Tag Archives: technology

Digital Humanities at Rutgers and Beyond

By: Lidia Levkovitch

Digital Humanities is a field at least as broad and as loosely defined as, well, the humanities of non-digital kind. The opening celebration for Rutgers Digital Humanities Lab took place on October 29th at Alexander Library. The Lab itself is a modest space with a conference table and five iMac workstations loaded with fascinating tools going by arcane sounding (at least to me) names such as “R”, “QGIS”, or “Gelphi” (tutorials are available at the DH page at the library.  However, the Digital Humanities initiative is, of course, about much more than space and software. At the October event, the word “community” could be heard a lot, and as scholars from various fields introduced their projects in brief talks, the enthusiasm in the room was palpable.

The talks, by researchers from several Rutgers programs, showcased the sheer vibrancy of the field. Dr. Samantha Boardman (American Studies, Rutgers-Newark) demonstrated pedagogical applications for digitized oral histories of African Americans who came to Newark during the Great Migration in 1910-1970: undergraduate students collaborated with professional artists on creating exquisite glass books based on the stories while graduate students learned about summarizing and indexing oral histories and developed undergraduate curricula. Another digital preservation project presented at the event is still under way; it is devoted to making images of Roman coins from the Ernst Badian collection available online, with each coin photographed at seven different angles. Such cutting edge applications as data mining, geospatial mapping, and network analysis were represented in several talks, one of them by Dr. Andrew Goldstone (English, Rutgers – New Brunswick), from whose Literary Data seminar several enthusiastic students were in attendance.

As is frequently the case with humanities, the conversation often extended beyond technical matters. Thus, Dr. Andrew Urban’s (American Studies, Rutgers – New Brunswick) talk about his work studying exclusion of Asian Americans in the 1950s touched on the importance of responsible curation of online content, such as unattributed historical photographs that often propagate, their provenance forgotten, from one website to another. Problems such as this one is perhaps as important a motivating factor for joining the elusively defined “DH community” as the need to meet people who might help one make sense of programming tools like “QGIS” or  the “R” that, intimidatingly, does not stand for “Rutgers”.

It may be worth noting, in closing, that at the annual convention of ASEEES (Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies), from which I have just returned, the roundtable on Digital Humanities was by far the most popular session among all that I have attended. In a rather unusual development for ASEEES, with its forty or so panels running in parallel, the room did not have enough chairs for scholars in all things Slavic, Eastern European and Eurasian who wanted to become part of the digital action. When the organizers passed around a low-tech notebook collecting addresses for the e-mail list, I signed up. As far as I could see, so did everybody else.

Online Presence for Grad Students with Nicky Agate

On October 19th, Nicky Agate, managing editor of the MLA Commons shared advice for graduate students who want to improve their online presence. She focused on several resources for grad students:

  1. MLA Commons: As part of MLA membership, the MLA Commons site allows students and professors to host professional websites that can link to their new or existing WordPress blogs. Since these sites are associated with the MLA, they rate highly in search engine rankings, which makes them easier to access.
  2.  CORE: MLA Commons’ new open access repository, CORE, is currently in Beta mode. Posting work on CORE allows students to increase the visibility of their scholarly work. When researchers upload papers to CORE, they can associate their work with forums that will immediately connect them to potential readers in their field of specializations.
  3. ORCID: This site helps researchers establish a digital identity that links all of their publications, grant applications, and other work. ORCID is particularly helpful for researchers with common names who want to distinguish their work from that of others.
  4. Twitter: Nicky Agate discussed different strategies for using Twitter as a professional tool including retweeting articles of interest to your scholarly community, networking at conferences, and participating in larger academic conversations around hashtags like #PhDchat, #AcWri, and #AltAc.

Tech Review: f.lux

This month, the Rutgers Comp Lit Magazine will be expanding its coverage of tech tools that Comp Lit students and faculty use professionally and personally. If you have a tech tool you would like to see featured here, please leave a comment or send an email to rutgerscomplitmagazine@gmail.com.

F.lux is a simple piece of software that can have a noticeable impact on how you use your computer. If you frequently use your computer late at night, you might notice that the light of the screen seems much more intense at night. The f.lux website says, “During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.”

F.lux provides a surprisingly easy solution to this problem. The software monitors the time of sunset in your timezone and after sunset transitions the light of your screen to match indoor lighting. Unlike simply dimming your screen, the f.lux filter makes your screen easy to read, but without the strain on your eyes. It can also help you sleep better after computer use.

