Lit 80, Fall 2013

Tag: critique

Electronic Literature Critique: Why do you stay up so late?

Why do you stay up so late? is a poem written by Marvin Bell that utilizes digital media to enhance the reading experience by augmenting the literary elements. In the poem, Bell uses traditional elements such as theme, conflict (internal), style, tone, and figurative language; he uses colors, sounds, and animations to compliment his words and heighten the meaning in his work. The sounds set the somber tone of the poem before the author’s words have the opportunity to create it. The animation of a lit match on the first page reminds the reader that it is late at night and there is very little light to work by.

Bell 2004

Lit Match (Bell 2004)

Additionally, the hand tapping a pencil on the table is a visual of the author’s restlessness in attempting to write. The tapping makes the reader feel just as restless as the author, allowing the reader to sympathize with the author’s internal conflict. Also the animations visually represent the figurative language the author uses.

Tapping Pencil (Bell 2004)

Tapping Pencil (Bell 2004)

When the author describes the young poets and then transitions back to himself, the animation mirrors the transition by shifting from many tapping pencils to one tapping pencil.

The many tapping pencils that symbolize many young poets (Bell 2004)

The many tapping pencils that symbolize many young poets (Bell 2004)

The lone tapping continues until he says “I am frozen in the white page.” It is at this moment that the animation freezes, highlighting his conflict and figurative language.

Additionally, colors are used to set the scene as well as accent specific words and lines. For most of the poem, the words are set on a black background. It all changes with the appearance of the word “light”. The word is the only brightness on a dark surrounding because it is meant to be a single source of light that appears “through the ice.” This is followed by the screen flashing, and the background shifting to white. Here the sound maintains its repetitive beat, but the tone changes. This change creates a sense of optimism, but reminds the reader that things are still the same. This sentiment is echoed when the screen returns to a black background and Bell writes “this is not the story.” The contrast with colors and word selection is used throughout the poem as Bell sometimes highlights certain words by using different colors.

The affect that producing the poem in this form has is emphasized when you look at the poem in its pure html form. Here the reader finds a 24 line poem that when read does not touch us emotionally like the animated version does. Also, the animated version requires the reader to spend more time on the poem than one may necessarily spend reading it because you can only transition pages when the author allows. By using electronic literature as his medium, Bell is able to utilize multiple tools to create what traditional authors attempt to do with one. He creates the readers’ environment through manipulation of sounds, colors and time while traditional authors can only use words. Though critics may argue the latter is more difficult and therefore more impressive, the former assures that the reader experiences the environment the author intends.

Looking at how this contributes to the electronic literature conversation, I turn to the questions presented by Katherine Hayles in Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (2008).

1)      “Is electronic literature really literature?” (Hayles 2008)

This question is difficult to answer because it depends on your definition of literature. Hayles has a more inclusive definition of electronic literature that includes work that that provides the reader with an experience (or gives meaning to it) and is “digitally born” to be read electronically. Personally, it is too specific but at the same time too inclusive. If Hayles limits electronic literature to work created electronically, then she eliminates some the projects discussed in class. By her definition, projects created using code would be the only forms of electronic literature because that is the only way for something to be truly “digital born.” Would her definition exclude remediations? Implementation, for example, is in a remediation of a book. Since its origin in a print source, does it lose credibility? Or perhaps should it be considered experimental or some other form of literature.

To me, literature must use words in the form of a poem, play (scripts), or novel to create an experience. By this definition, Why do you stay up so late? would de defined as a type of literature. Bell’s poem uses words to create an experience. However, not all electronic literature falls under this category. For example, Arteroids is an ‘end of language piece’  that uses words to create meaning. However, the medium is a game, and the words are used more as a piece of art rather than a piece of literature.

As a result, I would alter Hayles’s definition to include remediation, but to exclude projects that are without words in the form of a poem, play, or novel.


2)      “Will the dissemination mechanism of the internet and the Web, by opening publication to everyone, result in a flood of worthless drivel?” (Hayles 2008)

In short, yes. Based on the list that was discussed in class, there are numerous examples of “worthless” electronic literature.  Nonetheless, I do not think this is a reason to prevent its development. In traditional literature, there are plenty of examples of literature that critics view as worthless, but that has not deterred writers. If poorly written books did not end traditional literature, then a few poorly created projects should not end electronic literature. Furthermore, the presence of mediocre literature, electronic and traditional alike, creates a contrast by which ‘valuable’ literature can appear even better.

3)      Can traditional literature coexist with electronic literature?

