Teaching East Asian DH: Overview

In Spring 2018, I taught the grad/undergrad seminar “East Asian Digital Humanities” via Penn’s East Asian Languages & Civilizations (EALC) department, listed as an elective for the undergrad DH minor at the SAS Price Lab. This course focused on digital humanities (DH) research and projects in an East Asian context. It was taught in English to make the course accessible across East Asian studies, which includes at least three languages and geographic regions, but required intermediate to advanced knowledge of at least one East Asian language. Because all of the students came from humanities departments (6 from History and 3 from EALC) they were well versed in East Asian studies but completely new to digital methods and strategies for humanities research.

Continue reading Teaching East Asian DH: Overview

World-building and retelling and digital literary studies

I’ve been thinking, ever since listening to Alicia Peaker‘s amazing WORD LAB presentation about studying environmental words in fiction, about the creative writing process and DH. Specifically: the kind of surface reading that constitutes a lot of digital literary studies, and the lack of attention to things that we writers would foreground as very important to our fiction and what’s behind it, and the story we are trying to tell.

I see a lot of work about plot, about identifying percentage of dialogue spoken by gender (or just character count/number of appearances by gender), about sentiment words. In other words, an inordinate amount of attention paid to the language that addresses humans and their feelings and actions within a story, most often within a corpus of novels.

However. As I write, and as I listen to other professional or amateur writers (of which I am in the latter group) talk about writing, what comes up very often is world building. And I just read an article about the question of retelling existing stories. Other than Donald Sturgeon’s and Scott Enderle’s recent work on text reuse (in the premodern Chinese (and see paywalled article too) and Star Wars fanfic contexts respectively), I don’t see much addressing the latter, which is hugely important. Most writing, maybe all writing, does not come from scratch, sui generis out of a writer’s mind. (That’s not to even get into issues of all the rest of the people involved in both published fiction and fanfic communities, if we’re going to talk about Scott’s work for example.) We’re missing the community that surrounds writing and publishing (and fanfic is published online, even if not in a traditional model), and reception, of course. And that’s probably not a criticism that originates with me.

When it comes to the structure of fiction, though, I think we’re alarmingly not paying attention to some of the most important elements for writers, and thus what constitutes what they write. Putting authorial intent aside — for example, trying to understand what is “behind” a novel — this is also on the surface of the novel in that the world is what makes up the environment in which the story is told. Anyone could tell you that interactions with the environment, and the shape of the environment as the infrastructure of what can happen within it, are just as fundamental to a work of fiction as the ostensible “plot” and “characters.” (And, to bring up another element of good writing, there’s the question of whether you can even separate them: these two books on character arcs and crafting emotional fiction come to mind as examples of how writers are told not to consider these things even remotely in isolation.)

And then there is the question of where stories come from in the first place. I’m not just talking about straight-up adaptation, although that’s a project I’d love to somehow make work between Meiji Japanese-language fiction and 19th-century English or French novels, that we may not realize are connected even now. (Many Meiji works are either what we’d now call “plagiarism” of foreign novels, or adaptations that are subtle enough that something like Ozaki Kōyō’s Konjiki yasha was not “discovered” to have been an adaptation until very recently.) How do we understand how writers generate their stories? Where are they taking the elements from that are important to them, that influence them, that they want to retell in some manner? Are there projects I’m not aware of (aside from the two I mentioned) that are going deep not into just straight-up obvious word or phrasing reuse, but … well, structure, device, or element adaptation and reuse?

These absolutely fundamental elements of fiction writing are not, I think, something that’s been ignored in traditional literary criticism (see, for example, the term “intertextuality”) but I don’t feel like they’ve made it into digital literary projects, at least not the most well-known and -discussed projects. But if I am wrong, and there are projects on world building, environmental elements, or intertextuality that I am missing, please let me know in the comments or via email (sendmailto@ this website) so I can check them out!

Higuchi Ichiyō and Bungakukai

File this one under “research notes,” by which I mean things I think about a lot but about which I don’t have the wherewithal to write an article or conference paper. Sorry.

We know Higuchi Ichiyō 樋口一葉 now as a tragic figure, and a famous one. She appears on the 5000-yen ($50) bill in Japan and is widely read in classrooms, if perhaps not for fun due to her difficult writing style. Appearing on the money in the twenty-first century is not too shabby for a young author who died at 24 in 1896, just as her star was rising in the Tokyo literary world.

