March 2023 Issue

We’re excited to announce the March 2023 issue of Multimedia & Technology Reviews. Follow the links from each title below or click the DOI link directly to read the reviews. You can find more of our reviews in the ARLIS/NA Commons CORE Repository.

MoMA Exhibition Spelunker

MoMA Exhibition Spelunker is a portal for exploring the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition history. Originally taken from a large dataset of information from the archives, the company Good Form and Spectacle, transformed MOMA exhibition history from 1929-1989 into a user-friendly portal for deep engagement.

John Henry Twachtman Catalogue Raisonné

The John Henry Twachtman Catalogue Raisonné by Lisa N. Peters is an authoritative, extensively researched resource documenting the life and works of the American Impressionist painter John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902).×98

Duchamp Research Portal

The Duchamp Research Portal is a free, bilingual, online research tool to discover the life and work of Marcel Duchamp. The portal is the product of seven-year, international collaboration between the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bibliothèque Kandinsky at Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Association of Marcel Duchamp.


Directed by Antoine Petit, Chief Executive Officer of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), OpenBibArt is a western bibliographic database covering art literature published between 1910 and 2007. The vast scope of subjects range from Late Antiquity to the 21st century, represented by 1.2 million records for periodicals, books, and exhibition and auction catalogs.

Visualizing Objects, Places, and Spaces: A Digital Project Handbook

Visualizing Objects, Places, and Spaces: A Digital Project Handbook, created by art historians and digital media specialists Beth Fischer and Hannah Jacobs, provides two distinct offerings. The first is a handbook, a how-to guide that could work well as a course text about creating digital scholarship projects in the humanities. The second is a peer-reviewed and cross-reference-able repository of case studies and assignments.

Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME)

The Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME) is a collaborative, free-access aggregator developed by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Stanford Libraries, and the Qatar National Library.

Smithsonian Voyager

Voyager is an open-source suite of tools for creating and displaying three-dimensional images. It was developed by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office to serve as their 3D imaging pipeline and is available to the public.

The Living New Deal

Reviewed by:
Jennifer Tobias
Catalogue Raisonné/ Provenance Researcher
Roy Lichtenstein Foundation×22

By initiating “a national database of information, documents, photographs, and personal stories about the public works made possible by the New Deal,” The Living New Deal is building a comprehensive registry of projects completed between 1933 and 1942. Currently, over 17,000 entries represent “hundreds of thousands” of public works, from heroic murals to humble sewers, making it the only reference source of its kind.

Researching New Deal projects can be a challenge. Multiple agencies were involved, and the records are spread among federal repositories (National Park Service, National Archives, Library of Congress, and National Gallery of Art) as well as state and local agencies. Navigating these primary sources can be daunting, while secondary works tend to be either very broad or highly specific. Living New Deal edits this material into concise narratives organized geographically—much like the WPA American Guides series published under the Federal Writers’ Project.

For an average researcher, the Living New Deal website is a good place to get oriented to the era, with a companion iPhone app handy for searching on the move. Users will need to download the app directly from the Apple App Store, since no link is available on the website. Donation-driven, there is no paywall or account to create. The About section outlines the organizational structure and includes contributor biographies as well as annual reports. home page showing seven navigation categories at the top (About Us, Map & Sites, The New Deal, Resources, News, Press & Events, Get Involved) and a red donate button. Below text reading “New Deal Map” is a grid of images, text, and links to pages on the website and external sites such as Instagram
The home page features seven categories.

The interface is basic: a simple header with seven categories and drop-down subsections supplemented by a keyword site search. For reference purposes –the focus here – the meatiest sections are Map & Sites and the confusingly titled The New Deal, which features substantive entries on programs as well as a timeline, glossary, and footnoted interpretive essays. The index of agencies is especially useful, as is another grouping projects into categories such as Historic Preservation and Labor Law. A timeline and list of landmark acts situate the programs in world events and domestic legislation. The biographies section features concise and sourced entries, with helpful cross-referencing to particular projects. Wikipedia and other sources (National Archives, DPLA, for example) cover many if not all of these topics, but Living New Deal provides welcome focus on material culture.

