All posts by bmele

Crowdsourcing Blog

Crowdsourcing is a method of digital humanities that uses public involvement to compute data or obtain information for a particular project. The work can be maintained by any of the public users and is reliant on the public’s participation.

The main benefit of crowdsourcing is that project developers can harness the power of the public to accomplish a task quicker. Tasks can be broken down into smaller components, so that one contributor can sufficiently accomplish the task in half the time. For example, the OpenStreetMap project divides maps into small pieces, so different users can map different areas. This tactic allows the project to be divided into smaller, but manageable pieces that do not require a large time commitment from the user. Another benefit of crowdsourcing is the varying areas of expertise amongst the contributors. People can collaborate to correct mistakes, add new data, or create revolutionary work that is only possible due to the presence of several different minds. Contributors tend to be drawn to projects that focus on areas they themselves are interested in, which allows the project to acquire high-quality employees free of charge. The capability of crowdsourcing to be done from anywhere via smartphones, thus making it easy for the contributors, makes the work more obtainable by the public. For example apps like, MapSwipe and Waze allow users to update maps from their smartphones. The ethical benefits of crowdsourcing are also hugely beneficial. Projects like, MapSwipe and MapGive that allow users to develop maps for developing nations by annotating satellite images, provides them with a sense of accomplishment knowing they are helping people in need. The ethical aspect can help draw contributors, who are interested in good will. There are plenty of benefits in using crowdsourcing as a means of developing project, but the main theme is that the ability to draw a wide spectrum of contributors, which enables the project to be completed sufficiently and in depth.
Using crowdsourcing for DH projects does have some drawbacks. The projects examined like, MapSwipe and the Bentham project, need a substantial amount of users in order to achieve the goals of the project. But it seems hard to actually entice users to participate in these projects. Without any tangible evidence of their work providing benefits, Mapswipe users might simply not want to waste their time with these applications. With the Bentham project, members need to dedicate a substantial amount of time to only make slight progress, so this might turn people away as well. Along the same lines, another issue with crowdsourcing these types of projects is retaining users and motivating them to continue to contribute. The Bentham website assigns a point system, but this does not yield any real rewards for members of the site. Similarly MapSwipe tracks users’ levels of progress, but does not offer any incentive for them to keep using the platform. With crowdsourcing, there is also a question of sacrificing quality in order to finish these projects. Something like MapSwipe makes things simple, but with the Bentham project and MapGive, anyone can edit or change anything. Unless someone consistently tracks changes and makes sure they are accurate, there is a risk of losing quality when relying on random members of the public.


  • Zach Kleinbaum & Brett Mele

DH Project Analysis

Richmond Mapping

What is the difference between a website and a DH Project?

A website is largely just information posted online that users can navigate through. A digital humanities project is something interactive that users can themselves evaluate and draw conclusions.


Research Question being examined:

What role did race play in the politics of the 1930s and how did this impact the landscape of Richmond, VA?


Evaluation based on Presner criteria:


It works. Map feature overlaid on Google Maps, able to click through with relative ease. Can read about authors motivations and background of the issue being examined.


Both a notes and an about page that detail all contributions made.

-intellectual rigor

Allows the user to assess what role race played in politics of the early 20th century through statistics etc. Extensive information on everything one might need to formulate their own hypothesis. User could go through entire map information and become informed/ have an opinion on whether race played a factor.


Have impact on teachings/ thoughts about inherent racial biases, policy implications, new ways of looking at other laws passed during the time etc. Looking at current zoning etc. to see if any of these features still exist


Put overlay of their map onto google maps, made it interactive. Pretty intuitive/simple/accessible, although if you have never used google maps it might be a little frustrating. Nothing too crazy going on, so there should be relative ease of internet access.


You can click through the map and see different statistics etc., a little annoying that you have to keep going to a new window if you want more in depth information. Clear color coding and categorization.

-peer review

A quick Google search of the project reveals a number of articles written about the work. A more extensive search would need to be done to see if the work has been referenced in academic Journals.


I don’t know that there is a way to assess the impact of this project. One would have to look at policy changes, if this has been used in classrooms at all, or if this has spurred similar projects in different areas.

-approximating equivalencies

There were six different scholars who contributed to this work, with each taking on a number of different research roles. I think the digital work in particular, specifically the programming of the site, was definitely a significant undertaking.

-Development Cycles, Sustainability, and Ethics

In terms of ethics I don’t think there is anything to review in this project. Looking at the development cycle, I would say this project is finished. However, I could definitely see spin-offs or other ways to build upon this work, like looking at the effects of redlining on other neighborhoods throughout the country.

Experimentation and Risk-Taking

I don’t know if I would call this work a risk, but it definitely experiments and attempts to provide a clear visualization of an issue in order to increase the understanding of it. in the manner that the scholars did so, they definitely utilized their creative ability and experimented with unique ways to transmit information.


