Mainframe White Paper

The Mainframe Project White Paper

Project Narrative

Digital humanities as a discernible field of inquiry grew up with the increased prevalence of personal computers. As a consequence of the discipline’s emergence within this historical period, little intellectual output in the field interrogates pre-personal computing subjects. Mainframe computing in particular is bereft of attention in the humanities, despite the fundamental contours grooved and legacy inherited from these machines, their operating systems and software in contemporary computing life. This project aims to build a web site collection of ‘thickly’ described informational resources about mainframe computing, delivering the prerequisites for further research about mainframe computers in the digital humanities. The operating systems and software used on mainframes began the trend toward abstracting the user from knowledge of how hardware processes data, yielding a world where nonspecialists during computers in everyday life. The objective in collecting archival material will be to grant a sense of the world in which mainframe users interacted with computers. By gathering marketing and instructional material about mainframe computing, this project provides a resource for DH scholars and interested students in the cultural context surrounding computers in the post-WWII era up to the emergence of the personal computer. 

The Mainframe Project is a digital collection of archival images ranging from advertisements to marketing brochures to instructional material. By focusing on the computing devices in the workplace before the advent of personal computers, we hope to defamiliarize some of common assumptions about computing informed by contemporary culture. The archive creates a starting place to think through how the social context around computing from 1950 through the 1970s is different from and informs our view on computers’ place in our cultural imagination.  Specifically, this project probes the underlying influence of war on the rise of computers, and also the gender politics of operating these machines in the business place before the personalization of computing. It will conduct these types of investigations by looking at archived material such as advertising, manuals, and other marketing ephemera.

Environmental Scan

When looking on the internet for archives, collections of material or scholarship on mainframes, the results baffle naive expectations. The public institutions interested in computing assume an in-person experience as the background to understanding the material. At the least accessible end of the spectrum, the Computer History Museum, both in current form and its archived version, focuses on driving traffic of an enthusiast nature and a eye towards projecting history into a future utopian visions typical of Silicon Valley. The Centre for Computing History provides a retro themed archive of ephemera, though most of that is geared towards experiences rooted in personal computing and gaming. The archival material posted on this Cambridge-based museum is well organized, but each artifact is furnished with little context in which to understand the subject matter without prior knowledge. Further internet searches for academic work on mainframes is confounded by a fog of sales blog posts from contemporary mainframe manufacturers and software development consultants. Still, a few scholars will guide MPP with subject-specific study and methodology useful in a humanistic study of mainframe computing.

It would be neglectful to omit the masterful work done by Tung-Hui Hu in A Prehistory of the Cloud. The Mainframe Project finds intellectual footholds for its intuitions in this book’s work connecting computing past to present, especially the connection between time-sharing and cloud platforms. The second chapter of the book, “Time-sharing and Virtualization” analyzes the rhetoric of computer scientists, as well as “political, legal and nonspecialist documents” to identify the complicity of time-sharing in the “economic shift away from waged labor and toward…the economy of ‘immaterial labor’…of flexible labor that encompasses even seemingly personal or unpaid tasks, such as writing a review for a favorite product on” (Hu, 39). In this account, time-sharing on mainframes, embracing a rental model for computer resources based on processing hour, creates a “user” subject grounded in seeing their time as variously lost, stolen and potentially recoverable. In effect, the computer user is made “equivalent to his or her usage” by time-sharing, “yok[ing] the user’s labor to the labor of the computer itself…fashion[ing] an efficient worker capable of flexibly managing time” (47). Maneuvering between accessible technical explanation and the explanation of how knowledge work is bounded up in the rhetoric and economics of time-sharing, A Prehistory of the Cloud serves as a model for the type of scholarship the Mainframe Project hopes to inspire in future iterations and scholars. 

In order to view the user subject in mainframe computing, and avoid simply recapitulating the technical details, the Mainframe Project considers the experience of the knowledge worker. Alan Liu’s The Laws of Cool offers any plethora of cultural exegesis about knowledge work. For instance, how an office space populated with computers tranforgrafies labor as conceptualized by Marxist theory, the aforementioned “waged labor,” into an unromantic form of alienated labor for knowledge workers. These “chimerical creatures who owned no productive property yet represented proprietors…were the class of untragic labor and undemonic godhood…merely routine submission and petty bossiness” experienced a world in which coolness of affect, exemplified by professionalism in the workplace , was spurned on by automation, i.e. the transfer of labor of a computer (Liu, 1112). Representing capital and labor, and yet having neither in the traditional sense, the knowledge worker is responsible for providing a service rather than a product, an output unmeasurable only by time expended at the workplace. As Liu puts it in the cadence of a commandment,  “thou shalt not know joy or sadness at work. Neither celebration nor protest nor mourning is on the clock” (Liu, 1189). Liu also discusses the cultural perceptions, popular and literary, surrounding mainframes in the 1960s, which will help bolster our directions in research and sourcing archival material for the Mainframe Project.

The affordances of software, the way it can change the content of output as a result of changes in production, will not be ignored in the MPP collection. Matthew Kirschenbaum’s extended meditation on word processing, Track Changes, expresses the benefits of this software for professional writers. Although Kirschenbaum explicitly focused on word processing in the personal computer age, the insights into how word processors operate as tools compared to previous writing technologies are an inspiration for MPP’s inquiry into the mainframe end-user software. The stubbornness with which a small niche of authors stick with Wordstar is reevaluated as a practical decision, with writers opting for an experience that abstracts away concepts like pages, as a medium that “resembles a longhand approach to document composition, with all the freedom and flexibility that it affords: (Kirschenbaum, 4). The advantage of a word processor like Wordstar shines in the editing process: “Whereas the strike of the typewriter’s keys forces the writer ever forward, character by character, line by line, WordStar’s intricate layers of push-button inputs allowed far more freedom and flexibility.” Of course, the MPP project will need to engage with line editors rather than graphical word processes when talking about document creation in the height of the mainframe age. Even so, Kirschenbaum’s work generates useful research and design questions in a mainframe computing context. For instance, did the inability to edit interactively, operating on lines of text in relative isolation lead to the terse style of office memos? Would demonstrating ed, the standard line-editor for Unix systems, give contemporary computer users a sense of how line editors affect written composition on mainframes? While the current incarnation of the Mainframe Project doesn’t interrogate these questions directly, we hope that showing scholars images of these devices will spark questions related to how computer-human interaction differed in the past, and how that difference might be manifest in present day interaction.

This project takes lessons from humanities work on digital archives. Maybe no scholar has argued more passionately about the hidden costs of digital publishing than Johanna Drucker. Among her many concerns, the “cost of production and maintenance…greater with digital objects than print” because they include all of the activities required for printed material, plus “servers, licenses, files, delivery, and platform-specific or platform-agnostic design” (Drucker, 2014). The threat of format, rendering technique, and style obsolescence is real when publishing a digital work on an often unforgiving humanities and IT budget in academia. To account for these risks, the Mainframe Project uses the Wax project, an extension of the Jekyll static website generator written in Ruby, provided by the Minimal Computing work group. This choice grants the Mainframe Project the best option for durability and maintainability without a dedicated staff in the future.

Scholars and students interested in imaginative explorations of what it might have been like to interact with and encounter mainframe interfaces in person, as well as the cultural impact it had not only in the workplace, but popular culture as well. We believe there’s a requirement for educational material for non-technical audiences in the broader public due to relative unfamiliarity with the technologies involved. Coming from CUNY, a public institution that values accessibility of education, we strive to make the collection accessible to anyone– from professional researchers, academics, to those with a more casual interest in computer history. We aim for the digital collection to be a resource for technologists, media ecologists, archivists, designers, artists, and historians alike. 

Project Activities

The initial goals were to create a digital collection of archival media that were manipulated through deformance; I think we were drawn to the idea of deformance in terms of what it can do in terms of interpreting media, understanding our social social relationships and human interactions with computers by using mainframes as a point of departure. We think it is still an interesting concept to execute, however, we believe for educational purposes, it would be confusing to the segment of the audience who are non-academics. Or not even non-academics; those who are unfamiliar with what mainframes are. While presenting our final project during the dress rehearsal, fellow classmates expressed that they were not aware of what a mainframe even is. It became painfully clear that in order to address certain topics, such as gender politics in the workplace, time sharing and cloud platforms, and cultural perceptions surrounding mainframes in the 1960s, we would need to first explain how they operated. Unfortunately, this is something that we would need expert consultation on or additional time to research and express coherently to a lay audience.

Reflecting on the work plan, we spent a majority of the time planning and researching what kind of content we wanted to include in the project, which strayed off from our initial goals of mainframes themselves. Finding computer magazines aimed towards hobbyists from the 70s-80s opened up another avenue of topics to explore besides mainframes in a work-setting. Creative Computing  was one of the earliest magazines covering the microcomputer revolution, which covered the spectrum of hobbyist/home/personal computing in a more accessible format than the rather technically oriented Byte magazine. The magazine was created to cover educational-related topics, and early issues include articles on the use of computers in the classroom, various programs like mad libs, and various programming challenges. It also featured editorials that explored more existential topics relating to technology creeping into functions of our everyday lives. One editorial, titled The Computer Threat to Society, talks about grocery stores switching price cards on the shelf to bar codes and how the computerized UPC system (Universal Product Code) “is indicative of the little ways that the computer is invading our lives.” It continues on with “With UPC, people are being forced to make a change that some of them don’t want to make.” It continued with topics about fraud, the influence it has on elections, the inconveniences that occur in bank statements, and even the physical harm that can come from inadvertent errors or program bugs. 

