Graduate Residents

Katherine Eaton

I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology and I study a puzzling and particularly lethal disease: Plague. I work in the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre, where I extract plague DNA from the archaeological remains of its victims. Using this peculiar data, I am exploring how ancient pandemics of plague are connected to modern outbreaks, and what interplay of factors has shaped our relationship with infectious disease throughout human history.

Project: In collaboration with the Sherman Centre, 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 genomics 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.

Adan Jerreat-Poole

Adan is a PhD student in English and cultural studies. Her research lies at the intersection of Mad studies, auto/biography, and digital media. Her work has appeared in First Person Scholar and is forthcoming in a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 33.2 and Re/Visioning Depression: Creative Approaches to “Feeling Bad.” Her creative work has appeared in The New Quarterly, Qwerty Magazine, and Soliloquies. She identifies as Mad and queer.

Project: The Bell Let’s Talk 2017 “team” consisted of eight smiling white men and women and one smiling black man. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)’s 2017 #GetLoud campaign employed the image of a white man as the face of mental illness in Canada. While both CMHA Toronto and Mad Pride Toronto tweeted about the 2017 inquest into the death of Andrew Loku– a mentally ill black man shot by a police officer in Toronto in the summer of 2016– Mad Pride Toronto was the only movement to retweet a post with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Images of mental illness circulate online, allowing some bodies into mental health campaigns, and rejecting other bodies from an imagined future. Taking an intersectional feminist approach, this project explores the ideological underpinnings of three digital mental health campaigns: Bell Let’s Talk, CMHA’s #GetLoud, and Mad Pride Toronto. How do big business, government, and grassroots movements use social media to create distinct imagined communities and futures? And how are these identity acts received or perpetuated by online audiences in spaces that are permeated by offline power systems, and tend to reproduce able-bodied white male publics at the expense of women, queer bodies, and bodies of colour?

Arun Jacob

Arun Jacob is currently pursuing his M.A. (Cultural Studies and Critical Theory) at McMaster University. He is a technologist, communicator, artist and activist whose interests include but are not limited to studying critical information studies, machines learning karma, and developing critical literacies in media, communication and culture.

Project: The airplane was Indian, the passengers were mostly Canadian and the bomb exploded in Irish airspace. Air India Flight 182 was travelling from Toronto to Delhi on June 23 1985, the passengers on board were making the kind of journey South Asian diasporic subjects make across the globe everyday. Unfortunately, these three hundred twenty nine people never completed that journey and their families have been grieving ever since trying to find closure, a place to mourn, a place to remember. What was true in 1985 of the Indo-Canadian diaspora in the Irish village waiting to identify their loved ones is true once again as the devastating disparities, inequities and prejudices observed within the ethnoscape are being reincarnated within the technoscape. It took over two decades for the Government of Canada to conclude the criminal investigations, government inquiry and establish a public memorials to commemorate the ‘Canadian tragedy’. Over thirty years after the Kanishka aircraft tragedy, efforts to digitally archive the history of the South Asian diaspora’s grief, trauma and memory are being undertaken at the Air India Digital Archive. I believe it is prudent that digital scholarship addresses the epistemic violence of archival silences and my work on the Air India Digital Archive engages in ‘taxonomic reparations’ by proactively being engaged at the intersection of postcolonial studies and digital humanities. The history of the South Asian body in the Canadian national space is a topic that can be critically reflected upon through this digital scholarly intervention. As both geographical and social differentiation in Canada and the Global North in general has largely been built upon racial difference, exclusion and segregation. I approach the project with a sincere desire to preserve and and an ethical commitment to broaden access to cultural materials.

Michael Johnson

Project: My project is a new computer-aided approach for three-dimensional modeling Dead Sea scrolls and other rolled manuscripts. Dead Sea scrolls are often reconstructed on the basis of the patterns of damage that they incurred while rolled, but such reconstructions are always visualized in two dimensions as flat images, leaving the reader to imagine how well the patterns of damage actually correspond. Digital modeling the reconstructions and re-rolling them can illustrate how well the reconstruction works by demonstrating the extent to which damages penetrate into the scroll when rolled and how well the damaged edges of the manuscript align. As a proof of concept, I am creating a two-dimensional reconstruction of 1QM, the War Scroll from Qumran Cave 1, in GIMP, an open-source image editing application similar to Adobe Photoshop. I will import the reconstruction as a two-dimensional plane into Blender, an open-source 3D modeling and animation program, and roll it along a spiral vector to determine how well the patterns of damage correspond. This 3D modeling approach can be used heuristically as part of the process of creating a reconstruction or to evaluate reconstructions that have already been proposed.