-Brett Mele

Writing Assignment #2

Archive Development: Shakespeare Literary Archive

Shakespeare Documented (hyperlink above) is an online literary archive that aggregates manuscripts of all of Shakespeare’s work and personal history. The Folger Shakespeare Library put together the project with the help of other partnering libraries. According to project, the archive “is the largest and most authoritative collection of primary-source materials documenting the life of William Shakespeare.”

In regard to the literary work, the archive falls in a vein similar to the Walt Whitman Archive. Ed Folsom (2003) noted how Walt Whitman’s work, specifically Leaves of Grass, does not fit solely into the genre of poetry; instead, he argues that the “database may well be epic’s new genre.” The Shakespeare archive similarly compiles a database of literary work without sorting such unique work into rigid categories. Typically, people think of Shakespeare as falling into one of three categories: tragedies, comedies and histories. But in reality, those are the best ways historians and literary scholars could categorize Shakespeare’s work. In this database, there is no attempt to define differences in his work (the do note the difference between his plays and poetry, but only because he actually did write poetry as well). With the user free to explore all of the work, …

As a digital archive, Shakespeare Documented is successful as well. Kate Theimer (2012) worries that in using archive to describe the work of digital humanists “there is the potential for a loss of understanding and appreciation of the historical context that archives play as custodians of materials in this context”. However, this is not the case for the Shakespeare archive. Theimer is concerned with the connotations of “authority, rarity and specialness” when using archives to describe digital works that might not exhibit those properties. But typically when encountering any of Shakespeare’s works, the authenticity is lacking due to translations and other modern manipulation. But with this database, users can access all of the original, primary documents. It might actually help increase appreciation due its uniqueness.

Users can fairly easily navigate the exhibition by navigating different links. However, they eventually lead you to a page full of documents that can be clicked on. The issue is that under many of the categories, there are more than six pages of documents and it only sorts them chronologically. For example, if you wanted to learn about Shakespeare’s family, the archive takes you to a document page where there are 14 pages of documents (10 per page). So if a user does not know specifically what they are looking for, this could be overwhelming.

As a whole, the content of the Shakespeare Documented archive is impressive. I do think the creators should do more to increase the ease of navigating through the hundreds of available documents. But by all other metrics, the archive is a success.


– Brett Mele

What is Digital Humanities?

The naïve way to define digital humanities would be an attempt to combine the notions given by the words ‘digital’ and ‘humanities’. Humanities typically refer to academic disciplines. When attaching ‘digital’ one might think of new disciplines that encompass digital technology, or the transformation of traditional academic disciplines with digital technology.

While the second, simple definition inches closer to what digital humanities truly means, neither really manage to scratch the surface. In moving towards a definition, it might help to think about the work of a digital humanities scholar and then apply that to the broader realm of digital humanities as a whole. Lincoln Mullen (2010), in describing humanities scholars and digital humanists, states that they both “use digital practices and concepts to one degree or another,” and adds that “working as a digital humanist is not one side of a binary.” Willard McCarty (2003) similarly notes that the humanities computing specialist “must not only be able to get along in various disciplinary cultures but also to partake at some level in their most basic conversations.” Thus,  according to these scholars, those working in digital humanities operate across a variety of disciplines, and combine digital techniques with traditional scholarly methods of the various disciplines.

When looking at different projects, such as those explored in cultural analytics, this idea resonates. For example, the work of scholars on the Salem Witch Trials transcription project combined what typically might seem like the work of historians, sociologists and more. They then used various digital tools to create a comprehensive and interactive guide. But by compiling hundreds of primary documents and more using a variety of computing methods, they created something truly unique and informative that could not fit solely into the boundaries of a single discipline.

So, taking all this into account, what is digital humanities? The digital humanities are hard to label given how much they encompass and how much they have evolved. So here is my best at constructing a definition: an interdisciplinary field that seeks to both broaden and transform traditional knowledge using different digital tools and computing technology. While it may not be perfect, the digital humanities are clearly much more than what the naïve definition would suggest.

-Brett Mele

Cultural Analytics Lab

2) What kinds of patterns are being examined and how are they being measured in the projects found at the Stanford Lit Lab?

  • Patterns:
    • Temporal Aspect- Mapping out changes/affects/growth over time
    • Collecting more than creating
    • Looking at trends
  • How are they being measured
    • Large databases
    • Computer modeling
    • Empirical Methods- Analyzing documents/texts (literary analyses)
    • Made different algorithms to analyze documents e.g. docuscope

5 a) What makes these visualizations successful?

These visualizations are successful because they are engaging and easy to navigate. In this vein, the visualizations are stimulating. They  use different colors and interactive designs to draw in the viewers, provoking the viewer to highlight the data as they see fit and allowing them to come to their own, independent conclusion. This is powerful. Rather than telling the viewer what to believe, the visualizations allow the user to draw self-resonating facts from the dataset. If the visualizations were less stimulating and less interactive, their effects would be minimized and they would not evoke the same response.  

