Friday Favorites: The best of DS, selected by “us”

We’re back! We at the DSLab had such a good time last week scouring the web for our favorite digital projects, we couldn’t fit them all into one post. Below are yet more fantastic examples of scholarship in the digital realm brought to you by the Marquette librarians and staff.

The English Broadside Ballad Archive

Selected by Heather James, Coordinator for Digital Programs

What is the project: from the History section of the site: “EBBA has made broadside ballads [of the 17th century] from many different holdings easily and fully accessible: gathered together on one site as ballad sheet facsimiles, facsimile transcriptions, text transcriptions, and recordings, and extensively catalogued.” What’s a broadside ballad? In the words of EBBA, the broadside ballad is “street literature.” They were quickly and cheaply written and printed simple ballads usually commemorating or commenting on recent events, possibly with ornamental images and decoration of the text. It’s exactly the kind of mass culture phenomenon that is easily lost and forgotten and then incredibly difficult to study centuries later when people look back and think “what was going on with the everyday folks on the street back then?”

Examples of early modern popular texts

Why she likes this project: Not only is this an amazing example of the translation of a single scholar’s archival research to a publicly available collection, the project continues to develop rather than stagnate. In the years since I was first introduced to the project, they’ve added Visualizations of the data they have on these texts. They’ve worked to make the texts as maximally useful to other researchers, including TEI/XML files and building basic and advanced search interfaces that are as intuitive and familiar as many proprietary databases. Essentially, the collection recognizes the medium of most Humanities research as a dataset all its own. So while there is a lot of work going on with the archival texts themselves, I also appreciate this project as an example of how Digital Scholarship can often be the work of building the infrastructure and interface and giving it away!


A Day in the Life of Americans: This is how America runs.

Selected by David Kwasny, Emerging Technologies Librarian

Here’s what Americans are doing on their lunch hour.

This visualization was created by Dr. Nathan Yau. He has a PhD in Statistics, and focuses on data for non-professionals, information design, and self-surveillance. Dr. Yau used microdata from the American Time Use Survey from 2014 to generate an application that visualizes the lives of 1,000 Americans over a span of 24 hours.

Why he loves this project: I found this visualization through the subreddit r/dataisbeautiful a while back, and found it captivating. I like this visualization, because it is interesting to see an average day of a population of people. It also makes life look simple, because it is the skeleton of that day for all these people. All the narrative details for each individual is stripped away to these data points. This is how a machine might classify a day in the life of a human population because there is no emotional complexity. But, the information we see is relatable to us, because we can see our daily life in it too, that is why I appreciate this visualization.

Quantifying Kissinger

Selected by Eric Kowalik, Instructional Designer

Micki Kaufman, a Ph.D. candidate at The Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), decided to study the digitized correspondence of Henry Kissinger. This was no small task; she was faced with transcripts of more than 17,500 telephone calls and 2,200 meetings. Adding to the challenge was the fact that some of the materials had been redacted for national security reasons. She realized by taking a computational approach, she could glean insights both into the body of documents as a whole and the missing material.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, First Lady Betty Ford, King Hussein of Jordan and President Gerald Ford in the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room — c. 1975. State Department Photo.

In one instance, Kaufman used a machine-reading technique combining word collocation and frequency analysis to scan the texts for the words “Cambodia” and “bombing,” and to track how far apart they appear within the text.

A statement such as “We are bombing Cambodia” would have a distance of zero, whereas the result might be 1,000 if the terms are separated by several pages. Kaufman noticed the words tended to be clustered together more often in telephone conversations, suggesting Kissinger believed he had greater privacy on the phone, relative to the meetings, and therefore spoke more freely.

Furthermore, the analysis offered clues to what had been redacted, as it turned up major gaps in the archive — periods during which the terms did not appear together — when the bombing campaign was known to be active.

Overall, Kaufman was able to study the archive through a different lens, and found patterns she might not have detected through a laborious reading of each file.