Class 7 (English 238 – Fall 2018)

Class Business

Plan for class:   :   discussion (cf., Alan’s DH courses and DH Toychest; see Related below)

Epigraphs for Class

Do the Digital Humanities have an intellectual agenda or do they constitute an infrastructure?. (Anderson 6)

The humanities needs to articulate and argue in favor of humanities infrastructure not to maximize funding but as a way of making strong visions come true. (Svensson 7) (HUMlab) (Alan’s photos of HUMlab: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5)

Humanities cyberinfrastructure thus connects the systems we use to store and create knowledge with the evolution of the modern self. (Smithies 142)

What’s your finished stairway? (Gil)

Fashioning Circuits Fall 2013 Course, Student Project Compilation Video. (Knight)

Arduino Lilypad

Discussion 1 — “Cyberinfrastructure”

Both reports*  adopted the same definition of cyberinfrastructure ‘cyberinfrastructure is meant to denote the layer of information, expertise, standards, policies, tools, and services that are shared broadly across communities of inquiry but developed for specific scholarly purposes. . . . . . It is also the more intangible layer of expertise and the best practices, standards, tools, collections and collaborative environments that can be broadly shared across communities of inquiry’. (Anderson 6)

* 2003 report to the National Science Foundation ‘Revolutionizing Science and Engineering through Cyberinfrastructure’ (‘Atkins Report’)
* 2006 American Council of Learned Societies Report, ‘Our Cultural Commonwealth’, ed. John Unsworth


Research Infrastructures are facilities, resources or services of a unique nature that have been identified by European research communities to conduct top-level activities in all fields. This definition of Research Infrastructures, including the associated human resources, covers major equipment or sets of instruments, in addition to knowledge-containing resources such as collections, archives and databanks. Research Infrastructures may be “single-sited,” “distributed,” or “virtual” (the service being provided electronically). They often require structured information systems related to data management, enabling information and communication. These include technology based infrastructures such as Grid, computing, software and middleware. (European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures Report 2010, quoted in Svensson 8)

I am standing on Electric Beach, on O’ahu’s west shore—a beach named for the large power plant towering behind it and known for regular car burglaries. Three men are casually fishing off the edge of the point. Families are having barbeques. Posing as a tourist with a camera, I crouch down to take pictures of a manhole covered in rust-colored dirt (figure P.1). Underneath the manhole, a fiber~optic cable surfaces, bringing information encoded in light waves from the other Hawaiian islands. Within thirty miles of this point, cable systems extend directly to California, Oregon, Fiji, and Guam and reach onward to Australia, Japan, and much of East Asia. Though they are at the edge of the United States and the periphery of Americans’ vision, O’ahu’s cable landings establish Hawai’i as a critical node in our global telecommunications networks. Manholes, such as the one beneath my feet, are some of the few sites where cable systems appear in public space. It is by looking down, rather than up to the sky, that we can best see today’s network infrastructure. (Nicole Starosielski, The Undersea Network ix)

Discussion 2 — Invisible, again

There is, I would argue, a distinct difference between an infrastructure that is easy to use and one that is invisible. (Anderson  11)

HUMlab’s screenscape installation seeks to bring together multiplex frames (digital screens that contain separate elements such as windows) and multiple digital screens in a held-together screenscape. (Svensson 35-36)

Translucence has been an important principle in designing the space and operation of HUMlab. This principle relates directly to the digital humanities as a meeting place (conceptual infrastructure), and the basic idea is that it is important to see what is going on in the lab while not resorting to having one large and totally open space. In optics, translucent materials allow light to pass through them diffusely…. Done correctly, an appropriate balance can be maintained between seeing and not seeing…. (Svensson 28, 29)

Fleuron icon (small)

Technical infrastructures—especially capacious ones such as the global humanities cyberinfrastructure—present an additional layer of interpretative complexity because of their combination of technical as well as sociopolitical (and perhaps aesthetic) complexity, which leads to deep inscrutability. (Smithies 112)