Upon further research, we came upon Radical Software,  an early journal started in 1970 in New York City that explored the use of video as an artistic and political medium. It was off topic to the project at hand in that there is  no mention of mainframe computers itself throughout the journals, but relevant as the content itself was a call to pay attention to the way information itself is disseminated, the relationship between power and control of information, and also a call to encourage a grassroots involvement in creating an information environment exclusive of broadcast and corporate media. The journal was started by early video-art pioneer Beryl Korot, who is well known for her installation works that explore the relationship between analog technologies and video. Issues of Radical Software included contributions by nam June Paik, Douglas Davis, Paul Ryan, Frank Gillette, Charles Bensinger, Ira Schneider, Ann Tyng, R. Buckminster Fuller, Gregory Bateson, Gene Youngblood, Parry Teasdale, Ant Farm, and many others. In one publication, there was a series of poems titled Simultaneous Video Statements  by Aldo Tambellini. One poem reads: 

Radical Software, Vol. 1, pg 19

This piece ties mainframe computers to their involvement in warfare. While some audiences are familiar with the work done by Alan Turing to break the cryptograph code of the Enigma machine during WWII, most don’t know about the ENIAC and Harvard Mark I, two mainframe computers used to calculate the maximum blast radius for nuclear and non-nuclear bombs and bombing raids.

After that, research continued into the artistic explorations via computing beginning in the 1960s, in which computer programmers at IBM, the MIT, and other research labs experimented with computer-generated films in collaboration with artists such as Stan VanDerBeek, Kenneth Knowlton, A. Michael Noll, and John and James Whitney, among many others, highlighting the interrelationship of science and art and the collaboration between artists and engineers. The abstract films produced, most notably by artist Stan VanDerBeek in cooperation at Bell Labs, center around the new ways of seeing and new forms of sensory engagement with cinema and the world. 

While exploring topics that linked art, technology, perception, and humankind, we were unaware of the technological barriers laid before us in creating a website with no experience in front-end web development. It left us with little time to tackle some of the issues regarding building a website. In hindsight, more time should have been spent on technical development, given the two-person project we were committed to operate as. It also came to light later in the semester that Wax is ideally focused on small digital collections, particularly when hosted using zero cost platforms like Github Page and similar options. Had this been realized sooner, less time could have been spent on researching topics that never ended up on the final product, as we had to lower our scope for what archival material we wanted. 


We created a digital collection of archival images about mainframe computers from advertising, marketing brochures and user manuals. Beyond the creation of that artifact, feedback from the CUNY digital humanities community demonstrated an interest in what most audience members felt is an understudied topic. There’s considerable interest piqued about how mainframes work, how interacting with them differed so drastically with the computers of today. The process of researching and collecting these materials reveal the potential of mainframes as a scholarly and digital humanities topic, as well as the vast subject matter one might investigate over a longer period of time. 

Future plans

There are three distinct directions we want to highlight for future development of the Mainframe Project, using the digital archive we created this semester. 

The most straightforward path we could pursue is extending the archive further. Due to the implementation choices made, we found over double the number of interesting images that are hosted in the archive as it exists today. As access to physical archives opens with the waning of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, we anticipate that physical brochures, magazines and other ephemera related to mainframes could be scanned for inclusion in the Mainframe Project. Moreover, video about mainframe computers could be included in the archive. Enlarging the website with archival material need not only be the only source of enhancement. The archive as it exists today is devoid of written content that could aid in the significant educational gap between classic mainframes and our popular contemporary knowledge of microcomputers. Similarly, more in depth treatment of themes and theoretical analysis could help flesh out a context through which to understand our library of visual material.

Expanding our collection would require rethinking our technical infrastructure. Moving from Github Pages to a flexible cloud host like Linode would help navigate storage limitations, and give more flexibility in terms of libraries/frameworks used to generate the site, providing better support for the expanded size of the archive and new file formats and mediums. For instance, image processing with about 250 images (the current archive size) takes about two hours. With more image files, and larger files like video, switching to a framework like Hugo would drastically decrease processing time. Moving off of low administration environments to a cloud provider, and migrating away from the Wax library would increase the development effort and maintenance required, but a more complex configuration is a reasonable tradeoff as the archive becomes more expansive. 

A more traditional development path for the archival research done for the Mainframe Project would be the creation of a “thick” history of mainframes. This approach may take the form of a scholarly essay or thesis that builds up a substantive bibliography, synthesizing a historical account of mainframes used for business, explanations of how these computers were operated, a perspective on mainframes as critical infrastructure in the past and present, and theoretically focused a genetic analysis of the cultural effects of computing devices between the 1950s and 1970s. The benefits of taking this approach as a next step in the project are commensurate with the feedback we received from CUNY digital humanities community members, and would broaden the audience for academic and general non-fiction writing about mainframe computers. Computing with text and physical interfaces is foreign to even some technical audiences. But there’s also a lack of understanding of computers in culture before the personal computer revolution in the 1980s. This manifestation of the Mainframe Project could build on the cultural artifacts collected in the archive, while providing a deeper context in which to appreciate them.

The third potential path for the Mainframe Project would be an interactive web app that demonstrates how a mainframe computer works. While underdeveloped in the specifics, one could imagine virtual mainframes based on one or two machines from the Mainframe Project’s period of study, where visitors are guided with instructions on how to interact with the machine, what inputs and outputs are generated. The representations of the machines could be abstract too, with fun sounds and simplified representations to focus more on understanding the workflow rather than trying to recreate the machines in a digital format.

Welcome to the Digital Garden – Final Report


New York City is often known as a “concrete jungle.” While we envision a gray and black landscape, not many pay attention to the actual green foliage that quietly engulfs the city. Some greenspaces are only known as private gardens or residential parks. But between the tall buildings, often on vacant lots, you will find community gardens open to the public. When Covid hit New York City, there was a sudden mandate that required people to stay at home and isolate themselves. The need for interacting with outdoor surroundings became more crucial. The interest in green spaces heightened and highlighted the necessity of green areas for people living in New York in order to ensure their well being. One way to encounter and interact with green spaces are the many different community gardens spread all over NYC. It was GreenThumb, a division of NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation, working with the support of over 500 community gardens in New York, that New Yorkers experienced an increased interest in becoming involved in Community Gardens under Covid. 

The history of community gardens in NYC dates back to the 1970’s and involves a long past of resistance, engagement and active citizens who wished for more greenspaces in their communities. It was a time where New York City was hit by a fiscal crisis and many buildings were abandoned and torn down. This in turn created many vacant lots which lead to a movement of gardening activists using seed bombs to “grow” the spots together through planting window boxes and tree pits (Loggins, D. 2007). One of the gardens we visited; Liz Christy’s Community Garden, is by many considered the first of NYC. The garden was created by the namesake, Liz Christy and a group of young gardening activists known as the “Green Guerillas”. The green space, to this day, has a strong tie to its history. This is evident by our interview with the oldest known member of the garden. He was noted as saying just how proud he was of the garden being able to survive for 50 years without being built on or torn down. Instead, the garden has been developed and has thrived over the years with the help of many different volunteers over time. Today the garden still stands as a greenspace for those interested in gardening or wanting to enjoy a break from the busy city life.

(date unknown – vacant lot where Liz Christy Community garden is today. Source:

(date unknown – Photo from Liz Christy Community garden. Source:

But how can we define what a community garden is today? The American Community Garden Association defines a community garden as “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” (Gittleman, M. Librizzi, L. Stone, E. 2010 p.9) and by that definition there exists many different kinds. Some are private, others are part of the Trust for Public Land but most in NYC are a part of the Dept. of Parks & Recreation, which also means they are associated with GreenThumb or GrowNYC. This, therefore, became our starting point when we decided to explore the topic further. With our project we did not desire to answer the broader question but to rather explore who, how and what is accessible within these green spaces and what the effects of these gardens mean for the community that surrounds them. The gardens exist as spatial places that are materialized and can be visited, but also exist digitally as websites, datasets, social media accounts etc. With this project we wished to answer our questions by engaging in both areas. Coming from a DH perspective, the digital portion was most imperative to us. As argued by Digital humanist, Brian Greenspan: “In today’s academy, we are all already digital” (Greenspan, Brain 2019).  He further explains that as scholars, today we need to use digital resources and tools to conduct research. Therefore we decided to look into the present standing of community gardens by digital means and were fortunate to find different relevant and already collected datasets. To further add to the depth of our project, we also reached out to different community gardens to meet and speak with them in order to experience their spaces in a more embodied way.

Digital humanists have been using digital methods to both analyze and communicate academic findings, and with this project we wished to contribute to the field by exhibiting how using digital humanistic methods can show new perspectives on community gardens. As we stated before, our project uses methods of data visualization and ethnographic interviews to explore the who, how and what. Our data and findings are  presented on our website but before the final product we had gone through a process of narrowing down our scope. Our website is a result of editing, analyzing and interpreting our data that consist of both personal interviews and larger datasets. As argued by visual theorist and author, Johanna Drucker, data often comes across as mere descriptive and therefore lacks the acknowledgement of the interpretation process behind the final graphical expressions. It is part of a discussion within digital humanities of how to use bigger datasets and still be rooted in the humanistic knowledge production it is based on. By combining the quotes with the findings from the datasets, we have highlighted the personal stories and experiences behind the numbers. At the same time we have presented our findings not as objective truth, but as perspectives that make the reader reflect and engage in the subject. 

There are already a vast number of narratives centered around community gardens. They tell stories of resistance towards capitalism and corporate housing, they strengthen communities and make healthy food accessible, they encourage the need for a more sustainable city and so much more. With our project we hope to contribute to these narratives with the added gaze of DH. We looked upon community gardens with curiosity and brought new perspectives to these green spaces scattered around the city. 


