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“Fair Use for Non-Fiction Authors” Workshop

Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp.

Parody versus the original

On Nopvember 18th, I attended a workshop designed to teach nonfiction writers about fair use as applied under United States copyright law.  The workshop was produced by the Mina Rees Library and was part of their Scholarly Communication Workshop Series.  You can learn more about the series here: https://historyprogram.commons.gc.cuny.edu/fall-2020-gc-library-scholarly-communication-workshop-series/.

The workshop was held via Zoom, with eight participants, including instructors Jill Cirasella and Roxanne Shirazi.  Jill is the head of the scholarly communications unit for the GC and often works with students to apply fair use to their work.  Roxanne is the GC’s dissertation research librarian, which means that she works with students when they are ready to publish their capstone projects and dissertations.

The workshop was structured this way:

  • We received a brief overview of fair use, including the basics.
  • Review of fair use in nonfiction work
  • Review of some fair use misconceptions
  • Suggestions on using content outside of fair use
  • Q & A

The workshop was also recorded via Zoom.  If you would like to see it, contact Jill or Roxanne for the link.

 Fair Use Basics

Under certain conditions, fair use is recognized by US copyright law.  Here is an official definition by way of the US Copyright Office:

“Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.  Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use” (US Copyright Office).

The doctrine permits the use of copyrighted works without permission or payment to the copyright holder.  The theory behind the doctrine is that we, as a society, give people limited ownership rights to the content they create (e.g., writers and photographers and film-makers), and we give other people rights to discuss that content (e.g., like critics and scholars and reporters).  There is no rigid formula we can apply to determine if fair use fits a particular incident. Still, there are four factors the courts consider when a fair use case comes before them.

  • What was the purpose and the character of the use?
  • What was the nature of the work being copied?
  • How much of the work was copied?
  • Did the copying of the work affect the use of the original work in the marketplace?

When seeking to determine if a piece falls within the doctrine, the court may ask if the material’s unlicensed use transformed it, for example, by using the content for a different purpose (like a critic doing a review of a book) or giving it a different meaning (like a researcher using Google N-Gram to determine how certain words or phrases are used within their corpus of digitized texts).  In other words, the new use does not merely repeat the content for the same intended purpose as the original.  The court may also consider the nature of the copyrighted work and if the new use is to support an argument.

Fair Use in Nonfiction Works

When considering using another’s work, there are four guiding principles the nonfiction author should consider.  Each was discussed with examples of case-law provided.

Guiding Principle One: Critique

Fair use applies when the copyrighted material is used for criticism, commentary, or discussion of the work itself.  In this use case, the entire work may be reproduced within the new work, so it may be closely examined within context.  The ability to freely critique a work also protects society against intimidation.  However, the doctrine expects the amount copied will be limited to what is needed to make the analytical point. Furthermore, appropriate attribution should be given to the original author.

An example offered was Warren Publishing Company v. Spurlock.  In this civil case, an author created a biography of the artist Basil Gogos that included reproductions of Gogo’s artwork, commissioned for specific magazine covers owned by the plaintiff.  The publisher lost their case because the court found that the “defendant’s use of the artwork to illustrate a particular stage of Gogos’ career was transformative, considering [the] plaintiff had originally used the artwork for purposes related to the advertising and sale of magazines.”

Guiding Principle Two:  Proving a Point

Fair use can apply when the copyrighted material is being used to illustrate or prove an argument.  Here, the material is not reproduced for commentary but rather to establish a more significant point.  As ever, the amount copied should be reasonable, and it should not be purely decorative or inserted for entertainment.  In other words, do not reproduce something because you like it or simply want to make your content more attractive. Instead, create a clear connection between the material being copied and the point being made.

Here the example used was New Era Publications v. Carol Publishing Group.  In this case, an unfavorable biography of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, contained extensive quotes from Mr. Hubbard.  The plaintiff argued that because the excerpts had been used without their authorization, it was a copyright breach.  The court found that the biography, A Piece of Blue Sky, was fair in its use of the material because said use was designed “to educate the public about Hubbard, a public figure who sought public attention,” and [that it] used quotes to further that purpose rather than to unnecessarily appropriate Hubbard’s literary expression.

Guiding Principle Three:  Digital Databases

The court has found that digital databases developed to perform non-consumptive analysis (or non-expressive analysis) of copyrighted materials is permitted for both scholarly and reference purpose.  An example of non-consumptive analysis is when content is digitized, and the computer then does a textual analysis.  However, this data may not be re-employed in other ways, e.g., providing ordinary reading access.

In Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc., the plaintiff sued when Google made unauthorized digital copies of millions of books and then made them available to search via its Google Books service.  The court found this was fair use because digitizing the material and making it public was transformative:

“Google’s making of a digital copy to provide a search function . . . augments public knowledge by making available information about [p]laintiffs’ books without providing the public with a substantial substitute for matter protected by the [p]laintiffs’ copyright interests in the original works or derivatives of them.”

