Haunted Home Pages #3: Virtual Haunted Houses

Welcome to Haunted Home Pages, a semi-regular series of blog posts in which Jim McGrath spends October 2017 communicating with the internet’s afterlife via The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine . For all the posts in this series, click here.

I love looking at early twenty-first century Yahoo pages with undergrads and grad students. The decisions to organize information are super interesting and weird! In my search for Halloween-themed content, I discovered that there once was a “Holidays” sub-section under Yahoo’s “Society and Culture” section. Before we go there to look at some Virtual Haunted Houses (from, of course, the “Virtual Haunted Houses” sub-section of the “Halloween” section!), take a look at these categories:

Yahoo's directory of links for "Society and Culture" (June 2002)
Yahoo’s directory of links for “Society and Culture” (June 2002)

In October of 2002 there were eight options to choose from in the category of “Virtual Haunted Houses.” While many of these houses are inaccessible via The Internet Archive due to their reliance on Flash, the descriptions of these sites give you a sense of some of the activities awaiting digital trick or treaters: virtual pumpkin carving, Ozmo the Oracle, table tennis with skeletons (move over, Warren Zevon!), etc.

Virtual Haunted Houses (October 2002)
Virtual Haunted Houses (October 2002)

Of these options, my favorite forgotten haunt is Jan’s Courtyard, in which the aforementioned Jan apparently created (and definitely starred in!) a series of Photoshopped images alongside The Cryptkeeper, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and lots of other ghouls and ghosts. If I had these kinds of Photoshop skills in 2002, this is exactly how I would have spent my time every October.

Jan's Courtyard (October 2002)
Jan’s Courtyard (October 2002)

Continue reading “Haunted Home Pages #3: Virtual Haunted Houses”

Haunted Home Pages #2: The Garment District

Garment District Halloween ad on The B Line (Green Line), October 2017.
Garment District Halloween ad on Boston’s C Line (Green Line), October 2017.

Welcome to Haunted Home Pages, a semi-regular series of blog posts in which Jim McGrath spends October 2017 communicating with the internet’s afterlife via The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine . For all the posts in this series, click here.

Boston has changed a lot since I moved here in 2003, but one thing has stayed fairly consistent: The Garment District in Cambridge has been a go-to source for Halloween costumes, and the ads it blankets the T with each year promoting its wares (and wears) are always instant time capsules for the year’s pop cultural touchstones, memes, and monsters. I thought it would be fun to take a tour through the shop’s home page over the years to see what we might learn from the ghosts and garments of Halloween Past!

Continue reading “Haunted Home Pages #2: The Garment District”

Haunted Home Pages (#1): Stephen King

The Official Stephen King Web Presence (2000)
The Official Stephen King Web Presence (March 2000)

Welcome to Haunted Home Pages, a semi-regular series of blog posts in which Jim McGrath spends October 2017 communicating with the internet’s afterlife via The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine . For all the posts in this series, click here.

I wanted to kick off Haunted Home Pages with a look back at The Master of Horror, Stephen King. I went through a huge King phase back in junior high and high school, and I will provide an embarrassing image of myself from this period to prove just how into King I was back then!

Jim McGrath, Stephen King fan (Christmas 1996)

The Wayback Machine has entries for stephenking.com stretching back to November of 1998, but this March 2000 cached page is the first one I found to provide a clear vision of the author’s “web presence.” We’re greeted with a static home page that visualizes the site’s architecture as a large circle with a smaller one devoted to “Links” orbiting it (half of the larger home planet of All Things King is dedicated to a timeline, while the other half covers a range of topics about the author).

The section dedicated to “rumors” is disappointing to gossip hounds (like me) since it’s primarily about fan correspondence and autograph policies, though there is a question about an alleged haunted house run by King on Halloween (“this is not true and never has happened.”). “the man” is a biography of King (co-authored by Tabitha King, his wife) spread across a number of individual pages: each page has about a paragraph of text on it and includes a link to a printer-friendly version. There’s also a brief note about a 1999 appearance by King on Dateline that apparently led to fan concerns that the author was “unable to write”: this note isn’t clearly dated on the home page, which seems to aspire to the “endless present” of static home pages then and now.  King’s site in this incarnation was “designed, maintained, and hosted” by i-forge Design Factory, a company whose own home page from this period is sadly hidden from the Wayback Machine by robots.txt.

THE PLANT, an unfinished serial narrative King began selling on his personal web site in 2000.
THE PLANT, an unfinished serial narrative King began selling on his personal web site in 2000.

The next major transformation of King’s personal web site comes in 2000, when the author decided to add a “downloads” section in order to sell The Plant, “an epistolary novel set in the 1980s (before email, in other words, and when even the fax was a fringe technology).” As the  project’s Wikipedia article notes, King would never complete the novel, but it was a fascinating experiment in self-publishing via electronic means, especially given the author’s stature and his commitment to transparency. You can read what was completed on The Plant, as well as commentary from King during and after this publishing experiment, on the current “live” version of the author’s site, free of charge.