This question parallels the discussion we had earlier in the semester on whether E-readers will eventually become more prominent than written novels. I think that in this scenario, both forms are invaluable so they should both continue. Unfortunately, because of the trajectory humanity has taken away from books and towards television and video media, electronic literature may be the only way to captivate future readers. Therefore, I think that electronic literature will become the primary source of literature, but I hope that future authors include non-augmented transcripts like Bell does.

All of the attributes I described involving how Why do you stay up so late? augmented the nature of the poem are not only why I feel that it is an effective use of electronic literature, but also the reason I like it. Bell effectively balances the electronic and traditional literature elements to create an aesthetically pleasing and well written poem. Nothing too abstract is done, and the electronic medium is used to achieve features that cannot be completed in different media. As electronic literature develops, I hope that it will be able to utilize improvements in technology to augment and improve the reading experience.


Works Cited:

Bell, Marvin, and Nikki Ruddy. Shakespeare’s Wages: Fifteen Poems. [S.l.]: Gendun Editions, 2004.

Hayles, Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2008.


Thank you Amanda Gould for the advice and recommendations to improve my critique.

Game Critique

Game Critique

With the development of the computational ability of machines, the videogame as an important tool for entertainment enters into everyone’s life and affects the society development directly or indirectly. Videogames, together with other traditional media like newspapers and films, carry their information and give people an extended reality while they spread information. From the view of media microecology[1], the videogame as a part of this ecology should be studied if we want to know the media ecology critically and systematically.

Are videogames media? This question has been debated for a long time by many scholars with so many people with old fashioned thinking believing that videogames designed for entertainment with interaction, computational models and digital roles should not be recognized as media. Those people ignore the impacts and nature of videogames behind the computational structures and entertainment activities. A medium is defined as “(1) a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment — compare mass medium (2) a publication or broadcast that carries advertising (3) a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) something (as a magnetic disk) on which information may be stored”[2] in Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is obvious that videogames are media considering that information is communicated while videogame is interacting with the player and this information always reflects the designers’ thinking about space and time, life and death, justice and evil, society and nature, and so on. In addition, the videogame is a much more powerful medium compared with traditional media that can only affect people by texts, sounds and images. In a videogame, one can interact with the computational program; can experience a virtual life with their avatar in it; can live in a universe that has totally different rules from the real one. With the computational model, digital roles and interaction with players, videogames have huge amount of users and are more widespread compared with traditional media which can be easily seen from the download frequency of videogames and the region of gamers and the amount of games in everyone’s smart phone. Not everyone likes reading Hamlet but everyone likes playing Angry Birds; New York Times is not popular in every country but Angry Birds is popular everywhere in the world.

The videogame like other medium has its own diversity and extends from purely artistic uses to purely instrumental uses. It is true that some videogames are full of violence. But not all! The violence in films is no less than that in videogames. We should see the whole situation and give a critical opinion towards videogames. The videogame as a medium is a platform for designers to show their opinions and thinking about life and about world by means of computational models. For example, games like Flow and Cloud try to make the player have a slow pace when playing. That is the designer’s attitude toward life. With the simple structure and slow pace, Flow and Cloud tell us to take a low pace and enjoy the simple life. Videogames have unmatchable advantages over other media as for conveying new ideas about space and time. Portal and Braid are the two typical representations of games that give the players a total new concept about space and time. In Portal, the player uses the gun to create holes on walls to change the space structure of the world. Going into the hole, the player will shift to another space linked by holes. And in Braid, time can be controlled by the player. The player can learn from the past and uses the new concept of time to complete missions impossible for normal time sequence. Besides entertainment, videogames can be practical and used as instrumental tools in many cases. The simulation games like flight simulator are well known for their function for training pilots and soldiers. Scientists have realized the power of games and they have designed many serious games to help solve scientific problems by the collective intelligence of massive players all over the world. For example, Foldit is designed by the biology scientists in order to find new structures of proteins that could be useful in medicine design. In this game, the player design structures of proteins according to the rules and the system will score every structure. The structures that earn high scores are studied by the scientists to see if they have special properties. And many research accomplishments have been got by this way.


Fig. 1. A screenshot of the game Foldit.

“Medium is message”. Regardless the contents of a videogame,  the videogame itself is an object that is informative and should be studied. “Gamespace is everywhere.”[3] The word “gamespace” is induced by the videogames. In videogames, what players do is to compete with others to earn high scores. What players do is just obey the rules and make use of the rules to do activities that have been programmed before. Is that like some people’s life? For some people, they go along the way that has been designed by their parents or themselves years before. That kind of life is programmed just like what the designers do to games. The real difference between real life and games lies in the fact that things happen in the next moment are unknown to people. That is the real meaning of life. People should abandon the “programmed” way and think about what they really want. Otherwise, they will live in a gamespace until death. Videogames invoke the thinking of life out of gamespace.

