Graduate Colloquium

Learn about digital scholarship from McMaster graduate students during this lunch-time series of colloquia showcasing the graduate research projects resident at the Sherman Centre.

Next up

Tuesday March 20 / 1:00-3:00 / Sherman Centre

Mine Ecology: Mapping Transnationalism in Frontier Resource Industry, 1909-1929

Mica Jorgenson, PhD Candidate in History, Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship Recipient, and 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

Not many Canadians understand the extent to which Canada dominates the global mining industry. Most gold firms operating around the world today are headquartered in Toronto or Vancouver, because of favorable development and investment legislation. My research on global gold mining shows that the international connectedness of Canadian mining has strong historical precedents. The 1909 Porcupine Gold Rush in Northern Ontario is an example how the roots of this massive, Canadian-centric international mining industry stretch back at least as far as the beginning of the twentieth century.

With a few exceptions, most mining research has been inward looking – historians are interested in questions of how the industry shaped the state over time, and vice versa. My outward-looking research was motivated by the observation that the Canadian experience was not unique (other nations experienced similar histories of gold rushes and industrialization), and, further, that science, money, and corporations crossed permeable national boundaries relatively frequently in the early twentieth century. Digital tools, such as ArcGIS, QGIS, and Tableau, allow me to collect and map these movements, identify patterns, and make observations about the nature of a transnational mining community which connected Canada to the world.


Extrapolating Dictionaries for Less-Studied Semantic Dimensions

Bryor Snefjella, PhD Candidate in Cognitive Science of Language & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

A simple, interpretable, unsupervised, and potentially theoretically informed method for quantitatively analyzing natural language at massive scale (i.e. more than human annotators could reasonably annotate) is the dictionary or lexicon-based approach. In this method, a list of linguistic features (a dictionary/lexicon) is counted by a computer within a sample of texts. Compiling high-quality dictionaries is time consuming and expensive, and the availability of dictionaries is a limiting factor for corpus-based research in the digital humanities and cognitive science. Most existing dictionaries cover only a portion of the English lexicon, only cover some few dimensions of meaning/concepts, and reflect dominant English language use, neglecting usage specific to genres or groups and non-English languages. A solution to the lack of large, flexible, and multidimensional dictionaries lies in computational expansion of existing, small dictionaries. I present two dictionary expansion tools, explain their strengths and weaknesses, and exploratory analyses utilizing large, multidimensional, computationally extrapolated dictionaries.


Maps, illness, predictive capacities of crowd-sourced information on social media, and implications for health policy making: past, present, and future.

Melodie Yun-Ju Song, PhD Candidate in Health Policy & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

What does a Twitter user in Pennsylvania, USA, who Tweeted about having a bad day have in common with a neighbor Tweeted about being diagnosed with high blood pressure? How are hospitals in areas of dispersed populations and low-resource settings rife with counterfeit drugs monitoring adverse events in an out-patient setting? Why is it in anyway beneficial for a depressed or anxious person to chat with an artificial intelligence on Facebook that does not understand emotions? In this presentation, I will illustrate the application of social media in coordination with geo-locations and demographic data based on crowd-sourced intelligence in disease prediction, pharmacovigilance, and the development of therapeutic frameworks for mental health.



Thursday April 26 / 1:00-3:00 / Sherman Centre

Unwritten Narratives of Disease Dispersal: A Digital History of Plague

Katherine Eaton, PhD Candidate in Anthropology & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

My project investigates the origins and routes of spread of one of humanity’s deadliest and ancient diseases: Plague. Plague’s tendency to appear within a population, causing devastating mortality, and vanish in an equally mysterious fashion has long intrigued and frustrated researchers. Fortunately, epidemiological data is becoming more frequently digitized and accessible, therefore empowering novel lines of evidence and new analytical techniques. In this project, I seek to harness the potential of bacterial genetics to better understand how fluctuating patterns of human connectivity and ecological instability have shaped our relationship with infectious disease. I will be mining online genetic repositories for metadata to build a geospatial database with which I can visualize disease distribution and construct flow maps of spread. This focused project integrates with my doctoral dissertation in which I extract ancient plague DNA from archaeological remains in epidemic cemeteries. The geospatial database will therefore be crucial in understanding the relationship between historic epidemics and their descendants in modern populations. By uniting molecular genetics, geospatial analysis, and humanities-focused questions of disease experience, I hope to shed light on the interplay of factors that contribute to modern reemergences of infectious diseases, as well as historical events that have triggered and sustained past pandemics.


A Scrollable Model of the War Scroll (1QM): A New Visualization for Stegemann Reconstructions of Dead Sea Scrolls and other Rolled Manuscripts

Michael Johnson, PhD Candidate in Religious Studies & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

This presentation proposes a visualization that digitally rolls material reconstructions of manuscripts as a supplement to conventional plates in editions of Dead Sea Scrolls and other scrolls corpora. Reconstructions of scrolls are published in an unrolled state so that they may be read and compared with transcriptions. Many reconstructions, however, are made on the basis of repeating patterns of damage that were incurred by the scroll while it was rolled—what I refer to as the principle of repeating damages. Plates of unrolled reconstructions, especially when distributed across many pages, inadequately convey the extent to which the patterns align, and thus fail to demonstrate the pattern-based argument for readers. Using the Cave 1 War Scroll (1QM) as an example, this article argues for the use of digital modelling platforms to roll reconstructions of Dead Sea Scrolls 1) to aid in the process of creating material reconstructions and 2) to offer a visualization that demonstrates the foundational argument about patterns of damage that underlie many reconstructions.


