Digital Humanities Concepts

The conceptual bases of digital research in the Arts and Humanities including emerging new fields in digital culture (theories and methodologies), under the direction of Dr Orla Murphy at University College Cork for 2018/19

Professor Jerome McGann – Truth and Method; or Humanities Scholarship as a Science of Exceptions



“How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine”

“literary studies teaches literacies across a range of media forms, including print and digital, and focuses on interpretation and analysis of patterns, meaning and context through close, hyper and machine reading practices.” (78)

Katherine Hayles seminar article “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine” (2010) is perceptive, entertaining and a pleasurable read. I have been exploring recently as part of my research on the effect of mobile technologies on primary school children through the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ (GUI) survey of pupils aged between nine to thirteen years. This survey suggests that the use of mobile technologies has a direct correlation with the decrease in reading and mathematics scores. It compares those pupils that owned a mobile phone with does that did not, and there was a noticeable decrease in those subject areas mentioned by pupils that owned a mobile phone, confirmed by a report by Dempsey et al. in 2018. I would describe myself as a ‘digital native’ as the first computers were in production when I was in primary school education, but I would not consider myself to be a reader. I never read for enjoyment only for information. I challenged myself in 2017 to do a Higher Diploma in English as I hoped this might help me to read. It did not. Instead of reading I watched movies, listened to audiobooks or just went to websites that reviewed or summarised the books I was asked to study. If I did not take this digital approach to learn, there was no way I would have been as successful. I do have a disability which affects the way I retain and recall information and how I disseminate it to a broader audience.

Hayles queries in her article how long the skill of close reading will last due to the ever-increasing prevalence of digital media e-literature and publications. Hayles states that “digital reading will at best be seen as peripheral to our concerns, pushed to the margins as not “really” reading or at least not compelling or interesting reading” but she also goes onto say,  that the younger generations, including myself, are going in the “digital direction” (65). When I ‘close read’ I tend to use a digital tool called “Liquid Text’, this allowed me to pick out pieces of text using my finger on a touchscreen, and group them by character or themes within the text and so on. I find this virtually impossible by printed versions especially if a university library owns it.

Katherine also sees hyper reading done by computers which are guiding humans, and that “hyperreading differs significantly from typical print reading, and more­over that hyperreading stimulates different brain functions than print reading.” (66)

Machine reading is the opposite, it looks for patterns and is lacking any interpretation or meaning, which can lead to mistakes; “Machine reading ranges from algorithms for word-frequency counts to more sophisticated programs that find and compare phrases, identify topic clusters, and are capable of learning”. In a literary nutshell, she is concern that the increase in reading by digital means, is similarly assisting the decrease of literary reading and close reading ‘skills’. I can disagree with this, as I think my close reading skills have improved because of the digital age and I am sure I am not alone. Saying that I do believe that learning to read from traditional methods in early childhood learning is vital for cognitive growth of our brains.

Our society is in the digital age and needs to have a more collaborative approach. Perhaps coalescing close, hyper and machine reading techniques, across the generations, together we may find a solution. Hayles provides some thought-provoking scientific strategies along with literary ones. But our approach to the evolution of literary scholarship within the digital age is to consider why people read, how they read and what they read. Now that time is precious in a fast moving society we need to provide concise and meaningful close reading skills to invoke gratification and empowerment and to avoid skimming. Well, that’s what I like to read, everyone is different.


Dempsey, Seraphim, et al. ‘Later Is Better: Mobile Phone Ownership and Child Academic Development, Evidence from a Longitudinal Study’. Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Dec. 2018, pp. 1–18. Crossref, doi:10.1080/10438599.2018.1559786.

Hayles, K. “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.” Association of Departments of English Bulletin 150 2010, pp. 62-79. Print.

“Katherine Hayles interviewed by Stacey Cochran for Raleigh Television Network program The Artist’s Craft.” YouTube, March 28th 2009. Accessed;1st Nov. 2018.



DH Communities; Female, Race, Queer ..or..Gender, Race and Societal Classes?

