The End, Beginning, and Middle- Last Reflection

“Every good story has a beginning, middle, and an end though not necessarily in that order. We are all great stories.”- Phil Kaye

Thinking about writing this reflection seems to the end of the beginning. Or maybe it’s the beginning of the end. Heck, it might even be middle of the beginning of the end. In this funny thing called life, who knows? This project has shaped me as a person and given me skills that I simply wouldn’t have had without it and the idea of reflecting upon these details seems to have a burden that might not be easily expressed in words.

The day I first uttered the words ‘city-building’ and ‘culture’ seems like a lifetime ago. I don’t think I would’ve seen the direction my project has taken me. From looking at hot dog stands in New York City, to thinking about doing research in Philadelphia, to finally deciding to focus on home, this project has been morphing ever since I started thinking about it. And I am truly glad to have accomplished what I did in six weeks. It’s not just the digital project, or the research paper- it is the combination of all the experiences that make up this beautiful thing called Digital Humanities Summer Scholars at Lafayette College. Much of what was learned can’t be seen on paper. In fact, most of it stays in our minds and hearts, not in the words we wrote. Who can explain the experience of being in a group of nine all striving for the same goal, all looking for success?

Personally, the project has definitely shaped my academic interests. I entered the program knowing that I probably wanted to go into graduate school sometime in my future, but not knowing specifically which masters or PhD program. For now, Urban Design and Infrastructure is what I’m planning to look at and it’s all thanks to this project.

It’s hard to think about what I would change in the experience of these six weeks. I think that there was a lot of things that were done well and some things that could’ve been better. In general, six weeks is simply not enough. The scope I had envisioned at the beginning of the project was doable, but considering I had no idea of the technical skills involved in creating the project (e.g. ArcMap and City Engine), it was simply impossible to do it all. A time frame of 8-10 weeks seems more appropriate. In fact, I don’t see why the project isn’t a part of, or funded by, the EXCEL program that the college has. It really is an incredible opportunity to do something self-led. In terms of writing the paper, I think that an annotative bibliography is important, but can be easily erased by having a first draft of the literature review in place of the bibliography. I also think that at the end of the project, drafts were too close in timing in order to be effective. Furthermore, I think I made a few mistakes in approaching the project’s content. I focused early on the tools I would be using, and not on the why. And although everything kind of (not really) worked out in the end, I didn’t create a very innovative, or inspiring, argument. Then again, research isn’t always inspiring? (life lesson learned?)

After a few weeks of consideration, I’m not sure that I will continue research on stratification specifically, even though it is a very interesting topic. Instead, there is a wide array of topics that have to do with urban planning and development that I haven’t looked at, even in Bogotá. I do want to think about publishing my article in an academic journal. I think it’s important that I go through that process, at least once- it gives almost invaluable experience. I am also interested in participating in INCUR and attending various conferences, as that is what I think I will be doing in the future anyways.

In our prompt for this final reflection, we were asked how we define Digital Humanities. To be honest, I think the water is even murkier now than it was at the beginning, especially after seeing all the different projects and ideas in a Bryn Marr conference we attended. So I don’t know if I have an answer. The closest I can get is simply a community that wants to be able to implement technical skills and tools to question human aspects of our reality. In the end, I don’t even think it’s worth defining. However, a debate I do want to see cleared up (at least in my mind) is the idea of whether scholars have to have a research question to implement Digital Humanities. I don’t think that you do, but all the programs I’ve seen seem to be geared towards that.

One important thing that I do want to mention is simply how grateful I am. Not only to the program director, Sarah, who has done a ton of work with helping us sort out the stories we want to tell, but also to my fellow Digital Humanities summer scholars. Many times, we don’t see the impact that we have on people, but as someone who is constantly looking at the ways in which people learn and interact with their environment, it has simply been a pleasure working and sharing time with you all.

Camilla, you’re seemingly endless drive sets standards and expectations for all those around you. You put a lot of work and dedication into what you do and I’m glad you weren’t discouraged by not finding the original sources you needed.

Maria, I’m glad you found narratives and stories that tell you a little bit more about yourself. I don’t know how many times you’ve had to say the word ‘migration’ in your presentations, but it’s truly remarkable. First migration, second migration, third migration…

Ben, I’m glad that there are people in the world that truly believe that events that happened more than 500 years old are interesting (that’s what history majors are all about, huh?). As our only rising senior, I hope you enjoy this last year at Lafayette.

Idil, I’m just glad we made it through using those digital tools. You take everything in with the calm and ease I wish I had and ended up with a project that seems to empower you, both as a women and as a scholar.

