Bard College Workshop

Practice and Theory of 'Distant Reading'

An Introductory Workshop on Digital Humanities Methods

Experimental Humanities program, Bard College. 7 November 2014, 10:00-12:00, Avery Arts Center 333.

Workshop leader: Alan Liu. Event organizer: Maria Sachiko Cecire. Technical supervisor: Joe DeFranco.



Participant Self-Introductions

Introduction to Workshop


  • Area of Focus
    • "Distant Reading" for the humanities (methods of using digital tools for analysis and interpretation)
      • Scott Weingart, "Submissions to Digital Humanities 2015"(Part 1, Part 2), 6 Nov. 2014



  • Level of Workshop
    • The workshop is designed humanities scholars and students who do not have specialized technical expertise or programming knowledge, but who are familiar with using computers and the Internet for accessing digital resources.
    • The workshop focuses on tools that--though chosen because they are influential, powerful, flexible, and/or extensible--have a level of use suited to beginners.  (The tools are some combination of lightweight, standalone, online, downloadable, or free.  They can be used either through a graphical user interface [GUI] or, if they are command-line tools, can be used following step-by-step recipes allowing beginners to produce interesting results.)
    • Not covered in this workshop are more advanced, customized, and specialized DH methods and workflows that require setting up a "development environment" on one's computer, usually operated at the command-line level.  Such a development environment often includes a combination of the following:
      • Python (a programming language/environment used in diverse research disciplines, with many extensible "packages" or "libraries" for a variety of text-processing, statistical, and other purposes).
      •  R  (programming language and software environment for "statistical computing and graphics")
      • Git and Github (version control and repository system for managing project revisions and sharing, collaborating on, or branching from projects).


  • Plan for Workshop
    • Demos | Hands-on Workshopping | Discussion


(Part 1 of Workshop) Demonstration of Tools and Methods 

The following are arranged roughly in ascending order of difficulty; and also in their relation to context, collocation, and supervised or unsupervised exploration. (For fuller DH tool list with tutorials, etc., see Alan Liu's DH Toychest)






(Part 2 of Workshop) Hands-on Practicums 

  • Working individually or in teams, workshop participants will try their hand at one or more tools. 
    General Instructions:
    • Choose one or more of the above tools (consulting guides and tutorials as needed).
    • For working materials, import or create your own text sets or data sets.  Or use the sample text sets and data sets on the workshop Datasets page.)
    • The goal of the practicum is not mastery or even necessarily competence with a tool.  It is to learn enough about the tool's concepts and applications to enable participants to imagine what projects could be designed if they had more time and practice.
    • As the output for the practicum, participants are to capture a "souvenir," e.g., a screenshot or printout, and upload it to the workshop's "souvenirs" folder.  See Instructions for Leaving a Practicum Souvenir.
      (For the purposes of the workshop, even failed attempts can produce an interesting souvenir.)  Try for an interesting souvenir, meaning one that might open up further research questions and call for additional methods of analysis. 


  • Instructions for Practicums With Specific Tools:
    • Gephi Practicum
      1. Work through Par Martin Grandjean's Gephi tutorial ("Introduction to Network Visualization with GEPHI").  (For other Gephi help resources, see our DH Toychest > Tutorials> Network Visualization) [Ideally, you will be able to install and run Gephi on your own computer. However, there will also be installations available for use in South Hall 2509.)
        1. (You may also be interested in an article explaining the frequently used "ForceAtlas2" layout option for Gephi visualizations.  The article is technical, but gives a sense of what would be involved in unlocking the "black box" of concepts behind such algorithms: Mathieu Jacomy, et al., "ForceAtlas2, a Continuous Graph Layout Algorithm for Handy Network Visualization Designed for the Gephi Software" [2014])
      2. Try to understand the logic/format of the two .csv files used in Grandjean's Gephi tutorial (one that identifies the "nodes" and the other the "edges," or relations between nodes).  Then choose a very limited work or works that would be of interest to humanities scholars (e.g., a chapter in a novel, a scene in a play or film, an hour of a Twitter timeline from a conference) and create your own nodes and edges .csv files (which can be created in a plain-text editor or exported from a spreadsheet or even work processor).  Use your .csv files in Gephi to create a visualization.  (If you wish, you can create just a hypothetical set of nodes and edges "as if" you were analyzing something even though you don't have time to do that for real at present.)
      3. You may also be interested in downloading, unzipping, and opening or importing in Gephi some of the other Gephi datasets available from in a variety of formats (.gexf and .gml)




(Part 3 of Workshop) Discussion

Alan Liu will lead a discussion based on workshop participants' "souvenirs" from the practicum.  The goal is to move from low-level issues to such large questions as: how do digital humanities methods signal changes in the humanities and in our ideas about the human world?