Category Archives: news

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.

research diary go


Lately, I feel like I’m stuck in short-term thinking. While I hear “be in the moment” is a good thing, I’m overly in the moment. I’m having a hard time thinking long-term and planning out projects, let alone sticking to any kind of plan. Not that I have one.

A review of my dissertation recently went online, and of course some reactions to my sharing that were “what have you published in journals?” and “are you turning it into a book?” I graduated three years ago, and the dissertation was finished six months prior to that and handed in. This summer, I’ll be looking at four years of being “done” without much to show for the intervening time.

Of course, it’s hard to show something when you have a full-time job that doesn’t include research as a professional component. But if I want to do it for myself — and I do — that means that I need to come up with a non-job way to motivate myself and stay on track.

That brings me to the title of this post. My mother recently had a “meeting with herself” at the end of the work week to check in on what she meant to do and what actually happened. It sounds remarkably productive to me as a way to keep yourself 1) kind of on track, and 2) in touch with your own habits and aspirations. It’s easy to lose touch with those things in the weekly grind.

I decided I will have a weekend meeting with myself every week, and as a part of that, write a narrative of what I did. I’ll write it before I review my list of aspirations for the previous week and then when I compare, not necessarily beat myself up over “not meeting goals” but rather use it as an opportunity to refine my aspirations based on how I actually work (or don’t). As a part of that — to hold myself accountable and also to start a dialogue with others — I’ll be writing a cleaned-up version of that research diary once a week here. Don’t expect detailed notes, but do expect a diary of my process and the kinds of activities I engage in when doing research and writing.

I hope this can be helpful to a beginning researcher and spark some conversation with more experienced ones. While this is a personal journey of a sort, it is public, and I welcome your comments.

how to make Japanese udon/soba broth

After packing my copy of Japanese Cooking Contemporary and Traditional (an awesome vegan cookbook) a little hastily before my upcoming move, I scoured the Internet for the basic udon/soba noodle broth recipe. To my surprise, it is not on the Oracle. So here I’ll provide the standard Japanese recipe for soba/udon broth for posterity.

You need:

  • 4 cups any kind of broth (for example konbu-dashi, katsuo-dashi, or chicken, or fake-chicken as I used last night)
  • 2-5 tablespoons light (usu-kuchi) soy sauce as desired for saltiness
  • 1 tablespoon or so ryōri-shu (cooking sake, the cheap kind)
  • 1 teaspoon mirin or sugar if you don’t have mirin handy
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Simmer all this together for about 5 minutes and pour over the noodles. Adjust all the salty and sugary elements based on your taste. This makes enough for 2 servings.

You’re welcome, Internet!

WORD LAB: a room with a whiteboard

Several years ago, I attended Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford and had the opportunity to meet with Franco Moretti. When Franco asked what I was interested in, I admitted that I badly wanted to see the Literary Lab I’d heard so much about, and seen so much interesting research come out of. He laughed and said he’d show it to me, but that I shouldn’t get too excited.

Why? Because Literary Lab is a windowless conference room in the middle of the English department at Stanford. Literary Lab is a room with a whiteboard.

I couldn’t have been more excited, to Franco’s amusement.

A room with a whiteboard. A room dedicated to talking about projects, to collaborating, to bringing a laptop and getting research done, and to sharing and brainstorming via drawing and notes up on a wall, not on a piece of paper or a shared document. It was an important moment for me.

When I was in graduate school, I’d tossed around a number of projects with colleagues, and gotten excited about a lot of them. But they always petered out, lost momentum, and disappeared. This is surely due to busy schedules and competing projects – not least the dissertation – but I think it’s also partly due to logistics.

Much as our work has gone online, and despite these being digital projects – just like Literary Lab’s research – a physical space is still hugely important. A space to talk, a space to brainstorm and draw and write, a space to work together: a space to keep things going.

I had been turning this over in my head ever since I met with Franco, but never had the opportunity to put my idea into action. Then I came to Penn, and met a like-minded colleague who got just as excited about the idea of dedicated space and collective work on projects as I was.

Our boss thought the idea of a room with a whiteboard was funny, just as Franco had thought my low standards were kind of silly. But you know what? You don’t need a budget to create ideas and momentum. You don’t need a budget to stimulate discussion and cross-disciplinary cooperation. You just need space and time, and willing participants who can make use of it. We made a proposal, got the go-ahead, and took advantage of a new room in our Kislak Center at Penn that was free for an hour and a half a week. It was enough: the Vitale II lab is a room with a whiteboard. It even has giant TVs to hook up a laptop.