When considering our intended audience we found it important to analyze who could potentially benefit and be interested in our project. There could be many different actors in the field of community gardens since we are exploring different aspects of them. It could be on a political, educational and academic level. However, to narrow down the scope of who we wish to target specifically we believe our work would be most helpful and relevant to those already engaged in community garden work. This accounts for both organizations and those in the academic field. In other words we are targeting volunteers, coordinators and scholars who wish to strengthen the effort done around community gardens. We believe these individuals have a shared interest in reinforcing community gardens on both a local and national level. However limited resources and time may prevent them from fully committing to being a full time supporter. We are aware that individuals that hold an interest in helping may be preoccupied with their jobs and general personal lives. For that fact alone we have worked diligently on the website being clear, easy to use,  informative and diverse through the showcase of different perspectives. The tone of our work is meant to be educational, inspiring and enlightening. We hope to create a trust in our project that is legit and worth considering and exploring further. It would be great if people wish to engage in community gardens after looking at our website, but our main purpose is for our audience to get a better understanding of community gardens and their accessibility and impact on both a local, neighborhood and broader city level.


Throughout our project we have gained a better understanding of our audience by having the opportunity to speak first hand with GreenThumb coordinators, garden members as well as people interested in community gardens on both a private and academic level. It has been a process of reshaping our focus that has made our website stronger for the intended audience. An example of how we engaged and included our audience into the process of the final website is through our ethnographic work. At Liz Christy Community Garden our interviewee wished to know what other gardens grew across NYC, so that he may reach out to them to gain tips on how to grow certain produce. His statement is one of the reasons why we designed and included a map centered around produce found in community gardens in New York City. Our map displays what kind of fruits and vegetables are available along with where they are grown. We intended for this visual to fulfill his, as well as potentially others interest in discovering the production of goods grown by other areas and neighborhoods. This in turn can also possibly strengthen the network between gardens. 


Furthermore, we also hope our website can be of service to the garden members engaged in building up their spaces. Through our research we have found that gardens have to apply for a grant by means of sponsorships through organizations or other donors. Greenthumb, for example, has been known to provide programming and materials for the gardens they fund. Sustainability of these gardens are dependent on continued financial support, so we also aspire for our work to be used as a viable resource and evidence in helping the gardens consistently apply for these grants. More than simply presenting information, we want to help these gardens as well. We observed first hand at how certain gardens still struggle economically. Upon a visit to 100 Quincy Community Garden, we were told how the volunteers were struggling to get running electricity for their space. This was to be used for light fixtures and functioning BBQ grills for the residents. Judging by this statement as well as the results demonstrated by our “Who’s got access to them” map displaying the gardens correlation to household income, we know that most gardens are built in lower income areas with very little access to resources. For that reason, our audience is also inclusive to those who wish to aid in the garden’s well being. 


Activities and Accomplishments 


Our initial goals were to have a simple website in which anyone can go and visit in order to find information on community gardens. As we grew as a team, our plans shifted week to week. At first, we found a plethora of datasets when we conducted a web analysis. The data we found was mostly organized by community districts, names, location, hours open and  “garden status.” All these metadata attributes were designated by Greenthumb. As we continued to have our weekly meetings, we kept asking each other if we could keep trying to find more data. In our work plan, we wanted to find at least five different types of datasets. However, we were at the mercy of what’s currently available online. Unfortunately there is not a lot of data in comparison to other open NYC data files.  


Our new question became, “should we add on to the currently available datasets?” This was particularly important because some of us wanted to create new data while others wanted to use what was already available to make a viable website. Due to time constraints and availability of our team members, as well as a consultation with Prof.Maney, we decided that the majority of our work would rely on datasets already made. However, any CSV files that we couldn’t find online were constructed ourselves by doing a general web scrape.


At the end of our project, we were able to find and make around twenty usable datasets. We then organized them in a specific folder labeled “Data Collection” 

Many of these datasets were either combined into one mega sheet or just looked upon as references for our upcoming questions.  


The main dataset we used was the Greenthumb_garden_info.cvs 


 When we first uploaded the file to Tableau online, we were met with a barrier. We had to research and learn how to display this data and figure out what can be properly translated within the system. Since we decided to make maps, we had to learn how to display numbers into a visualization. Our first map was ambitious, we wanted to display hours open, days open and location pinpoints. We soon realized that Tableau wasn’t that robust or our skillset wasn’t high enough to display it. We ended up using only two columns in the dataset; name of the garden and their status. A reduction of the dataset allowed us to produce a map in which we show people the status of community gardens in NYC: Our first question we created as a team was simple. : “Where are they?” 



In our next map we wanted to combine two points of data into one image. We, as a team, asked the next question: “Who’s got access to them?” 


As social scientists and digital humanists, we often pondered, “we know where these gardens were located, but how many people had access to them?”. We came up with the idea of combining our already created dataset with the addition of income levels to the map. We thought this was an excellent idea as many aspiring social scientists can look at this map and try to find correlations we did not previously account for. While there were plenty of income datasets online, Tableau  offered a data layer with 2018 income data that was tied in relation to neighborhoods. This is what we ended up going with. When we first imported the dataset and tried to overlap it, we were hit with another barrier. Tableau could not find or connect the two datasets. After countless hours of trying to figure it out, we deduced that we needed to incorporate the amount of gardens through zip codes; however, our dataset did not provide that. Our next step was then to manually count/group the amount of gardens per zip code. After creating a new dataset we were able to produce the following map:  


Health and green spaces are often seen as a symbiotic relationship. The idea of this stemmed from a categorization of the Bronx and Manhattan. There was a famous quote from a newscaster  that stated “The Bronx is burning”, similar quotes are attributed to the famous Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, where the area in the 1800s was seen as “tough.” Our next data visualization wanted to help tackle a common misconception of NYC health. Why are kids so prone to respiratory conditions and do we think that community gardens are helping to fight that? Our next question regarding community gardens was therefore: “Can they affect your health?” We were able to use NYC’s own Environment & Health Data Portal to download and organize data. Thankfully, we had a healthy amount of choices. We ended up with two datasets regarding the number of ER visits from 2015- 2017 and another dataset regarding Nitrogen oxides (NOx) which included nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). These are a group of pollutants formed by combustion that can cause damage to lung tissue causing breathing and respiratory problems. We felt that these two datasets would help create a story that the community can review and ponder on if they were considering expanding community gardens in the area. As data and social scientists, we did not have formal hypotheses of whether community gardens were helpful or not. However, we were a bit biased in wishing that they did.  


Our next technical barrier with Tableau was even more intense than the previous two. The dataset we downloaded was extremely incompatible with the software. We were not able to generate any sort of data map to showcase the public, which almost led us to discarding the idea all together. Nonetheless, we persisted in trying to create a basic map displaying at least some of our collected data. What we noticed is that the NYC Environment & Health Data Portal had their own data visualization and their dataset was more in tune with community districts than the zip codes that we were already accustomed to. Once again, we needed to translate and manually find where these community districts landed with zip codes. We unfortunately had to make the decision of cutting down the data displayed on the map as they kept getting lost in translation. Even worse, we couldn’t link both datasets with our already created mega map of community gardens. Nevertheless, we generated the following two maps in order to give the community an idea of where the highest level of ER visits and NO pollutants were located. We kindly wanted the community to compare our data visualizations on our websites in order to research more. Below are the two data visualizations:  


The results were a bit shocking for us as we compared these maps to our generated maps. We can see that community gardens almost made no noticeable difference. The largest number of community gardens are located in areas of Brooklyn, East Village and the Bronx. But when compared to the health data we unfortunately did not find any notable connections. We would like to leave this up for future researchers to dig deeper. Perhaps a more in depth study on community gardens and other green spaces like parks and their locations can be connected back to the overall health of people in NYC.  


Apart from NYC map visualizations we also created a pie chart and made a wonderful tree map to demonstrate some data that we thought would not be sufficient in a standard city map. We used a data sheet, constructed ourselves through an investigation of GrowNYC and created a pie chart of gardens with a digital presence.  



This chart shows us that Brooklyn has the most digital presence in comparison to other boroughs.  What is also interesting is that Queens has the least, even though they have a decent amount of gardens. We are not sure why these gardens aren’t digitized yet. The web scrape we did, did not really inform us of why certain places had websites while others did not. During our ethnographic interviews, we found out that it is often up to the volunteers in the garden that have the skills and motivation to work on the web presence. So it is mainly up to them to decide to have a digital identity. We also presume that the lack of social media or a website can also be due to the demographic of the residents that live in such places. We hope that this graph can inspire more people to create more digital websites. 


Our last visualization showcases one of the many beneficial attributes provided by community gardens; the accessibility to fresh produce. An increased number of fruit and vegetable intake is a well known remedy in improving dietary habits. Not only are garden grown foods packed with vitamins and antioxidants, they’re also a great money saver. The tree map below displays community gardens in NYC that are ripe with goods. The scroll over feature in our second map provides indicators about those that give away to local residents and markets. 

What is really cool about this map is that a user can hover over a produce box, and see how many gardens grow it. We hope that one day a savvy digital gardener can create this into an interactive map where one can go and look for select produce. 


Aside from the visualizations we also wanted to talk with people about their own understanding of the community gardens and their work. As we mentioned before there are around 500+ community gardens in New York City. It was obvious we only had enough time to talk with a few, so narrowing down the list of possible interview subjects was also a challenge. From the beginning we knew that the ethnographic work would not represent all gardens, but rather give a glimpse into the inner workings of them. We first began our process by constructing a spreadsheet with the garden’s name,neighborhood, year, type and size along with contact and status info.The selection process was not only determined by which garden we wished to talk to, but also which ones we could get in contact with and if they wished to participate. In beginning our process of contacting gardens, we first decided to send messages through the email addresses gardens have listed on various websites. When we did not get a response to any of our emails, we knew we had to go in a different direction.This is when we decided to directly contact Greenthumb. The coordinators were more than helpful with providing us with phone numbers of gardens they thought would be interested in participating. In the end we managed to get an email back from Liz Christy Community Garden as well as a phone call with 100 Quincy Community Garden. The interviews were conducted with enough time in between to refine our questions and method of interviewing. 


