Melissa and I would like to thank all the participants for a wonderful and successful THATCamp! We wish you a wonderful summer. Hopefully we’ll do this again!
From Edward Lee Lamoureux
I used information from several sessions to create a blog and a first blog post. I hope to keep this blog going so I can continue to learn about the digital world.
I am still playing with some themes and ways to use WordPress so this is a very early version of what I hope the blog becomes!
In 2014, I wrote an article for the SIUE student newspaper, the Alestle, which discussed the name origins of buildings on the SIUE campus. Unfortunately, that article never had a good way to visualize the way I wrote it. It turned into lengthy paragraphs that I was never happy with.
Having seen Dr. Hildebrandt’s presentation on mapping, I created a custom Google Map of all the major buildings on campus, with years for when they were built and a short biography for each building’s namesake.
Having created it in a day with writing two years old, I am happy with the result, though there are limitations to this product. It borders on historical antiquarianism with no explicit argument. Only people familiar with SIUE will likely care. Still, it could be used to form a larger narrative on the design of college campuses, as well as examining who buildings are named after. For example, more recently SIUE buildings are more likely to either have no “person” name or to be named after a alumni donor. There were also a number of building and location renamings in the 1990s, which is worth further examination.
Since this afternoon, I have been considering possible uses for interactive text games in the digital humanities. Since they usually involve exploration, I thought that it might be a good way to make a historical tour guide. I created a very simple guide to an imaginary town as a test of this concept. My proof-of-concept model uses only three rooms and one object, but any number of locations could be added and described using images, videos, and text could be added to describe places along the tour. Individual parts of each location could be described in equally great detail by making them into objects within the rooms.
The Medieval Churches of Norwich project was an inspiration for this idea: https://norwichmedievalchurches.org/
The test model is here:
Only one person came to my session, but we still came up with the outline of an idea that could be revolutionary. I’ve been kicking around the idea of journalism as campaign for a couple of years and never publishing much because it’s not a well-defined concept yet. The gist is that the role of journalists is to cut through glut more so than it is to gather information and serve it up to people in some kind of farm-to-table model. That’s the old way. It struck me in hearing about omeka and in hearing about map building that the Digital Humanities is about both gathering hard-to-find information and cutting through the glut. You go find hard-to-find items. You find more of them than you need. You store them in the “basement” or some cool Indiana Jones-ish warehouse and then you put together exhibits of the best of the best or the most appropriate of the best based on whatever the exhibition is about.
So journalism (and filtering kid-oriented videos on YouTube) could do the same thing. Find too much of a good thing but certainly not all that is out there and then curate (journalists are falling in love with this term as if it were a new idea) the crap out if (heh, literally).
So that leaves the question of “How?” and that’s what our little twosome came up with during my maker session yesterday. What about match.com or lumelle (which I just Googled 15 minutes ago, tbh)? What if you filtered your “crew” first and then made a campaign out of your search for good stuff. Made the search a combination gathering and filtering effort with the goal of building a “filter pool” or something that sounds less “above-ground-ey.” And then from this pool of vetted resources gathered in a crowd-sourced or maybe even gamified way (this really smacks of MMORPG with little questing groups, right?), you’d get what you need based on some well-established parameters agreed upon when you start that can be changed but not easily.
So, what you’ve got is a platform for campaigns that can focus more on culling through huge amounts of readily-available stuff or that can focus on gathering really rare things – indigenous language oral histories, for example. And either way you get this pool you can use to make exhibits or news stories or playlists or whatever.
It’s social filtering, shared sourcing, and at human discretion. Algorithms are often biased based on the culture of the people writing them. They privilege popularity over quality. They can’t find what’s not already online and properly tagged or linked. All they can tell you is what everyone else is looking at and what the people you already interact with a lot are doing and saying.
Social filtering, human filtering is a tool that needs creation and refinement and the image shared above is a good pitch to get funding to make this kind of platform-tool.