Mica Jorgensen

Mica Jorgenson is a PhD Candidate at McMaster University studying global gold mining, industrialisation, and landscape change. Her dissertation “Ecologies of Gold: A Global Environmental History of the Porcupine Gold Rush” uses Northern Ontario as a case study for the ways that international forces can shape human relationships with a local environment.

Project: My dissertation “Ecologies of Gold: A Global Environmental History of the 1909 Porcupine Gold Rush” examines the international connections between northern Canada and the world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Today Canada dominates the global mining industry, and has been at the centre of environmental justice controversies in Africa and Latin America. My work examines the historical roots of these modern controversies. I argue that global markets, international science, migration, and transnational technology shaped extraction during the early twentieth century and shaped Canada’s industrial development. Last year as a Sherman Centre Graduate Fellow I built a flow map of moved people, ideas, and objects as a way of illustrating some of these connections. By drawing together otherwise scattered pieces of archival evidence, my map showed consistent, long-term patterns in Canada’s transnational mining history. This year, I will be continuing to build on my flow map by adding new pieces of documentary evidence and adding functionality to the map (such as change over time).

Bryor Snefjella

I am a fourth year PhD student at McMaster University, in the Cognitive Science of Language program, with interests in corpus linguistics, quantitative linguistics, psychology, and psycholinguistics.  I use corpora – including representative academic copora, social media, and other sources, to examine how the sensorimotor and affective connotations of words affect language processing, and reflect how we mentally represent people, events, and places.

Project: How do you measure meanings in a digitized text with a computer? A common way is to come up with a list of words (“dictionaries” or “lexica”) that convey that meaning (such as “yucky” is a negative word, but “serene” is a positive word). A computer can count how often words in the dictionary occur in texts. Dictionaries are inflexible, since what a word means has a lot to do with where it is used and who uses it. Worse, dictionaries tend to be small (hundreds or thousands of words) if they measure more specific types of meanings. To get around these limitations of dictionaries, it is possible make educated guesses at what words mean using machine learning trained on texts. Basically, you can take a small dictionary and use some sophisticated mathematics to make the dictionary bigger. Better yet, using these computational techniques means the dictionary can contain the meanings specific to the texts you give it, allowing you to explore how word meaning changes between communities. My project is aimed at creating dictionaries specific to certain communities within social media, and exploring how less studied dimensions of meaning change between communities.

Melodie Song

I am a PhD candidate in Health Policy in the Department of Health Research Methods Evaluation, and Impact (HEI) at McMaster University. A mixed-methods public health researcher, I explore the interactions of online communities, contemporary vaccine beliefs on social media, as well as policymakers’ knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of social media in an age of misinformation. You can find me on Twitter (@MelodieYJSong) and learn more about my research on my website

Project: Paul Farmer said, “An area of moral clarity is: you’re in front of someone who’s suffering and have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act”. This moral clarity is the incentive behind the digital humanities project called “The Atlas of Vaccine Hesitancy”. Drawing information from archival data, journal articles, media, and crowd-sourced information, the Atlas is inspired by Arthur Kleinman’s anthropological framework of the “Internal structure of the health care system” which highlights that 3 health belief systems drive our health behaviors: the professional sector (e.g., Western medicine), folk sector (e.g. traditional medicine), and popular sector (e.g., contemporary celebrity health claims) – the implementation of successful vaccine policies are dependent on deep anthropological and phenomenological understandings of the lived experiences of the population. ” The Atlas will document health beliefs underpinning vaccine refusal and hesitancy, allowing global health policymakers to navigate health beliefs prior to implementing immunization policies. The site will also serve to be a portal for knowledge exchange: for the public, links containing evidence-based archives (i.e., Cochrane Library, PubMed) is an introduction to evidence appraisal; for health professionals, it serves as a lens through which practitioners of Western medicine can adopt an understanding that vaccine hesitancy is not simply a deficit of scientific knowledge, but an interpretive construct of beliefs.