After concluding the interview process we uploaded our audio files using a soundcloud player. We then worked on transcribing audio and worked together to analyze the most interesting findings. In the end we picked quotes we felt highlighted different ideas and reflections represented during the interviews. We then reached out to the informants and asked if they had anything else they wanted to further add. They did not have more to add so we went ahead with our original audio and transcripts. In the “Interviews of Community Garden Members” tab on our website we have audio with accompanied transcripts of interviews taken at Liz Christy Community Garden and 100 Quincy Community Garden.


Furthermore after the website’s completion, we sent a link to all of our interviewees. At the time of writing this we have not heard back from them but we hope for a positive response in the future. 


Collective criticisms, feedback and suggestions gathered throughout the semester provided us with multiple avenues of assessment to help reach our final goal. Our first run of evaluations stems from our initial project proposal. After vetoing the original proposition of constructing a map used to observe the surplus of produce from NYC community gardens, we decided to go in the direction of an all in one interactive web hub to guide those interested in taking part or learning more about the city’s distinct green spaces. Although we considered our efforts in this plan to be plausible we were instructed to come up with a more solid project proposal going forward. One that allowed for us all to have a unified voice and understanding of what we were aiming to do with the community gardens we wished to study. The sound advice provided us with a more substantial grasp on the work we knew we would be able to create in about three months time. By cutting out the need to try to incorporate every information on community gardens we can possibly find, we were able to narrow down our scope and solely center on areas of interest that were most pertinent to both us and the field of DH. In the end, considering the fact that our final visualization list was cut down severely, we are most thankful that we did not go with our primary proposal. 

Our second round of direct evaluation was guided by our appointed Tableau mentor, Kelly Hammond. At this point in our journey we had progressed to designing maps and graphs of the collected data we had accumulated. Due to the fact of us all being relatively new and inexperienced in the functions of the software, most of our time was being used to both figure out the system as well as how to go about choosing the best layout for our facts and figures. With the help of Prof.Maney we were put in contact with Kelly who was more than helpful in guiding us through what works best for our final vision. It was through an outsider’s perspective we were able to refine not only our visualizations but the purpose of our work as well. In lieu of working with the concept of finding what a community garden is in the digital age, we were enlightened with the idea of framing our work in the form of a story. In doing so we were also able to situate our visualizations through the form of questions, to entice viewers into finding out more. Our work became a bit more directed towards those already involved in NYC community gardens, which ultimately made more sense for how we chose to present our data. Additionally, Kelly also assisted us with the technicalities of the maps and graphs. With zoom meetings, email exchanges and helpful video instructions we were able to work within Tableau and turn out a more clear display of our material. 

Lastly, feedback received at all mock presentations as well as from Prof.Maney before the showcase, were most helpful in elevating the user experience of our website. Some notable advice from a list of many included adding alt text to images, choosing a brighter color palette for the points on our map, differentiating colors on our map legends, adding links to a dead page and removing unnecessary widgets. In the end we tried our best to incorporate everyone’s tips and suggestions to benefit our work. Our wordpress site had gone through several external changes but the final product is exactly what we had envisioned when designing the landscape for this project. 

Overall if we were to identify the biggest strengths of our work, we would first recognize the conciseness of the vast amount of data collected to create interactive visuals. Through copious amounts of spreadsheets we managed to create five intriguing and easy to use infographics. Moreover we also applaud our efforts into connecting with actual community garden members for an ethnographic study. Our audio and visual interviews provide a humanistic appeal to our project. It was imperative for us to give a platform to those who uphold the gardens and we are certain that those who visit our website will be captivated by the history and anecdotal accounts of the individuals who were gracious enough to lend us their time and voice. On the flip side, if we were to account for weaknesses our team suffered, time was definitely our biggest enemy as we have stated before. There were multiple maps, graphs and charts we wanted to present. Unfortunately our time management skills and lack of prior knowledge in Tableau prevented us from illustrating a more fleshed out understanding of what these gardens and the community that surrounds them have to offer. On a base level community gardens seem to be a neighborhood constructed green space to encourage outdoor activity.However our research has shown that these gardens have a much larger impact on the welfare of its residents. The many benefits these spaces provide include; increased access to fresh foods, improved air/water quality and boost of positive mental health and relaxation. These gardens are more than just an average neighborhood park and although we slightly touched upon the cardinal values these spaces hold, we are aware that we could have done more to truly make this an awareness project.  

Continuation/Future of the Project/Sustainability

Although we do not have any formal plans as of yet to continue on with this project ourselves, we hope those that encounter our website will seek inspiration to possibly expand on it. Due to the fact that the majority of our extrapolated data is already publicly available through websites like GreenThumb Gardens, NYC Open Data and GrowNYC, we do not claim direct ownership over it. Therefore we are more than willing to let individuals outside of the group use our findings to help them in their exploration of community gardens or any subject area that pertains to that. Our hope for our project since the beginning has always been to create a suitable foundation for future researchers, as evidenced by our data management plan. The data we created and published will be under standard sharing protocols. The data will not be restricted nor behind a paywall. We hope for a large audience to use this information, one being community leaders themselves using this information to enhance their connection to their gardens. Furthermore all of our work has also been saved on to a shared google drive. In the event an individual wishes to gain even more info on what we have found, they may contact us through our Graduate Center emails, listed on our website. Although we will insist on being credited if our visualizations or self made data sheets are used, we will grant permission for utilization. Judging by the positive response we have garnered from those who have viewed our site, we know we have already piqued interest. However, possible limitations we may come to expect from making our project public and available, reduces down to our ethnographic work. This aspect of our project is limited to our website and is not in use for share in order to protect the participants’ privacy. 

In conclusion the longevity of our work is dependent on the standing of the Cuny commons wordpress site, so we hope to garner an audience before our web license runs out. In spite of the fact we were granted a stipend to aid in the preservation of our work, we have decided to use the majority of funds to give back to the community gardens who have paved the way for this project to be made. Furthermore, although we are proud of the fruits of our labor we are cognizant of the fact that our website seems to be more of a first step to a much larger study. Even if we ourselves are no longer at the helm of it, we believe spin- off programs and extended development will be most beneficial to those in DH as well as the gardens themselves. We are confident in stating that there is still so much more about NYC community gardens that can be uncovered and investigated. Projects based on the gardens unique history and a deep dive on neighborhood obesity rates and its correlation to available gardens in the area, are just some that come to mind when hypothesizing on the possibilities our work can go. In essence we believe an improved version of our project would be better for a permanent web address. Perhaps in the future, it may be one of us that chooses to complete this task. But once again we invite anyone who is willing to dive into the world of these wonderful gardens. 




  • Drucker, Johanna (2011) “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display” Digital Humanities Quarterly Volume 5 Number 1. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations and The Association for Computers and the Humanities

  • Gittleman, M. Librizzi, L. Stone, E. (2010) “Community Garden Survey”. GrowNYC and GreenThumb.
  • Greenspan, Brian (2019) “The Scandal of Digital Humanities” Debates in Digital Humanities 2019 Chapter 9. University of Minnesota Press
  • Loggins, Donald (2007) “Garden History”. Visited 19 of May 2022:

Sounds of Music Final Project Report

By Caitlin Cacciatore, Felicity Howlett, and Raquel Neris

Project Narrative

In March 2020, the world as we know it experienced a massive upheaval. The first case of COVID-19 in New York State was recorded on March 1st, 2020. A series of events followed, including Governor Andrew Cuomo declaring a state of emergency on March 6th, NYC guidance to avoid crowded public transit the following day, the March 12th closure of Broadway, and the declaration of a national state of emergency, as well as the World Health Organization’s announcement of a global pandemic on March 11th, 2020.

For many, life moved online. Non-essential jobs and nearly all events went virtual. Public schools, colleges, and universities closed their physical doors and transitioned to online learning. Zoom emerged early on as a serious contender for allowing us to continue meeting in groups in a synchronous manner. We were all isolated and lonely despite these virtual interventions, but even in the face of these challenges, we adapted and began to adjust to what became our “new normal.” Unfortunately, many elders were left without Internet connections, Internet-connected devices, and the digital literacy needed to operate such devices.

Digital Humanities (DH) has often overlooked the elderly community, perhaps in part because of the perceived and actual lack of digital literacy amongst seniors. However, the DH community is remiss to overlook our elders. Digital Humanities is fundamentally about humanizing, decolonizing, equalizing, and removing barriers to access in the digital world. The digital humanities field has committed itself to equality and equity in the technological sphere, yet a major demographic has been largely forgotten about. According to recent Census data, people over 65 constitute 16.5 percent of the population in the United States. If we extrapolate from population counts, this amounts to almost fifty-five million individuals from all walks of life.

The significance of bringing the elderly community into the technological fold cannot be understated. Despite an ongoing global health emergency, many people continue to live full, vibrant lives well into their ninth and tenth decades, and beyond. In a very visceral way, they and others of their generation built the world we are currently inhabiting. “According to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II” were still alive in the year 2021. (National WWII Museum)

Isolation and loneliness are rampant amongst elders. Lockdowns combined with a fear of contracting COVID drove many seniors into their homes, with little outside interaction. Additionally, ten percent of the US population age 65 and older are homebound, or in need of home-based care, and cannot go out due to disabilities, illnesses, or other maladies. By providing a synchronous, virtual online music experience, we hoped to reach just a few of the millions of homebound seniors in the US. We wished to take a step in the direction of bringing homebound and isolated seniors into the purview of the Digital Humanities.

