Author Archives: NedjaEM

Data Management Plan Workshop

I attended the Mina Rees library’s workshop on data management plans. A data management plan is usually required in grant applications and papers and it includes the data and data collection methods and procedures for research data, which is the material necessary to come to the project’s conclusion.

We talked about a few reasons to share this data, namely to ensure reproducibility.

We also talked about a few things needed to include in a data management plan:

  • How is the data exposed? What will be shared, who is the audience, is it citable
  • How will it be preserved? CUNY academic works repository was a good example that came up since it is a good repo to make the data accessible from a google search for example. It is important not to archive the data in proprietary format, it should be open, unencrypted and uncompressed

We also discussed some best practices for handling data:

  • Some disciplines have specific data structure standards like ways to label fields.. It is important to follow these depending on your field
  • Column names should be human-readable, not coded — unless a dictionary is included
  • It’s important to consider how NULL variables are represented

Another best practice we talked about and that I wanted to discuss further in this blog post is “context”. Having spreadsheets without a readme and a data abstract almost means that the data will be taken out of context and used in ways it should not be used (to answer questions it cannot answer for example). This brought me back to a chapter of Data Feminism by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein. We have read a chapter of this book for the week where we discussed Epistemologies of DH and I have recently read chapter 6 for the Advanced Interactive Data Visualization course. The chapter, entitled “The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves”, presents the 6th principle of Data Feminism:

“Principle #6 of Data Feminism is to Consider Context. Data feminism asserts that data are not neutral or objective. They are the products of unequal social relations, and this context is essential for conducting accurate, ethical analysis.”

Klein and D’Ignazio brought up very interesting examples of lack of context and its unwanted repercussions. Being in a time where open-source is a model used and encouraged, it is necessary to consider the impact that one’s data, if published and easily accessible, can have.

The first example that came up was a data-driven report by FiveThirtyEight titled “Kidnapping of Girls in Nigeria Is Part of a Worsening Problem.” The blog aims to show that the number of kidnapping is at a peak by using data from the Global Database of Events, Language and Tone (GDELT). In the report, they said that there was 3608 kidnappings of young women in 2013. But that was not true. The data source they used (GDELT) was a project that collects and parses news reports, which means that their data could have multiple records per kidnapping or any other event since multiple news reports were probably written on that specific event. GDELT might have not clearly explained this in their website and FiveThirtyEight clearly used the wrong data to answer their research questions, resulting in a misleading data visualization.

I know I will keep this in mind when working on future data projects and when including a data management plan for my capstone project.

Another Example of Google Maps’ Shortcomings..

From this week’s reading, two points significantly stood out to me. One relating to the idea of a map as a temporal tool rather than spatial one. The second one is how tools like Google Earth continue and uplift colonial legacies. In “Visualizing Sovereignty”, Yarimar Bonilla and Max Hantel highlight that modern maps are drawn within constrains of western cartography which leads to a visualization of sovereignty within the limits of nation-state autonomy. This leaves non-sovereign territories to be drawn as “inexplicable” and ambiguous to the map readers, if they don’t question the history behind the map and what made it become what it is. One of the solutions that Yarimar Bonilla shifts to is the representation of the Caribbean as a temporal map that is ordered by the year on which Caribbean societies shifted from colonial status. Such a map helps in putting the geospatial representation within a temporal space, which helps “unsettle views of contemporary borders” — example of “The invasion of America Project”.

This text reminded of an incident that went viral a few weeks ago. I remember seeing a lot of posts on Twitter and Instagram about how Google removed Palestine completely from Google Maps. I went to check on Google maps for myself, I navigated to the location of Palestine on the map and found “Israel” written as the country name. There were a lot of articles written on this and there were a lot of calls for Google to recognize Palestine on the map “again”. However, after a few days, the truth came out: Google never removed Palestine on the map, simply because it never had it on the map. One particular response from a Google expert on a forum on the google support website caught my attention.

The Google expert said that “Google takes a neutral view when it comes to countries, borders, etc; and uses the overall consensus of all nations and how cartographers around the world depict such matters.  As the world situation changes, so will Maps.” If Google hold such a neutral view on political conflicts, why would it so blatantly choose to represent Israel instead of Palestine on the map? In fact, Palestine is recognized by the UN and its members as an independent state. However, it is not recognized by the US. This highlights the US-centric  foundation that a tool so widely used around the world is built upon. The map here becomes a tool that showcases racial capitalism and white supremacy, rather than one that helps explore different parts of the world. In doing so, Google erases ten thousand years of Palestinian history and culture and turns a blind eye on more than 70 years of violent Israeli colonization of Palestine.

Mayukh Sen brought up a very similar example of how Google Earth has “the legacies of colonialism programmed into it” like many other platforms.  In this article, Mayukh Sen highlights how Google Earth only mapped out major cities in India, when the hundreds or thousands of smaller cities and villages are just a blurry insignificant image on the screen labeled by its anglicized name, making it harder for natives to find their own homes, because they are not essential to white, western audiences. According to Mayukh Sen, this makes “Google a de facto neocolonial force, whether or not it intends to be”.

Politicizing Digital Humanities

In the 2012 Debates in the digital humanities, DH is described as field that is self-reflexive and self-critical. One of the few issues addressed as a problem that DH was facing as a field is its lack of political commitment. However, we can clearly see through the evolution of DH in the 2016 and 2019 volumes that it is becoming more and more political. In fact, the sites and projects we explored during this week’s reading speak to this transformation. Separados, The Early Caribbean Digital Archive and The Colored Conventions project are all politically committed to do decolonization work in one way or another.

In this blog post, I wanted to reflect on DH’s political commitment as an imperative. Is it possible for Digital Humanities to be neutral in a time where white supremacies are gaining increased power all over the world? Clearly not. This necessity for DH to do decolonization work is not only due to the current climate but also to Digital Humanities’ own colonial history. In the Digital Black Atlantic, Risam and Josephs talk about the Digital Humanities as the juxtaposition of two spaces: Digital + Humanities. They remind us that each of these spaces have contributed their own share of neoliberal practices in academia and outside of it. On the one hand, the humanities constitute a big part of the project of the empire as well as “the founding of colonial universities within colonies”. On the other hand, technology has historically been used to silence minorities and “disempower black communities”. The juxtaposition of two spaces with such loaded history can be successful and revolutionary only if it acts as “a disruptive political force to reshape fundamental aspects of academic practices” (the Digital Humanities moment)

I have always thought of politics as a valuable part of DH, but after these readings, I see it as a more foundational pillar to DH. It is  impossible to imagine doing decolonizing work by using traditional and often colonial academic approaches to humanities. That is why, as the Digital Black Atlantic puts it, it is imperative to decenter whiteness and put diasporic communities at the center of the inquiry to truly achieve a DH that contributes to the decolonization of the Global South.