Thus, WORD LAB was born: a text-analysis interest group that just needed space to meet, and people to populate it. We recruited hard, mailing every department and discipline list we could think of, and got a mind-boggling 15+ people at the first meeting, plus the organizers and some interested library staff, from across the university. The room was full.

That was the beginning of September 2014. WORD LAB is still going strong, with more formal presentations every other week, interspersed with journal club/coding tutorials/etc. in OPEN LAB on the other weeks. We get a regular attendance of at least 7-10 people a week, and the faces keep changing. It’s a group of Asianists, an Islamic law scholar, Annenberg School of Communication researchers, political scientists, psychologists, and librarians, some belonging to more than one group. We’ve had presentations from Penn staff, other regional university researchers, and upcoming Skype presentations from Chicago and Northeastern.

A room with a whiteboard has turned into a budding cross-disciplinary, cross-professional text analysis interest community at Penn.

Keep up on WORD LAB:
@upennwordlab on Twitter
WORD LAB on Facebook

academic death squad

Are you interested in joining a supportive academic community online? A place to share ideas, brainstorming, motivation and inspiration, and if you’re comfortable, your drafts and freewriting and blogging for critique? If so, Academic Death Squad may be for you.

This is a Google group that I believe can be accessed publicly (although I’ve had some issues with signing up with non-Gmail addresses) although you appear to have to be logged in to Google to view the group’s page. Just put in a request to join and I’ll approve you. Or, if that doesn’t work, email me at mdesjardin (at)

Link: [Academic Death Squad]

I’m trying to get as many disciplines and geographic/chronological areas involved as possible, so all are welcome. And I especially would love to have diversity in careers, mixing in tenure-track faculty, adjuncts, grad students, staff broadly interpreted, librarians, museum curators, and independent scholars – and any other career path you can think of. Many of us not in grad student or faculty land have very little institutional support for academic research, so let’s support each other virtually.

In fact, one member has already posted a publication-ready article draft for last-minute comments, so we even have a little activity already!

Best regards and best wishes for this group. Please email me or comment on this post if you have questions, concerns, or suggestions.


*footnote: The name came originally based on a group I ran called “Creative Death Squad” but the real origin is an amazing t-shirt I used to own in Pittsburgh that read “412 Vegan Death Squad” and had a picture of a skull with a carrot driven through it. I hope the name connotates badass-ness, serious commitment to our research, and some casual levity. Take it as you will.

#DayofDH Good morning and self introduction

Cross-posted from Day of DH Wasting Gold Paper

I’m up early on this Day of DH 2014. So much to do!

I thought I’d introduce myself to you all, so you have an idea of my background. I’m not your typical DH practitioner – I’m not in the academy (in a traditional way) and I’m also not working with Western-language materials. My concerns don’t always apply to English-language text or European medieval manuscripts. So, if you looked in Asia I’d be less remarkable, but here in the English-language DH world I don’t run across many people like myself.

Anyway, good morning; I’m Molly, the Japanese Studies Librarian at University of Pennsylvania, also managing Korean collection. That means that I take care of everything – from collection development to reference and instruction – that has to do with Japan/Korea, or is in Japanese/Korean at the library and beyond.


Let’s start off with my background. I went to college at University of Pittsburgh for Computer Science and History (Asian history of course) and studied Japanese there for 4 years. I fully intended at the outset to become a software developer, but somewhere along the line, I decided to apply my skills somewhere outside that traditional path: librarianship. And so off I went (with a two-year hiatus in between) to graduate school for a PhD in Asian studies (Japanese literature and book history) and an MSI in Library Science at University of Michigan. Along the way, I interned at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH), redesigning the website for, and rewriting part of the code of, a text analysis app using XSLT for the Cather archive.

After Michigan, I spent a year as a postdoc at Harvard’s Resichauer Institute, working half-time on my humanities research and half-time on a digital archive (The Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters, or JDArchive.) Then, in July 2013, I made my first big step into librarianship here at Penn, and have been happily practicing in my chosen profession since then. I’m still new, and there is a lot to learn, but I’m loving every minute.