As Moya Z. Bailey stated in 2011 the “…conversations in digital humanities shift. The move “from margin to center” offers the opportunity to engage new sets of theoretical questions that expose implicit assumptions about what and who counts in digital humanities as well as exposes structural limitations that are the inevitable result of an unexamined identity politics of whiteness, masculinity, and able-bodiness.” She quotes from the feminist Bell Hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins) book From Margin to Center which informs us that we must consider race and class when we discuss gender.

Miriam Posner; What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities

Miriam Posner (link above) wants us to have shared needs and activities that we all work on together within the Digital Humanities (DH), and where success for any one of us is dependent on the success of the community. Posner categorises the ‘underrepresented communities’ in DH as race, female and queer. Posner seems to me to then be marginalising the DH community as she is not all-encompassing society…… all classes, all races and all genders.

She outlines to us;

”I’d like us to start understanding markers like gender and race not as givens but as constructions that are actively created from time to time and place to place. In other words, I want us to stop acting as though the data models for identity are containers to be filled in order to produce meaning and understand that these structures themselves constitute data. That’s where the work of DH should begin….…….It’s just that the stuff that seems to get the heard a lot of calls lately — and I think rightly — for increased attention to race and gender in digital humanities most attention, not just from the scholarly community, but from mainstream news outlets, seems not to deal overmuch with women, queer people, and people of colour”. Can this not be said of almost everything in academia and society?

Posner states what we need to be doing;

‘ It’s not only about shifting the focus of projects so that they feature marginalized communities more prominently; it’s about ripping apart and rebuilding the machinery of the archive and database so that it doesn’t reproduce the logic that got us here in the first place.’

And she ends on;

DH needs scholarly expertise in critical race theory, feminist and queer theory, and other interrogations of structures of power to develop models of the world that have any relevance to people’s lived experience. Truly, it’s the most complicated, challenging computing problem I can imagine, and DH hasn’t even begun yet to take it on.”

I liked her blog as I like people who ask difficult questions even if they do not have the answer themselves. I liked the idea of an “imaginary document” that may help in prosecutions of abusers after they have died, as the victim would not have any sense of closure, this could at least facilitate it. See Michelle Caswell and Anne Gilliland article below.

False promise and new hope: dead perpetrators, imagined documents and emergent archival evidence

Posner also discusses Laura Mulvey’s short film Riddles of the Sphinx, which is nothing new really. The Holocaust survivor’s documentary Condemned to Remember shows us the power of a lived experience, but I understand this is some years later. Saying that I do think that it would add a different sense of culture to a place, community, town or city if we had recorded video and soundscapes of the area in which a particular race/people lived. It is not economically possible for most of us to experience every part of our world, that does not mean that we would not like to see or hear it.

Managing Your Digital Footprint (Mindmap link)

Managing Your Digital Footprint 2018 Managing Your Digital Footprint Managing Your Digital Footprint

Open Access/Open Data


Open Access (OA) can be defined as; “…free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution and the only role for copyright in this domain should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited” (OpenAccessIreland)

The fundamentals of the ’Open Movement’ is that you should have the ability to manage your own digital footprint content, independent of copyright laws. Creative Commons (CC) allows you to assign your own copyright through licensing under your own conditions. Copyright laws are not in pace with current technologies so there is an obvious disconnect between the two.

OA Global Market

The global open access market is approaching $500 million in size but accounts for only 5% of the journals market. The proportion of immediate open access content is substantially higher, at almost 17% of global articles in 2014. The wide discrepancy between open access’s share of revenues and articles reflects both the use of non-market-based mechanisms to deliver open access content, and the lower cost of open access publication.

OA and the Humanities

Open Access is a way for researchers to disseminate their work online to anyone who needs access but the cost of subscribing to journals is expensive and on the rise. This has had a damaging effect on the quality of research in the humanities as well as other disciplines. Pioneering initiatives such as SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) as stated on their website;

“focuses on collaborating with other stakeholders—including authors, publishers, libraries, students, funders, policymakers and the public—to build on the opportunities created by the Internet, promoting changes to both infrastructure and culture needed to make open the default for research and education.”