Inspired by Dr. Kristine Hildebrandt’s Mapmaking facilitation, I begin to investigate what philosopher and literary critic Katherine McKittrick calls “Demonic Ground,” the negative space that exists within a marked geography (xxiv). The concept is rooted within the work of Sylvia Wynter, whose essay, “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings,” introduced the construct to analyze the invisible nature of Caliban’s wife within William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. (She is mentioned within the dialogue of the play, but she never appears herself as an actor.) Another way to understand “Demonic Ground” is as a study of the “unvisible” (McKittrick 19), a person, place, construct, or object that one is made aware of, but then by some societal/internal psychological mechanism, that person/place/construct/object is forgotten, as if to never have existed. For our purposes here, the unvisible is the construct of the sundown town.
I first learned about sundown towns whenever I was a Freshman in high school. No teacher ever taught me about them (or any of my classmates for that matter). Instead, I learned it from a classmate, who one day in World History class, and asked me, “Hey, Matt, did you know that Granite City used to be a sundown town? My dad told me that a siren would go off around 6 o’clock, and if any black people didn’t leave, they would be beaten.” In retrospect, this conversation seems incredibly random, but its very likely that I would not have learned about the construct until 2015- mind you, that is 3 years after I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree and 7 years since I graduated high school, when my girlfriend was telling me about a conversation she had with a professor at SIUE, Dr. Anushiya Ramaswamy. Considering both Granite City, where I grew up, and Glen Carbon, a close neighbor to SIUE, both were sundown towns, perhaps this should not be surprising. Personally testimony, of course, can count as weak evidence, but in the act of speaking about this apparent unvisible nature of sundown towns, perhaps I can generate a larger collective of voices to assert my claim.
Sundown towns, according to James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and the research head for an online database I used for my map, can be understood as any place that kept Blacks, Mexicans, Asian Americans, or Jews out from their city through means of “restrictive covenants throughout the town, violence or threats of same, bad behavior by white individuals, an ordinance, realtor steering, bank redlining, or other formal or informal policies.” When constructing my map, I focused upon the larger picture sundown towns occupy within the geography/demonic grounds of Illinois and did not focus on the individual groups who were discriminated against. That is a project for someone else to take up, or for me to undertake another day.
Some basic statistics: using information from the Illinois 2007 census, there are 1,299 municipal governments (cities, villages, and towns) and 102 county governments within the state. Using information Loewen collected and filtered through my map, there are 121 confirmed sundown towns and an additional 198 unconfirmed sundown towns, as well as 1 confirmed sundown county and 6 unconfirmed sundown counties. (Note: what I label as “confirmed” is what Loewen labels as “surely” and what I refer to as “unconfirmed” consists of what Loewen refers to as “possible” and “probable.”) From this information we can conclude the following:
Of the 1,299 municipal governments that existed at the time of the 2007 census, appromixately 9.3% of the entire state consists of confirmed sundown towns, approximately 15.4% makes up the number of unconfirmed sundown towns, and if we are to add both numbers together to garner a possible maximum percentage of historically sundown towns within Illinois, that percentage is approximately 25%. (I used 2007 data only because I had trouble locating what I was wanting in the more recent data- if someone could point me to more updated versions of the statistics I need, that’d be grand.) While individually these percentages make a case as to why the concept of sundown towns is not necessarily within Illinoisan’s vocabulary, the possibility that there could be 1/4 of Illinois’s total cities that have a history of being sundown towns is a startling realization. Furthermore, the data set Loewen has is incomplete, so there is a possibility that these percentages could be even larger.
Some other observations from the map: in regards to confirmed sundown towns, they appear to be spread largely around the southern borders with Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana. From a zoomed out position, they appear to dominate these portions of the map, though of course, there are plenty of towns within these regions that are not recorded as being sundown towns at all. The unconfirmed sundown towns overlap with some of these regions, but it largely spreads upward towards the Northeast, around the Chicago area. This leaves the Northwestern portion of Illinois relatively untouched. This could simply be because missing data or it is possible that the minority groups these sundown towns discriminated against never migrated that far North.