Map interface showing a beige map of the United States covered in dots representing New Deal Sites. On the left, a light yellow rectangle with search bar and a link back to the homepage is overlaid
Living New Deal map interface

Interactive mapping standards are getting higher by the day, but here the Mapbox and OpenStreetMap platforms work well enough, with standard click and zoom features, as well as searching by location (city, state, zipcode). Unfortunately, the standard search box includes unrelated locations and no artist index, making map searches indirect. This means that locating works such as the South Side Community Arts Center involves clicking through a state and city index, then manually paging through alphabetical listings.

A zoomed-in map view of Chicago streets shows South Side Community Arts Center’s location. On the left, a sidebar contains  information about the center and a black and white photograph of a crowd of people
Map view showing the South Side Community Arts Center location with text in sidebar.

Another workaround: exit the map, do an advanced search, and click through the results to get back to the map. Moreover, the database structure includes categories for artist, contractor, and architect, but not engineer, photographer, or writer. Use of these fields appears to be up to the contributor, so that even if mentioned in the descriptive text, figures such as Hilyard Robinson or Louis Kahn are not indexed and therefore  can only be found by keyword searching the whole site.For future iterations, the organizers might look to the integrated design of sites such as Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, and consider releasing Living New Deal as an open-source dataset to make the material portable, interlinkable, and open to wider interpretation. In the meantime, Living New Deal’s 17,000 entries are a unique and valuable compilation.

Homepage of the Visualizing the Virus project, including the title and description of the project and several examples of entries for the project represented by different circular images.

Visualizing the Virus

Reviewed by:
Dana Statton Thompson, Research and Instruction Librarian
Waterfield Library, Murray State University

Homepage of the Visualizing the Virus project, including the title and description of the project and several examples of entries for the project represented by different circular images.
Screenshot of Visualizing the Virus website, taken 6/24/2022

Visualizing the Virus is a cross between an online repository of original content and bibliography of existing resources. The purpose of the international and interdisciplinary project is to showcase both how the COVID-19 pandemic has been visualized and the inequalities it has revealed. The project was founded and is led by Dr Sria Chatterjee, an art historian and environmental humanities scholar who is the Head of Research and Learning at the Paul Mellon Centre in London. The project is made possible by a grant from DARIAH EU, support from the Institute of Experimental Design and Media, FHNW, and project partner Princeton Center for Digital Humanities. There are 75 individual contributors to the project so far with four ways to participate as an outsider: collaborating, curating a cluster, featuring existing work, and submitting new work. 

This free-to-access project provides relevant information about 43 entries and counting, be it a summary of a podcast, explanation of artwork, or link to a peer-reviewed article. Entries range from original essays to summaries of other projects centered on visualization and the virus, are extremely diverse and include websites, films, poetry, and even a recorded conversation between two anthropologists with accompanying images. Each entry is included on the homepage and include such varied titles as “COVID-19 and Art in South Africa: The Voids of Thuli Lubisi’s Apart,” “Indian Migrant Workers & Lockdown: Trapped in the Inner Cities,”” “Smartphones and the Pandemic: Navigating care, surveillance, and Connection in Japan.” Some entries are linked through two different types of ‘clusters.’ A ‘curated cluster’ is a group of individual entries by different contributors which have been linked by theme by a member of the project team or a guest-curator. Currently, there are 4 curated clusters: White Privilege and Covid-19 (2 entries); Visualizing COVID-19 as a Zoonotic Disease (5 entries); Covid Denialism (5 entries); and Covid-19 in the Context of Protests in Hong Kong (3 entries). Each curated cluster includes an introduction by the curator introducing the connecting thread between the entries. Somewhat confusingly, there are also 50 ‘themed clusters’ which are entries that are linked by keywords applied to each entry such as activism, art, bats, capitalism, care, colonialism, data visualization, gender, labor, lockdown, public health, race, surveillance, and trauma. 

The Index page can be organized in five different ways: alphabetically by title of the entry, by ‘macro-cluster’ (which refers to a keyword associated with the entry), by cluster (which refers to the entries organized into curated clusters), by date, and by contributor(s).  The newly-introduced term ‘macro-cluster’ apparently refers to themed clusters which are broader in scope than intentionally-curated clusters, are not presented with any type of unifying context or introduction like the curated clusters, and are linked by keyword. . 