SPARC Europe’s strategic goals include;

  1.  Influence Europe’s Open Science and Scholarship decision-makers and scholars
    Targeting additional stakeholders such as funders, research assessment bodies as well as deans and research management; building on the work of champions; bringing European good practice on open science policy to policymakers, and supporting young researchers
  2. Support and strengthen the Open Scholarship (OS) support community in Europe
    Highlighting and addressing gaps and overlaps in the European OS offering; facilitating how to better sustain OS services in the future
  3. Provide advocacy, guidance, tools and services in support of the implementation and monitoring of open policies
    Building the SPARC Europe champions programme (Open Data and OER) and providing tools and outputs to support research leaders/managers and funders towards more openness
  4. Carry out European information-gathering and dissemination, including the sharing of good practice and European experience
    Conducting short landscapes studies or case studies; showcasing strong OS work and facilitating the dissemination of more European news on OS.

They conducted a report in 2017 A snapshot of Open Data and Open Science Policies in Europe, including Ireland;

IRELAND; There is no mandatory policy as yet at government or research council level. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is the sole Irish funder requiring data deposit from projects which they fund. “All significant datasets produced during the research project must be submitted to the EPA at the end of the project for archiving in the EPA Research Data Archive (SAFER) (p.7) In a distant but still noteworthy initiative, the Irish government’s Government Reform Unit has recently published its “Open Data Strategy 2017 – 2022” which notes an intention to “Explore the possibility to broaden the initiative to include Open Research Data, in line with the requirements of the Horizon 2020 research programmes, and with emerging policy in Irish research funding bodies. Where research is publicly-funded, make the research findings available in Open Data formats.” This work is disappointingly projected to commence in 2021.

The Irish government’s Open Data Strategy 2017 – 2022 framework is working under a  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.  Open Data Strategy 2017 – 2022

Opening Irelands data held by the government will certainly create more research opportunities.  In terms of Irelands Open Access environment, Open Access Ireland objectives are laid out as;

  1. To inform the research community and the public about open access
  2. To ensure all researchers in the country are able to make their work openly accessible, through at least one open access repository;
  1. To support the evolution of a state-of-the-art and all-inclusive national open access infrastructure.


One area I am interested in is monographs in the Arts and Humanities disciplines, and how they fit into the developing world of ‘Open Access’ and the digital world. As academic journals are overtaking monographs in the digital sphere and are becoming less valued there is a real issue that they might be obsolete in the future. Some publishers are now producing a platform to have an e-monograph so that their accessibility becomes more available to scholars and researchers. The Humanities and social Sciences rely on the scholarly monograph as a form of publication and the authors need to build on their academic reputation.

As Bargheer stated in 2017 “Commercial publishers already active in Open Access, and implementing it for certain projects, should also play a role in the development of the digital potential of the monograph. Within an appropriate funding policy, these publishers could accompany Digital Humanities projects according to the needs of the scholarly community and the public to develop access and business models to exploit the potential of the digital work and meeting all four functions to realise the full digitality of the monograph.”

All those involved in the Irish research system, including publishers, editors, referees, librarians, funders and researchers should be made aware of standards of professional conduct for Open Access publishing, for example on licensing, editorial process, soliciting submissions, disclosing ownership, the handling of publication fees and the benefits of Open Access publishing.


Bargheer, M.; Dogan, Z.M.; Horstmann, W.; Mertens, M.; Rapp, A. Unlocking the digital potential of scholarly monographs in 21st-century research. Liber Q.2017, 27, pp.194–211.


Open Access Ireland;

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and the Open Access movement 


‘took too many books out of the library’!!

‘Open Access’ for Aaron Swartz was not just a fundamental principle, it was a human right and a moral obligation. Aaron was an internet activist, writer, software developer and computer programmer based in the USA. The Internet’s Own Boy tells the story of Aaron’s fight for social justice and political organizing against the National Security Advisory (NSA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The case against Swartz all stemmed from him downloading 4.8 million academic journals and articles from JSTOR’s website using the MIT servers which then United States Attorney’s Office subpoenaed him on the evidence provided. He was arrested in January 2011, and in July of the same year, he was charged to be trialled by a Federal Jury. His charges can be found below:

United States of America v Aaron Swartz

This would lead Swartz into a legal nightmare for two years.