On Violence: Analyzing the Experiences of African American Women in the Postemancipation South

Sarah Whitwell, PhD Candidate in History, Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship Recipient, and 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

There is a rich corpus of scholarship on racialized violence in the United States. Most works, however, assume a common understanding of what constitutes violence. In other words, scholars expect that their readers will be able to identify and understand incidents of violence without significant explanation. A physical attack, for example, is a seemingly obvious form of violence. Merriam-Webster echoes this sentiment, defining violence as “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.” This seems to be the basic definition underlying most scholarship on racialized violence, particularly those works dealing with race riots and lynching. But can an act that causes psychological trauma be considered violence? Must an act impinge upon its victim’s physical body to qualify as violence?

My dissertation examines how black women resisted racialized violence in the postemancipation South. As an extension of this work, I am creating a database that contains information on incidents of racialized violence – the victims and perpetrators, geographic locations, forms of violence, and methods of resistance – in order to identify thematic trends. Because databases do not permit ambiguity, it is necessary to clearly define what constitutes violence. This paper, therefore, considers how to define violence in a way that encompasses both physical and psychological trauma. Violence may not result in physical injury or death. To equate violence only with physical force undermines the experiences of African Americans, effectively denying their pain, trauma, and oppression.


Previous series

Thursday February 15 / 12:00-2:00 / Sherman Centre

#haunteDH: Punching holes in the International Busa Machine Narrative   

Arun Jacob, MA Student in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

My major research project on the Air India Digital Archive is located at the intersection of postcolonial studies and digital humanities. Working through various aspects of this project I have come to learn how prudent it is that digital scholarship addresses the epistemic violence of archival silences and engage in taxonomic reparations. I approach this project with a sincere desire to preserve the cultural memory and an ethical commitment to broaden access to the cultural record. As postcolonial digital humanist I am working through postcolonial and decolonial theory, science and technology studies, cultural memory studies, new media studies, and media archeology to present an alternate history of the fabled origin story of Digital Humanities. The sanitized Digital Humanities origin story of Father Roberto Busa fails to acknowledge the provenance of the punch card technology and how the Third Reich used the punch cards as a part of race statistics calculations. The IBM Hollerith D11 card sorting machine used by Fr. Busa has had its history of being used by Nazi regime wiped clean. In this presentation I will endeavor to locate an absent-presence in the origin story of Digital Humanities. By engaging in a hauntological reading of the great man narrative, I hope to unveil the spectral revenants that lurk underneath the surface by carefully teasing out the provenance of the punch card technology, the particularities of  the political-economy within which the technology emerged and historically contextualizing the social and cultural affordances that enabled the technology to be adopted.


Colonial Bodies in Digital Mental Health Campaigns

Adan Jerreat-Poole, PhD Candidate in English and Cultural Studies, SSHRC Doctoral Award recipient, and 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

Images of mental illness circulate through our society, rendering it at once mysterious and hypervisible, as a girlish cry for help, a freak show exhibition, or a site of potential violence. To “correct” misinformation surrounding mental illness, organizations have launched online campaigns to raise awareness about the “true” nature of feeling bad. This paper interrogates three digital mental health organizations/campaigns: Bell Let’s Talk, The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), and Mad Pride Toronto. While presenting themselves as neutral and benevolent defenders of the vulnerable, CMHA and Bell rely on Western psychiatric cultural constructions of mental illness that function as tools of the colonial neoliberal cis-hetero-patriarchy. Each group, including Mad Pride, also creates an ideal “mentally ill” body that reproduces white imperialism. Following the depressed body through corporate, government, and grassroots campaigns will uncover the ways in which depression is co-opted by the settler state, and explore the discourses of power, agency, and personhood that emerge through the creation of a digital Mad Citizen.


Making Uganda’s Intellectual History Digital: Ethical Collaboration in DH and African Studies

Samantha Stevens-Hall, PhD Candidate in History & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

When sources of historical knowledge are transferred from one medium to another, there are changes to form, content and dissemination. The early historical writings of East African intellectuals were drawn from oral sources and codified in hand writing in the vernacular in the 19th century, then translated into English and typescript by Western missionaries in the early 20th century, and finally are being digitized by scholars in the contemporary period. Ugandan intellectuals were engaged in the process of reimagining history through new contextual forms and methods of expression during the period of transition to colonial rule, a process that is echoed in the 21st century transition to digital scholarship which contemporary historians are engaged in. Digital History is offering new and exiting avenues for the analysis and dissemination of the data collected by historians of Africa in the archive and the field. As part of my tenure at the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship at McMaster University I am undertaking the design and construction of an online database that brings together digitized and fully searchable excerpts from manuscript sources that are central to my dissertation, many unpublished, in a public access online forum. The project and this paper engage with the parameters and policies the guide making primary sources available on public access avenues, with specific interest in bringing potentially deteriorating and difficult to access archives of African history to a broader public, while accounting for the history of cultural theft and unethical removal of documents and knowledge. This paper will discuss the process of building the database through ethical collaboration with Ugandan scholars and local knowledge stakeholders, and more specifically how to navigate the potentially neo-colonial nature of DH work by looking closely at metadata and Open Access.


Food Based Knowledge Sharing with A Networked Mobile Platform Designed with Seniors in Hamilton, Ontario To Reduce Social Isolation

Stephen Surlin, PhD Student in Communication, New Media, and Cultural Studies & 2017/2018 Sherman Graduate Resident

My thesis work will focus on the creation of a networked platform that focuses on the archiving of recipes of seniors, primarily in retirement homes, to work against issues faced by the mainly marginalized people in these groups who may suffer form lack of culturally relevant programming and have symptoms of isolation, including depression and dementia, in order to connect these seniors to people looking to learn how to cook these recipes. In doing this, knowledge transfer, social interaction and dietary health will be increased. This proposed system calls into question the potential for the roles of alternate networks to the Internet in order to have greater control over the type of data that is stored and its ownership.