Feb 26

Wikipedia, the Oscars, and Juxta

Like millions of other people, Kate and I watched the Oscars this week. As Daniel Day-Lewis walked towards the stage to accept his Academy Award for Best Actor, the voiceover informed us that he was the first male actor to win the award three times. Wondering what the first two awards were for, we turned where everyone in the twenty-first century turns: Wikipedia. Kate had the page open before Day-Lewis was more than a few sentences into his speech, and of course we learned the answer to our question (My Left Foot [1989] and There Will Be Blood [2007], if you’re wondering). But Wikipedia also told us what we’d just learned from the announcer: that Day-Lewis was the first male actor to win the award three times. That’s right: Day-Lewis’s Wikipedia page was updated almost before he began his speech.

I’ve shared this anecdote with a few people, and many others have had similar Wikipedia experiences (often with celebrity deaths). Information moves quickly. But since I’m working on an article about Wikipedia — specifically, about an assignment in my Romanticism class — I wanted to use this opportunity to test juxtacommons, a web-based collation tool, currently in beta. Developed by NINES, Juxta allows you to compare multiple versions (“witnesses”) of the same text, and visualize the differences between them (you can do this on Wikipedia too, but only two at a time). About a year ago, as a NINES fellow, I wrote about using Juxta to compare different versions of the Wikipedia entry for Digital Humanities. At that time Juxta was desktop-only and I entered the data by hand, but the new online version has the capability built into it: you just select the versions of the Wikipedia page you want to compare. It’s very user-friendly.

What’s more, Juxta Commons also lets you embed the collation directly into WordPress. The heat map below compares the first 15 edits following the Academy Award announcement (15 is the max Juxta can handle at one time). All occurred within 8 minutes. Note the absence of changes in the citations (which Wikipedia supposedly requires).

If you’ve never used Juxta before, the blue highlighting represents the difference from the “base text,” in this case the most recent version. The darker the highlighting, the more this version differs from the others. We can also view the comparison from the other direction, setting the base text to be the version of the page right before the announcement:

If you view the comparison in Juxta Commons (here), you can get into the data even more: you can compare versions side by side, choose different base texts, or see it in a histogram.

Juxta is a powerful tool, and while it was created for literary uses (early examples compared versions of poems by Rossetti and Tennyson), it’s since found new audiences: another NINES fellow, Emma Schlosser, looks at the Wikipedia page for the Benghazi attacks; Dana Wheeles, project manager for NINES, has compared versions of itunes and Instagram terms of service; and Juxta has even been used on Broadway, to compare versions of Tennessee Williams’ “Masks Outrageous and Austere.”

So, do you have different versions of a written document you’d like to compare? Or are you interested in tracking versions of Wikipedia pages? Juxta Commons is for you. And check back here for more about using Wikipedia as an assignment.

Nov 16

The Teachers Who Mattered Most

[This post is cross-posted on the NINES blog]

Following last week’s symposium here at UVA, I found myself recalling Roger Lundin’s essay in Pedagogy from a few years ago: “the teachers who mattered most to me did so because of what they loved,” writes Lundin. “As I taught, in other words, I learned I had come to love what my most effective teachers had loved, and they had taught me how” (137). Lundin, riffing on Wordsworth’s Prelude – “what we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how” – offers a viewpoint that I think was implicit in many of the discussions. The symposium marks in the inauguration of Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, and Steve Ramsay began his talk by praising institutes like this one for providing an opportunity for scholars to live an intellectual life in community with others. Community – which means, people – is as important to academic fields as the theories and methodologies that were the symposium’s explicit focus.

Lundin again: “For the past several decades in the humanities, our discourse has been theory-rich, perhaps theory-saturated, and we have developed explanations for everything from the nuances of différance to the needs of the subaltern. But when have we thought about love?” (134). Love of our work, Lundin means, and in a real, non-theoretical sense. A flurry of recent posts (like Natalie Cecire’s and Jean Bauer’s) has considered the place of theory in digital humanities. And perhaps the most important argument to arise from symposium (besides the institute itself, of course) will be Bethany Nowviskie’s call for reform of graduate training, to match the methods and questions that will form the future. But in the words of the Black Eyed Peas, where is the love?

For digital humanities, the response to the Black Eyed Peas comes from the Troggs: love is all around. At THATCamps, at MLA sessions, on Twitter – digital humanists seem to have a fondness for their work, an emotional connection to their theoretical arguments. Panels play to packed houses, in a way that other fields seem not to. This isn’t to say that everyone always agrees with each other, or that theoretical conversations don’t happen. The teachers who matter to us, Lundin is careful to state, are not necessarily the ones with whom we always agree: “my most influential teachers had religious commitments, political views, or theoretical understanding that differed sharply from my own” (137). Disagreement of course fosters insights. Responding to Bethany, Ryan Cordell hopes to reform undergraduate teaching as well. Ted Underwood, though, is “not yet sure about the implications at the undergraduate level. Maybe ten years from now I’ll be teaching text mining to undergrads … but then again, maybe the things undergraduates need most from an English course will still be historical perspective, close reading, a willingness to revise, and a habit of considering objections to their own thesis.” In considering how our pedagogical goals might change, Ted gives what I think is the best and most concise list of what those goals are now (at least the best I’ve heard).

Academics are teachers, and I’m excited to see that teaching has become a center of the conversation in digital humanities, with both graduate students and undergraduates involved in digital scholarship. We can say, to the leaders in the field, what you love we will love: teach us how.