Swartz started very young, and he left a long-lasting legacy considering his short life is quite remarkable;

At fourteen years, he facilitated the development of the RSS software which enables the syndication of information over the Internet.

At fifteen years, he did collaborative work with Lawrence Lessig, a theorist of Internet law, and they wrote the coding for Creative Commons (CC), which allowed society to share their work more freely. CC released copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public.

At nineteen years, he was a software developer at Reddit (open source site), rewriting the code from Lisp to Python (link below), 80% was achieved in one weekend!

Reddit was sold, and Aaron became a political activist.

Brian Knappenberger (a documentary filmmaker) also well known for WE ARE LEGION: The Story of the Hacktivists, a look inside the culture and history of the global movement known as Anonymous. This group was responsible for several ‘Hacks’ into many government agencies across our planet. So, it is no surprise a documentary Director of Knappenberger’s quality and experience took on this type of film. As a documentary it asks many troubling questions, the main one being; why was the government going after a twenty-six-year-old online activist that just had a passion for ‘Open Access’ of information across the digital world? Was he just a Hacker? This term is too broad, and the intentions of the Hacker can be very different from one to another. Some do good, some just cause mayhem and then there are those that wish to get nothing else but financial gain. Perhaps he was being punished for ‘taking too many books out of the library’! He certainly sparked debates on topics such as net neutrality, online privacy, and digital piracy.


What were the government trying to deter? We will never find out as the trial never occurred as Aaron committed suicide before we could hear the what the State was basing its case for prosecution and to why they were charging Swartz with thirteen Federal crimes along with a $1 million dollar in fine. As the movie portrays he has been used as an example and a deterrent. Knappenberger as a blinkered view but this only because the government officials refused to be interviewed. The digital landscape at that time was like the world was ‘on fire’. There were several high-profile cases broadcast across the world, to name a few such as Wikileaks, Afghan War Diary leaks, and PayPal 14. Swartz now faced at least thirty-five years in prison. Unfortunately, the stresses of this whole debacle he found himself in forced him to take his own life. It could all have been handled by JSTOR and MIT in the first place but again why was it not? It is no surprise when watching this documentary, you feel anger, frustration, and sadness. All the same, there are some more light-hearted moments; when he was a young teenager at a conference he could not see over the podium;

Swartz’s wrongdoings apparently warranted scrutiny from the Justice Department is the primary focus of the film. Knappenberger’s film forms an unswerving argument that the case against Swartz was more about deterrence than the consequences. Logan Hill of Rolling Stone states that “Swartz has become a heroic, martyr-like figure in the fight to democratize digital access to information” and he goes on to say, “it’s the family’s participation that gives this cerebral documentary a different sort of intimacy” (Hill).

Bob Swartz (Aaron’s father) voiced one of the corollaries of the film (the ruthless vigour against Aaron by the Federal prosecution) , at his son’s funeral “Aaron did not commit suicide but was killed by the government,” he said, making headlines worldwide, adding, “We tried and tried to get MIT to help and show compassion…[but] their institutional concerns were more important. (Nanos)

Aaron’s Law Act of 2013 (H.R. 2454 113th) might have started something to stop this tragic story repeating itself but it literally just died away. The Obama administration in 2013 petitioned the will of its people for an open, fair, and free Internet. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in favour of a ‘robust, innovative and open Web’ in 2014. The Trump administration voted to repeal the net neutrality rules in 2017 as “they crimped investment, stalling major upgrades to high-speed internet and other innovations.”(

Net neutrality discusses the regulations that compel Internet Service Providers (ISP) to offer the same connection speeds no matter what category of content the user is accessing. If companies are not forced to do this, they could introduce restrictions on how we surf the web. It is imperative we have a fair system across the globe to ensure fairness. Instead of the high-speed internet being widely available it is set to become far more fragmented, and even beyond that significantly less ‘open’.



Hill, Logan. The Extraordinary Aaron Swartz: Sundance Sees ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’, Rolling Stone, Web accessed on 25/10/18.

H.R. 2454 (113th): Aaron’s Law Act of 2013, Web accessed on 25/10/18.

Nanos, Janelle. Bob Swartz: Losing Aaron, Boston Magazine, Web accessed on 25/10/18.

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