At first, you will probably notice f.lux, because at the moment of sunset, a red tint comes over the screen. However, within a few minutes your eyes adjust and the color change is no longer noticeable. If you need to do color-sensitive work at night, like photo editing, f.lux can be easily disabled for a period of time.

F.lux is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone/iPad. Unfortunately, the iPhone app operates as a stand-alone reader app, so you cannot use f.lux to control the brightness of the iPhone as a whole.

I cannot recommend f.lux highly enough for anyone who spends a lot of time on their computer in the evenings. It requires little effort to install, and I saw a dramatic change in my ability to work on the computer at night without straining my eyes or disrupting my sleep.

Language Learning Online with italki

Comparative Literature students pride themselves on the study of literature in multiple languages. However, during the semester it can be a challenge to prioritize language learning. If you want to fit more language study into your schedule this semester, italki.com is truly a hidden gem for language learners.

Italki is an online language-learning community of over one million teachers and students. What makes italki unique is that it connects you with native speaker teachers around the world through one-on-one Skype lessons.

If you’ve been meaning to work on one or more languages, I encourage you to check out italki for yourself or to share it with your students. Here’s why:

  1. The online platform

Italki.com is absolutely seamless. The process of scheduling Skype meetings, transferring payments, and evaluating lessons seems like it should be very complicated. However, italki is extremely well organized. When you want to schedule a lesson, you search for a teacher in your price range that is available when you want to study. You schedule your lesson and then connect with your teacher on skype. After the lesson is over, italki handles the payment. This website makes everything so easy that you can focus on your lessons and not have to worry about all of the logistics.

  1. One-on-one lessons

When I arrived at Rutgers, I was struggling to find ways to improve my French skills. I knew my French was too advanced for an undergraduate grammar course, but not nearly advanced enough for a graduate literature course. Many of us find that our language skills do not match up with any of our options for formal language instruction. One-on-one lessons on italki give you the flexibility to begin at your current level and focus on the specific skills that you want to develop. In my case, I found a French tutor with an interest in reading and we slowly worked our way through a few novels together. The one-on-one lessons gave me so much more feedback than I could’ve gotten in a traditional language classroom or by studying on my own. I progressed much faster than I had when I had been spending many more hours a week in a grammar class in college. Also, the commitment of talking to your teacher each week helps motivate you to continue to work independently on the language in between lessons.

  1. A wide range of teachers

Italki has a variety of teachers with different levels of professional training, experience, and pricing. Depending on your language level, your learning style, and what skills you are working on, you can experiment with multiple teachers until you figure out what works best. There are professional teachers with a full curriculum who teach grammar and assign homework. Some of these teachers make excellent use of the video chat format by using tools like screen-sharing websites, Prezi, and the Skype chat function. There are also college students with no training in language pedagogy who will practice casual conversation with you. Since you don’t enroll in a formal course, you can experiment with a variety of teachers until you find someone who works for you. After a few lessons or a few months, you can easily start working with someone else. The flexibility lets you experience a wide variety of teaching approaches and also can expose you to different regional accents and vocabulary. Before scheduling a lesson, you can see a teacher’s profile, video introduction, and student reviews, which helps you find someone that you will enjoy working with.

Bonus: Many teachers offer half hour trial lessons for somewhere between $1 and $5. This gives you the opportunity to meet teachers, even those at a higher price point, without spending a lot up front.

  1. Work as a tutor

If you enjoy taking lessons on italki, you can also sign up to tutor your native language or another language you speak fluently. This is an ideal work opportunity for students because you set your own hours and prices and you can work from home. You can also easily offer more sessions over breaks and fewer sessions during the busiest parts of the semester. I’ve really enjoyed talking to English students from around the world, and working on italki allowed me to fund my language lessons. Also, talking to motivated language learners helps me to continue my own language study.

Italki also offers language exchanges where two students can connect for free over Skype to practice. For example, an American and a Chinese student could meet on Skype and speak in English for a half hour and then in Chinese for a half hour. I have not used this feature, but it offers another way to use this language learning community for free.

  1. Language challenges

If you like having an extra bit of accountability, italki sponsors language challenges a few times a year. For these challenges, students commit to taking a certain number of lessons in a limited time period (past challenges have included 12 hours of lessons in a month or 20 hours in six weeks). Students commit to the challenge by making a $10 pledge. If they complete the challenge, they receive $30 towards more language lessons. Every time italki announces a language challenge, a group of students commit to the challenge by making a public YouTube video demonstrating their current skill level. After the challenge, many students post videos documenting their progress. Check out these before-and-after videos from the New Year’s 2015 20-hour language challenge.

If you have any questions about italki or would like recommendations of French, Spanish, or Portuguese teachers, please be in touch.