mean, there are people in the room
  • who know the answer to this.
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • Six weeks?
  • It's close,
  • in the number six.
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • Yeah, 6.5 days.
  • That last day coincided with a Sunday,
  • so we took a moment to breathe.
  • Respect the Lord.
  • They're a bunch of Chritians.
  • This was done in 6.5 days
  • with a budget of zero.
  • We didn't have money.
  • The factulty just stopped
  • writing their books,
  • the students stopped
  • writing their dissertations,
  • and me as a librarian,
  • you can close your ears,
  • I called in sick,
  • took a couple of days vacation.
  • Now this is what the workshop
  • this morning focused on.
  • And what was the secret?
  • How do you do this kind of thing
  • in six days? And the answer is complex.
  • And of course, those of you who
  • were in the workshop--
  • but it has something in common
  • with this narrative arc
  • that I'm trying to make.
  • The thing is that
  • most of our universities
  • actually reward people
  • to collaborate internally,
  • interdisciplinary through centers
  • or internal rewards like promotion
  • or tenure.
  • If you prove
  • that you can be interdisciplinary,
  • that's like a hot thing these days.
  • But then you have to work
  • with your own team inside the university.
  • That's not necessarily a bad thing,
  • but there are some projects in which
  • that's not going to be possible.
  • People do collaborate
  • outside the same university.
  • What we call
  • trans-- No.
  • What is the word? There is a word.
  • I can't remember.
  • But it's when you collaborate
  • in multiple universities,
  • those happen with the grants.
  • Usually, grants
  • reward you
  • for actually working with a team
  • that is working with
  • several universities.
  • What we don't have
  • is any mechanism of reward
  • to actually incentivize
  • something like this.
  • There is nothing that exists
  • that will incentivize
  • a team of seven people
  • from seven different universities
  • — well, two of us where at Columbia
  • and the rest were in other universities
  • — to come together
  • and drop what they're doing
  • to work on something like this.
  • Let me let me restate this.
  • This is also a scholarly project.
  • Some people
  • see this as a political project.
  • This is-- they were-- actually we know.
  • You know how we know
  • it's scholarly and not political?
  • Because at some point
  • people started asking us,
  • some activists
  • and immigration lawyers say,
  • but what do you feel we should do?
  • And we didn't feel like that was our job.
  • Our job as scholars,
  • not activists, scholars,
  • was to represent the present.
  • To tell the history of the present.
  • This is the data,
  • and this is what we're seeing.
  • Now, people, of course, draw
  • political conclusions from this
  • because nobody wants to
  • see that ICE is everywhere.
  • Nobody wants to realize
  • that this infrastructure
  • that is not beholden to the people
  • the same way that other
  • branches of the executive are,
  • is everywhere.
  • That immigrants are in a regime of fear
  • in all states.
  • That the border is not just this line
  • that divides
  • the United States from Mexico.
  • It is everywhere.
  • But this is scholarship.
  • And this piece of scholarship does--
  • cannot be produced
  • in the current redeems of promotion
  • and tenure.
  • Unless you're willing to
  • connect things that are--
  • have not been connected before.
  • I would argue that that is also
  • the only way that one can understand
  • what it's like
  • to be an immigrant here in this country.
  • If you don't connect
  • sort of
  • what's going on in your own locality
  • with the stories
  • you're hearing on the news,
  • then you're blind to what it is like to
  • be somebody like me.
  • I will finish
  • with the last
  • project-- with it because we just did it
  • like two weeks ago or three weeks ago.
  • And again,
  • I would argue the same thing for this one
  • because this one was also
  • seen as political.
  • And I would argue
  • this is just us being scholars
  • and doing what we do.
  • Scholarship.
  • This is the Ethnic Studies Rise Project,
  • which also had
  • a Twitter component called Lorgiafest.
  • The Twitter component
  • became what I--
  • as far as I know,
  • the largest book club
  • ever to have taken place
  • on Twitter around an academic book
  • until I'm disabused of that notion.
  • This project, Ethnic Studies
  • Rise and Lorgiafest arose
  • after the denial of tenure of Lorgia
  • García Peña at Harvard University.
  • Student protests ensued
  • and you see a picture
  • in Ethnic Studies Rise of the
  • of the student protests
  • that were demanding,
  • sort of hitting their heads
  • against the wall,
  • demanding that she would--
  • that the president would rescind
  • the denial of tenure.
  • Everybody in the field--
  • she had worn many awards,
  • everybody respected the book.