Whereas science and engineering cyberinfrastructure is almost wholly housed within the university sector, and thus is directly in front of the academic humanists most interested in the problem, humanities cyberinfrastructure extends from this sector out onto the cultural tundra, where it sits alongside myriad other tools and services provided by government and nongovernment agencies, commercial providers, and individual citizens (see Fig. 5.3). (Smithies 116)

In the case of writing, the expectation that you should get what you see continues to distance producers from their tools. (Gil)

Fitness trackers and other objects of wearable tech are often lauded for their unobtrusive hardware or minimalist aesthetics, which often relies on the hardware blending in with other objects of dress or disappearing entirely. (Knight)

[B]oth the LilyPad controller and the stitches used to connect it to other components are often consciously made visible as part of wearable projects. Kafai and Peppler* argue that the visible stitches of a LilyPad circuit make transparent the workings of circuits, including concepts like polarity and flow. So we have that which is ornamental also increasing transparency. This puts the LilyPad somewhat at odds with minimalism as an aesthetic strategy and the invisibility of most consumer wearable technologies. While the LilyPad is nowhere near as ubiquitous as other forms of wearable tech, i.e. fitness trackers, it is one example of an approach that resists the drive toward invisibility. Its other characteristics are not overshadowed by its ornamental affordances. (Knight)

* Yasmin B. Kafai and Kylie A. Peppler. “Transparency Reconsidered: Creative, Critical, and Connected Making with E-textiles.” In DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media, edited by Matt Ratto, Megan Boler, and Ronald Deibert (2014)


“Cosmos”: Greek κόσμος order, ornament, world or universe (so called by Pythagoras or his disciples ‘from its perfect order and arrangement’). (OED)

Read this way, humanities cyberinfrastructure looks very different from that found in the hard sciences and engineering. Whereas those disciplines have been at the forefront of initiatives to open access to research, humanities infrastructure can be viewed as almost open by default. (Smithies 136)

Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, trans. Alan Sheridan (1988). Below: Champ de Mars, Fete of Federation, 1791:

Champ de Mars, Fete of Federation, Paris, 1791

Below: 1937 Nuremberg Nazi rally held in Zeppelin field ;  “Cathedral of Light” (Lichtdomdesigned by Albert Speer:

Nuremberg Nazi rally, 1937, in the Zeppelin field

Discussion 3 — System, again

The emphasis … is on systems rather than individual technologies or tools; systems that incorporate the needs of people, organisations, social, and economic factors. (Anderson 7)

Part of the reason humanities cyberinfrastructure has remained hidden from view until now is that no attempt has been made to produce a systems-based view of the whole as a preliminary step to understanding the wider problem domain. (Smithies 117)

James Smithies, Fig. 5.3 from The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern
James Smithies, Fig. 5.3



Cf. CAUDIT Higher Education Business Reference Model
Cf. UCSB JSTOR Forum Initiative in relation to campus storage ecosystem

My discussions with chemists, biologists, and plant science physicists showed that their operations already had a clear infrastructural framing. Again, this may not be surprising, but I was struck by how this was not just a strategic sentiment: individual scholars saw it as key to their work and a reason for being at Umeå University. They often used the word platform…. For example, a range of science and medicine disciplines at the university are oriented around a number of key platforms (such as proteomics and metabolomics) that are sets of infrastructures or specific, costly apparatuses and associated methodological competence. These platforms possess a sense of sharing, both in the sense of use and accessibility and in the sense of (external) funding. (Svensson 5-6)

Understanding the Internet as a platform—an asset that supports a range of other services and applications—is of crucial importance to any system analysis of humanities cyberinfrastructure. (Smithies 124)

[W]e agree with Marc Andreessen, co-creator of the Mosaic browser, founder of Netscape, and cofounder of social network website Ning: “Definitionally, a “platform” is a system that can be reprogrammed and therefore customized by outside developers—users—and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.” (Bogost and Montfort)

The Internet stack (James Smithies, The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern, fig. 5.1
The Internet stack (James Smithies, The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern, fig. 5.1