Interestingly, the title of each entry on the homepage slowly circles the image representing the entry. Entries included in curated clusters bounce in between the confines of the image, also a stagnant image, also in the shape of a circle. It is possible to halt the motion of the animation by clicking the ‘Accessibility’ button included on the top right of each website page and selecting ‘No Motion.’ The Accessibility information included on the site states that they want as many people as possible to be able to site and includes inclusive practices such as alt text and navigating the site using speech recognition software. However, it is never clearly outlined why the animation is included, although the assumption is that since this is a project about visualization, movement creates its own type of interesting visual display. 

Although several sites showcase visualizations about COVID-19 or have dashboards based on COVID-19 data, this site is singular in that it is a collection focused on COVID-19 and inequality and injustice. The project centers entries, either directly presented on the site or introduced and linked to about COVID-19’s impact, with a social justice lens. This resource is appropriate for the general public and serves as an excellent example of visually stimulating web design that foregrounds accessibility. However, the success of this is slightly minimized by the problematic navigation and naming conventions of the clusters. 

Nautilus Catalogue

Reviewed by:
lauren c. molina, Digital Assets and Records Manager
Autry Museum of the American West

The aim of Nautilus Catalogue is to provide a database of Nautilus pompilius shells-turned-art object by aggregating information from a variety of disparate collections – and it does exactly this. Created by independent art historian Marsley Kehoe, Nautilus Catalogue consists of a web-based database and downloadable dataset that expands on on Hanns-Ulrich Mette’s 1995 catalogue of nautilus shells.

Text from the ‘About Shells and Mounts’ page of Nautilus Catalogue which lists common terminology terms in bolded text and following each term, defines the common term as used within the website

Kehoe explains the Nautilus Catalogue in detail on three of the resource’s five web pages. Most helpful of all are the “Common terminology” (NautilusCatalogue_3.png) section of the “About Nautilus Shells and Mounts” page and the “How to use this Catalogue” page in its entirety. Reading the text at both of the aforementioned pages makes the experience of using this resource more meaningful (although it is not at all required).

Three records and thumbnail images displayed on Nautilus Catalogue which were returned when searching for ‘coral, figure’ in the search bar under the main menu at the left of the page.

Built with WordPress and Omeka by importing CSV data, the Nautilus Catalogue successfully achieves what Kehoe has set out to do. This free resource displays true to itself across devices and browsers. It is unfettered by any special media viewers that might otherwise make it difficult to translate from desktop to handheld device, giving the user freedom of continued access from any place. There is an easy and effective search bar below the menu panel of this site, which allows the visitor to explore the items of this digital collection using one or many terms (NautilusCatalogue_1.png). The home page does not immediately present image(s) before the user begins their journey by navigating to the “Browse Items” page or by dreaming up a search term to find an item. This site is heavy with text to assert its purpose; text that reads easily, yet at its length may feel somewhat overwhelming to a visitor favoring the image. However lengthy the text is, it informs the user what can be found within Nautilus Catalogue, how to find it, and why it is presented. While this reviewer wonders if a more image-dominant web design might benefit the resource (perhaps with images inserted within the body of the text on the home page), the textual data found within provides detailed information pertaining to each nautilus object, which may be more relevant to audiences aligned with Kehoe’s own scholarship as an art historian. Most entertaining of Kehoe’s decisions with this resource is the choice to include a word cloud within the “Browse by Tag” section on the “Browse Items” page where terms are shown at scale. The word cloud (NautilusCatalogue_2.png) visualizes the catalogue when individual records may still lack images of the objects themselves to view. The word cloud also reveals that stripping shells, whether selectively or wholly, is a common practice in the creation of these objects.

Text which has been assembled into a word cloud that can be seen by clicking on the ‘Browse by Tag’ tab on the ‘Browse Items’ page of Nautilus Catalogue

A variety of audiences may benefit from this resource: curators, collectors, history scholars, and shell and oddities enthusiasts. Nautilus Catalogue is Kehoe’s attempt to “make sense” of this broadly collected and somewhat obscure type of object. It is an interesting starting place to begin to consider some of the motives behind the European fascination with exoticism and ornament, or museological histories, or specialized crafts, or a number of other reasons why this specific kind of object was made, prized, utilized, and/or presented. Despite (and perhaps because) Nautilus Catalogue is a very pared down, straight-forward resource, it has the promise of being a site where historical, conservational, art, and cultural research might converge upon these curious items.