  • It was like an open and close case.
  • It was like
  • we expected this one to just go through
  • because she had done everything
  • that you can possibly do.
  • She's a Black Latina woman, though.
  • And that Black Latina
  • womanhood hit a wall at some point.
  • And it's not true that Harvard doesn't
  • give tenure to anybody.
  • That is simply not true,
  • although that is the myth
  • that was circulating.
  • Well, there we were,
  • she was denied tenure
  • and the students
  • were protesting, demanding
  • not only that she'd be reinstated,
  • but that the Harvard finally creates
  • an Ethnic Studies Department.
  • So we decided to do what we do.
  • In this case,
  • I was working with Raj Chetty
  • at San Diego
  • and Katarina Seligmann at Spelman.
  • I think it's Spelman.
  • I know this is being recorded,
  • sorry Katrina
  • if I don't remember your university.
  • I know [Inaudible] Columbia people.
  • So in a matter of a couple of weeks,
  • I called Duke Press.
  • I got into conversation with them, say,
  • Release the book open access.
  • And then I went on Twitter
  • and convinced everybody
  • to join us for one afternoon
  • to discuss the book.
  • I didn't say come and praise the book.
  • I say, let's discuss the book.
  • And Ken Wissoker
  • saw that this would be
  • a good gesture of solidarity
  • and support for their own author
  • because that is what a press
  • editor should do — support their authors.
  • So he opened the book at a--
  • possibly at a profit
  • loss, open access for just a month.
  • And then they gave the print version
  • a discount.
  • And then a lot of people got
  • their hands on the book,
  • and a lot of people read the book,
  • and people came to Twitter.
  • And joined us in
  • what became the lar--,
  • I have the full archive,
  • what became the largest book club.
  • Former MLA
  • president, a bunch of famous faculty
  • and everybody — again,
  • we did not say come and praise Lorgia.
  • Come and discuss
  • but what ended up happening was
  • that people were actually finding
  • enormous value in the book.
  • Scholarly,
  • finding a major
  • intellectual contribution.
  • I won't go into the details
  • of her argument. That's for her to do.
  • But it is a really good book.
  • It's that kind of stuff that
  • connects the unconnected for you.
  • And that kind of change--
  • makes you change your mind about the way
  • you thought about certain things.
  • In any case, the Twitter
  • fest, which is open to the public,
  • was then accompanied
  • by a scholarly discussion by experts.
  • So it's a little balance between
  • what the general public
  • and our general colleagues think
  • and what some of the most
  • prominent figures in the in the field
  • think about both the book
  • and about ethnic studies.
  • This is it.
  • This was the last one.
  • This week, I'm working on on a project on
  • Hollywood. Hashtag Hollywood's so White.
  • We're going to do a study
  • — again, neutral in the sense
  • that we're just being--
  • studying the evidence at hand—
  • a study of
  • diversity and gender in Hollywood,
  • the Golden Globes.
  • That's kind of like a little fun thing.
  • Except of course,
  • it tells a very serious story,
  • a story of representation.
  • To conclude, most of
  • these projects, perhaps not all, perhaps
  • not the open syllabus,
  • have a couple of things in common.
  • They are done
  • outside of the reward mechanisms,
  • traditional reward mechanisms.
  • They are done fast.
  • They are done by combining things
  • that you already know how to do.
  • They all--
  • all of them combined
  • both an understanding of society
  • and technology.
  • You can understand society
  • and not technology.
  • You won't be able to do this.
  • You can understand technology
  • without understanding society.
  • Nope, you're not going to have it.
  • So you need at least
  • some people in your team
  • that have a good sense of both
  • in order to do this,
  • as something
  • that all of these things have in common.
  • They have something in common
  • that I cannot get into too much detail,
  • which is minimal computing
  • because it takes a lot to explain
  • what is minimal computing.
  • What it--
  • how do you reduce
  • the amount of computation
  • while having the maximum impact
  • in the shortest amount of time?
  • It's a kind of a rather
  • technical conversation. But
  • actually all of these projects are.
  • The only thing I will say
  • about minimal computing
  • is that it is a way of doing
  • computing that takes into consideration
  • these different infrastructures
  • that I was talking about earlier.
  • All of these projects are very aware
  • of what is the precise
  • infrastructure that we're working
  • with at that particular moment.
  • And with that,
  • I will conclude
  • we can have a good conversation among us.
  • You can ask me questions
  • about anything that provoked you
  • while I was telling you this story.
  • Thank you.
  • [Audience Applause].
