Writing Assignment 2: Cultural Analytics and Obama

The longstanding question of “How do we place value on data?” is important in the study of cultural analytics and digital humanities as a whole. The study and analysis of trends is pivotal in understanding the historical and present aspect of culture. Cultural analytics is the medium in which we see and visualize patterns. The goal of projects under this category try to determine how “’big cultural data’ can help us to question traditional assumptions and concepts in humanities and social sciences” (Cultural Analytics, 2014). A project that best reflects this is Digging into Global News by the Software Studies Initiative. The project uses a set of 113 weekly address videos by President Obama in the span of four years from 2009-2011. Digging into Global News aims to explore “how visual imagery reflects the rhetorics, aesthetics, and narratives of broadcast news, specifically in the case of political speeches that are remixed and interpreted by various international news sources” (Losh 2011).

Due to the fact that news broadcasts are not considered as serious as print news, the project aims to give a more in depth look to news as evidence and as an example of “database cinema” (Losh 2011). This type of evidence is composed of many different cinematographic elements that all add to the overall complexity of news as a form of importance evidence. Digging into Global News begins by using the archived videos of President Obama that “is easily accessible in HD format and clearly identified as free of copyright restrictions” (Losh 2011). This accessibility allows the footage of the President to appear in many different types of contexts, such as different news channels. The fact that the same clip is portrayed in different ways shows the individual biases that various news sources hold.

In addition, due to the eloquence of Obama’s speech and his rise to international prominence, many scholarly sources published articles and books about him. The visualization technique used “features a single seated figure (Obama) with frequently recurring and easily identifiable backgrounds (rooms in the White House) that are shot with a fixed camera” (Losh 2011). Because of this consistency, different random patterns and occurrences appear more obviously and pose different questions about these striking irregularities. Although such inconsistencies may appear unimportant, the small differences between each weekly address adds to the importance of his rhetoric. The footage “focuses on analyzing the videos by duration, date, political issue, geographical staging, commodities and technologies displayed, gesture and facial expression in the oratorical performance, and aesthetic decisions about cinematography and editing” (Losh 2011).

Overall, the site represents one of the most successful cultural analytics project that we have analyzed. The visualization techniques are powerful because not a lot is left up to interpretation. The images are static within themselves although once they are combined, they form a powerful tool that analyzes an important aspect of the American presidency.



2014. Cultural analytics. January. http://lab.softwarestudies.com/p/cultural-analytics.html.

Losh, Elizabeth. 2011. Digging into Global News. September. Accessed Febuary 14, 2017. http://lab.softwarestudies.com/2011/09/digging-into-global-news.html.