Feral Atlas

Reviewed by:
Nicholas Dease, Digital Learning Librarian
Pratt Institute Libraries

ARLIS/NA Multimedia & Technology Reviews
April 2022

The anthropocene, a new geological period defined by humanity’s indelible mark on nature, is a topic of great interest among scholars in various disciplines. One doesn’t need to look far to discover a wealth of literature, datasets, news articles, and documentaries exploring the topic. However, it is rare that we see attempts to capture this phenomena as a work of art in the digital humanities. Published online by Stanford University Press, Feral Atlas is an openly accessible experiment that does just that. It is at once a work of interactive digital art, a dense informational resource for researchers, and a passionate call to action.

The image shows an overhead view of a port with buildings, shipping containers, and ships drawn in oblique view, with a gathering of people near two smokestacks. The water is shown in shades of blue and green, fumes are shown yellow, and other small multicolored accents are scattered throughout.
An image from Feral Atlas, depicting a port scene, pollution, and protest.

Curated and edited by Anna L. Tsing, Jennifer Deger, Alder Keleman Saxena and Feifei Zhou, the Feral Atlas is a set of four massive interactive artworks or maps, seventy-nine field reports produced by humanists, artists and scientists, and a “Super Index” to enable a more traditional exploration of the essays, poems, and other multimedia content. As described in the introduction, its goal is to invite the user to explore the “feral effects” of the anthropocene–to explore the ways in which human interventions have produced effects beyond human control.

The image shows a scene of two areas of land, shown in bright green, separated by an hourglass-shaped area of water, shown in shades of blue. The land on the left side shows leafy plants and trees and four human figures. Three humans appear to be land surveyors, and a fourth human points a gun at an elephant. The land on the right shows planted fields and a field of purple flowers, between which is the back view of a human holding a gun.
An image from Feral Atlas, depicting an interpretive view of colonization.

The experience of interacting with the atlas begins in an empty plane of white. Over time, a random selection of feral effects to explore drift into the browser viewport. Clicking on these effects will drop the user on one of the four maps, named Invasion, Empire, Capital, and Acceleration. From there, the user is invited to explore the map by panning, zooming, and clicking on feral effects represented by interactive dots or pins. Clicking on the dots reveals a “Tipper.” These are rich and often poetic descriptions of ecological changes that “shift ecologies past tipping points.” Viewing the tipper content provides a direct link to a field report that describes the effect in-depth and may reveal additional poetry, video, or other multimedia.

While the overall experience should be familiar to users that have navigated online interactive maps, the atlas itself is quite opaque at first blush. Much of this is intentional. Users are invited to slowly explore, learn how the system works, and come to their own conclusions. As such, the interface design and link names are quite unconventional and may confuse first-time users. This is reminiscent of the early days of the web, when interfaces were experimental and game-like. For impatient users, clicking on the rotating key at the top-left will direct them to the Super Index, where they can pick and choose what to explore in a more structured manner.

As for the content, the artwork, essays, poetry, and video poems are all impeccably produced. It is a joy to discover new things and ruminate on the themes. Even panning over the four maps can be a powerful aesthetic experience in itself. Certain segments are painted. Others are drawn in a sketchy minimalist style and others still are collage. The compositions are all imbued with dense meaning and references.

However, there are some challenges with the design of the atlas. Particularly, the website is not optimized for mobile devices. Attempting to view it in a mobile browser will trigger a message to urge the user to view it on a desktop or laptop instead. However, this doesn’t detract from the value of the work.

Ultimately, the Feral Atlas is a dense project. While the site can be difficult to comprehend and the interface isn’t optimized for all devices, there is no doubt that the work is a stunning achievement of collaboration and should serve as a model for future digital humanities projects in the same vein.

Museum Digital Initiatives During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Freyja T. Catton, MLIS, BFA
Wordeater Consulting

Museum digital initiatives during the Coronavirus Pandemic is an Austrian-based research project by Dr. Chiara Zuanni on the impact of COVID-19 on museums and their digital strategies. The homepage presents a map of museum digital initiatives around the world. The digital initiatives are categorized by type: contemporary collecting projects, social media initiatives, streaming content, virtual tours, online exhibitions, games, educational content, other activities, and tweets tagged #ClosedButActive.

The categories are indicated on the map by color and icon. Projects are flagged by location in one category color.