Some Fair Use Misconceptions

  • A maker cannot use material if their request is refused or if they received permission, and then it was revoked. Even if you do not have permission, you can still rely on fair use if your expression of the material falls within the law.  In Wright v. Warner Books, Inc., the court found the defendant Margaret Walker was within the fair use doctrine when she quoted from selections of the poet Richard Wright’s unpublished journals and letters.  This, even though Wright’s widow had rejected Walker’s request to use the material.  The court found that the “analytic research” contained in [the] defendants’ work was transformative because it “added value” to the original works.
  • A maker cannot rely on fair use if they are using unpublished material. In 1992, Congress amended the copyright act to explicitly allow fair use of unpublished materials.  An example was Sundeman v. The Seajay Society, Inc.  Here a scholar wrote a critical review of an unpublished novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, following the author’s death.  “The court ruled in favor of defendant’s fair use defense, finding that the critical review was a scholarly appraisal of the work.  While the paper extensively quoted or paraphrased the novel, its underlying purpose was to comment and criticize the work”.
  • A maker cannot rely on fair use if they are using the entire copyrighted work. While the amount of the work copied is one of the factors considered, it is more important if there is a transformative purpose.  In Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd., the author reproduced multiple Grateful Dead concert posters to show a time-line within their text.  In this case, the court found that the small size and low-quality of these reproductions did not hurt the actual posters’ marketability or underlying value.
  • A maker cannot rely on fair use if they are using highly creative copyrighted work. That factor is rarely decisive on its own.  In Blanch v. Koons, the artist created a collage painting that included a commercial photograph of a pair of high-fashion shoes.  “The court deemed the collage transformative because the defendant used the photograph as “raw material” in the furtherance of distinct creative or communicative objectives.”
  • A maker cannot rely on fair use if they are making commercial use of a copyrighted work. In Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp., the marketing arm of Paramount parodied the famous nude picture of a pregnant Demi Moore by superimposing Leslie Nielsen’s face onto the body of a naked pregnant woman posed similarly to the Annie Liebovitz original.  “Noting that a commercial use is not presumptively unfair, the court found that the parodic nature of the advertisement weighed in favor of a finding of fair use.”

Suggestions on Using Content Outside of Fair Use

How might we proceed if our use of copyrighted material is not intended to be fair?

  • Modify the intended use.
  • Ask the copyright holder for permission to use the content or for a paid license to use the work.
  • Use work disturbed under open licenses like Creative Commons.
  • Use works from the public domain.

Considerations Outside of Copyright

Sometimes there are contractual terms governing access to a work (e.g., archives, museums, specific databases, or websites) that can restrict your availability to apply fair use.  If you are using a source with these restrictions, you have bound yourself to that agreement by using that source.

Fair use does not protect against claims based on legal rights other than copyright (e.g., privacy, rights of publicity, trademark, or defamation).

Contracts can override the native rights that you may have had to fair use.

Screengrab with Link to Author Alliance

Visit the Author Alliance for more helpful resources

The Authors Alliance

The presentation was created by the Authors Alliance.  Their mission is to “advance the interests of authors who want to serve the public good by sharing their creations broadly. We create resources to help authors understand and enjoy their rights and promote policies that make knowledge and culture available and discoverable”.    You can find the presentation in its entirety at https://www.authorsalliance.org/resources/fair-use/.

Questions and Answers

Q: How can I be sure I can use something?

A: While a lawyer can help you determine the probability, in the end, you will only know if something is fair use if you are sued and a court decides it.  Now, publishers have policies about using content based on their internal risk assessment, restricting the amount of content, etc.  However, their corporate best practice is not a rubric designed by the court.  It is recommended that you use a fair use checklist to test your own thinking for your own research purposes.  Keep that with your research notes in case the validity of the use is ever questioned.   Here are two resources:

Q: Are teachers covered by the doctrine within the classroom?

A: Yes.  However, public presentations could be different, depending on the forum.  When possible, look for images that are public domain.

Q: What about personal photos of a subject, such as those found in archives?  Many biographies contain them, but they don’t always support an argument.

A: They often are included with permission, have been secured via a license, or were in the public domain.

Q: What about lifting passages with attribution but not within quotation marks?

A: Keep the quotations and show good faith with attribution within the text, as well as any footnotes.

Q: Are University Presses considered commercial presses?

A: They have different standings; some are commercial, and some are nonprofit.  The entity is not the issue. It is how the work itself is being used or being repurposed that falls within the doctrine.


Work Cited

Authors Alliance. “Resources.” Authors Alliance, 6 Aug. 2019, www.authorsalliance.org/resources/.

Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc.  No. 13-4829-cv (2d Cir. Oct. 16, 2015).  United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. US Copyright Officehttps://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/authorsguild-google-2dcir2015.pdf

Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley Ltd.  448 F.3d 605 (2d Cir. 2006).  United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. US Copyright Officehttps://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/billgraham-dorling-2dcir2006.pdf

Leibovitz v. Paramount Pictures Corp.  137 F.3d 109 (2d Cir. 1998).  United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. US Copyright Office. https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/leibovitz-paramount-2dcir1998.pdf

New Era Publ’ns Int’l, ApS v. Carol Publ’g Grp.  904 F.2d 152 (2d Cir. 1990).  United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. US Copyright Officehttps://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/newera-carolpubl%E2%80%99g-2dcir1990.pdf

Sundeman v. The Seajay Soc’y, Inc.  142 F.3d 194 (4th Cir. 1998).  United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. US Copyright Officehttps://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/sundeman-seajay-4thcir1998.pdf

Warren Publ’g Co. v. Spurlock.  645 F. Supp. 2d 402.  United States District Court, ED Pennsylvania. US Copyright Officehttps://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/warrenpubl%E2%80%99g-spurlock-edpa2009.pdf.

Wright v. Warner Books, Inc.  953 F.2d 731 (2d Cir. 1991).  United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. US Copyright Officehttps://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/wright-warner-2dcir1991.pdf.

US Copyright Office. “More Information on Fair Use.” Copyright, US Copyright Office, www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.

iMovie Workshop: How to be bold by learning the basics!

I attended the Publics Lab’s iMovie workshop, led by Mike Mena. I’ve never used iMovie or even owned a Mac, and I was nervous about how much I’d be able to follow or even apply after. However, Mike’s pedagogical approach and extensive experience giving this type of workshop for a wide range of audiences made phenomenal workshop. And not because I left feeling like an iMovie magician, but because I felt I had concrete skills I could see myself using, in addition to feeling less intimidated. Specifically, Mike did three critical things that made a simple workshop simply perfect: (1) he created an inviting environment; (2) he talked about strategy and prep work that would maximize our experience with the software; and (3) he set appropriate expectations and stuck to those guidelines throughout the seminar.

First, Mike started the seminar by dispelling myths people have about themselves being “bad with technology” and discussed how small, everyday interactions with technology intimidate and frustrate people, dissuading them from trying new things. He used the example of entering a password on a tiny phone and acknowledge that can be difficult because of design limitations—not the user’s abilities. This made me think about the readings from this semester that cautioned DH practitioners from making assumptions about user’s experiences and history of accessibility. It also made me think of the self-fulfilling prophecy I was discussing with my students in Intro to Sociology, and how stereotypes damage or even rob marginalized folks from accessing and innovating DH and tech. It inspired me to develop intentional moments to acknowledge and deconstruct these barriers in my future teaching opportunities and DH projects.

Second, he began the workshop by talking about the organizational steps one take’s before opening iMovie that make editing and experimenting less frustrating. Looking back on my experiences with QGIS, almost all of my frustrations can be traced back to ignorance or lack of intentionality about all the different files I would need. He also talked about the different spaces that held the files you’ve (maybe intentionally) organized would show up and where old files the software holds onto would reside. One of the things that became clear to me, as a non-Mac-user, that there were sometimes multiple shortcuts for certain functions, even when the direct method was easily accessible or straightforward. Having an expert advise new users how to navigate these decisions based on extensive experience, I believe, prevented me from going in circles and figuring out what worked through trial and error.

Finally, Mike set appropriate expectations for what the one-hour workshop would cover, kept his demonstrations focused on the basics, and didn’t distract the audience with interesting or complicated features. I think a lot of experts struggle to stay focused on the mundane aspects of their field, or to avoid going off on interesting tangents that go over their audience’s heads—I know I’m guilty of this when I teach. I was also worried because I had to leave the workshop 30 mins early, when the Q&A portion would take place; however, the workshop was straightforward and well moderated in the chat, so minor clarification questions were answered along the way but other Publics Lab staff, which created space for the more advance users to ask questions during the Q&A.

This workshop made real the invitations from DH scholars we’ve read throughout the semester who are looking to democratize DH as a field and as a praxis. I feel confident I could return to my notes over the next several months to successfully import media, identify and correct volume issues, and trim the video files for tight narratives and smooth transitions.

Screenshot of the opening page of the digital map "Living Nation, Living Words - A map of first people poetry". In the background, an ancient-looking map of the first Nations. In the foreground, the Title, contained in a darker-colored box

Too good not to share!!! Joy Harjo’s Map of First People Poetry

I just saw the news on the Unladylike newsletter: Joy Harjo was appointed to the 3rd term as a U.S. Poet Laureate! She is an amazing poet from the Muscogee Nation, and the first Native American to hold the role of Poet Laureate.