We envisioned the Sounds of Music as a step towards including an overlooked population in DH. Sounds of Music is far more than just an interactive online event; it’s a cultural experience, as well as a chance to socialize with others and share memories, thoughts, and songs. We built a website that hosts an Accessibility Toolkit, a guide to Internet connectivity and setting up and using Zoom, as well as a blog that describes our thought processes, provides suggested reading and online music programs similar to ours, and lays out our manifesto.

Sounds of Music has always been very much about people. People – from their wants and needs to their desires and limitations – have informed every part of our user-centric design, from our website to our pilot programs to our Accessibility Toolkits. We have defined the Sounds of Music by our target users amongst the elderly population and designed with the extreme user in mind. We envision a hypothetical individual with any combination of auditory, visual, or physical impairments and/or disabilities – an elder who might have a computer and an Internet connection, but who feels uncomfortable and out of place in the digital world. This individual’s feelings are compounded by disability, and frustration at not being able to navigate websites in the same manner as a non-disabled person might, due to barriers to access.

We are committed to making the Sounds of Music accessible to all who might wish to partake in our music enrichment program. We were driven by the belief that music should be for everyone and anyone who wishes to listen, and we wish for our communal experience to be an uplifting, joyous one. We believe in creating a safe, inclusive space for those who enjoy music to discuss memories that arise, connections that present themselves, and other elements of the musical experience.

We wish for our audience to come away from the pilot program smiling and feeling connected and engaged. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, elderly individuals have not experienced the type of connections that they once enjoyed freely and without concern for their health. We seek to remedy this by providing an online, virtual environment that is both a safe space for sharing music and memories, as well as a community-building experience during which new friendships can be formed and maintained.

Ultimately, our vision is to build a bridge between the DH community and a hitherto understudied demographic – a demographic that we have found very receptive to technology, eager to learn, and quick to pick up on skills needed to navigate the online world.


The inspiration for our project comes from Concetta Tomaino’s music therapy program, “Music for Veterans,” at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF). Executive director of IMNF, a certified music therapist, and former president of the American Association for Music Therapy, Tomaino is a scientist, humanist, and educator by inclination, and she has conducted extensive research on the interrelationships between music, neurology, and rehabilitation. Oliver Sacks, with whom she worked for many years, dedicated his book, Musicophilia, to her. She has presented lectures to a variety of national and international institutes and associations, and she teaches introductory courses in music therapy and “Music and the Brain” at Lehman College, CUNY.

Our team member, Felicity Howlett, volunteered as a piano player for the weekly veterans’ program at the IMNF residence in Wartburg, an adult care community in the Bronx. Participants included people who attended the Wartburg daycare programs and who suffered from various afflictions of the elderly, including early traces of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, physical handicaps, fragility, depression, and memory loss. Week after week, she witnessed how music participation created dynamic connections for people, how listening and talking about music inspired memories and discussion, and how music could transport individuals from an antisocial stance to a willingness to accommodate, to take a turn at the mike, tell a story, play an accompaniment with a simple instrument, sing along with the group, or even demonstrate dance steps.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed down the in-person program, “Music for Veterans” moved online and assumed a new shape. It was no longer possible to distribute drums, rattles, or other simple instruments for ensemble activities, and latency issues inhibited group singing and playing together. New possibilities included watching and discussing music videos together, singing along with a karaoke text provided on our screens, listening to individual solo performances or two or more people attempting to perform together, as well as the usual discussions inspired by the music. It became apparent that commitment to a weekly meeting,  stepping out of isolation and into a welcoming group, and meeting familiar faces, no matter how virtual, were powerful and restorative elements of the experience. The new arrangement created interest among people who were unable to attend weekly sessions in the Bronx, but we lost contact with several elderly people who did not have online access. 

When Howlett entered CUNY GC as a MALS student in the fall of 2020, academic participation was virtual. At least for business and education, tremendous efforts were underway to enable life to proceed as usual, but virtually, and often from private residences. As so much of the population was working from home, connectivity issues gained greater attention. This intense push for fluidity and interactivity had particular advantages for a population that had been relatively stranded, overlooked, and untapped—a population that, for one reason or another, could not leave home.

Our team focus is on a population that can enjoy a vacation from isolation by virtually participating with other people over the internet. While our program may prove to be therapeutically beneficial to its participants, we are simply providing a platform for people to enjoy sharing musical interests with one another through an interactive, online program.  Our project evolved as we explored how to create a structure for this purpose. While we do not mean to focus exclusively on the elderly, older people represent a significant segment of the population that tends to become more isolated with the passage of time, whether because of age, fragility, or various disabilities that accompany the aging process. Our interest is to combine the joy of music with an invitation for people to enjoy a social, participatory, recurring online event.

Through participation in such a virtual program, individuals may reconnect with parts of life they may have lost, or at least had to forego, due to their isolation. Doors may open for some people who have never had the opportunity to enjoy in-person community activities. For people who may feel that age or fragility is robbing them of their autonomy, the program presents an opportunity to appear among other people in real-time, to be recognized, and to share. Music serves as a revitalizing element in this arrangement, as impetus, substance, and a potential direction for exploration. It may also, simply, offer the opportunity to share in the joy of music.

Weekly participation in a social setting may encourage people to get to know other participants, foster interest, and concern for others, if, for example, someone misses a session. Friendships may blossom among people who discover shared interests, and as online activities become familiar, deeper individual explorations of the internet may lead people to other resources. The potential benefits of encouraging virtual participation for interested, homebound individuals over the internet are hampered only by what assistive devices are necessary to enable an individual to fully enjoy online interactive access. Our accessibility toolkit offers assistance for these issues, particularly for hearing problems, visual impairment, and physical handicaps. We also describe a selection of voice-empowered devices. Some potential participants will need to have assistive equipment installed or custom-tuned, and that may require individual attention, at least at the outset. As the benefits of internet participation for this population become more apparent, and greater attention is being paid to these issues, we hope that the segment that is most isolated will enjoy greater online access, share in the joy of music, and the pleasures of getting to know one another through virtual participation. 

Project Activities

At the beginning of our project, we had many ideas about how an interactive online experiential music program could be and what tools we could use to develop it. However, we were also aware that we had a biased vision. That could only be corrected by following a design thinking framework based on the premise of testing, learning, and iterating our ideas before officially launching it. Therefore, we followed these steps:

Step 1: Discover

We explored ways to better understand our audience’s needs and expectations, learned about assistive technologies and how they could enable handicapped individuals to attend our program, and researched other online music programs so that we could be inspired by them and understand how we could be different.

Step 2: Define

We generated different ideas for the program, and based on one format, we designed our prototype, which we called the “Pre-pilot Program”.

Step 3: Develop

We tested our prototype with an audience to receive feedback and understand what works (and what doesn’t work) for our program.

Step 4: Deliver

Based on our learnings, we iterated our program and created a second experience called our “Pilot Program”. 

We represent those steps visually as a Double-Diamond framework in the image below:

Double Diamond framework

The Double Diamond (adapted from British Design Council)

Work schedule and deliverables

The four-step framework that guided our project development involved a four-month effort focused on achieving these deliverables:

1) Sounds of Music Website

We developed a public-facing website using CUNY Academic Commons, powered by WordPress, presenting the Sounds of Music program with information about online access, assistive technologies, and latency issues, which are problems of real-time, synchronous communication in online meetings. We also presented a blog with relevant information about using music to engage in social interactions, suggested reading about music for a non-specialized audience, and our manifesto.

The website itself also presents special features regarding web accessibility, such as the options to change contrast and font size.

Sounds of Music website homepage

Sounds of Music Website

We established our website as our primary communication channel with the audience. However, we also plan on creating a Facebook page for the project, where we will disseminate updates about our program. The launch of our Facebook page should happen together with the program’s official launch. It will serve as a platform for building our audience, creating new content related to the Sounds of Music, and making public announcements.

2) Accessibility Toolkit

Our Accessibility toolkit was developed by collecting data from consulting experts in the field of Disability Studies and aggregating our research to find relevant information about assistive technologies and accessibility resources. Divided into two sections (First Steps and Assistive Technologies), it is offered to the audience as a downloadable PDF with important information for people with different disabilities to access our program. This document presents details about internet connection, how to use Zoom, and an overview of several assistive technologies. We offer a list of tools, including screen readers and text readers, screen magnification software, speech input software, physical pointers, motion tracking, and intelligent virtual assistants.

Sounds of Music Accessibility Toolkit

Sounds of Music Accessibility Toolkit

In addition to that, we also plan to provide a CSV file with information about each assistive tool. Both documents should be constantly updated so that our data doesn’t become obsolete.

3) Sounds of Music Workshop

Our Sounds of Music workshop is a predefined format for an online musical experience, with guidelines for conducting activities with the audience. In short, we apply these elements:

  • Meetings with a 90 minutes duration;
  • Zoom as our online meeting tool, chosen for its wide adoption; 
  • Group size ranging from 3 to 8 maximum, establishing a comfortable environment for everyone to participate;
  •  A facilitator for the experience, provided by our team.

During the programs, we promote several activities, such as watching music videos, sharing listening selections and favorite performers, singing-along using lyrics provided on the screen, and participating in discussions of thoughts and memories inspired by the shared songs.

For the pilot sessions, we outreached participants using both email and telephone. We sent reminders through email before the workshops and after each meeting, we also thanked each participant and requested their feedback.

4) Sounds of Music Workshop Toolkit

Sounds of Music Workshop Toolkit is a do-it-yourself guide created to assist anyone interested in replicating the Sounds of Music program and shaping it for a specific set of participants. As this is our last deliverable, it is still under development and should be launched by June.