One more observation: many of the places listed as sundown towns, confirmed and unconfirmed, also include some of the largest cities from Illinois, including 2 confirmed cities that are Chicago suburbs. There are also enough unconfirmed city-suburbs that counting them all is a chore in itself- a task for another day perhaps? For Madison County, the county SIUE is located within, East Alton, Granite City, and Glen Carbon are all confirmed sundown towns. Worden, Wood River, Madison, Maryville, Roxana, St. Jacob, and Highland all are unconfirmed sundown towns. Excluding incorporated territories, this means that at the perceived most, 10/26 municipal governments (using data from the county’s website) or 38.6%, of the municipal governments within Madison have a history of being sundown towns. Within this ratio, 4/9ths, or approximately 44.4%, are classified as cities within the county (meaning they have at least 2,500 people living within them [United States Census Bureau]) and 6/17, or approximately 35.3%, of the villages within this county may have this history.
Some questions worth pondering: how does the ratio of confirmed/unconfirmed number of sundown towns within Illinois compare to other states? How many of the towns which Loewen does not have data for also are historical sundown towns, if any? How does the history of these sundown towns reflect within the regional politics? Is there a political reason as to why certain unconfirmed cities are not confirmed as sundown towns? Is there any correlation between municipal governments that are confirmed historical sundown towns/suspected historical sundown towns and educational programs that include content regarding sundown towns within their curriculum? How does population size affect these ratios further?
Works Cited (Unnecessary for an Unconference, I suppose, but still useful):
Loewen, James W. “How to Confirm Sundown Towns.” Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016.
—. “Possible Sundown Towns in Illinois.” Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016.
McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.
United States Census Bureau. “Illinois County Governments.” Census.Gov. 2007. Web. 11 June 2016.
Wynter, Sylvia. “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings: Un/silencing the ‘Demonic Grounds’ of Caliban’s ‘Woman.’” 1990. The Black Feminist Reader. Eds. Joy James and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. 109-127. Print.
Madison County Assessment Office. Illinois Madison County.Gov. 2015. Web. 11 June 2016.
Digital East St. Louis Project
-Dr. Jess DeSpain
East St. Louis
-Population decreased 82,3666 in 1950 to 27,066 in 2010.
-Source of Project Funding: National Science Foundation ITEST
Purpose of Digital East St. Louis Project is to attract East St. Louis natives, who largely constitute under-represented groups, into STEM
-Develop + test an urban place-based learning model
-Cohort of grade 6-9 participants progress through 4-week summer camps and Saturday sessions during the school year over a three-year period
-5-6 Instructors help develop + deliver content in the hopes they will take what they learn into their classrooms
Urban Place-based Education
Participants ask questions, solve real-world problems, and use field work to gather information in a local urban setting
Impacting Local Communities
- Pairing “IRL” experiences with digital methods
- Begin projects with a goal of listening + learning from participant experiences
- Gauging participant technology use + needs
- Forms of reciprocity when facing a lack of basic human needs
Middle School: age where STEM based interests often fade away, also age where web-building commonly involves playing around with text in ways that might hurt the eyes of an adult, but for the student, it is the coolest thing ever. They play with WordPress sites before working on main project.
If could start it over, prefer to work with smaller cohorts (15 at a time beginning in the summer)
Project should last 4 Years- ideally each student will be transferred into upward bound (upward bound=college readiness program for high schoolers), 3rd year = more options, e.g. graphic novels/game design, Intrinsic based: extrinsic learning does not equal long term learning.
Biggest tension: how much control over website is given to students vs. providing a usable database
Best way to encourage extrinsic motivation: choice + presence of friends
Problems with Project: because basic human needs are not always met in East St. Louis, it has been hard to get people involved
Better luck getting people to show up by texting students instead of parents
Description of Session: Explore legacy text adventures, look at free TA development software, and collaborate on an example text adventure
We worked through the website textadventures.co.uk to play legacy text adventures, most popularly Zork I so we could develop an understanding of how interactive fiction works. Most TA begin with the player (you) being dropped into a world where the rules are not always apparent and you build an understanding of the rules and the world through your interactions with it. After we got a basic understanding of text adventures from a user’s perspective, we talked briefly about how the interactivity and the users complicity were important in the immersive experience and how this might relate to narrative history or creative writing. Then, we took a look at Quest, a free interactive fiction development tool that allows novices to publish text adventures. We worked with Quest to create a THATCamp text adventure, creating the rooms, items within the rooms, and exploring how we use conditional constructs (if/else/else if) to interact with the rooms, objects, and players.