Continue reading “Haunted Home Pages (#1): Stephen King”

DH2017 Poster Roundup: Mapping Violence and Day of Public Humanities

2017 marks my third trip to the biggest DH conference in the game, and for this go-round I wanted to bring the work of some of my awesome collaborators (and some of the collaborators themselves!) at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage to the event.

The work documented in these posters is highly collaborative and it involves undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members in American Studies and Public Humanities. It’s been interesting to think through the relationships between these two fields and DH during my time at Brown; the ASA’s Digital Humanities Caucus has been super helpful in the former, and I wonder if there’s more people interesting in talking about the latter. I was excited to see “public DH” in Amanda Visconti’s paper title, for instance. And while “public humanities” isn’t explicitly named in the titles of any other posters and discussions, there’s clearly a lot of interest in questions of “access” based on the number of presentations here utilizing that keyword. “Access” is this year’s conference theme, but public humanities folks might find the range of uses interesting nonetheless. Additionally, “public humanities” is showing up in several tweets about presentations (like here and here, in tweets referring to a talk by my pal and partner in digital public humanities, Lauren Tilton!), suggesting that attendees invested in the term are recognizing its presence in methodologies and project emphases.

Continue reading “DH2017 Poster Roundup: Mapping Violence and Day of Public Humanities”

Days of Future Past: Augmented Reality and Temporality in Digital Public Humanities

Uncanny X-Men #141 (1981 [1980])
In July 2017, I presented a version of this talk on a panel on “Temporality” at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference (#keydh on Twitter) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The project  I discuss here, a digital tour of the Nightingale-Brown House, will debut in September 2017. I’ll update this post with a direct link when we go live!

I wanted to start by outlining three of the major questions I hope to raise in this discussion of a digital house tour I’ve been working on at Brown University’s Public Humanities program. This presentation will focus on the details of our particular project, but I hope this overview is useful to people who are specifically interested in the metaphor of the tour in DH as well as anyone who might have thoughts on temporality as it relates to DH work and the interfaces we rely on (or develop) in various initiatives.

Excerpts from Uncanny X-Men #141-142 (1981 [1980])
This talk takes its title from “Days of Future Past,” a 1980 storyline from Marvel Comics’ Uncanny X-Men serial in which a member of the superhero team travels back in time to stop the bleak future she calls home from existing in the first place. “Welcome to the 21st century,” reads a caption box on the opening splash page of #141. Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and their collaborators present readers with a dystopian vision of 2013 and a ragtag team of surviving heroes so desperate that they’re “toying with the basic fabric of reality” in an attempt to travel back in time to literally rewrite history.

Continue reading “Days of Future Past: Augmented Reality and Temporality in Digital Public Humanities”

New Post at the JNBC Blog (the Colored Conventions Project and the Frederick Douglass Transcribe-a-Thon)

Last week, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage joined a number of other universities in a Frederick Douglass birthday party transcribe-a-thon to support the (awesome) Colored Conventions Project. I wrote about how our day went over at the JNBC blog:

Transcription may seem like a mundane or even dated way to contribute to a digital project in the twenty-first century: can’t scholars and archivists use optical character recognition (OCR) software to extract text from scanned documents? As someone who has worked on a number of digitization projects, I can tell you that the technology we imagine to be freely available doesn’t always match the realities of doing digital humanities scholarship, and the available resources can vary from project to project. While we are right to be suspicious of third-party platforms, apps, and social networks that ask for our personal data in exchange for use of their services, we are often not required to think as much about the labor that goes into the creation and support of our shiny digital interfaces. Do you know how Google Docs handle collaborative writing across a range of devices and issues related to version control when they arise as you’re drafting something? Have you ever wondered what makes Clippy so useful (or annoying)? Exposure to the nuts and bolts of a digital project like CCP can often help us gain new perspectives on the materiality of the web, the technical dimensions of systems and actions we take for granted, and the challenges of doing public-facing digital work that circulates alongside well-funded and well-oiled machines made by Google and other heavyweights on the web at-large

It was fun and easy to collaborate with the CCP: I was particularly impressed by how much work they put into ensuring that their remote collaborators had everything they needed to make their events run smoothly. They’re a fantastic model for how to do public-facing digital humanities work within and across institutions, and I hope to work more with them in the future! It was also great to get some of our students, faculty, and community affiliates working on and thinking about the labor involved in digitization projects.

Digital Storytelling: Student Visualizations and Re-visualizations

I’m teaching a graduate-level class in Digital Storytelling at Brown this spring. You can view our course site here. Last week served as an introduction to three key terms and concepts that we’ll be working with all semester: data, networks, and visualizations.