I admit, finding ways to integrate my CS and humanities background has been a huge challenge. I was most of the way through graduate school when someone recommended going into DH (which didn’t exactly happen – there aren’t a lot of non-postdoc or non-teaching jobs out there now). My dissertation project, a very close-reading-based analysis of five case studies of single books as objects and in terms of their publishing and reception, did not lend itself at all to a digital methodology other than using digital archives to get ahold of their prefaces and keyworded newspaper databases to find their advertisements and reviews. I used a citation index that goes back to the Meiji (1868-1912) period to find sources. Well, most of my research in fact involved browsing physical issues of early 20th-century magazines in the basement of a library in Japan, and looking at the books themselves in addition to the discourse surrounding them. I simply couldn’t think of anything to do that would be “digital.”

So my research in that area – plus what I’m working on now – have continued to be non-DH, although if you’re the kind of person who involves anything “new media” in the DH definition, it may be a little. (I am not that person.) Why do I still call myself a DH practitioner, and why do I bother participating in the community even now?

Well, despite working full time, I’m still committed to figuring out how to apply my skills to new, more DH-style projects, even as I don’t want my other traditional humanities research to die out either. It’s a balancing act. How to find the time and energy to learn new skills and just plain old carve out space to practice ones I already have?

I have a couple of opportunities. One is my copious non-work free time. (Ha. Ha.) Second is my involvement in the open and focused lab sessions of Vitale II, the digital lab (okay, it’s a room with a whiteboard and a camera) at the Kislak Center for special collections in Van Pelt Library. I have a top-secret brainstorming session with a buddy today about how we can make even more social, mental, and temporal space for DH work in the library on a topically focused basis. I’m jealous of the Literary Lab; that should speak for itself. In any case, I also ran into a fellow Japanese studies DH aspirant at the Association for Asian Studies Conference a few weeks ago too, and he and I are plotting with each other as well.

So there are time and social connections to be made, and collaboration that can take place despite all odds. But it’s still a huge challenge. I can do my DH work at 5:30 am, in the evening (when I have no brainpower left), or early on the weekends. I have many other things competing for my time, not least two other research articles I’m working on. I could also be doing my real work at any of those times without the need to explain.

Yet I do it. It’s because I love making things, because I love bringing my interests together and working on something that involves a different part of my brain from reading and writing. I’m excited about the strange and wonderful things that can come from experimental analysis that, even if they aren’t usable, can make me think more broadly and weirdly.

More to follow. よろしくお願いします!

ruins – the past, the real, the monumental, the personal

Did I ever tell you about one of my favorite buildings in the world? It’s a public housing project named Kaigan-dori Danchi 海岸通り団地 (not to be confused with the type of projects one finds in the US, it was perfectly desirable housing in its time). This particular danchi (“community housing” or – generally public – housing project) was located smack in the middle of the richest section of Yokohama, between Kannai and Minato Mirai, perhaps one of the richest areas of the Tokyo region. Here it is in all its dirty, dirty glory, with Landmark Tower in the background.

Yes. This is Kaigan-dori Danchi, one of the grossest “ruins” (haikyo 廃墟) I had ever seen. Or, I thought it was a ruin. You know, an abandoned building. Because it looked too much like a shell to be anything else.

Then I got a message on Flickr.

In it, the messager wrote that he grew up in Kaigan-dori Danchi and now lives in New York City. He advised me that yes, it’s still inhabited, and thanked me for putting so many photos of it on Flickr. (Yes, I went for a photo shoot of this complex, more than once – hey, it was on my walk home from school!) He felt nostalgic at seeing his boyhood home and was interested to see what it looked like now.

In other words, what I’d felt vaguely strange about as some kind of ruins voyeurism – the same kind of ruins porn that takes hold of nearly everyone who wants to take photos of Detroit, for example – turned out to be a two-way street. It wasn’t pure voyeurism; it was a way to connect with someone who had a direct experience of the past of this place, a place that was still alive and had a memory and a history, rather than being some monstrosity out of time – as I’d been thinking of it. I saw it as a monument, not an artifact.

So this was in 2008, a half year after I’d become obsessed with Japanese urban exploration photography, which was enjoying a boom in the form of guidebooks, a glossy monthly magazine, calendars, DVDs, tours, photo books, and more, in Japan at the time. (Shortly thereafter, and I CALLED IT, came the public housing complex boom. I do have some of the photo books related to this boom too, because there’s nothing I love more than a good danchi.)

As part of the research for a presentation I gave on the topic for my Japanese class at IUC that year, I’d done some research into websites about ruins in Japan (all in Japanese of course). These were fascinating: some of them were just about the photography, but others were about reconnecting with the past, posting pictures of old schools and letting former classmates write on the guestbooks of the sites. There was a mixi (like myspace) group for the Shime Coal Mine (the only landmark of the first town I’d lived in in Japan). The photo books, on the other hand, profoundly decontextualized their objects and presented them as aesthetic monuments, much the way I’d first viewed Kaidan-dori Danchi.

