Weekend Reading: Government Reopen Edition

171803338_d596fbcd9e_nWe never shut down here at ProfHacker, of course, but we were happy to see our friends at the NEH, Library of Congress, and elsewhere back at work this week. As they head into their first post-shutdown weekend, let’s round up some links worth reading from around the web:

  • This past Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of women in STEM fields (and, at least by adoption, in the digital humanities). In honor of Ada Lovelace, Melissa Terras posted a fantastic historical piece about the women punchcard operators who encoded the very first “poetical science” project, Fr. Robert Busa’s index of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas.

    We don’t know the names of these women: further research and enquiries are ongoing to try to establish their identities, and their role in the project. However, it shouldn’t be that surprising to us that women were so important in Father Busa’s pioneering computing project: in the early 1960s computer programmers were commonly women. It’s pleasing to show on Ada Lovelace Day how important women were to one of the first projects in my academic field – look at the scale of the operation! – although further research is needed to uncover the role and responsibilities of women in this project: the majority of them seen here are doing data entry, albeit in a skilled and new format. The project certainly could not have happened without their input.

  • If you’re interested in large-scale data mining, you’ve probably heard about Google’s Ngram Viewer, which allows users to chart the frequency of particular words and phrases over time within the many, many books that make up the Google Books corpus. At the Atlantic, Ben Zimmer details some new additions to the tool: particularly wildcard searching, which expands the kinds of queries one can make in the tool dramatically.

    Anyone who has spent time delving into databases knows how much flexibility you can get with wildcards: use an asterisk to stand in for any word, and suddenly your search horizons have expanded. In the new Ngram Viewer, using the asterisk as a wildcard will display the top ten most frequently appearing words that fill the slot over the range of time you have selected. The asterisk can be combined with parts of speech, too, so “*_NOUN” will find only the nouns that could appear in the sequence of words you’re searching on.
    Now if you type “*_NOUN ‘s theorem” into the Ngram Viewer, you will see a graph with the ten most common names (which count as nouns) that have spawned eponymous theorems — names like Godel, Bayes, and Euler. (Right-clicking will toggle back and forth between a view tracking the different variants and one showing a single line encompassing all the variants.)

  • During the summer, the American Historical Association released a Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations that generated no small amount of controversy, particularly among scholars invested in new modes of academic publication. This week I learned about my fellow ProfHacker Mark Sample’s Disembargo project, which protests the AHA’s statement by publishing Mark’s dissertation, one letter at a time, over the span of time recommended by the AHA in their embargo statement. Whether or not you agree with the AHA’s statement, I think Mark’s computational performance art piece is worth a look.

    But how does an academic embargo play out? Who benefits from an embargoed dissertation? How much value does withheld research accrue? How long is six years when it comes to scholarly communication? In order to explore these questions I created Disembargo. Disembargo is a dissertation—my own—emerging from a six-year embargo, one letter at a time. Every ten minutes a single letter, number, or space from the final dissertation manuscript is published under a Creative Commons license, an excruciating pace that dramatizes the silence of an embargo. Disembargo launched on September 3, 2013. At the current rate of access (six characters per hour, or roughly twenty-five words a day), the entire dissertation will be available in the fall of 2019.

  • It’s no secret here that I’m a book history nerd. As much as I love computers, I also love type and paper and wooden printers. So I’m a big fan of Type:Rider, a new game for iOS and Android. On the one hand, it’s a fairly simply platformer: the player guides two dots, which look much like a colon, across a series of obstacles. But the level designs are gorgeous (as is the music) and lead players through the history of writing and typography, from cave paintings through Gutenberg’s Gothic and eventually to modern computer game fonts. I’ve written too much: go play it!

    Type: Rider narrates the history of typography in an adventure and puzzle game.

And now to this week’s video. This semester I’m teaching a class all about literary, historical, and cultural mapping, so I appreciated “42 Maps That Helped Me Understand the World and My Place in It.” I think you’ll like it, too.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user Tinou Bao.]

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