m on June 4th, 2009

As it’s the end of the quarter, it’s final project time at the university (my own final project for GIS, which involves Monte Carlo simulation(s), will hopefully start spinning its wheels this weekend). The students in Jo Guldi‘s graduate class on digital history, Chris Bench and Liz Blake, had their presentations this afternoon, and I was able to attend.

The first presentation, by Chris, was about the “Imagery debate“–a debate about how it is that the mind perceives images. Chris narrows down the debate to two main protagonists, Stephen Kosslyn and Zenon Pylyshyn. Next, he compares how the two psychologists interact with each other. Using Many Eyes’ Word Tree Generator, Chris discovers that there is an imbalance in the way the two treat each other’s work, mostly in the sense that while Pylyshyn mentions Kosslyn far more, he less rarely rehearses Kosslyn’s arguments or engages him. The opposite is the case when the names are flipped.

Many Eyes provides many different sorts of visualizations for its users (including, of course, rudimentary geographical mapping software that has a human-intelligent geoparser), and Chris made a pretty intriguing point about the relationship between interlocutors which (perhaps unintentionally) moved rather nicely into the second presentation, about citation.

Liz’s primary engine for her presentation, unlike Chris’s two blog posts, was a timeline she built on xtimeline. Caveats abounded regarding the software, but it seems to be the best thing available online now, for free. Liz used the history of citation to show that there are actually many histories that continue separate to this day. She looked at how the same article, Youmans’s “A New Tool for Discourse Analysis: The Vocabulary-Management Profile,” which deals in part with Joyce (and Orwell), is handled by two different citation systems, Google Scholar and ISI’s Web of Knowledge. Furthermore, Liz pointed out that citation works completely differently in the humanities and the hard sciences. In the humanities, we’ll typically cite stuff 25 years old (and older). In the scinces, apparently, one doesn’t cite anything older than about 2 years (though these may be average times). This led me to a brief fantasy of an online index of citations of novels–like, I could instantly find out everything that cites, say, Ulysses.

Anyway, my reverie over, we then expanded into talking about citation in a larger frame, including services like Zotero, which I’ve discussed in the past. The main payoff for me was seeing how unstable the relationship between the standards requires of citation ended up being: authors were chastised for their pedantry in creating footnotes that resemble the modern citation, while others were criticized for not being specific enough. One author claimed that he didn’t need to cite his work, since it was read precisely by the people he would have cited, which reminded me of a post I read yesterday about collaboration in the humanities and its silent trace.

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