A photo of US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. She is sitting against a wall and wrapping her right arm around her legs. She has long, brown hair and is wearing red lipstick. She is wearing a red shirt, blue jeans, a bracelet, and her right hand is entirely decorated with Native American tattoos.
A photo of Joy Harjo from the Poetry Foundation

I discovered her poetry this year thanks to the Bklyn Bookmatch Service of the Brooklyn Public Library – try it, librarians are awesome! – and it was a great source of comfort and wonder during these rough times.

But the reason I’m writing is because Joy Harjo just launched a beautiful DH project: Living Nations, Living Words – A Map of First Peoples Poetry, an interactive map of Native Nations poets and poems. There is also a collection of audio recordings of contemporary Native American poets reading and discussing poems. This projects connects to so many of our readings, that I couldn’t wait to share it with you all. Enjoy!

I wish you all a happy, safe Thanksgiving with your family – or your chosen family. Also, here’s a link to Joy Harjo’s poem An American Sunrise. November is National American Indian Heritage Month, so let’s celebrate it with poetry (and DH). 🙂

Reading Respone #3 – Week 12 “Pedagogy”

I cannot help but go down a dark worm hole when I hear the terms ‘post-colonial digital pedagogy’ and feel like all of our digital teaching tools are still littered with very old ideas. I was surprised to be analyzing the lyrics of a Rihanna song with this weeks course materials in the recording of the Digital Caribbean Pedagogies conference, but then again I had also just recently stumbled upon one of the world’s only recorded Sanskrit language digital library on the internet when I was researching what tools may already exist when it comes to ancient eastern philosophies, after spending thousands of dollars on yoga teacher training and never learning that something like this exists when we literally speak this ‘dead’ language every day. When I personally try to understand the origin of the digital pedagogical tools that have life already, my thoughts sadly just go to their shortcomings and then I simply just want to blame our nations past and institutional racism, ablism and and the not so feminist male to female ratio in software development, for whatever is lacking. How can we use the word ‘care’ in the digital aspect of these tools if most academic institutions do not normally afford enough support to help students develop positive tech habits as it pertains to their education, at least in the United States? This is a concern that should be addressed as early as kindergarten. How is it possible that, traditionally now these personal entertainment and communications tools are now expected to be transformed into educational devices? We are facing almost the same problem that television has in the past, just generally speaking how many of us are still tuning in to public access television for educational purposes? Of course, I am merely asking this question to a group of likely native to technology graduate students so the response would probably be a higher amount, but here’s my other question, how many of us are turning to modern social media resources like Instagram to learn new things? In the Digital Carribean Pedagogy conference, they mention that the the sharing of the self and small bits of knowledge has become so fragmented across all of these platforms, my hope is that the digital learning experience doesn’t become so fragmented in itself, but I am afraid with the upheaval from in-person to zoom sessions may contribute to just that, more fragmentation. Roopika Risam alludes to digital humanities pedagogy as an intervention to the post-colonialist just in general, and I think she is correct and Cordell reaffirms this with his eagerness to share Digital Humanities with undergrads, but his mistake in not changing the name effectively ahead of time confusingly so, made the topic uninteresting to young people. This topic is interesting to young people, it just needs to be scaffolded in the right way.

Home Page of Digital Paxton

Workshop Report: “Choosing Your Online Platform: A Crash Course in Scalar”

Early in October I attended a workshop presented by Dr. William D. Fenton, Director of Research and Public Programs at the Library Company of Philadelphia, on “Choosing Your Online Platform: A Crash Course in Scalar”.  Sponsored by the PublicsLab and the GC Digital Initiatives, the workshop was hosted by Dr. Stacy Hartman, Director of the PublicsLab. The workshop offered attendees a wealth of hard-earned lessons Dr. Fenton has accumulated over five years of designing, directing, and maintaining the Scalar-powered digital scholarship project Digital Paxton. As a digital collection, critical edition, and teaching platform built on Scalar, Digital Paxton is an immersive and aesthetically state-of-the-art experience of an 18th century pamphlet war about “a little-known massacre” in 1763 in which “a mob of settlers from Paxtang Township murdered 20 unarmed Susquehannock Indians in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.” Beyond being a case study of Scalar and offering a comparison with other platforms, the workshop unraveled critical issues and questions about the value and role of digital projects and the digital humanities. Many of the topics we have discussed in our class surfaced through Dr. Fenton’s introduction to Scalar in the context of Digital Paxton.