A map of Europe with color-coded icons indicating projects in different locations. The legend is across the top of the map and the filter categories are overlaid on the right-hand side.
Screenshot of map with legend and filter categories.

Users click and drag to navigate the map, then click on one of the flags to read brief project descriptions. Each description includes titles, category, institution name, summary, and URL. The map supports filtering by category. Each country is shown using its own alphabets and names, further demonstrating the global impact of the project.

A map of eastern Canada/US border and Guelph Museum indicated with an orange flag and text box that reads: "Guelph Museum, Rapid response collection. The museum launched a contemporary collecting project: “We are interested in collecting contemporary objects and personal expressions, in the midst of city-wide closures, social distancing protocols, and our individual and collective experiences.” Text is followed by a URL link for Guelph Museums.
Screenshot of the map over eastern Canada/US border and Guelph Museum selected (orange flag).

Users must begin their search with a location they’re interested in and click and drag to get there. There is no search option, which makes quick searches difficult. The webpage is responsive to different browser sizes. This website relies heavily on a good internet connection, as connection lags make it hard to navigate.

The technology feels a little underwhelming at first, because all of the information shared isn’t searchable and is viewed on a single page. However, the information presented is clear, complex, and very useful. It’s fun to poke around at different projects around the world!

The website is freely available on the internet for anyone to use. Zuanni is dedicated to making this easily available and to expand and refine the dataset as the collection grows. Contribution forms are presented in several different languages. A lot of work went into making this website multilingual.

In the “About” page, users can learn about the project by reading the summary and related papers and reviews. The reviews correspond with areas of the map that are dense with contributions. Many of the digital initiatives and museums represented are in central and western Europe and in the US. There was a surprising lack of museums represented in Canada, as well as eastern Europe, such as Ukraine. The absence of Ukraine stood out because many cultural heritage organizations there are actively working to preserve their collections during wartime, for example Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online.

It is not clear what the vetting process is like for accepting submissions, or how initiatives are recruited other than by contribution. In the contribution form on the website, there is a summary statement at the top indicating the purpose of the project, but questions do not specify that the project needs to be specifically a museum initiative, or developed in response to the COVID-19 closures.

Google Forms. The first question reads: “What is the name of the institution you wish to add to the list?” Second question reads: “Select the type of activity you wish to add to the list:” with a drop-down box below.
Contribution form

Considering the range of budgets and staff resources, Museum digital initiatives during the Coronavirus Pandemic projects are useful examples for the broader cultural heritage community, not just museum professionals. Although it’s unclear whether this project will extend beyond the height of the pandemic, it is a valuable resource for uncovering the impact of COVID-19 on museum digital strategies.


Reviewed by:
Anina Rossen, Librarian, and Independent Art Historian
Academy of the Holy Angels

ThingStor: A Material Culture Database for Finding Objects in Literature & Visual Art is an open-access resource supported by the Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware. It was created by Dr. Martin Brückner, together with a multi-departmental group of undergraduate and graduate students at the University. There are currently twenty-four project members, as well as twenty former project members. Thingstor provides a reference database allowing users to access its catalogue of “real” objects, both vernacular and high-style, that appear in American and English literature, as well as in visual art, from the long 19th century. Currently housing more than 1,000 objects, the database is an ongoing project welcoming contributions and input from users of the resource.

ThingStor banner image, which includes four smaller images. From left to right, the first image is a copy of a painting showing three people around a table, one reading a newspaper; the second image shows an antique glass lamp; the third image shows an antique book; the fourth image has a yellow background with white and black text that reads "ThingStor A Material Culture Database for Finding Objects in Literature & Visual Art, Supported by the Canter for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware CMCS"
ThingStor banner image

Using WordPress and Airtable as its platform, Thingstor is an effectively organized and easily navigated resource. The homepage provides six clear headings: access the database, learn more about how to use it, about us, webinar event 2021, and suggest an object. The site is minimally designed, but provides a functional and visually appealing layout, with concise and clear instructions on how to use the database. Under the heading Webinar Event 2021, one can find a video of the event, led by Dr. Brückner, that provides an in depth description of the project and how it came to be. Though mobile-friendly, the gallery view is best experienced on a larger screen.