So I wonder, with ruins porn a genre in the United States and Europe as well, do we have the same yearning for a concrete, real past that some of these sites and photographers exhibit, and not just vague nostalgia for the ruins of something that never existed? How much of ruins photography and guidebooks are about the site in context – the end point of a history – and how much is just about “hey I found this thing”? How much of this past is invented, never existed, purely fantasy, and how much of it is real, at least in the minds of those who remember it?

These are answers I don’t yet have, but I’ve just begun on this project. In the meantime, I’m happy to share Kaigan-dori Danchi with you.

NDL makes public the Historical Recordings Collection digital archive

On March 15, 2013, the National Diet Library made public their new digital archive of historical recordings. In partnership with a number of groups, including NHK, they have digitized and made available recordings from SPs from 1900 to the 1950s, in order to preserve them and prevent their becoming lost.

As time goes on, they plan to hold approximately 50,000 recordings in the archive. Although many recordings can be accessed via the Internet, some are only available to listen at the NDL itself due to copyright restrictions.

You can also access an NDL article on the digitization of recordings, entitled 音の歴史を残す (PDF link).

The archive is the Historical Recordings Collection, accessible at

instagram, photoshop, and publicity rights”

There has been a bit of a furor over Instagram’s new terms of service, in which I unwittingly took part – well, perhaps half unwittingly. I jumped on the bandwangon of outraged Instragram users and posted directions on how to delete your account and backup your photos on my Twitter, before getting the news (also via Twitter) that they’re backtracking on the offending language of being able to give your photos, profile information, geolocation information, and other metadata to advertisers (‘third parties’) for their use, without compensation, presumably in advertising (‘enhanced advertising’ if you will). I seriously considered deleting my account, despite my abject love of the service. As a semi-professional photographer, it’s been amazing for getting my photos online quickly, taking more shots than I would otherwise, and self-promotion. I’d be very sad to have to leave.

Yet some of the furor has been over people worrying that their kids’ photos would be used without their knowledge or compensation, even if they were private photos. I’d like to take this chance to remind people of publicity rights, the right to not have one’s likeness used to  promote products or otherwise, without their permission. This applies to everyone, not just celebrities. So the use of kids’ photos without permission is flat-out illegal and Instagram could be sued for doing so; given this, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that this would ever happen. People worried about kids’ or friends’ or family’s photos have nothing to worry about.

Still, there is some pushback on the part of media companies who want to use your photos as they see fit. (Note also that we all need to be reminded that we still hold our copyrights – what we’re granting is a non-exclusive license, not a copyright transfer, so people need to not be flipping out about this either. You still own your stuff.) Quoted from an article I came across:

Right of publicity laws protect people, both celebrities and everyday citizens, from having their names or photos used for commercial purposes. However, using a person’s name or photo for news reports is not a violation of these laws, according to the Digital Journalist’s Legal Guide , which was produced by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

In fact, Facebook defended its “sponsored stories” as “newsworthy” in the California lawsuit, saying that people’s brand preferences should be considered “news” to their Facebook friends.

The fact that Facebook is arguing that this is “news” is interesting and disturbing. I really hope they lose this lawsuit, because otherwise this would be a massive blow to publicity rights, and thus people’s control over their own likenesses. This is an important right in terms of privacy, one that predates the digital world, and is crucial to people’s sense of self-determination. I am going to be following this story closely, although it turns out that Facebook wants to settle a class-action lawsuit that would give only $10 to each offended individual. That is, in a word, wack.

But for the meantime, worry about services using non-likeness photos, because hopefully Facebook will lose and we will only be left with the serious issue of terms of service dictating non-exclusive licenses of copyrighted material.

What I’d really like to see is a lawsuit involving that, to see if terms of service are actually binding contracts, but I haven’t heard of any court cases of this nature so far. I’d like to hear from my readers who are more knowledgable than I am in this area, and who may have heard of court cases pending that might answer this question for me.

I’m done!

As of today, I’m officially done with all requirements for my PhD. So I don’t have a conferred degree yet, but I think I can finally order people to call me “Doctor Molly” now.


Keep an eye out for a PDF copy of my dissertation, which will be posted on this site relatively soon – sooner than the copy in U of M’s institutional repository, which won’t be released until December. So if you’ve got some time on your hands and would like to read 259 pages on the history of the book, please stay tuned.