Evaluating the Need for a Digital Project

Dr. Fenton began the workshop with an illuminating discussion of the elements of a high level needs assessment, which consisted of questions for scholars to consider before beginning a digital project:

  1. What is the relationship of your digital project to your scholarship?
    Dr. Fenton recommended that there be at least a “symbiotic” relationship between the digital project and your scholarship.
  2. What problem does your digital project address?
    In the case of Digital Paxton, creating an online digital website offered a number of benefits including: offering access to a set of artifacts whose last edition was published in 1957 and which suffers from issues such as a restrictive price; an ambiguous distinction between pamphlets, engravings, and political cartoons; many artifacts cited, clipped, or reprinted without context; only a subset of the approximately 71 pamphlets are available via the Internet while others are available only through expensive archival services; finding artifacts is limited by cumbersome search methods that offer little to no “sense of contingency, exchange, and interplay” or of “the gaps between the interpretations” surrounding the massacre, which make up some of the principle analytical goals of the scholarship.
  3. Who is (are) your audience(s)?
    Dr. Fenton suggested that should the audience be limited to a small group, such as a group of fellow scholars or a dissertation committee, platforms such as WordPress or Manifold may offer a better fit in terms of time and effort needed to complete the work and the affordances for online feedback and discussion. In the case of Digital Paxton the audience was envisioned to include more broadly all interested scholars, educators, their students, and members of the public.
  4. How will you measure success?
    Dr. Fenton envisioned the digital project as a way to: “surface materials that give voice to the ‘backcountry’ or borderlands”; “provide researchers access to scans and transcriptions”; “foreground the latest scholarship and pedagogy”; “tell multiple stores about and through the Paxton corpus”; “integrate new materials as identified or as they become available”.  As limitations or critical watch outs, Dr. Fenton identified the problem of a distorted understanding arising from the lack of records; the risk of reproducing colonial biases, assumptions, and erasures; the inability of artifacts to present alternative imaginaries; the need to offer a plurality of perspectives, some of which recenter narratives around the nation of the “Conestoga, their resilience, and their central role in the history of colonial Pennsylvania”.
  5. How much time are you willing to invest?
    Dr. Fenton offered the aphorism digital archivists commonly attribute to digital projects: “free as in puppies not as in beer”. Digital projects absorb any and all time made available. As a result, an estimate of time required to achieve a good enough result in relation to other commitments is essential to the success of the project.
  6. When is your project complete?
    To avoid impinging on other commitments, Dr. Fenton recommended that  consideration be given to how the project might at a certain point be handed off  to an institution or be designed to run with sufficient degree of automated maintenance.
  7. Does your institution support a particular platform?
    A key consideration in the selection of a platform is the extent to which there is infrastructure support from your institution for the platform. Dr. Fenton worked with and received institutional infrastructure support from Fordham University and The Library Company of Philadelphia and sponsorship from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Comparing Platforms

Dr. Fenton offered a comparative analysis of Scalar with three other platforms: WordPress, Omeka, and Manifold. Each platform has different strengths that suit it for different goals of digital scholarship and community engagement.  All platforms are licensed under open source licenses with code repositories hosted on Github.

  1. WordPress, licensed under the GNU Public License, is a good choice in that it offers: free hosting via CUNY Commons; ease of use; great integration with plugins and themes; high customizability; and affordances for online communication. The codebase is built with PHP and Javascript and was first released in 2003.   Notable examples include: The PublicsLab, The CUNY Academic Commons, and Ghost River.
  2. Omeka, licensed under the GNU General Public License, is a good choice for curating images and collections and is popular with the GLAM community (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums). The platform is structured around objects and collections of objects with a considerable degree of customizability. The platform is sponsored by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship. The codebase is built with PHP and Javascript and was first released in 2008.  Notable examples include: The September 11 Digital Archive, Intemperance, and DIY History.
  3. Manifold, licensed under the Educational Community License version 2.0 (“ECL”) of the Apache 2.0 license, was established through the GC Digital Scholarship Lab.  It offers a state-of-the-art user experience based on rapid application development in Javascript and Ruby on Rails.  Manifold is a good choice for projects that benefit most from the transformation of a MS Word, Google Doc, or EPUB document into an online edition. Unlike Omeka and Scalar, Manifold is especially designed for online discourse and academic conversations through advanced annotation and commenting. Version v1.0.0-rc.1 of the codebase was released in March of 2018.  Notable examples include: Debates in the Digital Humanities, Metagaming, and Negro and the Nation.

Presenting Scalar

Dr. Fenton’s primary takeaway regarding Scalar is its effectiveness in the presentation of non-linear datasets and born-digital scholarship. The platform can be run as a paid hosted instance, a personally self-hosted instance, or an institutionally hosted instance. Artifacts are uploaded into a flat ontology and structured around objects and sequences of objects known as “paths”. Scalar’s data entities are modeled on the semantic web’s Resource Description Framework (RDF), which enables compatibility across  schemas. Scalar is a project of The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture with funding support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Licensed under the Educational Community License version 2.0 (“ECL”) of the Apache 2.0 license,  the codebase  was beta released in 2013. Notable examples include: A Photographic History of Oregon State University and Black Quotidian (offering a more custom coded landing page with several entry points).