5000-yen bill

Continue reading Higuchi Ichiyō and Bungakukai

Rethinking Adaptation in Meiji Japan

I recently read J. Scott Miller’s Adaptations of Western Literature in Meiji Japan (New York: Palgrave, 2001) and am full of Thoughts on Meiji writers, literature, zeitgeist, continuity, and adaptation. Let me express some of them here.

Continue reading Rethinking Adaptation in Meiji Japan

Convert docs with OS X terminal

I’m teaching a workshop on Japanese text mining this week and am getting all kinds of interesting practical questions that I don’t know the answer to. Today, I was asked if it’s possible to batch convert .docx files to .txt in Windows.

I don’t know Windows, but I do know Mac OS, so I discovered that one can use textutil in the terminal to do this. Just run this line to convert .docx -> .txt:

textutil -convert txt /path/to/DOCX/files/*.docx

You can convert to a bunch of different formats, including txt, html, rtf, rtfd, doc, docx, wordml, odt, or webarchive. It puts the files in the same directory as the source files. That’s it: enjoy!

* Note: This worked fine with UTF-8 files using Japanese, so I assume it just works with UTF-8 in general. YMMV.

Writing Process: NaNoWriMo and Me

I’ve been meaning to write about my writing process for quite a while now and am surprised, looking back through my blog archives, that I have not yet addressed it.

This post could alternately be titled “How NaNoWriMo Enabled Me to Write My Dissertation in Three and a Half Months” or “The Importance of NaNoWriMo for Academic Writing.” Or just “Do NaNoWriMo at Least Once, People.”

NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and has been going since the turn of the twenty-first century. I’ve done it myself since 2002, most years. No, I don’t have a published novel, and in fact I only finished two of them in that time. (And the first one didn’t even “win” — the only criterion for winning is having a file containing 50,000 words — because it came in about 40,000 words when it was done. Oh well. My best and first finished work, so I’m cool with it. In fact, I’m still working on revising that work and trying to cut a version of it into a 10,000-word short story.) But man, what I got out of it.

NaNoWriMo taught me how to write. I don’t mean how to write well, or grammar or mechanics or plot or anything like that. It taught me how to put words on the page. And, after all, that is the first step to writing something. You have to just start making words. Continue reading Writing Process: NaNoWriMo and Me

Using Collections – Virtually

I heard a remark the other day that struck a cord – or, churned my butter, a bit.

The gist of it was, “we should make digital facsimiles of our library materials (especially rare materials) and put them online, so they spark library use when people visit to see them in person, after becoming aware of them thanks to the digitized versions.”

Now, at Penn, we have digitized a couple of Japanese collections: Japanese Juvenile Fiction Collection (aka Tatsukawa Bunko series), Japanese Naval Collection (in-process, focused on Renshū Kantai training fleet materials), and a miscellaneous collection of Japanese rare books in general.* These materials have been used both in person (thanks to publicizing them, pre- and post-digitization, on library news sites, blogs, and social media as well as word-of-mouth), and also digitally by researchers who cannot travel to Penn. In fact, a graduate student in Australia used our juvenile fiction collection for part of his dissertation; another student in Wisconsin plans to use facsimiles of our naval materials once they’re complete; and faculty at University of Montana have used our digital facsimile of Meiji-period journal Hōbunkai-sui (or Hōbunkai-shi).

These researchers, due to distance and budget, will likely never be able to visit Penn in person to use the collections. On top of that, some items – like the juvenile fiction and lengthy government documents related to the Imperial Navy – don’t lend themselves to using in a reading room. These aren’t artifacts to look over one page at a time, but research materials that will be read extensively (rather than “intensively,” a distinction we book history folks make). Thus, this is the only use they can make of our materials.

The digitization of Japanese collections at Penn has invited use and a kind of library visit by virtue of being available for researchers worldwide, not just those who are at Penn (who could easily view them in person and don’t “need” a digital facsimile), or who can visit the library to “smell” the books (as the person I paraphrased put it). I think it’s more important to be able to read, research, and use these documents than to smell or witness the material artifact. Of course, there are cases in which one would want to do that, but by and large, our researchers care more about the content and visual aspects of the materials – things that can be captured and conveyed in digital images – rather than touching or handling them.