The videogame has become a new medium that comprises the media ecology with other media. As a medium, it has the common properties with other traditional media. And at the same time it has some unmatchable advantages over other media due to its computational model and ability of interaction. In order to learn more about modern media and their functions, it is necessary to study videogames critically in terms of the contents and forms.


[1] Bogost, Ian. “Media Microecology.” Introduction. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.

[2] “Medium.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>

[3] Wark, McKenzie. “Agony.” Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.






Videogame Critique

I’ve never really been too much of a gamer. Don’t be mistaken, I have played my fair share of video games ranging from Pokemon on the GameBoy Color to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the PlayStation 1 to Halo 3 on the Xbox 360. Although these games have brought me enjoyment, I never really got into the stories of most games or was never willing to invest that much time into something I may never complete. After analyzing multiple independent games like Portal, Fl0w, and The Company of Myself, I really regret not getting into video games earlier. My preconceptions of video games as simple or complex challenges with no real meaning or function except to entertain have definitely changed after my realization that games can be used as media.

A medium is a dynamic substance or object that can be used to portray a message, implicitly or explicitly. Classically, artistic and intellectual mediums were restricted to printed books, music, movies, etc. But today, with the surge of technology and the internet, a rise of the Digital Humanities can be seen which incorporates a wide range of mediums from interactive charts to sound banks and even video games. If a medium is a way to express a message, why can’t a video game be a medium? According to Ian Bogost in his book How to Do Things With Videogames , video games are a medium that let us play a role within the constraints of a model world. I completely agree with this idea. The world we live in today is controlled by sets of inherent rules, physical laws, traditions, cultures, that inhibit us from doing many things. Gravity keeps us from soaring into the stratosphere, laws prevent [most] people from ravaging cities and stealing cars, most people are not athletically capable of playing in the NBA. These sets of rules and facts of life are why I believe people play video games and why video games can serve as a medium, a way to escape and test the limits of human imagination, and learn about ourselves doing so.

One way I can justify this is through the game Portal. Portal is a first-person puzzle game where the user controls or is embodied as a women wielding an electronic gun that shoots two distinct portal ends, orange and blue. The portals create a visual and physical connection between the two different areas in 3D space. The user is challenged to solve a series of puzzles using only this device. Portal shows an element of how a game serves as a medium, through its capability of allowing users to experience a ‘cyberworld’ where portal teleportation is available while maintaining general physics. If users jump through a portal on the ground, they will be propelled at the same speed out of the other portal maintaining linear momentum. This serves as a medium for users to break the boundaries of the physical world and explore the ability to travel instantaneously from one place to another. Another main point that seems to be interesting in the game Portal is the choice of a female protagonist. In most video games that are characterized as shooter games, where the character wields weapons and shoots and usually kills others, the main character or avatar is generally male. Portal breaks this stereotype with the female protagonist and I find that very interesting and deliberate by the creators of the game. This is a key example of how a video game can serve as a medium. The main character being female, brings attention to the fact that many first-person shooter games are male dominated. Another possible purpose is to entice more female gamers, in a hobby that is often characterized or stereotyped as male dominated.

Other uses of video games as mediums can be seen through the game Fl0w, which personally kept me entertained for hours on end. At first glance Fl0w may seem like an over simplistic, evolutionary interactive game but after delving into the game you can see that it is way more than just a medium of entertainment. Fl0w’s distinct visual color palettes, image rendering (especially on the PS3), and simplicity deem Fl0w as an artistic medium, along with its playability. Playing Fl0w feels like playing through a piece of artwork and its different layers. As your organism slowly grows, you can progress through different levels or layers of the medium you are in and encounter new organisms, colors, environments, and sounds. Fl0w is much more than an interactive video game, it is more of an experience of ‘flow,’ a term often used in psychology and Neuroscience. Flow is a state between anxiety and boredom where if completely engaged, the user loses track of time and the outside world and becomes fully focused on the task at hand. Personally, through the visual palette and simplistic gameplay and music, I entered a flow like state when playing Fl0w. In that way the game Fl0w served as a medium showing that video games or mediums in general do not have to be over saturated with complex plots, scenery, music, characters, in order to maintain the ultimate stage of focus, flow, of the user.

