All posts by ibossa

Crowdsourcing, Advantages and Disadvantages

By looking at the projects MapSwipe, MapGive, and TranscribeBentham, one can learn the benefits and drawbacks of developing and implementing a DH crowdsourced project. The major benefit is the ability to utilize many people’s services without having to compensate them. The tasks, especially for MapSwipe, are not too complicated and pretty simple to complete; hence, a user can get much done in a short amount of time. Another benefit of crowdsourced projects is the fact that mistakes in analyzing the information can be easily found because so many people are looking at the subject matter at any given time. Also, if a user is unable to read/view a piece of information, another user can help out with the interpretation. For instance, in the app MapSwipe, people can double-tap on a certain tile if they are unsure about its contents; this double-tap makes sure that the tile is viewed by other users so that its contents can be identified and verified. Also, in the on-line mapping project MapGive, tiles of maps must be verified and checked by other users before being accepted as ‘done.’

In some cases, however, the very same advantages can turn into disadvantages. The fact that people work on the project for free is advantageous for the project’s developers only as long as the information submitted by these people is correct. However, precisely because they are working for free, users might not do their best job, and developers may end up with a lot of poor-quality entries. Moreover, going through all these faulty submissions can be very arduous and time-costly. In addition, developers end up being completely depending on users’ willingness to collaborate, but what if not a lot of people want to participate in the project for free? In some of these cases, it might end up being easier for projects to hire experts who can perform a better and more efficient job.

Ian Nish, Isabella Bossa

Writing Assignment #2: Archive Development – Don Quixote Interactive

Approach: Archive Development

Project: Don Quixote Interactive (


Don Quixote Interactive is an ambitious, well-thought-out, and well-designed project developed by the National Library of Spain. It is described by the Western Michigan University as an “interactive digitization of the original edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ cult 1605-1615 novel, Don Quijote”. Don Quixote Interactive is indeed a digitization, but it has much more to offer than just the electronic version of the original manuscript: it is an impressive project containing multiple historical records and materials that allows the reader to immerse in Don Quixote’s world. Everything – from the background music to the worn-out air of the digitized manuscript to the additional resources (that include maps, videos, pictures, and relevant background information), allows readers to access relevant material on and to better understand the sixteenth century Spain of Don Quixote.

The webpage is modern, has a sleek interface, and uses up-to-date technology. A possible downside to this, however, is that the user must also have up-to-date plug-ins and browsers to be able to access the site. Nonetheless, the entire page is user-friendly and very easy to navigate. All the different resources offered by the project are signaled by clearly visible icons located around the screen edge and are only one click away. The resources include an interactive “map of adventures”, a gallery depicting the different editions of Don Quixote over time, a side-to-side comparison between the approach to chivalric themes used by Don Quixote and the one used by other romance novels, informational texts on the daily life in Spain during the sixteenth century (including aspects such as gastronomy, dances, games, clothing, music, and theater), a gallery of illustrations and engravings that depict the book’s author and some of the relevant scenes, a music collection, and a video of a puppet-opera show based on an episode from Don Quixote. These resources allow users to obtain a better understanding of Don Quixote, for they will be able to place the book in its right historical and social context, and will also be better equipped to understand some references in the book that are not obvious to modern-day readers. Moreover, they are highly interactive, instructive, and engaging, in ways that physical archives could never be. For example, in the map of adventures, you can see the routes Don Quixote took on his different trips. These routes are connected by dots, where every dot represents an important place – one where a significant event took place. The user is able to click on every dot and read a summary of the event, along with a picture or illustration.

During class we discussed the importance of knowing your audience when developing a project. The creators of Don Quixote Interactive seem to have taken this guideline to heart, for the project is appealing to scholars and non-scholars alike. Users, for example, are able to choose whether they want to read the “original edition” or a modernized version of the book. Although the “original edition” is naturally only a digitization of the original manuscript, the project’s creators did an outstanding job in being true to the physical edition: the digitized book shows signs of wear, and you can even see what appear to be stains. The modernized version, on the other hand, allows readers who might not be as familiar with sixteenth century Spanish to access a transcription of the book into modern spelling and print. Moreover, changing from one edition to the other is extremely easy – it can be done with just one click. In addition, there are a number of features available to readers: high-quality zoom, text searches, full screen view, option to print, and option to share (either a page or the entire book through Facebook or e-mail).

It is no wonder that the initiative – with its top-quality content and resources that include over 1280 pages and more than 160 illustrations and maps, was developed by a collaboration of professionals from different fields and took 5000 workhours (a little over 208 days) to build. The project’s creators also did their best to conserve the “reading experience” – the flip page effect allows you to see the progress you make as you advance in the reading, and there is a real sound after turning every page.

The one big thing the project is missing is, in my opinion, a number of assistive technologies for the disabled. For example, the site does not provide an audio version for those with visual impairments. Yet overall, I think the project is an outstanding one. It does not only allow users to read Don Quixote as if they had the book in their hands, but it also provides invaluable resources and multimedia content to give users access to important background information, and improve their overall reading experience.