  • Here I'm going to put the--.
  • This is my own personal
  • professional page.
  • This is my avatar, the hummingbird.
  • Tiny little bird of war that moves
  • his wings really fast
  • so he can stay still.
  • I like it.
  • Some people call me a donkey, though,
  • so it depends who you ask.
  • Did you guys get the part
  • about mobilized in the end?
  • I mean, I did
  • promise you in the beginning
  • that I would explain to you why
  • it went from experimental to mobilize.
  • Obviously,
  • the last sort of projects
  • have always been about--
  • have now been about mobilizing quicker
  • a group of academics.
  • Librarians, students, or faculty.
  • It's getting scary
  • because people now
  • trust me to mobilize them.
  • One of these days
  • is going to go all wrong.
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • Ha!
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • Look, man, people have been killing
  • each other in dark
  • alleys over the past
  • 20 years about what
  • the definition of digital humanities is.
  • So somebody made a bot for
  • everybody who has ever had a definition.
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • Yeah, but I can not remember
  • but I know that if I Google this.
  • It might be this.
  • What is Scotty that did it?
  • Might be Scotty.
  • He's a good friend.
  • Ha! I tricked you.
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • All right, I'll give you mine.
  • Just make sure the camera glitches
  • in this particular moment.
  • So
  • it's what happens when you got somebody
  • like me as a Ph.D.
  • in English
  • and comparative literature,
  • University of Virginia, decides
  • to learn how to code.
  • And
  • I am both going to apply everything
  • that I know about close
  • reading and critique and
  • everything I learn about culture
  • and my training as a humanist to
  • have it bear on technology.
  • But I'm also going to do the reverse.
  • I'm also going to use technology
  • in order to be able
  • to do
  • what I was trained to do
  • in a different key.
  • Not in a better key,
  • because I really hope that most of us
  • still just stay writing books
  • and writing essays
  • because I enjoy reading them
  • and they actually help me think a lot.
  • But some of us
  • actually can use that technology
  • to do things like what you just saw.
  • Now, for the most part,
  • it has been used,
  • originally,
  • as you saw in that first project.
  • It was affirmation
  • that started-- that grew out of--
  • as a brand
  • that grew out of
  • clusters of universities
  • with a lot of resources
  • in the North Atlantic world.
  • So it was one of those things
  • where, like when we did the around
  • DH map,
  • I was kind of like--
  • I was sort of inspired
  • by something the Comintern--
  • one of the legends of the Comintern,
  • is that when the Comintern formed in
  • Soviet Union
  • and they sent out
  • a bunch of Russian diplomats
  • around the world
  • to go preach the gospel of communism,
  • the first committee came back
  • and said they have communism!
  • They just don't call it that.
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • In where?
  • AUDIENCE: [Inaudible]
  • Oh, it's a good exercise.
  • So, for example, here's
  • where the humanities comes in.
  • It's not a bad way
  • to define digital humanities.
  • And I'm sorry, I have to do this
  • because a lot of people saw this
  • project and said,
  • that's not digital humanities,
  • that a map--
  • a political map of the current situation
  • in the United States.
  • This map is supposed to represent
  • [Inaudible] represents
  • where the kids are.
  • These are the-- mostly it's trying to
  • indicate number of kids
  • and region of kids
  • in different facilities.
  • But the one thing we don't want to do
  • and we didn't do this in the front--
  • in the home page
  • and we didn't do it
  • here is actually give you precise data.
  • The reason we didn't want to do
  • is we made an ethical decision,
  • political decision not to do so.
  • Even though
  • most of us are Anarcho-Marxists
  • or the work of the worst kind
  • like Bernie diehards, we did not feel
  • that the left was actually acting
  • in a particular-- in a way that was--
  • I think the left was
  • making some mistakes.
  • In particular
  • showing up at some of these places
  • to protest, therefore a) perhaps
  • attracting more state violence
  • to where the kids were.
  • It's a risk we didn't want to take.
  • Some fool does something stupid and then
  • military or police force
  • comes down to take care of it.
  • This is definitely not good for the kids
  • that are already suffering enormously
  • from the state violence that is
  • already being perpetrated on them.
  • Yeah, that was
  • mainly what we felt
  • the left was doing wrong
  • that we didn't want to contribute to.
  • Also, but we also wanted to
  • just also not prescribe activity, we felt
  • this is one way to make that data
  • not accessible.
  • But in this particular map,
  • that's the logic for why
  • there are dots in the front
  • don't give you the data.