The deliverables were developed according to the schedule below:

Sounds of Music Workflow Chart

Sounds of Music Work Schedule 

As illustrated by the Gantt chart, our project management followed an agile methodology. We broke the project into several phases in which we constantly involved the collaboration of other stakeholders, searching for continuous improvement at every stage. We used Trello, Slack, and Google Drive as our main tools for project management, which allowed us to have a solid base of communication from beginning to end. We also had weekly meetings every Monday and Wednesday, which enabled us to maintain the momentum of the project.


Our primary feedback came from the Sounds of Music pre-pilot and pilot sessions. During the pre-pilot session, we rolled out our website in front of a live, synchronous, virtual audience joining us from the comfort of their homes. Additionally, we provided a music enrichment experience lasting about an hour. We had approximately eight audience members, ranging in age from 75 to 92. Our audience proceeded to critique our website, asked us questions about our premise, and offered feedback about various aspects of the musical enrichment program. Their feedback was invaluable in making our ninety-minute pilot session a success.

Some members of our audience suggested that our program lacked spontaneity, while others felt that we needed more structure and better continuity between songs. We learned from our pre-pilot program that we needed to achieve a more profound understanding of our target audience. Ultimately, this resulted in the complete restructuring of our pilot experience. We sought out and found a facilitator and mentor in Jeremy Deliotte, who typically works with veterans in the capacity of providing music therapy and enrichment.

With Jeremy’s assistance and our audience’s feedback, we decided to ensure that anyone could request any song, at any time. During our pilot session, a slightly smaller group gathered. After we all introduced ourselves, Jeremy proceeded to ask each participant a variation of the questions, “What music has been on your mind? What songs have you been thinking about lately? Have you heard anything recently that has moved you?” These questions and queries like them yielded fruitful answers, with each participant taking time to give it a moment’s thought before some song or another would come to mind, at which point we would source the song via YouTube and share it through Zoom.  

The pilot program was a fantastic success. Gennie Green said to us, “Music has so much power,” when she was describing the emotions evoked by the songs we had listened to together. She added later, “Everything has a rhythm to it,” citing our heartbeat as a fundamental example of the rhythm that connects us to one another. One of the songs we listened to was Tony Bennet’s “Once Upon a Time,” which was the first song Madeline Lovallo had danced to with her husband at her wedding, more than fifty years prior. Later, in a private call to Caitlin, she confessed that she “was transported back to the day of her wedding,” when she heard the song. The transformative, transportive power of music is simply remarkable, despite the fact that listening to music has largely become a solitary endeavor, both with the advent of headphones and the onset of COVID-19-related restrictions on gathering and the unique and pressing danger posed to the elderly.

We sought to change this solitary activity into one that was shared, as music has been through most of human history. Music was intended to be shared, and our pilot program was a vibrant example of how and why music should be shared. Every participant reported hearing a song they hadn’t heard before – music from an era or location that had previously passed under their radar.

We learned through user feedback that the most single fundamental part of any experiential music enrichment program such as our own is agency – the freedom of the participants to choose which songs to listen to next, and the ability to have a voice in order to request songs that moved them on a personal, emotional, or spiritual level. We learned from our pre-pilot that assuming which songs participants might wish to listen to, and coming prepared with a playlist, was in error. Though some structure is needed, and can be provided by a skilled facilitator such as Jeremy, most of the program’s time should be spent in organic conversation and honoring spontaneous requests for songs.

The pilot program was a success because we loosened our structure and gave our participants more agency, freedom, and power of choice. The musical experience is one of the most dynamic aspects of the Sounds of Music program. It can be easily reproduced with any small group.

We also received feedback from our colleagues during the dress rehearsal for the Showcase, which we incorporated into our presentation. The presentation, like the website, went through many iterations, small tweaks, edits, and revisions until they were perfected. It is also noteworthy that our website received a total of 395 views from 36 unique visitors, indicating that the majority of our visitors browsed around through several pages on our website.

The website evolved rather organically. Though we did not solicit feedback on our website outside of the pre-pilot session, it went through dozens of versions, each with the goal of making the website more comprehensive, more aesthetically pleasing, and above all, more accessible. Early on, we installed an accessibility toolbar, which toggles various combinations of high-contrast, grayscale, and large-text modes. The website also hosts a version of our Accessibility Toolkit, which is designed as a portable, adaptable, dynamic resource for accessibility tools that help mitigate barriers to access presented by physical, visual, and/or auditory disabilities.

Looking back, we might have solicited feedback from individuals well-versed in web design. We could have also reached out to individuals in the disabled community for the purpose of tweaking and expanding upon the Accessibility Toolkit.

Continuation/Future of the Project/Sustainability

Our project is now independent. While we may continue to tweak it, we achieved our goals.  Our website provides a project description, information about internet access and Zoom sessions, opportunities to explore assistive devices, latency issues, readings about the role of music in human life, and more. It frames an online, interactive music program for people who are isolated from opportunities for social interaction. Our concept is available to anyone who is inspired to implement it, and it has the flexibility to accommodate specific situations and interests. For example, a program designed to connect isolated members to their church community might be built around sharing favorite hymns. Elderly immigrants from a specific geographic area might experience the awakening of memories from sharing songs that were once part of their lives. After visiting our website, a family member might be inclined to organize an interactive musical reunion for elderly siblings and intimate friends. Revisiting once familiar music online together may rekindle long-forgotten memories and inspire reflection, laughter, and even a sing-along. While the effects of such online participation may prove to be therapeutically beneficial, our basic goal is simply to provide an opportunity for social, recreational, and musical connections.  

We offer links to other, more formally structured online music programs, but we have chosen to keep ours flexible.  For our  “pilot,” we restructured our program plan and included an experienced music program “facilitator” to be our host.  Despite its success, we have not stipulated that choice for everyone nor have we suggested that interested parties follow a set program protocol. We leave these considerations open to be worked out depending on the individual program. Although the musical options for our recent pilot seemed almost limitless, they were guided by a professional who ensured that the underlying dynamic did not flag, and that everyone who attended was acknowledged and felt welcome to contribute and participate. 

Our future music program has an outstanding problem: Will it continue, and how will it be mentored? We have presented the program concept for people to study and implement as they see fit. Yet, we discovered that our program is more successful with an experienced guide who makes sure the meeting is inclusive and everyone has an opportunity to participate. This area requires additional discussion and thought: inclusivity and participation are at the heart of our efforts. Jeremy Deliotte, our mentor, and the host of our second program, is impressed by the program’s dynamics. He thinks it might catch on very rapidly. Yet he also believes that when Sounds of Music offers a program, it needs a shepherd, a facilitator. How can we take responsibility for making such a program possible? And how can we not make it possible when it has such potential?

Several avenues are open for further exploration, including:

1) If Jeremy were interested in hosting such a program, or training additional hosts, we could seek funding for its continuation while it is attached to the GC Academic Commons. We would only need to finance the time and expenses for an experienced practitioner to guide the operation of the interactive music program. Such a concept might provide opportunities for student volunteers and interns as well. One of us (or a student in Digital Humanities) could maintain the website and the toolkit.

2) The Digital Humanities program already has an area devoted to Storytelling. Our program encourages spontaneous musical storytelling that might be understood as an incredibly rich, and perhaps untapped, source for storytelling archives development. How these areas might find compatibility and resonance is worth exploring.  

3) We have initiated searches for possible links with existing programs and institutions, but we looked into this area mainly for its future potential. We may discover valuable connections as we probe more deeply. For example, Dorot, a social services organization on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, offers a large collection of free, online programs and activities, many of which are aimed at the elderly. We might make connections with their music programs as well as to their legacy explorations (adding a musical component, enabling web searching). Several rehabilitation centers expressed interest in our program but could not guarantee the reliability of the Wifi connectivity for their clients.  One new residential rehab with top-of-the-line internet connectivity invited us to return in a few months. While its equipment was excellent, solutions for scheduling individuals for Zoom sessions and the concomitant details involved in enabling individuals to participate were still being worked out.  

4) What types of outreach can we develop to locate and connect individuals who are isolated?  And how can we help establish reliable online connectivity for them? From word-of-mouth connections made by family members and caregivers to suggestions from community programs, and potential media links, this area is wide-open for exploration. Certain areas of our project, such as the assistive technology toolkit, can be of immediate assistance: the portable toolkit can be copied, shared, and utilized. It is more difficult to package the concepts behind the interactive program. How do we balance the sensitivity and consideration that must be involved in gathering people who have been isolated and may have little or no experience in virtual interactivity with our interest in sharing the potential benefits of our program with them?  

5) Lack of internet access and the unreliability of internet connections are among the greatest drawbacks of our present program. Given the continuous acceleration of online connectivity, there is good reason to believe that connection and accessibility will continue to improve and more and more people will gain access to the internet. For assistance in this area, we might explore service organizations, charitable foundations, and insurance companies. If music and social interaction promote health and welfare, certain companies may find it financially beneficial to contribute to the promotion of such issues.   

We are not prepared to launch our program into the wide open waves of social media, nor are we convinced that it should be presented as a free-floating entity. We are prepared to create links to areas that already have an invested interest and sensitivity to helping individuals gain access to the internet and overcome some of the difficulties of limited mobility and isolation by sharing music, memories, and new interests via online participation.   

With each day, how music and human life interact and what this relationship means receives additional recognition, investigation, exploration, and celebration. Our project attempts to open doors to these physical, emotional, and intellectual benefits as people celebrate life through sharing music.

Modeling Value in the Anthropocene – White Paper

Project Narrative

Modeling Value in the Anthropocene is the prototype for a computational method that can assist in philosophical research and the theoretical work of reading and writing more generally. As we see it, it is both 1) a contribution to the theory and practice of the work of Bernard Stiegler, the Internation Collective, and the Association of Friends of the Thunberg Generation via the introduction of machine learning in general and word embedding in particular to reading and writing philosophy; and 2) a contribution to the fields of text analysis and distant reading, and the digital humanities more broadly, with an application of the philosophy of Bernard Stiegler that can situate natural language processing as an element of a technique of reading and writing in the digital age, while also scoping out the limits of such a technique.