“Interactive Quixote”. Biblioteca Nacional de Espana. Web. 13 Feb. 2017

Popova, Maria. “Digital Humanities Spotlight: 7 Important Digitization Projects.” Brain Pickings. 17 Sept. 2015. Web. 14 Feb. 2017

“WMU Research Guides: Digital Humanities: Examples of DH Projects.” Examples of DH Projects – Digital Humanities – WMU Research Guides at Western Michigan University. Web. 13 Feb. 2017


Project Evaluation – Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives

The Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives project’s goal is to provide in-depth information about the gulags in Soviet Russia. In my opinion, the project is an outstanding one, for it offers its users a wide range of sources that allow them to immerse themselves in the information that is being presented.

The project was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in association with the Gulag Museum at Perm 36 (Perm, Russia), and the International Memorial Society (Moscow, Russia). Funding came from a number of reputable sponsors, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of State, the Kennan Institute, and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. The reputation and prestige of the developers and sponsors give the project credibility and reliability, so false information is not a concern.

The project’s webpage is modern, highly intuitive and user-friendly. The combination of easily-readable fonts, well-chosen color combinations, and a balanced mixture of text and images in the home page make it look neat and aesthetically pleasing. It is all well-labeled so it is intuitive and easy to navigate. Additionally, the featured exhibit (Days and Lives) and the featured item (sawing logs) call the attention of users and give them a shortcut to some of the most relevant content of the project. The webpage is highly indexed but it is easy to move from one site to another.

The page is also easily accessible via search engines. More than 483 million results come up after looking up the term “gulag” on Google. Yet out of all these websites, the second, third, and fourth results link directly back to the project – more precisely, to Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom, one of the site’s exhibits.

The biggest thing that, in my opinion, the site is missing is more interactivity. The only interactive feature I was able to find was listed under “reflections” and consisted on the site asking users who were either Gulag survivors themselves or were familiar with the issue to share their thoughts. It also provided a contact page where users could fill out a form to receive information about upcoming website exhibits. I think the site could benefit from more interactivity, but I am not precisely sure how they should approach this. Additionally, users are not able to manipulate the webpage. I agree with this decision though, because I do not think user edits would suit this project particularly well.

The project is, in general, very useful for those researching the Gulag system, or simply for those who want to be more informed on the topic. The incredible amount of resources (including photographs, mugshots, sketches, paintings, videos, documentary excerpts, victims’ testimonies, poems, and even teaching materials) allow users to explore the Gulag system from multiple angles. Additionally, I like the strategy the site creators used to present every topic: instead of giving the user a single long text, they divided the information into smaller chunks. I think this feature makes it easier for users to understand and digest the content, and, in addition, encourages them to keep on reading.

Writing Assignment #1: What is Digital Humanities?

I agree with the Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 on the affirmation that digital humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices1. These practices are so broad in range, it is hard to draw a hard line to define what constitutes digital humanities and what does not. However, all the digital humanities do have something in common: they use modern technology (including text, photo, and video editors, the internet, data processors, and applications) as a tool to improve the way in which we collect, analyze, display, and share information. In other words, digital humanities allows us “ask better questions”2, yet most times, this ultimately means ending up with even more questions than we started with.

Digital humanities studies a wide variety of subjects and fields. The lines are so blurry here, that “doing digital humanities” changes its meaning as we move from one geographic location to another. In Europe, for example, a digital humanist focuses mainly on text mining, whereas in the U.S. authors also research social issues such as gender and race. In general, however, humanistic areas such as literature, arts, history, and anthropology, among others, are studied by digital humanists all around the world.

The tools used in digital humanities can range from a simple text editor like Notepad, to a web mapping service with satellite and street imagery, 3D views, and live updates such as Google Maps. What matters in the end is not how complex or how modern the tool is, but instead, how helpful it is in terms of aiding the digital humanist in the processing and organization of information.

Digital humanities has proved to be exceptionally useful. In fact, it has allowed us to analyze information in a way completely new and innovative approach. Modern technology enables us to learn about subjects and topics in a multidimensional way. An example of this are interactive maps where users can watch a geographical and chronological progression of the events being studied, along with related texts and pictures, or with links to other relevant information – such as people involved and articles on the topic. These types of resources were simply impossible to have in the past because there was no appropriate technology available. Moreover, processes that could have taken historians a great amount of work and effort before, can now be done within days – or maybe even minutes. This revolution in the way we access and process information has allowed digital humanities academics and enthusiasts to discover new patterns and connections that were invisible before.

Lincoln Mullen makes an extremely important point in The Backward Glance: you do not have to identify as a digital humanist in order to be one. To a certain extent, our widespread use of the internet and modern technology makes us all digital humanists3, for most of us use e-mails, word editors, and e-commerce on a frequent (if not daily) basis.

The ample variety in subject matters and tools should give a hint as to how big and wide-ranging digital humanities really is, and should help explain why coming up with a single and concise definition is no easy task. Digital humanities is still an evolving field with much potential ahead, and its exact definition, limits, and practices are still to be defined.