Several distinguishing affordances of Scalar dovetail with the goals of Dr. Fenton’s scholarship including: the non-hierarchical structuring of navigation paths (inviting–or requiring–visitors to discover the content and meaning for themselves); path-making as narrative-making (offering visitors immersive and experiential understanding); multi-directional tagging (offering many bidirectional avenues for discovery); annotations and search options (offering full text transcriptions of the image artifacts and search capability across either titles and description or a full text search of all fields); and contexts as entry points (offering historical overviews and keyword essays as a part of the scholarly apparatus).

Scalar’s information architecture simulates the familiar table of contents metaphor. The table of contents is globally available upon entering the site from the standardized single entry point button on the landing page.  The latest version, 2.5.14, offers a rich media landing page.  For documentation, the University of Southern California hosts a user guide and an introduction built on the platform itself. 

Three limitations of the current version of the platform are: the level of web accessibility (the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool currently reports a number of errors on the homepage of Digital Paxton); and customizability is currently achieved for the most part at the code level in Javascript and CSS; the number of 3rd party integrations lags behind other platforms.

Finally, Scalar supports annotation features used by Digital Paxton to enable students in classes to submit transcripts of the text residing in images. As an example of the pedagogical expansions of the website, the challenge of transcribing hand written letters and diaries draws students into the study of palaeography.

All in all, Scalar appears to be a significant step up from other platforms for the immersive experience at scale of digital artifacts and a multiplicity of contextual narratives. Assuming that the advantages of non-hierarchical sequences match the analytical and pedagogical goals of the project, Scalar would seem to be a better choice than Omeka. In my explorations of Digital Paxton I have been drawn into the world of colonial Pennsylvania in a way that I could not imagine possible with a book, whether print or digital, or even a museum. As I explore the significance of the tragic and traumatic events of of the massacre in 1763,  I am intrigued by Dr. Fenton’s theses that the manuscripts tell a different story compared to the printed records and that the massacre by the “Paxton Boys” together with propaganda war created a “template” for the subsequent dispossession of Native Americans from their lands through the terrorism and disinformation of white land hungry settlers and their allies. I look forward to considering Scalar as a platform and to exploring, both as a model and as history, the paths, contexts, and narratives Dr. Fenton has created through this well crafted and engrossing digital space. 

Additional insights and suggestions are available from Dr. Fenton’s slide deck presented at the workshop.

A Terrifying Tale of Two Vampire Text Analyses

Last month I took a seasonal dive into vampire folklore and its appearance in literature, film, and video games, thinking about the vampire archetype as it correlates to power, illness/medicine, and of course, im/mortality. (“Seasonal” in this case meaning both Halloween and political season.) As a result of having vampires on the brain, I did a quick analysis of the different spelling variations of the word vampire that I was familiar with appear in English literature: vampyr, vampyre, and vampire, to see the trends in Google’s Ngram tool. I didn’t assume that I would have such meaningful results.

Google Ngram for Vampyr

“Vampyr” alone has a clear bump in published words beginning in the late 1830s which correlates to literature about the opera Der Vampyr, and sometimes to its source material, a stage play with Der Vampyr in the title as well from a similar period. It also increases in popularity as the overall trend in vampire content increases in the late 20th century, though after reading a bit about Der Vampyr, I wonder if there’s a correlation with this spelling, and a BBC miniseries based on the opera in the 90s. Google’s tools largely return novels with “Vampyr” in their title as the source of the trend, but if I were researching the term further I’d want to know if the authors had seen the miniseries and if that influenced their stylistic spelling choice.

The Ngram for “Vampyre” was the richest graph I pulled as the first bump in the timeline correlates with the short story by John Polidori, The Vampyre: A Tale, published in 1819. While I was familiar with the name, I was not aware of its place in (forgive me) the vampire chronicle: Wikipedia’s entry on this revealed that not only is this considered to be (Along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, later in the century) one of the first of the vampire stories as we know them today, but that it was also the source of the source material for Der Vampyr, the opera of the previous Ngram. More trivia: Polidori’s Vampyre was the “winner” in a contest between Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Polidori, and Lord Byron (who was credited with writing The Vampyre due to an attribution error for a while). Another famous work submitted to this contest was Frankenstein! Also of note from further Wikipedia diving: Byron references vampires in at least one of his poems from the 1810s as well and to be the inspiration for Polidori’s Vampyre himself, Lord Ruthven!! The literary tea from this exercise!