Last summer I had the pleasure of attending HILT (for the second time!), where I completed a course on Database Design for Visualization and Analysis taught by Nicole Coleman. Nicole began the course with a great exercise that doubled as both an icebreaker and an introduction to some of the major ideas we’d be working with all week. Instead of throwing us headfirst into spreadsheets and digital tools, she split the class up into smaller groups and asked us to tell a story about our group in a hand-drawn visualization. This assignment inevitably involves the gathering of data and the questioning of what that data tells us, as well as what it might be used to tell others. It then quickly leads into a discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of visualizations, especially when you’re wrestling with a desire to retain more complex and varied dimensions of networks and relationships.

Our groups focused on commonalities as well as deviations. For example, I recall that one group was interested in mapping educational backgrounds geographically, in part because there were questions about whether digital scholarship was perhaps too localized and dominated by particular schools, programs, and regions of the world, and the group wanted to make visible the routes people took as students and emerging professionals.  Some of these conversations could be difficult: they mapped “in crowds” and highlighted outliers and outsiders, they revealed certain investments in particular degrees, colleges, and career paths. They were also incomplete at times: a route might have ended or taken a turn in one direction due to personal reasons or professional obligations beyond a degree, for instance.

In any case, the exercise stuck with me, so I modified it slightly and brought it into our Digital Storytelling course. You’ll see what our class came up with below. A quick word before we dive in: I’m intentionally leaving the names of students out of this discussion, in part because it was course work in progress created without awareness of its potential digital afterlife, and in part because the students working on the visualizations varied thanks to the way Brown students “shop” for courses early in the semester (I have thoughts about “shopping,” but that’s another story). Future reflections on course work will explicitly credit particular students (and may, at times, be collaboratively written by them).

Continue reading “Digital Storytelling: Student Visualizations and Re-visualizations”

“Our City”: Images of Home in Our Marathon, The Boston Bombing Digital Archive

Source: Our Marathon
Source: Our Marathon

Note: The following post is adapted from remarks I gave at the 2016 American Studies Association Conference on a panel titled “Home Screens: Digitizing Belonging and Place in American Studies.” Thanks to my fellow presenters and attendees for their participation, to Alicia Peaker and the rest of the Our Marathon project team, and to Carrie Johnston for organizing the panel.

In his remarks at an interfaith prayer service in Boston on April 18th, 2013, three days after the Boston Marathon bombings, President Barack Obama noted more than once to his audience that “Boston may be your hometown, but we claim it, too.” In the hours, days, and weeks following the events of April 15th, 2013, many people used social media to document how “at home” they feel or once felt in Boston.

I’m interested in ideas of home and digital spaces in the context of Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive. Our Marathon, a community project hosted by Northeastern University, is a crowdsourced digital archive of close to ten thousand stories, photos, and social media about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and their aftermath. I started working on it as a graduate student research assistant in May of 2013, became Project Co-Director (with Alicia Peaker, now at Bryn Mawr) in the fall of that year, and I continue to work on it as we preserve our digital assets and make them more accessible in the short and long-term via Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service.

Slide by Jim McGrath
Slide by Jim McGrath

I’m particularly interested in discussing Our Marathon and what it might tell us about home and digital regionalismhome and digital archives, and home and digital public humanities.

Continue reading ““Our City”: Images of Home in Our Marathon, The Boston Bombing Digital Archive”

Grad Student DH Roundtable in Common-place

I wrote about my experiences doing digital humanities work as a graduate student over at Common-place. Here’s a snippet:

While I’ve heard that the phrase “public humanities” makes some people want to set their hair on fire, I’ve found that the investments many digital humanities practitioners place in public-facing work have been particularly important, and I try to explore the various implications and challenges of doing public humanities work in my courses and in my own projects. My work in Brown’s Public Humanities program at times might begin (and sometimes end) with digital initiatives aimed entirely at non-academic audiences (i.e. audiences who might not be looking to use materials or data for their own academic projects or publications). Or it might entail working with a range of collaborators—librarians, community organizations, undergraduates, archivists—with various ideas about the kinds of intellectual labor they’re invested in, interests that don’t always privilege scholarly monographs or the critical lenses privileged by my graduate training in, say, an English department. These digital projects require skill in project management and development, attention to design choices and interfaces and their impact on user experiences, knowledge of long-term preservation issues, and discussions about various forms of public engagement, among other factors.

Common-place is primarily intended for early American Studies scholars, but I think this piece may be of interest to DH folks doing work outside that particular field as well. The roundtable discussion is made up entirely of recent graduates and current grad students from Northeastern University (all of whom were former NULab fellows as well!), and it documents graduate student experiences at at a moment in the school’s institutional history when its community of digital humanities scholars and researchers (including, of course, Northeastern’s awesome librarians and archivists!) was just starting to materialize. Anyway, it was fun to write: thanks to Liz, Ben, and Abby, as well as Ed Whitley, Kathy Foley, and the good people of Common-place.