The project began with a question as to the potential usefulness of distant reading for theoretical work. By theoretical, we mean all of the scientific disciplines through which bodies of researchers generate new knowledges of all kinds. Distant reading is the application of mathematical models to large databases of text after the text is made quantifiable, and thus calculable, by datafying it, and performs computations with it. These are analytical functions that the human mind does not have the capacity to perform. Most of the text analysis work done in the humanities (such as that of Franco Morretti, Ted Underwood, and Michael Gavin) takes up the literary field to study things like changes in language and style across different time periods or different literary movements. There are many arguments for and against this kind of work. Having a particular interest in the discipline of philosophy, we wanted to address the question of whether this kind of work could be used in the activity that philosophers partake in.

One way to approach the question of distant reading philosophy is through the thought of Michael Witmore, especially in his blog post, “Text: A Massively Addressable Object.” Here he defends the practice by positioning it as simultaneously continuous with the practice of reading since its genesis and discontinuous with past modalities of reading.
For Witmore, what separates digital text from older forms of text is that “it is massively addressable at different levels of scale” (Witmore). To understand this requires an understanding of what he means by “scale.” According to Witmore, reading has always been the practice of projecting a material text into an ideal level that one reads it at. For example, one can choose to address a text at the level of the word, the sentence, the paragraph, or the book, just to name a few. These levels are not material characteristics of the text itself, but rather subjective ways of dividing the text up and projecting them into/out of the text. A reader could just as easily choose to underline all the words of a text beginning with the letter ‘B’ and address it at that scale. How text is addressed is a matter of convention, a mode of attention contingent on the technical and normative limits of the given socio-historical context in which the reading occurs. Reading text as “books” or even “words” is a socially constructed mode of reading. As Witmore notes, “The idea of a word is itself an artifact of manuscript culture, one that could be perpetuated in print through the affordances of moveable type” (Witmore). This implies that there are other possible scales of reading one could address.
What makes digital text different is this scale of addressability, which in fact contains many different scales contingent on the new capacities of the technology. Instead of having to read one word at a time or one sentence at a time, we can query and compare many words from many different documents at once. Perhaps the most popular form of this found in the digital humanities is topic modeling. Topic models are generated by running an unsupervised machine learning algorithm on a group of documents and approximating which words tend to be used together in the same document. This allows us to address the texts at the level of “topic,” creating ideal topics we can say that the texts appear to be drawing from. This kind of modeling could prove useful for making clear what discourses various texts and authors and schools of thought might be drawing from, as Lisa Rhody has discussed with reference to ekphrastic poetry.

In philosophy, this kind of analysis could address large amounts of text at a scale that would allow us to understand what topics are characteristic of a particular school of thought (like German idealism) or a particular epoch of history (like the Enlightenment). Malaterre et al. run an unsupervised machine learning algorithm on the complete corpus of the journal Philosophy of Science, mining articles from 1934 to 2015. One result was the revelation that the topics which are consistent throughout are those related to “metaphysical and ontological questioning” about “space and time, causation, natural kinds, [and] realism” (Malaterre et al, 215). Another result was the discovery of how the topics of logic and language rose and fell throughout time.
 Despite topic modeling’s potential fruitfulness, though, we wish to show why word embedding is a better method for philosophy specifically. There are two reasons for this. The first is because it allows us to model conceptual similarity among different words. As Gavin et al. argue,

concepts are not words. The distinction can be glimpsed by considering any collection of synonyms, such as rubbish, trash, waste, junk. Each of these words has a distinct use, and they imply different connotations and meanings, but there remains a principle of synonymy among them, an underlying concept that ties them together (Gavin et al.)

With a word embedding model, an algorithm turns each unique word in a text corpus into a vector containing the relationship that each word bears to every other word in the corpus. With the numerical values based in a given word’s distributional distance from every other word in the text, semantic resonance can be calculated between words which have a similar relationship to the matrix of the text. This is useful for conceptual analysis because words that have similar vectors to each other will appear clustered together within the vector space, indicating that they are distributed throughout the texts in a similar way. The linguistic theory operating behind this model is that words that are deployed in similar contexts have some conceptual resonance: “The latent idea here is that different words will tend to appear in different contexts, and therefore one can guess at a word’s meaning by simply counting the words that appear near it” (Gavin et al.). Bringing it back to the language of Witmore, word embedding is a way of addressing large amounts of text, through calculating semantic similarity, at the level of the concept. It is an addressing of the text at the level of the word, but it is a level where each word exists in relation to every other word, the level getting more discreet as we narrow our investigation. Topic modeling could perhaps guide a close reading exploring the topic deeper, or what role a key word might play in a topic, but it cannot get to the semantic depth we might want to in the work of philosophy.

The other reason we prefer word embedding for philosophy is because philosophy is not just the modeling of concepts that already exist. As Deleuze and Guattari write, “The philosopher is the concept’s friend; he is the potentiality of the concept…philosophy is the discipline that involves creating concepts” (Deleuze et al., 5). The operations of word embedding alone already described are useful for clarifying and perhaps deepening concepts, and could possibly lend themselves to some conceptual re-evaluation. However, there is another operation made possible by word embeddings that contains so much more potential for philosophy. Because the words are embedded with numerical values, once the conceptual networks have been modeled in vector space, we can actually perform calculations on the vectors that create new vectors based on this math, and these new vectors can open a path to the creation of concepts, or what Stiegler calls “categorial invention,” which is the goal of philosophy, and perhaps of all theoretical work. A well-cited example is that of V(Queen) = V(King) + V(Woman) – V(Man). When taking the vector for “King”, adding the vector for “Woman” to it, and subtracting the vector for “Man”, the model has been proven to successfully output the vector for “Queen.” What this means conceptually is that if we add the qualities of women to the concept of kings, we have a concept which would have all the qualities of women and all the qualities of kings. If we then subtract from this new vector everything associated with men, we get the concept of queen. This is a simple example, but this functionality can prove exceptionally useful for philosophy.
One of the principal things Stiegler called for is a rethinking of value to escape the Anthropocene, initializing what he calls the epoch of the Neganthropocene. A chief problem of capitalism, he claims, is that, under the conditions it initiates, all use value is reduced to exchange value. The usefulness of a thing is reified into how much it costs, or how much money it could make. This reduces everything to the rules of the market. The progression of this dynamic is the way through which knowledge, art, politics, and life have been devalued, not to mention the health of the biosphere and the future itself. Thus, the Neganthropocene, which would be the epoch following the Anthropocene (if there is to be one), would have to be generated on the basis of a new valuation. The question, then, is if the value of everything is no longer to be based on profit and calculability, what is to be the new value founding this society? We hypothesized we could contribute to the thinking through of this question by treating Stiegler’s works with word embedding. We proposed querying a sample equation that looks something like V(value) – V(Anthropocene) + V(Neganthropocene). This would take the concept of value, subtract that which is characteristic of the Anthropocene from it, and add the vector representing the things that Stiegler writes about the Neganthropocene. This analogic calculation might point us in the direction of which words will be related together as having to do with how we should re-ground value beyond the Anthropocene. We planned to train word2vec, a word embedding algorithm, on a collection of texts by Stiegler and other members of the Internation Collective. The Stiegler works used were “The Neganthropocene”, “Nanjing Lectures 2016-2019”, and “Technics and Time, 4: Faculties and Functions of Noesis in the Post-Truth Age”. We also used “Psychopolitical Anaphylaxis: Steps Towards a Metacosmics” by Daniel Ross and “Bifurcate: ‘There Is No Alternative’”, a collection written by the Internation Collective. Then, we were to query the corpus for this new vector and see what insight could be granted into the question of value in the Neganthropocene.

It should be made very clear that this type of calculation is not a magic wand that can reveal new concepts for us on its own. Witmore’s account of distant reading focuses on the scale of the address, but it does not take into full account the shape or contours of the address itself. We would argue that there are two main modes with which one can address text: analytic and synthetic. These neo-Kantian faculties that Stiegler articulates are two faculties that make up the process of knowledge production. The full explication of these arguments are beyond the scope of this report, but they show that the calculation of data requires the synthetic work of the imagination to think according to standards of reason, and more importantly to dream up new concepts that do not fit into the analytic schema of the understanding. Information or data is the externalization of a prior synthetic act of reason that is calculable now that it is materialized. This act is a decomposition of the line of reasoning into discrete elements that can thus be quantified and calculated. This act is entropic in and of itself, but can produce new knowledge, new concepts, if it leads to a surprise which causes one to think it through according to the criteria of knowledge and create a new idea which re-organizes the analytical understanding as it now stands. In other words, by modeling text, one divides it up into a large number of different pieces (in this case, vectors) that one can perform calculations on. On their own, these models and these calculations are useless. However, an act like querying Stiegler’s texts for the answer to V(profit) – V(Anthropocene) + V(Neganthropocene) could open up a path that one could wander down. And perhaps, by wandering down this path, which would include careful thought, reasoning, and close reading, one could perhaps experience a surprise in the text. This surprise could potentially cause one to rethink the text they are reading closely in a new way, and potentially lead to the production of a concept. There is of course no way to guarantee this, but it is only by seeking out that which is incalculable that philosophy can be done. Perhaps word embedding could provide a kind of calculation that leads the way toward thinking about value anew and how a new society can be built upon this new concept of value. This could then guide a close reading of some of Stiegler’s texts that could potentially concretize this new, currently unknown, concept. This was the kind of work we hoped this project could make possible.