Once one enters the database on Airtable, one finds a visually engaging resource featuring high quality photos of the objects, at times multiple images, a description of the object, and tagging that links the item to the source text in which it was found. The resource is easily searched and different tabs allow users to access the content by example object, source, or referenced object. The user’s view of the content can also be changed from a gallery view to a grid view, giving the user the option to sort the content to fit their needs. Links are provided in each object record to direct the user to sample object image. Some of these links take the user to additional information while other links are no longer functional.

The image shows an entry in the ThingStor database: a photograph of a decorative silver box with text below it. The text reads "Vinaigrette box. Caption of sample object image: Vinaigrette box, Nathaniel Mills. Source Text: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Or, Life among. Quoted Object: Gold vinaigrette."
ThingStor object record, featuring a vinaigrette box.

This online resource is open access and freely available to users without paywall or the need to create an account. The project was initiated by questions from graduate students seeking more information about unfamiliar objects they were coming across in literature and visual arts. This resource is useful to individuals in those fields, but would also be useful to anyone engaging in literature, art, history, theater, or ephemera from that era.

The use of WordPress for the website and Airtable for the database itself is an effective way to organize, store, and share this content. The images are excellent quality, as they are drawn from museum and library digital collections, and allow for close investigation of the object. The resource is highly engaging and invites exploration. Thingstor welcomes interaction from users with Dr. Brückner’s email address available for questions. There is also a Google form for users to suggest an object for the database.

Thingstor is an incredibly useful resource for identifying and accessing information about material objects referenced in 19th century literature and visual art. The database continues to increase its holdings, making itself a valuable repository for researchers and interested lay-people alike.

Visionary Futures Collective

Visionary Futures Collective

Reviewed by:
Rebecca K. Friedman, Assistant Librarian
Marquand Library, Princeton University

The Visionary Futures Collective represents students, scholars and staff working in higher education or in academic-adjacent roles. All work in or around humanities disciplines, and are “increasing transparency, sharing vulnerability, and working collectively to imagine and create a better future for higher education.” One must dig a bit deeper to determine the specific challenges in higher education being referred to in the group’s mission statement. “Today Must be Sunday,” under “Our Projects,” then “News,” links to an online conversation that gives a sense of the challenges being referred to, along with the group’s desire to connect and collaborate online.

The Visionary Futures Collective brings together humanists across the United States to tackle challenges relating to the present and future of higher education.

This group is made up of scholars of the humanities. Many, but not all of us have or are currently pursuing graduate degrees. Many, but not all of us work or study at universities. Some, but not most of us, are professors. All of us believe in the transformational power and vital importance of the humanities.

This group believes that the study of human history and cultural expression is essential to a more just and meaningful society. Our purpose is to create the conditions in which this work can thrive.

We begin with the premise that current conditions in higher education are incompatible with the work of the humanities. We formed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic because we understood that this public health crisis would exacerbate the structural inequities that characterize U.S. higher education. Our work is shaped by the long-overdue national reckoning with racial inequities led by the Black Lives Matter movement.
A portion of the mission statement of the Visionary Futures Collective found on the group’s website

The site and group projects seem to have taken off in Summer 2020, and as of September of that year, featured two initiatives: the Covid-19 Tracker, a survey and resulting data related to the state of campuses at colleges and universities across the U.S., and the Academic Psychic Friends Network for “writing, resources, and swag for academic friends dreaming of a better future.” Subsequent endeavors included “#CovidCampus: Students respond to Covid-19,” “Covid 19 & Academic Labor: An Action Deck for Campus Workers,” “The Caregivers Survey,” “International Student Survey,” “Job Market Support Network,” and “Postcards for Rage and Renewal”: a “collective art project with the Inkcap Collective.” All are linked under “Our Projects” on the main page. (Covid tracker image here)

Screenshot of Covid-19 tracker project with a map of the U.S. marked with colored dots of various sizes corresponding to emotions felt by college campus workers in the Fall of 2021.
Screenshot of Covid-19 tracker project with a map of the U.S. marked with colored dots of various sizes corresponding to emotions felt by college campus workers in the Fall of 2021.

The site offers multiple ways to get involved by taking a survey, recording one’s experiences, sharing information about a campus strike or other action, contributing content, or sharing other data collection projects. There is also a Resources page. Advocacy towards greater inclusion is front and center, with efforts to highlight the experiences of BIPOC and other under-represented and/or oppressed communities within higher education.