The visualizations allow the user to sort through large amounts of data and information due to the way they are organized. For example, the Chicago map allows viewers to select exactly what they want to see, rather than seeing all the different transit data on the map at one time. Similarly, the hyperhistory site filters their data and visualizations into categories, and further allows selection by time period.

5 b) How would you measure their success?  If you had to develop a list of features that make these visualizations successful, what might those include?

List of features:

  • Visually stimulating
  • Easy to understand (uses legend, color designations, clear axes labeling etc.)
  • Information categorized/ filtered in some way
  • User interactive

6) How might these tools be useful in analyzing large amounts of data?  

  1. a) Analysis Tool: Minitab

Minitab is a statistical package that allows users to analyze large amounts of data. It has the ability to sort and find patterns in data with thousands of observations with different characteristics. The package also allows for the use of regression analysis, which is helpful to examine whether or not there is some sort of causal relationship in the data. Overall, it helps the user observe all of the characteristics of a large sample quickly and easily.

  1. b) Visual Tool: Visual Eyes (

The University of Virginia generated VisualEyes, a web-based visual tool that allows one to mesh images, maps, charts, video, and data into an interactive and engaging visualizations. This tool and tool like this are essential for generating powerfully popular visualizations. Having visualizations that engage the viewer is essential to propagate facts and the importance of a dataset for the researcher. Using Visual Eyes allows researchers to make provocative  visualizations to engage their viewers at a touch of a button, helping promote and popularize their interests the public domain.

Charlie Feinberg & Brett Mele


Salem Witch Trial Site Analysis

Charles Feinberg

Brett Mele

January 31, 2017

Research Question:

What occurred during the Salem Witch hunt and trial? Who were the key players (accusers, those accused, those who defended the accused, etc.) in the unfolding of the events? What were the social elements of the time, 1690’s, and place, Salem, MA, that prompted such a unique, fantastical display of radical fear-based sexism?

Methods being undertaken:

There are several sections of the site including self-promoting sections and sections pertaining to where additional information on the Salem Witch trials can be found, however, there are four primary sections pertaining to the historical documentation of the events.

  1. Primary sources: (e.g. court transcriptions, first person documentations via diary entries, sermons from Salem Church, etc) directly pertaining to the trials and actions unfolding within Salem, MA during this volatile period from February 1692 to May 1693. Subsections based on type of documentation (e.g. Sermon, diary entries, personal letters court records).
  2. Maps: Scanned maps from 17th/18th century portraying colonial New England, specifically the Salem and surrounding/encompassing regions in which the events unfolded, and multimedia mapping pinpointing regions where specific events occurred. Additionally, GIS tracking technology was used by site proprietors to scan terrain for bodies pertaining to the events further supplementing research.
  3. Archival source work: Historical, public documentation pertaining court records (supreme and county) and trial proceedings that have been claimed and held by both public (e.g. Boston Public Library) or private (e.g. Essex Society) organization. Documents in this section are divided into subsections based on documentation ownership       
  4. Contemporary works: Three scanned versions of notorious, widely-distributed literature that would directly pertain to the events occurring in Salem as a medium for post-hoc contextualization. Literature includes John Hale’s “A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft” (1697), George Lincoln Burr’s “Narratives of Witchcraft Cases” (1914), and Increase Mather’s “Cases of Conscious Concerning Evil Spirits…” (1693).

File Types/Documents:

The file types on this web page are primarily scanned versions of all primary and secondary source work including maps from the time period. Additionally, the site proprietors have developed a multimedia/interactive maps that allow the viewer to interact with the events on a temporal scale (e.g. pop-up locations of accusers and accused as a function of time).  However, outside of the maps and the proprietor written summaries of different artifacts, the vast majority of the documents are scanned literature based documents. Photography was not an invented medium during the late 17th century, thus there are no visual representations of the events with the exception of several paintings; the majority of which have been rightly excluded from the site as they were not generated while the events were occurring (most were painted during the 19th century) and thus are not historically accurate representations of what occurred. By including the artwork, the historical accuracy of the site would be diminished and artifacts undermined.  


Tools being used/created:

High definition scanners were used for vast majority of the written documents and many of the maps as well adapting these documents into digital versions of their physical forms. Furthermore, GIS mapping technology was used to produce a map depicting the specific layout and infrastructure of Salem and the surrounding areas involved in the events. The product of the GIS mapping is a map that is not only a visual representation of the town’s layout, but furthermore, incorporates social dynamics as a product of house sizes and home’s proximity to and from others individuals. This map can be viewed as a new tool that aides in understanding the personalities of the accusers and accused by how wealthy they were (e.g. size of house) and/or how influential they may have been in town dynamics (e.g. proximity to others/town center).

Outside of GIS maps, the site itself can be considered a new tool in Salem Witch trial analysis. Having the vast majority of the data from the events along with contemporary literature pertaining to the events promotes a unique ability to analyze mass amounts of information efficiently. This prompts new philosophies and an accessible understanding about the events of the Salem Witch trials and the social climate that provoked the events.