Isn’t this use, just as visiting the library in person use? Shouldn’t we be tracking visits to our digital collections, downloads, and qualitative stories about their use in research, just as we do a gate count and track circulation? I think so. As we think about the present and future of libraries, and people make comments about their not being needed because libraries are on our smartphones (like libraries of fake news, right?), we must make the argument for providing content both physically and virtually. Who do people think is providing the content for their digital libraries? Physical libraries, of course! Those collections exist in the real world and come from somewhere, with significant investments of money, time, and labor involved – and moreover, it is the skilled and knowledgable labor of professionals that is required.

On top of all of this, I feel it is most important to own up to what we can and cannot “control” online: our collections, by virtue of being able to be released at all, are largely in the public domain. Let’s not put CC licenses on them except for CC-0 (which is explicitly marking materials as public domain), pretending we can control the images when we have no legal right to (but users largely don’t know that). Let’s allow for free remixing and use without citing the digital library/archive it came from, without getting upset about posts on Tumblr. When you release public domain materials on the web (or through other services online), you are giving up your exclusive right to control the circumstances under which people use it – and as a cultural heritage institution, it is your role to perform this service for the world.

But not only should we provide this service, we should take credit for it: take credit for use, visits, and for people getting to do whatever they want with our collections. That is really meaningful and impactful use.

* Many thanks to Michael Williams for his great blog posts about our collections!

Taiyō project: first steps with data

As I begin working on my project involving Taiyō magazine, I thought I’d document what I’m doing so others can see the process of cleaning the data I’ve gotten, and then experimenting with it. This is the first part in that series: first steps with data, cleaning it, and getting it ready for analysis. If I have the Taiyō data in “plain text,” what’s there to clean? Oh, you have no idea.

taiyo_data Continue reading Taiyō project: first steps with data

website to jekyll

While my research diary has stalled out because I haven’t been researching (other than some administrative tasks like collecting and organizing article PDFs, and typing notes into Mendeley), I have made some progress on updating my website.

Specifically, I have switched over to using Jekyll, which is software that converts markdown/HTML and SASS/CSS to static web pages. Why do I want to do it? Because I want to have a consistent header and footer (navigation and that blurb at the bottom of every page) across the whole site, but don’t want to manually edit every single file every time I update one of those, or update the site structure/design. I also didn’t want to use PHP because then all my files will be .php and on top of it, it feels messier. I like static HTML a lot.

I’m just writing down my notes here for others who might want to use it too. I’ve only found tutorials that talk about how to publish your site to GitHub Pages. Obviously, I have my own hosting. I also already had a full static site coded in HTML and CSS, so I didn’t want to start all over again with markdown. (Markdown is just a different markup language from HTML; from what I can tell, you can’t get nearly the flexibility or semantic markup into your markup documents that you can with HTML, so I’m sticking with the latter.) I wondered: all these tutorials show you how to do it from scratch, but will it be difficult to convert an existing HTML/CSS site into a Jekyll-powered site?

The answer is: no. It’s really really easy. Just copy and paste from your old site into some broken-up files in the Jekyll directory, serve, and go.

I recommend following the beginning of this tutorial by Tania Rascia. This will help you get Jekyll installed and set up.

Then, if you want a website — not a blog — what you want to do is just start making “index.html”, “about.html”, folders with more .html files (or .md if you prefer), etc., in your Jekyll folder. These will all be generated as regular .html pages in the _site directory when you start the server, and will be updated as long as the server is running. It’ll all be structured how you set it up in the Jekyll folder. For my site, that means I have folders like “projects” and “guides” in addition to top-level pages (such as “index.html”).

Finally, start your server and generate all those static pages. Put your CSS file wherever the head element wants it to be on your web server. (I have to use its full URL, starting with http://, because I have multiple folders and if I just put “mollydesjardin.css” the non-top-level files will not know where to find it.) Then upload all the files from _site into your server and voilà, you have your static website.

I do not “get” Git enough yet to follow some more complicated instructions I found for automatically pushing my site to my hosting. What I’m doing, and is probably the simplest but just a little cumbersome solution, is to just manually SFTP those files to my web server as I modify them. Obviously, I do not have to upload and overwrite every file every time; I just select the ones I created or modified from the _site directory and upload those.

Hope this is helpful for someone starting out with Jekyll, converting an existing HTML/CSS site.

on media, literature, and the digital