Jovante, keep on dancing. Don’t stop. It’s fascinating how dance and music prescribe both joy and an understanding on how we think about ourselves and others. Keep doing that type of research.

John, man oh man. You speak with so much passion when it comes to your topic. Sometimes you seem to lose yourself in the power of words, music, and especially, rap when talking about your project. That’s how you know you did something worthwhile.

Tedi (Theodora), I never once even thought about disabilities in the media, much less in romantic television shows. As you presented, it truly opened a new world of thoughts that I simply hadn’t been subjected to. Keep on eating mushy pasta.

Sarah, ah. I understand now why other summer scholars have kept the bond that you have created with them. Your continuing support is the only reason we get through the six weeks at all. Thank you for showing us an open mind and honest heart.


So, I guess I’m coming to the end of the beginning… or something like that. This has truly been a ride. And I feel like I should end this reflection the same way I started my digital humanities project: with a quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

“We, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of… a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”


Failings and What Not- Reflection Four

It is now a race against the clock. What can we still do in three weeks, knowing what we’ve done in the last three? That is the real question. I think I will continue to do independent research in the future because on this topic I know I will not be able to do everything I want to with the information I have about stratification. That being said, I do think that there are somethings that weren’t as clear to me in the beginning as they are now, in terms of research structure, that I wish I had thought about before. The one that stands out the most is the relationship between the digital tool and the written work. I realize now that I had always considered the digital tool as part of my analysis on the research as was collecting, but not an explanation of my analysis. I realize now that a lot of the other scholars were doing it the other way around. For example, I wanted to use ArcMap to analyze distances and put that into my written work. But what I’m now doing is understanding stratification and using ArcMap to explain it. I don’t know it’s a weird balance.

I also think that this week could’ve been more productive than what it was. I received new papers and research from people in Colombia this week but it sort of feels like it’s a too little too late. But we knew this was coming when we started to get into it: eventually you need to limit yourself.

The most frustrating thing this week has been using R. Not because it’s hard, or because coding is impossible, but because there seem to be a set of circumstances stacked against me. I kept running the code and it wasn’t working- eventually I reached out for help and it was a simple mistake about the links I was using. So I fix that, run the code and it turns out that the government server was down. It’s been down the whole weekend and I don’t know when it’ll come back up (hopefully tomorrow). So I don’t know if the code even works at this point and like I mentioned earlier, this was the code I was going to use to measure distances.

The reading has also turned out to be more work than I expected. Stratification is a huge topic and there’s a lot of legal aspects to worry about. How can I truly explain stratification without reading the laws regarding it? How will I even argue anything like stratification causing segregation if I don’t know the area’s effects. It seems to me that I will only be able to answer the first and simply touch on the second.

But there were positives this week! Namely, I got responses from a few government officials which was very unexpected. I also got my ArcMap to work and start rendering correctly. So now that that is set up I can move along with Story Map which turns out is a pretty easy to use API. The only thing you need to have clear is how to tell your story.


Estrato or Stratum?


On Domenico Fiormonte’s Toward a Cultural Critique of Digital Humanities

The first page of this text highlights exactly what I wanted to in my first reflection for DHSS. It critiques the “indisputable Anglo-American hegemony in the academic research field”. As I stated in my first reflection there are very few developing countries that have strong research. This is due to a ton of intertwining reasons from lack of funding to lack of research based colleges, but is inevitable a problem in the academic world. If all the things people are studying comes from the US then there is a lack of perspective in the research community. This is precisely why I wanted to do my project on somewhere outside of the US; it’s the reason I chose Colombia. Furthermore, there seems to be this perceived idea that developing countries need a lot of help and that the only way to ‘fix’ them is through the lens of already developed countries. This is simply not true! “Peripheral cultures do not need any revenge or, worse, any seat at the winner’s table.” As I wrote in my first post, why can’t Latin America succeed through different methods and dissimilar conditions?

The next set of questions the author asks can also be related to my project. Throughout the process, I’ve asked myself how I would be able to relay this information to scholars back home since it’s all in Spanish. There’s no doubt that the language of research is English. There’s no doubt that the language of computing, or at least digital tools, is also English. This leaves a very small space for those cultures and languages that want to make it in the big leagues but aren’t Anglo-American. What’s worse, there really isn’t a push for other languages to be promoted. But the real problem is that these tools are created out of a specific context. Technology is not neutral to its context. Clear examples of this are the inaccessibility of things like accent marks and the .edu domain to colleges and institutions outside of the United States.

The crux of what we’ve been debating so far in class can be seen in this quote: “it appears that digital humanities is the victim of a continuous paradox; demonstrating an ability to keep up with technologies (and with their owners and gatekeepers) and, at the same time, not to become subject to them.” Here we combine what we’ve been saying during the first two weeks about the rift between the humanities and it’s digitalization with an even more complex layer: the control of digital methods.