Overall I think that critically evaluating video games based on principles like the effect they have  on users both mentally and physically, the message they try to get across, and the sheer entertainment level they offer  can be beneficial in many realms. The use of video games as experimental mediums is something I believe can change the way we think about different issues ranging from ethics to physics. I think that video games can be used as tools for people to explore unrestricted boundaries and break away from the constraints of the physical world. Thus by doing this, they can teach us more about the physical world and the mentality of humans in general. Therefore studying video games of the past and present should be at the same priority for scholars, as books and movies are today. We cannot ignore the dynamic and inherently experimental properties of video games and how these properties and the way they are implemented reflect on the zeitgeist of society.

The Future of the Past- A Critique

The digital humanities project, “The Future of the Past” is a unique use of digital humanities methods. When scrutinized under the figurative lens of Shannon Mattern’s Criteria for Evaluating Multimodel Work, one can understand why it awarded “Best use of digital humanities project for fun” by the expert consortium administering the annual DH Awards: It is fun but it is perhaps not entirely effective. To simplify her criteria we made our own rubric to analyze it.

Screenshot of the Rubric we created to simplify the Mattern Criteria

Screenshot of the Rubric we created to simplify the Mattern Criteria

For readers unfamiliar with the project, a brief overview can be found on the website by clicking “the story…” on the right side of the homepage. This provides an overview of how the author, Tim Sherrat, turned 10,000 newspaper articles into a digital humanities project. His aim was to archive every Australian news article from the 19th and 20th centuries that contained the phrase “the future” and create a site to explore how the future was perceived in the past. Sherrat’s website includes evidence of research, links to his sources, and links to/from his site to reinforce his underlying thesis in a cohesive manner. That is, that throughout time the future has been discussed throughout the past in different contexts. On the website , a link can be found to the newspaper he used which demonstrates use of  citations and academic integrity – imperative components of Mattern’s ideal digital humanities model.

He extracted every word from his archive of collected articles containing the word ‘future’ and made a database. He then made an interactive word-based interface so that whenever  a reader accesses the site they find a compilation of words from the articles that act as hyperlinks.

Screenshot of the Homepage of the DHP

Screenshot of the Homepage of the DHP

It is through this organization that he was able to take the newspaper articles and recontextualize them into a format useful for his digital humanities project.  One particularly impressive aspect of Sherrat’s project was how much feedback he
received – and his constructive dialogue with users – throughout the developmental stages of his site . Clicking “The Story” allows the site’s viewers to follow Sherrat’s creative process. Additionally, he live tweeted his progress in real time, and people tweeted at him with questions about his project, which he appeared to happily reply to. These tweets act as a form of pseudo-peer review. A series of lectures explaining his project allowed additional public understanding. This would not necessarily be considered a form of collaboration, as he was and continues to develop this project on his own, but the public input serves a form of joint effort.

Exploration of the website, and use of the tools he provides make it easy to deduce that Sherrat has a very clear vision, and a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms behind his project. However, the format of the website is the project’s biggest downfall – the tool is simple enough to use (user friendly) because one  just  points and clicks, but there is no balance with something new other than the format of site. Despite the simplicity of the point and click if someone were to come to the page on their own it would be difficult for them to grasp what the site was attempting to achieve. Although it does not initially appear accessible, reading “the story…” provides some clarity. Additionally, if one came to the site to learn about how others viewed the past, it would only be a random acquisition of knowledge rather than a particular route. A direct search for a particular year, event, or phrase is not possible which makes it less useful then one would hope for. Perhaps we are not entirely grasping what he is trying to achieve which would make our critique a little unfair. If he is trying to achieve a database to allow for random knowledge acquisition (which is maybe suggested by winning the Fun category) then he effectively created such a database. From our perspective, however, it appears as if this is not the most conducive format for this project, because you cannot purposefully acquire knowledge.

Despite our inability to determine the exact purpose of the site we will proceed the rest of the way under the impression that it is made for random knowledge acquisition. Under these conditions it is appropriately formatted and effectively organized. The fact that each time you open the page a random subset a words appears, which will lead you on a different path each time, is an innovative way to create a site and to organize this information. But how well this page is linked together, its cohesiveness, is arguably the most difficult criteria to judge. If it is judged based on the understanding that it is supposed to be random then yes, the fact that it is a jumble of words that allows you to arbitrarily click on an appealing word and learn more is fantastic. Conversely, if a reader wants to acquire specific data then we would dispute how cohesive the page is.