The group offers an occasional newsletter and blog and hosts monthly “First Friday” Tarot Party events utilizing the academic tarot card deck that the group created. 22 cards serve as academic versions of the Major Arcana cards found in a traditional tarot deck. The events offer informal discussion and bonding over shared concerns, with an opportunity to “ask the cards” to help provide some direction or insights. Tarot is used “as a way to tell stories of hope about higher education.”

The site and its content do not necessitate creating an account or downloading any software, with the exception of VFC publicity or awards linking out to other sites that may require a subscription or account creation. The group’s web presence, on the GitHub platform, points to projects that members have undertaken from 2020 to the present, “using digital platforms, data collection and visualization, and storytelling resources to build community and solidarity and to help one another move from fear and anger into action.” While GitHub is used by IT developers and others needing to share code and/or develop software, it is now a subsidiary of Microsoft and can be used to host open-source projects. The VFC is using Jekyll to host their GitHub website. The most recent VFC email/newsletter focused on “Rage and Renewal”: group members have learned “to feel the outrage and despair that comes in waves in this unjust world… [and to find] ways to move those feelings towards action….” This newsletter also draws attention to a timely initiative to preserve content in Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions. Perhaps the work of the VFC can offer some inspiration and insights as ARLIS/NA develops a new strategic plan.   The group’s intended audience includes anyone working in higher education, particularly in the humanities: students, staff “of all kinds, including custodial staff, maintenance workers…librarians…and all contingent or precariously-employed workers.”

Introduction to Cultural Analytics & Python

Reviewed by:
Christy Anderson, Marketing/Administrative Assistant
Kimbel Library and Bryan Information Commons, Coastal Carolina University

The digital book Introduction to Cultural Analytics & Python has already become a recommended resource within the field of digital humanities. Though it was created as a textbook for a particular class at Cornell University, this new resource is so comprehensive that it can be utilized beyond the context of the course it was created for. The book covers a lot of ground, from Python basics and how to use Jupyter to curating data and running analysis.  

Written by Melanie Walsh while she was a Postdoctoral Associate in Information Science at Cornell, Introduction to Cultural Analytics & Python was designed to accompany an undergraduate course by the same name. According to Walsh’s bio on Humanities Commons, the book was created to prepare “students to analyze cultural materials — such as books, movies, historical records, and social media posts — with digital and computational tools.” Walsh explains cultural analytics as a mix of computers and human life that applies computational methods to the study of culture. Cultural analytics is a growing discipline that stems from fields like Digital Humanities and Information Science.

This “how to” guide is as direct as they come and embodies its ethos as an open educational resource (OER).  The site’s table of contents runs down the right side, while the book’s contents are laid out along the left, listing each chapter with its sectional topics in a drop-down box. Step-by-step text is accompanied by embedded video tutorials throughout. Style wise, Introduction to Cultural Analytics & Python forgoes sleek graphics for design that is clean and simple. In keeping with open educational resources, the book is hosted on  GitHub and powered by Jupyter Book, an open source project for building books. It is similar in look and feel to the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure open course Cultural Analytics: Interactive Learning Environment in R, which utilizes Swirl software to teach R language.

This resource is definitely created for an extremely specific audience. While it is an introductory text, it is not a fully explanatory one. For those with only a vague understanding of programming and data analysis, the content may feel foreign. For a reader with that foundational understanding, however, this book will be incredibly useful in fostering practical understanding. The book gives learners hands-on experience by walking them step-by-step through the interactive process . It also houses a growing repository of datasets related to culture and humanities with examples of how they can be used.  

There are several ways to go about using Introduction to Cultural Analytics & Python, including PDF download or in the Cloud. However, to fully engage with the pages, Jupyter Notebook needs to be downloaded. It is also important to note that there is a good deal of hidden content in the book. By clicking on the embedded “Click to show” found on most pages, varying code, answers to practice questions, and extra activities will be revealed. Walsh designed this hidden content “to replicate the experience of running code live.” 

There is not anything quite like Introduction to Cultural Analytics & Python openly available on the web. There are other lessons and courses that focus on individual components, such as text analysis, Python, Pandas, and machine learning  However, Walsh’s work combines these components for the specific task of cultural analysis in a way that is fully interactive and highly educational. Walsh packs in a lot of “how to” skills with basic understanding of the topics. In essence, this book is the go-to for taking your knowledge of digital humanities and putting it into practical application.