Samantha Stevens-Hall

I am a PhD candidate (ABD) in the History Department entering my 5th year of study. I was a Graduate Fellow at the Sherman Centre in 2016-2017 and am excited to be continuing my work with the centre in the 2017-2018 academic year. My dissertation project deals with networks of knowledge and knowledge transfer during the period of transition from oral to written culture in East Africa, which coincided with the transition to British colonial rule. I am interested in what happens to knowledge and sources when they are transferred from one medium to another, in the case of the sources used in my dissertation, from oral to hand written in the vernacular, and from written to typescript translated into English, and finally digitized in the contemporary period. The digitization of archives is therefore something I am engaging with in my dissertation project. I am keen to engaged with the parameters and policies around making primary sources available on public access avenues, with an interest to bringing potentially deteriorating and difficult to access archives of African history to a broader public.

Project: The proposed project is an open access digital archive of primary sources and supplementary materials in African intellectual history. This archive would serve as a repository for endangered documentary materials and as an exhibition to curate and display the intellectual history of Uganda. The materials incorporated would come from the archival work done for my dissertation; these include biographies of a few key Ugandan intellectuals who are the focus of my dissertation, with appended excerpts from their works. My dissertation project deals with the intellectual history of the kingdom of Buganda, in modern day Uganda, in the 19th century during the transition to British colonial rule. As part of my research I have collected published and unpublished manuscripts of a few key intellectuals from this period from archives across Uganda, the UK and North America. This archive would bring together scattered sources into one easily accessible online resource. I see this project as being relevant for my dissertation and more broadly academic and non-academic communities with an interest in Africa’s history. For my dissertation digitizing some of these pieces of intellectual history offers the opportunity for discussion about what happens to sources when they are transferred from one medium to another. As much of my thesis deals with themes of translation and the transition from oral to written culture, I am also interested in what happens to the colonial archive and the dissemination of colonial knowledge when sources are made available online. Further, it would make a contribution to the DH community through its mandate of decolonizing the archive and attempting to bridge the “digital divide” between the West and Africa in computing access and capabilities.

Stephen Surlin

Stephen Surlin works in multiple mediums including, 3D modeling, 3D printing, sound design, and musical performance. Surlin’s work and research often uses speculative design and design thinking methodologies to imagine near futures and produce diegetic prototypes that can influence our strategies in the present. Surlin received his BFA at University of Windsor and an MDes from OCAD University and is currently enrolled in McMaster University’s PhD program in Communication, New Media and Cultural Studies, with a focus on creating archives using new media.

Project: My research in the McMaster Sherman Centre’s Graduate Residency in Digital Scholarship will involve developing a toolkit for accessible and rapid 3D scanning and printing using photogrammetry and pro-sumer 3D printers to create personal archives that can be implemented by small community groups and not-for-profit organizations to create personal archives and digital scholarship. This research will culminate in a final working prototype that also functions as a work of speculative design that is a break the glass in case of emergency type of photogrammetry scanner that can be used in areas effected by catastrophe including climate disaster and, armed conflict that may lead to mass migration or evacuation, where personal artefacts and heirlooms may not be able to be transported or preserved and need to be documented in 3 dimensions quickly. This system will be based on low-cost open-source electronics; mainly raspberry pi and 3D printed protective housing. The aforementioned toolkit would include a digital wiki/archive of programs and tutorials on how to use several programs to create the kind of media I will be generating during the residency. This toolkit can be useful for individuals, community groups and larger institutions looking to enter into photogrammetry based 3D scanned and 3D printed archives.

Sarah Whitwell

Sarah Whitwell is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at McMaster University. Her research explores the use of violence in the post-emancipation South to subjugate African Americans. Building on her previous work on the antilynching movement, Sarah is currently writing her dissertation on the efforts of black women to resist racialized violence.

Project: In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, racialized violence impacted African Americans across the post-emancipation South. Generations of African Americans endured the constant threat of individualized and collective incidents of verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and physical assault. It is a false generalization, however, to characterize the black response in terms of passivity. My dissertation examines how black women devised a range of informal resistance techniques to contest racialized violence in its totality of forms. The current digital scholarship project supplements my dissertation. It is a relational database, which will feature information extracted from the Slave Narrative Collection of the Federal Writers’ Project, the first-person testimony culled from the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Conditions of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, and the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The goal is to extract data on incidents of racialized violence – the victims and perpetrators, geographic locations, forms of violence, and methods of resistance – in order to identify thematic trends. In particular, I am interested in the relationships between specifics types of violence and the methods of resistance employed in response.