When the Internet was initially engineered —as a system to facilitate communication and information sharing between research and military teams—it was designed with four layers, each with a quite specific purpose. The idea was that ‘…lower layers of the system—the network’s core—should provide only general services that can be used by all applications, and that application-specific functionality should be concentrated in the higher layers of the system…’. By keeping the functionality of each layer distinct, it becomes possible to make changes in one without requiring changes in another….The principal aim is to let data flow through network layers as unimpeded by bottlenecks as possible, with ‘complexity and control’ implemented only at the ‘ends’ of the network. (Smithies 126)

The first level in this model, conceptual infrastructure, refers to the underlying ideas and visions behind an infrastructural project. Above this conceptual level is the level of design principles, which connect the ideational level with material academic infrastructure. The design principles provide a means of discussing and articulating infrastructural projects without getting caught up in only detailed infrastructure or the abstract visions typical of the discourse on academic infrastructure. The third level is the surface—the actual, material infrastructure.(Svensson 24)

One advantage of thinking of digital humanities labs as infrastructural platforms instead of focusing on more specific instrumentation or operations is that labs can be more versatile and can accommodate a range of technologies, groups, and uses…. Labs (or studios) do not have to be large, heavily technological spaces, and some of the most convincing operations, like the Transcriptions Center at University of California at Santa Barbara, are fairly small-scale with high intensity. (Svensson 39-40)

Such an analysis [of humanities cyberinfrastructure] could even proceed in the spirit of a historian describing a sixteenth-century cathedral. As [Karin] Knorr-Cetina* has shown, analysis of a cathedral assumes that it is more than the simple accumulation of techne, or craft practice, and that it has some kind of connection to Hegelian geist (spirit) and verstehen (internal understanding). It assumes that someone seeking to gain a proper understanding needs more than a purely functional description. An assumption is made that such a building is entangled with deep symbolism, philosophy, and ethics; that it is embedded in the daily lives and politics of the community and perhaps also the nation-state that built it; that it reflects a complex constellation of values and beliefs and hopes for the future (both in this life and the next). Its architecture and the system that gave rise to it are political in the broadest sense of the term. (Smithies 122)

* Karin Knorr-Cetina, “The Couch, the Cathedral, and the Laboratory,” in Andrew Pickering, ed., Science as Practice and Culture (1992)

Discussion 4 — Big or Small?

Infrastructures in this context [research cyberinfratructures] are also expensive, hard to change, and with an air of irreversibility about them. (Anderson 9)

Research infrastructure is typically taken to be advanced and costly, to require national or international funding, to be associated with leading research and researchers, to be part of a system, to extend beyond single research groups or disciplines, to have longevity, and to add significant new research possibilities. (Svensson 8)

The corporatisation of global university systems means that they are arguably the most complex sector of digital culture that researchers work in. This is most apparent in university sector cyberinfrastructure…. These projects are almost always large scale. They often develop within broader national or international eResearch projects focused on enabling such STEM disciplines as high-energy physics and genomics. (Smithies 138)

What’s your finished stairway? (Gil)

When I started this project many years ago I set myself a few rules.

Simple tools — should be possible for anyone with a text editor.
No platforms — no sneaky server-side stuff, it all had to happen in the browser, on the fly.
No markup madness — I wanted there to be a close relationship between the text and the data, but I wanted the markup process to be practical — something like creating a footnote.

I decided to focus again on the idea of simplicity – just HTML pages that could be LOD-ified by anyone with a text editor. Just HTML pages that weren’t dependent on fancy Javascript libraries for a decent user experience.  (Tim Sheratt, “LODBook: The Next Generation”)

Twitter thread between Tim Sherratt and Alex Gil on a minimal Linked Open Data tool (2016)
Twitter thread between Tim Sherratt and Alex Gil on a minimal Linked Open Data tool (2016)

James Smithies, “Full Stack DH: Building a Virtual Research Environment on a Raspberry Pi.” In Jentery Sayers, ed., Making Things and Drawing Boundaries: Experiments in the Digital Humanities (2017)

When I started out, I had no choice but to be minimal. I used my own sewing machine, soldering iron, and other equipment to help students materially engage with wearable technology as part of our study. I had no idea if any of it would work. I was working with students on feminist approaches to wearable tech while also teaching them to sew and solder. I didn’t want anyone to tell me to stop. (Knight)

Related Methods, Fields, & Resources

Alan’s DH Courses and DH Toychest