Google Books Ngram for "Vampire"

“Vampire” on the other hand, has a clear upward trending line that correlates with my understanding of the romantic vampire trope’s ascendance, and when compared, the standard modern English spelling eclipses the other two starting in the 80s. Without any further research I wonder if this correlates with the publication of Anne Rice’s series and also with the rise of another pandemic, or both. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to figure out how to hone into that specific decade, though in the search results Google gave me in the time range chosen by the tool, Rice was the most prevalent author. Many of the other books were anthologies, signifying enough content created by then to do so.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is another small bump in the early 20th century, which inspired me to do a quick Voyant comparison between the Dracula text and the Vampyr text, as both are available to the public. This leads me to my second terrifying text analysis, via word clouds.

Dracula Word Cloud
The Vampyr word cloud

There were not many surprises except for one: how infrequently the word “blood” appears, since one assumes hematophagy is one of the defining characteristics of the archetype, in the way that it is one of the defining characteristics of a mosquito. Given that my exposure to the vampire archetype is firmly rooted in the 20/21st century, my bias on this characteristic may be overly influenced by my exposure to the vampire of film and television, where themes of the same genre may be weighted differently due to the way the reader/viewer perceives them. All speculative, because the text analysis tools alone cannot give me direct insight into film and television trends, but directionally it is an interesting question to ask.

I was surprised to find that text analysis, using the simplest tools I found, created such a rich study of a subject by simply inquiring. I initially had overwhelmed myself with the concept of text analysis, but I was relieved to find that with a bit of tinkering, the tools invoked a natural sense of curiosity and play, leading to further analysis. (Apologies to all for my tardiness as a result!) As an unintended result of this project, I am inspired to read both of these 19th century works of the early romantic vampire canon.

CUNY Academic Works Workshop

A couple weeks ago, I attended a workshop by Jill Cirasella—Librarian at CUNY on Scholarly Communication—about CUNY Academic Works. As a follow-up with other talks and workshops on open/public access scholarship understood generally, this talk focused on CUNY’s addition to such work: CUNY Academic Works. The platform is a service of the CUNY libraries dedicated to collecting and providing access to the research, scholarship, and creative work of the CUNY; in service to CUNY’s mission as a public university, content in Academic Works is freely available to all.

In distinction from open access platforms, CUNY Academic Works is a public access service, in that it does not require an open access license—all that’s needed is rights to share your work online. CUNY Academic Works, as Jill lays out, is a great opportunity for CUNY-affiliated people to make their work publicly available, and reach wide audiences, including readers you’d have never imagined would read your work. In fact, you can see the ripple effect of your work with visualizations provided by the service.

The service provides:

  • online access to works no otherwise available
  • cost-free online access to works paywalled elsewhere
  • long-term online access to works on impermanent sites

While most of us may be familiar with the platform in that GC dissertations, theses, and capstones projects must be published on it, with CUNY Academic Works you can also upload:

  • Journal articles
  • books and book chapters working papers/reports
  • datasets
  • conference presentations
  • reviews of books, films, etc.
  • open education resources (OER)
  • and other forms of scholarly, pedagogical, or creative work

While a lot of different file types can be uploaded to CUNY Academic Works, dynamic creations can’t be uploaded. Usually, code is uploaded in such cases, and a lot of DH practitioners upload .warp files.

Jill then went into general concepts around publishing, mentioning that in most cases and with most publishers, you are allowed to post some version of your article, noting that most allow some form of self-archiving. Additionally, you can sometimes negotiate your contract, and specifying the terms under which you’d like to publish. You can also sometimes ask after you’ve published that you may want to add to the repository—CUNY Academic Works being one option. She recommended NOT doing so on commercial sites, such as ResearchGate and academic.edu, as these sites sometimes end up being sold, meaning everything disappears. Additionally, these companies actively sell user data for profit.

In regards to actually uploading to CUNY Academic Works, the process is relatively straightforward. You don’t need to create an account with CUNY, but you will need to be affiliated. Submission provides the following inputs:

  • List of places your work will be submitted and live (i.e. GC, State Island, etc.) but can indicate your affiliations later
  • Document type – Publication date
  • Agreement of ownership
  • Embargo period (i.e. a period during which it is unavailable to the public)
  • Keywords
  • Disciplines
  • Language
  • Abstract Field
    • Shouldn’t be copy-pasted; Google scholar will match the abstract to the paywalled version, and may not share the CUNY academic works version if the abstract is the same
  • Additional comments
  • Upload file
    • Can also upload additional files

Lastly, Jill gave some advice to authors when considering publishing options, which I found heartening (the following is directly from her slides):

  • Ask yourself why you write (To share ideas, advance theory, add knowledge? To build a reputation? To be cited? To get a job? To get tenure and promotion?)
  • Research any journal/publisher you’re considering. (Quality? Peer reviewing process? Copyright policy?)
  • If you have the right to share your article online, exercise that right! (Whose interests do paywalls serve?)
  • If you don’t have the right share online, request it.