Since Sherrat appears to demonstrate a mastery of the tool it is therefore adaptable. Mastery correlates with adaptability because a complete understanding of how the tool (the tool being the way he tied together all the words) suggest that changes could be made if the site needed to adapt. It is this adaptability that is one of the most exciting aspects of the project. If he were to come across more data he could expand upon the comprehensiveness of the database. Currently, the data is limited to a certain time and geographic range (Australia). However, if he were to collaborate with partners in various nations he could expand upon the database so that readers could learn “The Future of the Past” of more nations across a longer expanse of time. With such an extensive database, readers could compare not only “the future” across time, but across space. Another improvement we would suggest is a more comprehensive explanation of how to use the site because a better understanding allows for a more user friendly experience. Wouldn’t it be nice too to have different navigation interfaces if the world-link interface is not useful to you? If the back-end database is robust and adaptable, we should be able to feed that data into multiple interfaces allowing for very different web ‘faces’.

Based on Shannon Mattern’s Criteria, Sherrat created an approvable digital humanities project. It fulfills most of the requirements she presents, and its adaptability allows for it to potentially fulfill the rest. Overall, it is an impressive project that understandably won the award for “Best use of digital humanities project for fun.”


Co-Authors: Shane and Joy


Thank you to Amanda Gould for her assistance in reviewing our work

ORBIS Evaluation

We chose the ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World digital humanities project to critique. As an interactive software model of Ancient Roman infrastructure, ORBIS is a collaborative effort between historians and information technology specialists at Stanford University to augment modern research about Ancient Rome. The project attempts “to understand the dynamics of the Roman imperial system as a whole” [1] by allowing scholars for the first time to analyze Roman transportation costs in terms of both time and expense.

The mapping application works by allowing users to choose a start and destination location from the 751 sites, prioritizing based on fastest, cheapest, or shortest, and selecting from network and transportation mode options. The application then outputs distance, duration, and cost in denarii based on the options selected. Rebecca J. Rosen, writing for The Atlantic, describes ORBIS as “Google Maps for Ancient Rome” [2]. ORBIS was designed as a tool for scholarly study of the Ancient World but has garnered popular interest on the internet as well as a fun tool for people to explore history.


ORBIS gives a distinct impression of being the product of the rigor and attention to detail expected from academic work. The entire creation process of ORBIS has been outlined clearly on the ORBIS website. The creators acquired all their data from previous scholarly works, and all outside contributions are explicitly credited. Furthermore, the ORBIS mapping tool is available for public use online, and there are plans to make the ORBIS API public.

The creation process of ORBIS and ORBIS itself have had a significant impact on the study of the Ancient Roman world. Not only was the project horizontally integrated in the sense that it brought together history and the digital humanities, but it was also vertically integrated in that tenured professors and graduate students worked together to create the final product. Despite the fact that it was only recently created, ORBIS has already been a key feature of 5 papers and 15 presentations. In addition to allowing historians to have a better general understanding of Ancient Roman transportation systems, it has also been applied to specific problems such as explaining maritime freight charges.

ORBIS does a great job of explaining both the historical and modern sources from which they formulated the aspects and assumptions of their model. The 751 sites included in the interactive map were chosen and named based on Talbert’s Atlas of the Greek and Roman World. The three modes of transport incorporated into the model (sea, road, and river) are all evaluated based on routes, time, and expense. All of the metrics included in evaluating these factors are clearly explained by ORBIS and sufficiently enriched by supporting media. For example, the sea transport time variable is determined by winds, currents, and navigational capabilities. Monthly wind data for the Mediterranean and the Atlantic were derived from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency 2002. Additionally, the algorithm employed in accounting for navigational capabilities was compared against over 200 historical documents of sailing times.

In order to determine the central thesis that the ORBIS project asserts, we examine the choices that the creators made regarding what include and emphasize in their model of the world surrounding Ancient Rome. As mentioned above, the authors themselves say that the goal of their project is “to understand the dynamics of the Roman imperial system as a whole”, so we consider their decisions within this context. The only clear decision that the authors made for what to include was that the authors chose to focus on financial and temporal transportation costs to, from, and surrounding Ancient Rome, which implies that they believe that transportation costs are an important aspect of understanding the dynamics of an empire. This is not a particularly bold thesis, as the vast majority of the historical community would likely agree that transportation costs are a fundamental part of understanding an empire. Furthermore, the form of the work (i.e. software that allows for the creation of maps modeling Roman transportation costs) mostly takes this assertion for granted, rather than functioning to further contribute to the argument. It is therefore not as productive to evaluate ORBIS as a humanities work that is creating an argument. Instead, we can think of ORBIS as a powerful tool for augmenting research regarding Ancient Rome and evaluate it as such.

