2014-2015 Sherman Graduate Fellows

We were pleased to receive an excellent pool of applications this year, indicative of the growth of digital scholarship / digital humanities at McMaster. After thoughtful consideration, we selected the three individuals below to receive the $1500 stipend and workspace in the Centre for the coming academic year. We are eager to start working with them as well as eager to see the contributions that they will make to the growing community of Sherman researchers.

Mark Belan – Geography and Earth Sciences / Astrobiology

Image of SCDS Grad Resident Mark Belan. He is looking straight at the camera and standing in front of a white wall.

The Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP; www.pavilionlake.com) was founded and organized by the NASA Ames Research Center to characterize the microbialite population in Pavilion Lake, British Columbia. Microbialites are rock-like structures believed to be formed by the metabolic activity of bacterial communities. There is extensive evidence in the geologic record that suggests these structures have been around for billions of years, raising questions as to the onset of microbial life on Earth and the evolution of these microbial systems over time. For the past 10 years, this project works as a multidisciplinary effort seeking to advance the understanding of relationships between biology and geochemistry in the formation of these structures. Currently, there is no arrangement of isotopic data in a visual format that can be applied to the existing science goals of PLRP. My thesis project seeks to investigate the presence and preservation of isotopic biosignatures in microbialite carbonate. As part of this project, designing a visual representation of isotopic data sampled from microbialites from the 2014 field season will better demonstrate the spatial distribution of biosignatures and prepare future sampling missions.

Chris Handy – Religious Studies

Photo of SCDS Grad Resident Chris Handy. He is standing outside and smiling.

Recent manuscript discoveries, coupled with increasing technological capabilities, have led to a proliferation of publicly-available ancient Buddhist texts, preserved mainly in Sanskrit, Classical Tibetan and Classical Chinese. A vast majority of these texts are available only as digital images, and cannot be parsed directly by computer programs. Because traditional optical character recognition (OCR) methods do not work particularly well with these languages, conversion of Buddhist texts to UTF-8 and other computer-readable formats is often done by hand. This process is tedious and prone to errors. My project is an attempt to apply the concept of genetic algorithms to these texts as an alternate method for making error-free UTF-8 versions of the original manuscript images. Instead of beginning with a template of characters we hope to find in the manuscript, as in traditional OCR, my technique involves vectorizing individual characters of a manuscript without any regard for meaning, and then attempting to replicate these vectors using sets of digital genes. This method effectively creates a fractal description of the manuscript that tells us about any single glyph in terms of its relationship to that particular image, instead of to an imagined absolute set of perfect glyph forms. Evolving a standardized set of vectors based only on what actually occurs in the manuscript image avoids human bias about what to expect in terms of individual glyph shapes, allowing for wide variations in handwritten character styles while also reducing the manuscript to a small, finite set of individual glyph categories. A human user can then assign a UTF-8 string to each individual glyph category, enabling the computer to perform the final conversion of the glyphs to a standard text format.

Jeremy Parsons – Geography and Earth Sciences

Photo of SCDS Grad Resident Jeremy Parsons. He is standing outdoors and smiling.

In my research I am tracing the growth Hamilton’s fastest growing suburb—the Ancaster Meadowlands—from a set of ideas and drawings to what it is today: a completed residential and commercial community. To do this I am examining municipal archives, collecting interview data, and mapping the growth of the area. I hope to learn more about the planning process, uncover some of the contours of the community’s land-use conflicts, and explore time-lapsed alterations to the area’s physical geography.