DH Pedagogy Blog Post: Student Empowerment Through Experimentation

It was interesting to get a peek under the hood into crafting DH curriculum in this week’s readings. Ryan Cordell gave a very clear outline into his trial and error with his early Intro to DH course for undergraduate students. I appreciate his honesty in explaining how and why his department rejected his initial course proposal, and also in his almost confession that DH readings and theory don’t impress undergrad students. They’re unimpressed by the word “digital” because their entire lives are already lived online; although we learn in Risam’s ‘Postcolonial Digital Pedagogy’ that the term “digital native” used to describe students today is complicated. In fact, Risam introduces us to the idea that the fallacy of this is “the assumption that the increased consumption of digital media and technologies produces a deeper understanding of them.” No teacher can assume that all of their students are coming in with the exact same skillset at the start of a semester. Just as those students shouldn’t assume that they have more advanced tech skills than their teacher. Cordell reveals how much he learned from his students’ projects over the course of a semester, and suggests colleagues should follow his same pedagogical approach.

I found a few parallels between the Cordell and Risam pieces. One of these is the attitude they share that DH pedagogy shouldn’t teach specific tech skills to students, but to let students access the skills that they would need by working with an assortment of tools. Risam created the metaphor of the student as a carpenter, building their own knowledge structures from the ground up. Giving them a huge advantage to be able to identify gaps. I found it inspiring that students should be encouraged to create and explore, emphasizing the role of production over consumption. Cordell explains similar thoughts, and argues that that’s the best way to overhaul DH pedagogy.

I agree with the recommendation from both writers to have students experiment through access to many different tech skills. And I appreciated that we were given this same freedom in our Intro to DH course. Just like in the way we were encouraged to approach our praxis assignments for this course, it’s recommended that DH pedagogy should start small by having students working with a focused group of tools initially, experimenting across different modalities, gradually building their toolbox within their own universe. Both writers also agree that student-produced projects are more valuable at showing DH skills learned during the course rather than a final essay, allowing students to better showcase their engagement with the material through interaction. Risam describes how power dynamics in the classroom should shift in this way, rather than having students just learning for the sake of regurgitation at the end which I think is very empowering for the students.

One final theme mentioned in the readings that mirrors our course is teaching students to have a healthy attitude towards failure. When working on both our mapping and text praxis projects we talked about scope creep and how our expectations changed as we worked with the tools. We didn’t always succeed, and it’s OK that this happens. Risam brings this up by looking at the relationship between “blue sky thinking” versus “practicality of implementation”. Like most things in life, things rarely work out the way we intended them to. Teaching students to navigate roadblocks while pursuing the end goal is invaluable to their long term education and overall success. Being able to experiment and make our own way with these DH tools that are (mostly) new to us, is the best way to learn how, why, and when to stir things up and create our own digital spaces. I didn’t have the space here to delve into all of this week’s readings, but I found them insightful and I think educators across all fields can benefit from the recommendations from these pieces.

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.

Finding Home & Care in the PR Syllabus

Engaging with the PR Syllabus site made me quite emotional, a reaction I didn’t expect. As a young adult, nothing remotely similar existed. I spent hours upon hours digging through search engines, Wikipedia pages, and deciphering the credibility of suspicious sites and articles, in order to slowly and arduously piece together a lineage and history that was slowly forgotten and intentionally erased (via colonization and forced migration). But even after all of those years of self-study, my understanding of Puerto Rican history was still flawed and inconsistent.  The one Puerto Rican Studies class I took as an undergraduate was wildly disappointing. Even then, knowing as little as I did, I knew this class lacked historical context and nuance, and lazily reinforced cultural stereotypes. But I didn’t have the language to express these concerns, nor did I know how to advocate for a syllabus created with intention and care.

Marta Effinger-Crichlow’s notion of home resonated deeply here. My need to excavate this history essentially stemmed from a desire to “encounter belonging and care”—a desire to remember and in turn “remain rooted in the diaspora”.  When I felt ready, I found myself teaching back this history to my mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles—all island born Puerto Ricans. I was deeply invested in our collective “knowing”. But Crichlow prompted me think about how much easier and quite beautiful it could have been to find home in a digital space like the PR Syllabus. How might this have enriched or shifted the trajectory of my family’s lives? How much more involved, actionable, and collaborative could I have been if I had access to something as simple as the PR Syllabus’ list of activist organizations and citizen initiatives?

I am so grateful for the folks who have co-created this immense, but necessary living project.  It is definitely creates opportunities for both physical and digital manifestations of home.