One weakness of the ORBIS project is that it has not been formally peer reviewed. While a more traditional academic paper would need to be evaluated by independent researchers in order to be published. ORBIS has not been held up to such standards because it was simply published online. While ORBIS is now being used to create more traditional papers that will necessarily be peer reviewed, it is not clear that ORBIS and the software it uses will be held up to the same levels of scrutiny. All things considered, however, this weakness is not as concerning as it would be for other academic works, as it is likely that the only reason ORBIS has not been peer reviewed is that there is not currently a formal system for peer review in the digital humanities

In January of 2012, programmatic access to some routes and site data was opened via API release. “Thanks to the efforts of the Pelagios Project, by mapping many ORBIS sites to place name entries in the Pleiades digital gazetteer, ORBIS is now (modestly) a part of the Linked Open Data cloud.” This moderate attempt at open sourcing some aspects of the project have now made ORBIS more open to independent critique or analysis and opened up the project to contributions from outside sources. The ORBIS web mapping application also operates with a lot of open source software. The website, including both the web map and text ‘article’, are described as a work in progress so ORBIS has plans for continuing development.

— Written collaboratively by Craig and David

Critique of the Map of Early Modern London

Critique of the Map of Early Modern London

Author: Xin Zhang

Partner: Zhan Wu

The Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) is a project aimed to give users a sense of the inhabited space of London, which gave rise to the theatrical setting of many plays. Based on the Agas map, a 6-foot-2-inch woodcut of London dating from the 1560s, the project maps the streets, sites, and significant boundaries of London from 1560 to 1640 and incorporates a detailed gazetteer , topical essays, and digital texts from that period. It now comprises four main parts which are a digital atlas of Agas map, an encyclopedia of early modern London people and places, a library of mayoral shows and other texts rich in London toponyms and a forthcoming modernized edition of John Stow’s A Survey of London. And the heart of the project is an XML placeography incorporating over 720 streets, churches, wards, neighborhoods, and sites of interest. Places are both geo-referenced and linked to the Agas Map in order to visualize the locations in texts of the period.

By mapping literary references, the MoEML project would provoke research questions about Shakespeare and London alike. “How typical is Shakespeare’s invocation of London? How do his characters move through the urban environment? What is the relationship between London and the Court in Shakespeare’s historical vision? How does his geographical vision compare to that of other playwrights, such as Thomas Heywood, and to that of historians like Holinshed and Stow?” These questions entail a reconstruction of the historical space. As the director of the project Jenstad says: “think about the influences on authors, I’m thinking about the streets they lived in, where they shopped, where they went for entertainment, the route they must have taken to walk down to the bookseller who published their book, the specific environment in which people bought the book.”


Figure. 1. Part of the Agas map marked with stars. The places marked with red stars are ones that have been edited as entries in the encyclopedia. The places marked with yellow stars are ones that are not written into the encyclopedia due to lack of knowledge.

The project invents a new way for us to study literature as it maps the places in literature and it is also a great tool to learn more about culture and history as literature is always based on some reality of that time. The researchers searched digitized texts from the 1560s for place names of early modern London and then matched those to the right places on the 1560s Agas woodcut map of London. In this way, they make use of the digitized texts with data mining programs.  And they also make links to relate every place name to the texts where they are mentioned. For some places they mark red stars, the links are  related to an entry of the encyclopedia for users to learn more about the history and culture about them. For some undetermined places, they will show the mark “?” to remind you that their identity may be disputed, and thus allow readers to be involved in the effort to identify them.  Although it is a remarkable project, I think fails to extract deeper layers of data.  It only marks the place names and links them to the related texts. However, it does not indicate all the toponyms in a specific text and their frequency.  For example, when I read Richard III, I cannot grasp the distribution and frequency of the theatrical loci in the play.  The project can use the current database to develop more  functions than are found in the  current version: it could show the places mentioned in a play  and mark them according to the ; frequency referenced; it could aggregate the distribution of toponymes in the entire corpus of an author;  it could show  the trend of changing frequency  of places being mentioned in the literature of that time to gather “narrative evidence” for the social development process. It could simply do much more.

This project makes progress by integrating cartography in the archaeology of literature. It is a useful tool for scholars to study the history and culture of early modern  London and it is an attractive feature for the students to develop interest in texts. Although such a digitized Google-style map enables readers to zoom in, search and read related texts, the map is not visually appealing with only black and white colors. With the help of modern graphic technology, the map could be made colorful and three-dimensional like the Google map. In that case, it will attract a wider audience and promote learning of English history and literature among the general public.