  1. Presner, Todd. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”. Accessed February 5, 2017.
  2. McCarty, Willard. “Humanities Computing”. 2003. Accessed February 5, 2017.,%20Humanities%20computing.pdf
  3. Mullen, Lincoln. “Digital humanities is a spectrum; or, we’re all digital humanists now”. The Backward Glance. 2010. Accessed February 6, 2017.

Lab #1

Isabella Bossa and Harris Pollack.

  1. What kinds of patterns are being examined and how are they being measured in the projects found at the Stanford Literary Lab?

Modeling Dramatic Networks: Drama is the framework but the researchers are interested in relationships (networks). Specifically, how they grow and represent the connective tissue between people, objects, and cultural productions.

Suspense: Language, Narrative, Affect: Emotional patterns within texts that readers feel in anticipation of imminent events. The researchers are testing to see if the patterns that lead to the feeling of anticipation are similar in different time periods and genres involving literature.

The Emotions of London. Examines patterns in the emotions felt by characters in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English novels are their geographic location.

Representation of Race and Ethnicity in American Fiction, 1789-1964. Examines the biological, geographical, and social perception of different ethnicities across the nation. Additionally, analyzes the terms used to describe different ethnicities over time and how these terms evolved. Lastly, examines the patterns between the “background” racial discourse and the representations of racially marked characters.

Reading Norton Anthologies: Canons and Trajectories: This project analyzes text included in each addition of various Norton series since the author M.H. Abrams edited the first Norton Anthology edition in 1964. This project will help explore the ways individual authors and works, along with broader trends of inclusion and exclusion in the Norton’s canon.

The Performance of Character: This project explores gender through the dialogic speech in novels as gendered performances by the author of the text. For example, how does a male author portray a female character. Researchers gain deep insight into the role that gendered dialogue plays in the creation of a novel.

Fanfiction: Generic Genesis and Evolution: This study analyzes the development and progression of the fanfiction genre with two decades worth of fanfiction. This data allows for the tracking of both authorial and readerly influence, the development of generic innovation, and the genesis and evolution of specific archetypes and stylistic conventions.

Trans-Historical Poetry Project: This project’s objective is to analyze the evolution of English-language poetry and how it changed across time. It examines patterns in phonetics, natural language, and statistics. It allows us to come up with ways to improve current theories of meter.


  1. Review the visualizations listed below.  What makes these visualizations successful?

The design is very eloquent and beautiful. However, there are many features that the tools are lacking. For example, the information is static. It is not fluid. But it is successful because it is interactive!

All the images are aesthetically pleasing. Moreover, the contrasting colors and the minimalist design make it easier for the user to focus specifically on what the image is trying to highlight. For example, in Bryan Christie’s heart illustration, all the attention goes to the heart because of the contrasting palette (grey versus red) used and because there really is not much else to see but the heart.

This is not pretty at all. This website is easy to follow and easy to use in regards to user experience. It is arcane in features and design. Not very aesthetically pleasing.

The visualizations are useful to understand major patterns in the novel and connections among characters, words, and places that might not be so obvious. However, some of the graphs (for example, the images on the left-hand side of the Radical Word Connections) contain too much information, which can make it hard for the user to absorb the information the graph is trying to convey.


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

The most successful visualizations are those that are user friendly, practical, and use aesthetically pleasing designs. For example, the graphs shown in “Make Grey Your Best Friend” are the most successful ones because they are able to convey information in a way that highlights what is important, are easy to navigate and to understand, and are visually pleasing. The CMAP Mobility graphs are successful to a certain extent – they have nice designs and convey useful information, but they are not particularly user friendly or easy to navigate (especially taking into account the existence of competitors with user friendly interfaces such as Google Maps). The graphs in Novel Views: Les Miserables do not have an outstanding design, yet the information they contain can be useful and maybe even illuminating for a researcher of the novel. Therefore, the visualizations are successful overall. HyperHistory online is the least successful one due to two main reasons: it has below-quality and outdated design and the information it contains can be easily accessed in other pages such as Wikipedia.


  1. Go to Dirt (Digital Research Tools) and choose one (1) tool listed under “Analyze Data” and one tool listed under “Visualize Data.”  How might these tools be useful in analyzing large amounts of data?

Sci2 Tool

“Modular toolset supporting temporal, geospatial, topical, and network analysis and visualization of datasets at the micro, meso, and macro levels.”

This tool lets its user(s) upload or create their own datasets (which helps to organize data), perform algorithmic analyses and/or create visualizations (which helps to understand data), and share information with other users.


“Allows the investigator to set up a Web map around a particular topic and invite multiple participants to contribute information the the map on their own time and from their own device.”

This tool allows for collaboration – one of the most important aspects of research. This collaboration might allow for users to discover new patterns and connections in the topic they are researching. The map will also allow researchers to put a lot of data together,  organize it in a (hopefully) concise image, and understand it better.