Speaker Series

2016-2017 Schedule

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Friday September 30 / 2:30-4:30
Everything on Paper Will be Used Against Me: Quantifying Kissinger
Micki Kaufman, CUNY

Scarcity of information is a common frustration for historians. For students of twentieth- and twenty-first century history, however, the opposite problem is also increasingly common — overwhelmed by a deluge of information and confronted by a vast field of haystacks within which they must locate the needles, historians of the modern era have begun to struggle with what is now understood as ‘big data’. The declassification of the Kissinger material by the State Department and the hosting of more than 50,000 pages of that material on the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA)’s Kissinger Collection web site present just such a ‘big data’ opportunity for historians. While having this large volume of information online for researchers is valuable, the restriction to a web-based ‘search’ interface can render it of limited use to researchers. In her presentation, Micki Kaufman will detail the application of a number of quantitative text analysis methods like word frequency/correlation, topic modeling and sentiment analysis in conjunction with a plethora of data visualization techniques to a study of the DNSA’s Kissinger Collections, comprising approximately 18,000 meeting memoranda (‘memcons’) and teleconference transcripts (‘telcons’) detailing the former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State’s correspondence during the period 1969-1977.

Micki Kaufman (MA CUNY, BA Columbia) is Director of Information Systems at the MLA and a fifth-year doctoral student in US History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (GC-CUNY). At the MLA Micki is responsible for oversight of the association’s technical vision and strategy in its mission to support humanities scholars and scholarship. Micki’s current PhD dissertation, “‘Everything on Paper Will Be Used Against Me:’ Quantifying Kissinger,” researches diplomatic history using network and text analyses/visualizations of the National Security Archive’s Kissinger Collection. Micki is a former GC-CUNY Digital Fellow, former Project Manager of the CUNY Academic Commons and DHDebates sites, a three-time winner of the GC-CUNY’s Provost’s Digital Innovation Grant, and the recipient of ADHO/ACH’s 2015 Lisa Lena and Paul Fortier Prizes.

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Monday November 14 / 3:00-4:30
Danielle Robichaud, University of Waterloo

Reflecting on her experience as McMaster University Library’s first Wikipedia Visiting Scholar, Danielle will provide an overview of the Visiting Scholar program and what she has accomplished while working to improve content related to the holdings of the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. Drawing on specific examples, attention will be paid to a candid discussion of what worked, what didn’t and what she learned along the way.

Danielle Robichaud is a Digital Archivist at the University of Waterloo Library and served as McMaster University Library’s first Wikipedia Visiting Scholar.

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Thursday February 9 / 1:00-2:30
‘But first, let me take a #selfie’: Photographic self-representation in social media
Aimée Morrison, University of Waterloo

In The Chainsmokers’ 2014 novelty hit song, “#Selfie,” a valley girl vocal-fries and uptalks her way through a stream of consciousness vocal track, narration swirling around a centre of Instagram likes, casual hookups, and public drunkenness, all captured and shared on social media. Like “Valley Girl” in the 1980s, “#Selfie” codifies and crystallizes a cultural moment and a set of in-group behaviours and language, to both celebrate and condemn simultaneously. But this kind of disavowal and dismissal misses the point: selfies are ubiquitous across contemporary digital culture. No matter how much everyone seems to hate them, everyone also seems to be taking them. The urge to have a photographic representation of oneself is of course not new. Photographic portraits have existed since the dawn of photography; self-portraits followed soon after. As long as there has been photography, there have been images of people, commissioned by the subjects themselves at first, but soon enough taken by themselves as well. But the “selfie,” as practiced in online social media, is something new even if it’s not rare, a conjunction of technology, social practice, aesthetics, and sharing platforms. This talk considers the selfie as a form of digital life writing, using rhetorical genre, new media studies, and autobiography to tease out the multiple layers of meaning in each bathroom mirror bicep pop.

Aimée Morrison is Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the Department of English at the University of Waterloo. She has been considering and writing on the intersection of life writing and digital media since 2008, and has also published on topics as varied as internet democracy and 80s movies about video games. She is surprised to be writing a book about selfies. She is a co-founder of the popular feminist academic blog Hook and Eye. Twitter: @digiwonk.

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Wednesday April 19 / 1:30-3:00
Studying the Infinite Archive: The Web as a Historical Resource
Ian Milligan, University of Waterloo

Born-digital historical sources have the potential to reshape the humanities and social sciences. The sheer volume of cultural information generated and, crucially, preserved every day presents exciting opportunities for historians, political scientists, sociologists, and other scholars. Much of this information is captured within web archives containing billions of URLs, including individual homepages, social media sites and feeds, institutional pages, and corporate sites. This material introduces important new avenues of research for historians working in diverse fields. For example, historians broaching topics dating back to the mid-1990s will find their projects enriched by this web data: social historians can explore aspects of everyday life through blogs, homepages, comments, and guestbooks; and economic historians can explore commercial activity online. Other fields, from political science to sociology, can also benefit from working with this data at scale. In short, these web archives make possible reconstruction of large-scale traces of the recent past.

These opportunities are counterbalanced by challenges: of scale, technical difficulty, and of needing to form collaborative networks. At the University of Waterloo and York University, our Web Archives for Historical Research group accordingly joins historians, librarians, and computer scientists. We explore how historians can use web archives, the assemblage of cultural information that various organizations have been collecting since 1996, now providing an invaluable amount of information about the previous twenty years. In blogs, personal websites, corporate homepages, and beyond – our own datasets are over 20 TB in size, from 1990s homepages in GeoCities to political party websites from the 2000s – we have the building blocks of historical narratives. Accessing collections on this scale requires specialized computational knowledge and infrastructure.

My talk reflects on these challenges. It introduces the problem of born-digital abundance, and then goes into specific case studies to show how we have attempted to make sense of all of this data: from the warcbase web analytics platform, the Archives Unleashed series of datathons, and the Web Archives for Longitudinal Knowledge project. Our goal is to let all scholars and the general public have access to all of this cultural heritage we have been collecting as a culture since 1996.

Ian Milligan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Waterloo. Ian’s research focus is on how historians can use web archives.He is the inaugural Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information, and in 2016, was awarded the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities Outstanding Early Career Award. He also holds an Ontario Early Researcher Award. For more: https://ianmilligan.ca