Being open-source, the website not only provides information for other researchers but also allows users to help optimize the website. And the interface has two different versions to cater to different  tastes of the users. The website seems difficult for new users as it has no manual to tell them how to make use of the website and it is not immediately clear how to use it. This is really a big mistake because such lack of accessibility turns potential users away. And it also lacks links  to other relevant projects, which hinders other researchers to make cross references.

This website satisfies various criteria of an academic website. The fact that undergraduate students contributed to the project underlies its educational value. In the history of MoEML, the researchers recorded their research process which allows replication and generalization of the research procedure. It is continuously kept up to date with the latest scholarship. All the credits and citations are clearly listed which shows a good academic integrity.

The Map of Early Modern London is a creative project which highlights the spatial dimension of literature and at the same time provides indexed reference to massive amount of texts. But it has much potential of improvement.


MoEML. Ed. Jenelle Jenstad. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2013.

Google Style Map:

Digital Humanities 2013. Proc. of DigitalHumanities2013. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2013. <>.

HOWARD, JENNIFER. “The Chronicle Review.” Rev. of Literary Geospaces. Weblog post. The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2013. <>.

#dh Project Critiques: “Speech Accent Archive” and “10 PRINT eBooks”

Collaboratively written by Mithun Shetty, Kim Arena, and Sheel Patel

    The efficacy of a digital humanities project can be vastly improved if the delivery and interface is thoughtfully designed and skillfully executed. The following two websites, “Speech Accent Archive”, and “10 PRINT eBooks”, both utilize non-traditional forms of displaying content that alter the experience of their internet audience. Both projects will be critically assessed according to the guidelines described by Shannon Mattern’s “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited” and Brian Croxall and Ryan Cordell’s “Collaborative Digital Humanities Project.”

    The Speech Accent Archive is an online archive of audio recordings that contains multiple speakers from a variety of regional and ethnic backgrounds dictating a specific set of sentences. These recordings are submitted by the public and reviewed by the project administrators before being added to the site. The purpose of this media element is to expose users to the phonetic particularities of different global accents. This website is useful because it provides insight regarding the various factors that affect the way people talk and how these factors interconnect – from their ethnic background to their proximity to other countries. This site proves to be a useful tool for actors, academics, speech recognition software designers, people with general appreciation for the cultural connections in languages, and/or anyone studying linguistics, phonetics, or global accents.

    The website’s layout is ideal for accomplishing this purpose: users can browse the archive by language/speakers, atlas/regions, or can browse a native phonetic inventory. This allows users to explore accents on a regional basis which makes it easier to see similarities between local dialects. The audio recordings are all accompanied by a phonological transcription, showing the breakdown of consonantal and vowel changes as well as syllable structure of the passage. Each user submission is accompanied by personal data, including the speakers’ background, ethnicity, native language, age, and experience with the English language. The site also has a very comprehensive search feature which has many demographical search options, ranging from ethnic and personal background to speaking and linguistic generalization data. This level of detail is an invaluable resource for those who study cultural anthropology, phonetics, languages, and other areas, as it allows for a specific manipulation of the data presented. Also, the quality of user contributions is consistently high – it is very easy to follow the playback of the recordings.

    However, the project does have its limitations as well. The passage being read by the contributors is in English, no matter the speaker’s fluency or familiarity with the language. Pronunciations of this passage may not reflect the natural sound of the languages represented. Further, because the audio samples are user-contributed, it is hard to maintain a constant of English fluency among contributors. Another limitation to the site is that many of the sections of the site have little to no recordings or data; this is merely due to a lack of user contributions, but could be resolved by website promotion. The project is still ongoing, thus the database will continue to grow as time goes on. Another limitation of the site is that it lacks any sort of comparison algorithm. The accents are all stored on their own specific web pages and load via individual Quicktime audio scripts; consequently, it is very difficult to perform a side by side comparison of accent recordings. As a result, the project is not really making any conclusions or arguments with this data. This could be improved by allowing users to stream two separate files at the same time, or by allowing a statistical comparison of the demographical information accompanying each recording. It would also be interesting if an algorithm or visualization could be created that could recognize the slight differences in the voices and arrange them based on similarity along with the demographical data that accompanies the voice sample. Further, the project could establish a tree-like comparison of regions and accents, visually representing the divergences and connections between where people live or have lived and the way that they speak.