But the author doesn’t only stop with language. He goes on to explain that even desktop icons are also a form of cyber-colonization. That being said I wish he would’ve explained in greater detail the full effects that this could have, as he did with language. A second critique of this reading is when the author overlaps two maps; one with linguistic diversity and another with World GDP. He argues that “cultural richness does not necessarily match material wealth”. While I do agree that this is true, I do not think this is a correct way to prove it. “Cultural richness” is much more than linguistic diversity.


On Roopika Risam’s Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities

This second reading is a bit harder to pull apart. The author starts by suggesting a division between theory and practice. This involves questioning how the Digital Humanities represents each. However, the author goes further by asking who is really involved in the construction of these projects and who are they for, just as the reading explained above.

The main argument, though, is based on intersectionality. Intersectionality is the “look beyond the race-class-gender triad described… [to include] additional axes of difference including sexuality and ability”. Similar to the previous reading, the author looks at why having the tools used in Digital Humanities in another language creates a barrier. If we truly want to understand the works of “black, women, [and] third world” scholars we need to be able to adopt their language and discuss in their own terms or else we limit the true expression of these scholars. Once again, my project is an example of this. There is no ‘real’ word that describes estratos in English. The closest approximation is Stratum or its plural, strata. Yet, that doesn’t really describe the full cultural connotations of the word. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to call someone ‘strata 1’- in English it is not a description of a person, but of a set of physical locations. In Colombian Spanish, socioeconomic zoning has made it relate to more than just a place- it is also an indicator (socially) of wealth, income, etc.

Another interesting argument Risam makes is about the way difference is portrayed online. Although cultural representation has been around for a long time, it is only with the internet that it has been able to gather widespread acceptance. As such, many different bodies, both public and private, have started using this to their advantage.

The racial makeup of coding is a good example of representation in the Digital Humanities. It is mostly white middle-class men who have the most access to coding. Who codes is just as important as what is being coded. But it isn’t enough to just give a minority a computer a say “code”. We must understand that the coding process itself is in between racial and gendered lines.

From what is being said in the reading, there doesn’t seem to be much backlash to this idea of diversification of DH. Scholars do want both (maybe I should say all) sides to be engaged, but they aren’t giving anyone the tools necessary to engage. That is the heart of the problem. It takes a lot of willpower to give up privilege, especially in something like technology.

I want to end with the same way the reading ends: “There is no single way of being “intersectional” – instead, intersectionality privileges exploration and innovation in feminist praxis. And aren’t exploration and innovation at the very heart of digital humanities?

Understanding Stratification Geographically

Wading through digital projects and readings, where are you finding your inspiration? What parts of things you’re reading and seeing resonate most with you? Where are the gaps in your research and what are you still looking for? What are your thoughts as you get started

If there is one thing that needs to be constant during a project, especially a self-guided one, it is the inspiration behind what you’re doing. Without inspiration or purpose, it makes no sense to construct anything. As such, I am happy to still feel inspired by the complexity of my home city. Socioeconomic stratification, as used in the Colombian context, is not a worldwide phenomenon. In fact, Colombia is the only country (as far as the research I’ve seen) that uses a system of taxing public utilities by socioeconomic division. In my mind, this makes it even more important to research.

I’m at a crossroads however, in terms of what I want to research. As of now there are two questions I’m thinking of answering. The first is related to the representation of stratification. In other words, what stratification looks like in the city. This first approach would be more specific to individual stories of buildings and specific areas of the city. Things I would include here are comparisons between different strata levels, a historical explanation of where strata came from, and whether or not strata are ‘good’ for urban development and its original purpose of taxing differently for different people depending on where they live. The way I would portray this is through Story Map, an ArcGIS software. It would be based on the story I wish to tell, incorporating an interactive map with a user-friendly explanation, based on source heavy material.

The other approach I have is looking more towards the social justice area of stratification. In other words, how is living in strata 1 different from strata 6, quantitatively. This seems to me, I admit, more interesting, but also more difficult to research. This is because to quantify this I need more background on GIS and data gathering. Examples include accessibility to schools, police stations, etc. I’m not sure how this would look like in terms of a deliverable. I can see it as an article but not necessarily a technological tool. So the question I would have to answer is ‘what would the user be doing? What would they interact with?’

One thing is certain however- 3D mapping seems to have slowly grown out of the picture. Esthetically, it would be great to use 3D mapping. Unfortunately- it takes too long (we don’t even have City Engine installed in our computers, which was surprising). Also, I really don’t think there is any value added. The things I can show with 3D mapping can easily be viewed through pictures on google maps. Although I really wanted to use it, I simply can’t find a way to incorporate it without it being a hassle and not a tool. I’m not ready to completely take it out of the picture yet.