  • But in this one, the dots move
  • every time
  • you try to hover your mouse around it.
  • What this is representing, though, comes
  • from a humanistic sensibility.
  • So a social scientist
  • who had the same ethical concerns
  • as we did
  • would've probably stopped at
  • we're just not going to share the data.
  • But then everything else
  • remains empirical and everything else
  • remains accurate to the to the truth.
  • But a humanist is actually thinking
  • also about reading
  • not only the reading of prose,
  • but the reading of images.
  • And what we're doing here
  • is actually representing,
  • in a humanistic way,
  • something that is happening
  • on the ground, which is that Trump
  • and the administration and ICE,
  • is actually moving the kids around
  • so that the immigration lawyers
  • and social workers can't find them.
  • And also because the overall project,
  • and some of the essays
  • touch on this,
  • is actually pointing to a fact,
  • which is that the immigration policies
  • of zero tolerance
  • of the Trump administration
  • tie directly to the concept
  • of the Zapatistas.
  • Of disappearances.
  • Which is important to anybody
  • who studies Latin America.
  • We have a--
  • there's a horrible history of people
  • who just disappear,
  • mostly intellectuals
  • from the left, activists from the
  • left, in many of the countries
  • of Latin America.
  • When the United States, we feel
  • there's a similar policy
  • to disappear immigrants.
  • Make us invisible.
  • Make ICE an invisible force,
  • but also one
  • that actually takes immigrants
  • away from visibility
  • so that the American public
  • doesn't see that we live here.
  • And this is one of the things
  • that this
  • graphic interface is trying to do.
  • It's actually trying to represent that.
  • Represent that
  • moment when you think you see something,
  • you can't grasp it.
  • There's a very similar--.
  • I didn't show you this one,
  • but this is a very--.
  • This is in volume two, which
  • handles the money,
  • and you can see
  • a social scientists
  • would never use categories like freeze
  • or rain.
  • Rain, for example, describes
  • how money is raining on this.
  • This is during the Obama era.
  • He was no saint.
  • He's no saint to my devotion
  • because he was just as much of a jerk
  • about this as Trump is.
  • Of course,
  • the investment in money explodes
  • in the Trump regiem by the tune of 900%
  • in 2018.
  • Who knows what it is now?
  • It's probably bigger,
  • obviously, since you see that
  • the rain is getting bigger.
  • Each of these circles represents
  • a contract and a company
  • and the tune of dollars.
  • Obviously, a human--
  • a social
  • scientists will not call this rain.
  • They come up with the most boring names.
  • [Inaudible] and social scientist,
  • I love you guys,
  • and I learn a lot from you.
  • But this is something also,
  • for example, that a humanist thinks.
  • This is lines.
  • Lines represents
  • the amount of immigrants
  • that are deported per exit point.
  • So this is, for example, Newark airport
  • by year.
  • So you can change the year here.
  • 972 from Newark
  • in 2015.
  • But a humanist shapes this as rifts,
  • black rifts
  • that tear apart at the fabric of America.
  • So the choice comes from people
  • who have been reading literature
  • for too long.
  • And me personally,
  • I spent most of my life
  • reading and poetry
  • of the weirdest variety.
  • This is the result
  • of a digital humanities sensibility.
  • I'll give you another way
  • to understand this.
  • Recently,
  • they invited at Columbia University,
  • the President, Lee Bollinger.
  • Oh my god, I'm getting so fired.
  • He doesn't watch
  • the literature [Inaudible]
  • that a good thing.
  • A task force
  • on climate change
  • and they brought one humanist
  • into the group.
  • Actually, the colleague
  • that I'm working on the
  • project for Hollywood with.
  • And the scientists were there,
  • the economist, the finance folks,
  • the lawyers were there,
  • a bunch of faculty.
  • Their top, senior, the best,
  • superstars — all of them.
  • All on NPR or CNN.
  • And they're all here, the task force,
  • and they're going to--
  • there's like Columbia University
  • is going to solve climate change, right?
  • So the scientists —
  • I wasn't there at the meeting,
  • but the way it was described to me
  • is something
  • I can understand — scientists
  • talking about Yes,
  • and the technology will eventually,
  • you know,
  • be able to send little balloons
  • into the atmosphere
  • that will clean,
  • that will patch up the holes and
  • nuclear fission this and that.
  • And the finance
  • people are, of course, like,
  • Yeah, that sounds good.
  • That sounds good.
  • That sounds good —
  • because they're seeing dollars.