    With these additions, it would be easier to aurally understand the effects of background or ethnicity on speech accents. Still, this website shines albeit these setbacks. The project offers a tremendous amount of data in an organized manner, presenting many opportunities for further research and applications of the information. This level of detail is an invaluable resource for those who study cultural anthropology, phonetics, languages, and much more.

   The book titled 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is a collaboratively written book  that describes the discovery and deeper meaning behind the eponymous maze building program created for the Commodore 64. The book can be seen as a way to look at code, not just as a functional working line of characters, but also as a medium of holding culture. 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 uses the code as a jumping point to talk about computer programming in modern culture and the randomness/ unpredictability of computer programming and art. The book explores how computation and digital media have transformed culture. Along with this book, one of the authors, Mark Sample, created a “twitterbot”  that uses a Markov Chain algorithm to produce and send tweets. The @10print_ebooks twitterbot takes the probability that one word will follow another, scans the entire book, and tweets the random phrases it generates.

     The clear goal of this book is to demonstrate that reading and programming coding does not have to always be looked at in the two-dimensional, functional sense that many people see it as. The authors argue that code can be read and analyzed just like a book. They do so by delving into how this 10 Print program was created, its history, its porting to other languages, its assumptions, and why that all matters. They also talk about the randomness of both computing and art, and use this 10 Print program as a lens through which to view these broader topics. The purpose of this book is stated very clearly by one of the co-authors, Mark Sample: “Undertaking a close study of 10 Print as a cultural artifact can be as fruitful as close readings of other telling cultural artifacts have been.”

The implementation and format of this book and twitterbot is a little difficult to understand and doesn’t necessarily help them portray and establish their goals, especially when talking about the twitterbot. The book itself is coauthored by 10 professors who are literary/cultural/media theorists whose main research topics are gaming, platform studies, and code studies, which gives a broad range of perspectives regarding the topics. It also dives into the fact that code, just like a book, can be co-authored and can incorporate the views and ideas of more than one person. This idea draws on the parallels that the authors are trying to draw between coding and literary elements. Code is not just one-dimensional; it can incorporate the creative and artistic ideas of many people and can achieve many different forms that often have very similar functions in the end. In this sense, the co-authoring of this book inherently showcases their main message regarding code and how it should be viewed. The book also progressively talks about the history of this Basic program, and how it coincided with cultural changes due to the advent of the personal computer. Sample’s twitterbot, on the other hand, leaves the user more often confused than educated, but that may be point. Using the algorithm it spits out random, syntactically correct sentences that sometimes mean absolutely nothing, but also occasionally it creates coherent thoughts from the words in the book. The occasional coherent sentence that the bot spits out may be a demonstration of code itself. The user may see that within jumbles of code or in the case of the book, words, and meanings can be pulled if put in the correct syntax. Also, the form definitely fits. The randomness of the twitterbot allows people to see that even by coincidence there can be substance to code. If it was done having people point out specific parts of the code then we would be limited to their interpretations. Having a machine randomly spew out phrases allows for many different interpretations.

This tool, although abstractly useful could be implemented much better. If the twitter bots are “occasionally” genius, then the website would be more efficient if it had implemented some sort of ranking system for the most interesting or coincidental tweets. If they had some sort of sorting mechanism, then the project may be more convincing in saying that code can be made to have a creative license or brand.

Regardless of the various limitations both projects may have shown, it is abundantly clear that their media elements vastly improve their ability to illustrate their ideas and accomplish their purposes. It would be practically impossible to illustrate these projects with text alone. The Speech Accent Archives’ audio recordings give concrete examples to an entirely aural concept, which is infinitely more useful than simply listing the phonetic transcriptions.  The 10print Ebooks’ twitterBot, while difficult to understand, is an interesting concept that also generates concrete examples of what the project is trying to illustrate – that code is multidimensional in its structure and can be interpreted and analyzed similar to a complex literary work.



@10PRINT_ebooks, “10 PRINT ebooks”. Web.

Baudoin, Patsy; Bell, John; Bogost, Ian; Douglass, Jeremy; Marino, Mark C.; Mateas, Michael; Montfort, Nick; Reas, Casey; Sample, Mark; Vawter, Noah. 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. November 2012. Web.

Cordell, Ryan, and Brian Croxall. “Technologies of Text (S12).” Technologies of Text S12. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.

Mattern, Shannon C. “Evaluating Multimodal Work, Revisited.” » Journal of Digital Humanities. N.p., 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.

Weinberg, Stephen H. The Speech Accent Archive. 2012. Web.

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