As of now, there are still a lot of unknowns in terms of the data I can gather and use. I’ve been hard at work trying to gather data from a government site. Unfortunately, we have kept running into roadblocks with the people who are helping me out. The ability to access this data is what is going to shape my question and the approach I’m inevitably going to use. Currently, Professor Gallemore has run a code to gather the Object ID’s for polygons that described stratification in Bogota. However, some seems to be missing. Even finding this data has been hard, considering that the government has been apparently moving information around and shaping it to their own use. This is both surprising and exciting. It’s surprising because I really didn’t think that the government would even be looking at this type of thing but they are! They created a department called IDECA and its focused solely on geographical mapping of Colombia. It’s pretty cool- if you want to check it out.  It’s also exciting because it means that the Colombian government is working on the same thing right now. For example, the first day I went on their website I saw about 50 items being worked on for stratification. As of today, they have more than 70. I also realize how lucky I am to have the website I’m looking at – not all governments, especially in South America, have this type of dataset. They seem to have also hovered over Bogota and collected very high quality pictures. One thing to keep in mind however, is that it took a few hours to even find this website; you’d be surprised what you can find on the web!

So the real question is: what are the following steps?

First, I really need to start reading a lot more about the topic. This type of stratification isn’t a thing anywhere else, so instead it’d be a good idea to look at Urban Inequality. To this end I have a few readings printed that I’ll start considering. Furthermore, I also think that I need to start creating a historical sense of stratification by looking at the law passed by congress that created stratification as a possible system. If possible, it would also look at why the government considered the law to be necessary. Was it a push, right after the end of the Cold War, for socialistic tendencies. Or was it the influence of the new constitution and the socialist members that composed it? Second, I need to find the data I’ve been looking for. This data is on the website but I haven’t been able to export it. Third, I need to decide how my user will experiment with my tool. Do I want them to interact with it, or should I tell them the story? (a possible side thought- how about a video?)

We, as scholars, are making progress- though I feel as though we’ve all been isolated in our readings. I think once we have a clearer direction, we will also come together more to tackle all the tools we need to make our projects a success.

Here’s to a good week one.

The Solitude of Latin America – Reflection One

In his 1982 Nobel Literature Prize acceptance speech, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a renowned Colombian author, said the following: “Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own. Why is the originality so readily granted to us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions?” This questioning has become the reason for the construction of my digital humanities project. Although seemingly unrelated to my original proposal, the need to go beyond the basic understanding of Latin America as a set of developing countries without a will of their own has become so powerful a force in my mind, that it would seem like a betrayal to my own self to not reflect upon the thoughts, in the span of six weeks, that have caused them to be.

As such, my digital humanities project will center around Bogota, the capital city and economic center of Colombia, my native country. The need for research is great in Colombia and it would be a disservice to my home country to ignore the opportunities presented to myself at Lafayette and not further extend any research attempts on Colombia with said opportunities. In the somewhat unrealistic hopes of creating something to be used by the government or citizens back home, this digital humanities project will be a stepping stone in understanding and eventually combating the problems my city has faced.

Admittedly, the full content and context of my research is not yet clear, though the aim is to analyze city-building and its relation to culture. But, both these topics are extensive. To narrow these topics down, a review of the literature is in order. To fully maximize research time, understanding what research has already been conducted seems like an important first task. Furthermore, as I will be using city structures and organization as a key part of my project, an understanding of how to acquire such data- if it exists- is also relevant. This data might turn out of be the biggest challenge of the project. Unlike cities in the US, most city building data isn’t digitized or organized as efficiently in Colombia. A further challenge is the limited scope that will have to be incorporated due to the lack of time. Consequentially, there might be a moment in time in which a narrow focus on certain parts of Bogota will have to be used. There is much to be said about Bogota that cannot be described in words. With more than seven million inhabitants it seems logical that Bogota is amid many cultures and it has become almost necessary to begin to understand how this city came to be and where the city is now.

There is much to be learned in these six weeks. Truthfully, expectations might be clouded by the excitement felt with starting a new, self-guided, research project. My peers will definitely be an important part of this experience as we will struggle, learn, lead, and succeed together, or not at all. These six weeks are also weeks of self-discovery as undergraduates, researchers, and human beings capable of independent thought. My expectations lean more towards myself than the actual internship. How far will I be able to stretch the limits of my own thought to interpret a reality seen easily in cities but not so visible on paper? The answer, if there is one, will only be clear in seven weeks.