From the onset of Modeling Value in the Anthropocene, the esoteric nature of Bernard Stiegler’s philosophical thought along with the niche branch of natural language processing that is word embedding presented our project with the unique challenge of positioning our work in a way that equally engages with scholars in the digital humanities and philosophy, while simultaneously communicating our intention, our theoretical foundation, and our results in such a way that it might prove to be accessible to those on the periphery of these two disciplines. Though we predicted that our work would likely resonate most with those working closely with the theoretical and technical approaches employed in Modeling Value in the Anthropocene (and its sister project Modeling Memory in the Anthropocene), it is our hope that through the presentation of our findings now available on the project’s website, the various resources provided allowing users introductory insight into the theoretical framework of the Internation Collective, and the approachable and digestible nature of the NeganthropoZene, that our findings might be appropriately equipped to capture a broader scope of attention including that of students of philosophy, digital humanists throughout the field, and recreational scholars of theory and technology.

Though our initial audience proposal included ambitious social media outreach plans involving potential engagement and collaboration with popular philosophy and theory YouTube channels, podcasts, and blogs, in order to establish a social-networkless-social-network of thinkers to bolster our aim and philosophize over our findings, we quickly realized that networking in such a way is difficult without the results of the project finalized, properly assessed, and understood entirely. As those we’ve been in contact with throughout this process know well at this point, Modeling Value in the Anthropocene’s findings were not immediately evident as anything interesting, exciting, or even usable. This came as a source of brief anxiety and disappointment, triggering a critical reevaluation of our findings and a search for any subtle meaning that could be extracted from our word2vec results. With time and much discussion, “value” within our findings illuminated itself, allowing us just enough time to bolster our project’s website and adequately prepare for its fast-approaching presentation at the GC Digital Showcase, leaving little wiggle room in the remainder of our work plan to reconstruct an outreach plan, put together a “press kit,” and navigate the steps of building a working relationship necessary to coordinate any type of worthwhile collaborative project through the aforementioned mediums.

Considering that this initial aim was abandoned, the conclusion of our project has brought with it necessary reevaluations for the future social component of our work and the scholarly channels we’d like to see engaged with it as to be further critiqued, appreciated, developed, or collaborated on. Brian has managed to establish communication with Daniel Ross, Stiegler’s longtime friend, translator, and author of Psychopolitical Anaphylaxis: Steps Towards a Metacosmics, fulfilling one goal of scholarly outreach that we had presented in our initial proposal. Despite this dialogue being rooted in Brian’s work outside of Modeling Value in the Anthropocene, it elucidates the potential for such interlocution in the future stages of this work and allows for a sense of real possibility for our original, overly-ambitious audience proposal that sought out the likes of Ross Abbinnett and members of the Internation Collective as sounding boards for our work. This, along with our last-minute realization that the University of South Carolina’s resident digital humanist and text analysis authority, Michael Gavin, had been waiting for our request to take on a larger role within our project, has provided us with an exciting notion of what the future of this type of work could look like given the opportunity and time to foster such scholarly and consultative relationships.

As we’ve noted multiple times at this point, perhaps the biggest lesson learned through this project regarding audience and outreach has been, “Never hesitate to ask for help because you never know who might simply be waiting for you to ask.” The accessibility we’ve discovered to the very thinkers that inspired this work has been as intimidating as it is thrilling and we look forward to future iterations of this work now cognizant of the brilliant minds willing to engage with our work, regardless of how distantly.

Project Activities

Amidst this final stage of our project’s creation, reflecting on the initial work plan for Modeling Value in the Anthropocene set out in March reminds us of the experimental nature of our approach to this analysis and the necessary skill set that we worked to develop from the ground up in order to facilitate our intended investigation of Stiegler’s Nanjing Lectures. Though our original scope for this project included objectives such as the creation of an essay to detail our findings, our overly ambitious social media outreach goals noted above, and an unrealistic reading plan for the text that was quickly reassessed, the core outline of our inceptive work plan is surprising similar to that which we followed up until this point of retrospection. Our navigation of Python and text analysis via workshops, tutorials, and the NLTK workbook, along with countless YouTube videos and troubleshooting coding forums, was presciently outlined and planned for, allowing us to approach the immeasurable amount of information on such topics deliberately and assiduously as to make the most of our limited time. As a result of this intentionality in conjunction with our consultations with project mentors such as Leanne Fan, Michael Gavin, Filipa Colado, and Rafael Davis Portela, we were able to build the necessary foundation of skills as to properly and effectively carry out the text analysis equations as they were described in our project’s proposal at the start of the semester.

Though we deserted the notion of creating an essay to accompany our text analysis work in the early weeks of its development, we feel that our website, through the written portions located throughout detailing Stiegler’s philosophy as well as the philosophy and technicity of our approach, operates to bolster both our purpose in producing this project and the findings presented as a result of this process. Despite time being the factor that dissuaded us from the creation of such an essay, it was in the loosely structured final month stretch of our work plan that opportunities revealed themselves allowing for such efforts to communicate our theoretical and technical program to originate and enhance the Modeling Value in the Anthropocene website. The vague nature of the last month of our work plan further illuminates the creative ambiguity that was left open so that our work could mature without naively calculated restraints placed before our ideas and skillset could fully ripen. It was this openness that allowed us to expand our corpus to include texts from the Internation Collective and Daniel Ross, extend our vector analysis to include a wide array of unanticipated equations, and include Modeling Memory in the Anthropocene as a complementary element in our analysis.
Each stage of Modeling Value in the Anthropocene brought with it challenges that required us to reevaluate and restructure components of our project, eventually culminating in the briefly disappointing realization that the equation central to our word2vec analysis (V(value) – V(Anthropocene) + V(Neganthropocene)) had rendered less than immediately compelling results. However, upon further reflection and direction provided by Bret Maney and Michael Gavin, we were able and inspired to salvage such “non-results” and transform them into the bountiful grounds of interpretation that produced the philosophical exegesis elaborated on through our presentation at the Graduate Center’s Digital Showcase. Though our work has undoubtedly provided us with an opportunity for growth in our understanding of Bernard Stiegler and the scholarly possibilities provided to us through text analysis, it has also been an exercise in interpersonal problem solving, troubleshooting, and skill-development. Due to the complex nature of the Modeling Value in the Anthropocene’s proposal, it was fundamental to the project’s success that we expeditiously immersed ourselves in the world of Stieglerian thought and text analysis, regardless of rudimentary knowledge of one or the other, and advance our understanding through a cohesive and ambitious methodology.

After completing this work, what we have are three products, all hosted on our website, which can be found at These products are: a Jupyter notebook file containing the Python script for our text analysis, some very basic and provisional writing containing some reflections on the results of our analyses’ queries, and a digital zine providing readers with an introduction to the philosophy of Bernard Stiegler. The Python script contains code for how to upload the (or any) text, train the word2vec model on the text, create new vectors in the model, and query for vectors with the greatest cosine similarity. The code is notated for the sake of intelligibility. The reflections on the results are some provisional thoughts on where this work could go and how it could guide a close reading of the work of Stiegler and others. The zine became a seeming necessity after our engagement with the digital humanities community regarding this project came up against the almost complete absence of familiarity with Stiegler’s work in this community. We felt a zine such as this could assist in our hopes for more appropriation of his ideas in the digital humanities world.


As we progressed this semester, feedback provided through our consultations with professors, digital fellows, and colleagues each acted as intermittent lodestars that we predominantly chose to follow, only occasionally neglecting to fully internalize such delineated directives and finding this out the hard way down the line. Aside from the thoughtful and supportive feedback provided by Bret Maney each week as we provided updates detailing our progress, our first piece of notable feedback from outside of the Graduate Center’s purview came from Michael Gavin at the University of South Carolina. In our initial meeting, Michael shared with us guidance regarding the struggles of interpretive clarity inherent in word2vec analyses, the benefits of utilizing a pre-trained model, the upsides to employing topic modeling and network graphs, and the necessity of breaking the corpus into subsections to be treated as individual documents and queried in comparison. Though our first meeting with Professor Gavin was wildly illuminating, our understanding of that which we were immersing ourselves in was still too limited to fully incorporate his invaluable instruction effectively into our project’s operation and general direction.

Our second meeting with Michael came shortly before our presentation at the Graduate Center Digital Showcase. Updating him on the progress we had made, along with the roadblocks and missteps, he evoked the cautionary advice he had provided months prior, suggesting that we had attempted exactly that which he had suggested not to attempt. Going on to question why we hadn’t reached back out sooner to engage with him further and avoid such lapses in project production, we realized that his feedback could have (and should have) played a larger role in our work, providing us with a deeply beneficial but hard-learned lesson to embrace as we move forward in our scholarly pursuits.

The feedback received from digital advisors such as Filipa Colado and Leanne Fan generally came in the form of collaborative working sessions via Zoom, allowing them to get their hands on our Python script, critique it, amend it, and provide recommendations for future development. These sessions were crucial to our advancement as coders, allowing us to troubleshoot and experiment under the instructive watch of some of the Graduate Center’s most talented digital scholars. It was primarily through these working sessions, along with our engagement with our peers in these early stages of script development, that we realized that the theoretical unpinning ushering along this code’s production required an accessible elucidation as to make the core objectives of our work both compelling and digestible to digital scholars unfamiliar with Stiegler’s philosophical project. To address this “weakness” of obscurity brought about through the sea of neologisms that one must swim through in order to grasp the core arguments of Stiegler’s work, we devised the “NeganthropoZene” to act as an introductory brochure for those interested but perhaps intimidated by the occasionally abstruse nature of our work. As this opacity was also mentioned in the Digital Showcase dress rehearsal, we are excited to have produced a resource that might help to shed light on Stiegler’s thought for curious citizens of the Anthropocene.

Lastly, the feedback received via the Digital Showcase was largely positive and restricted to brief kudos in the Zoom chat, providing little to extract and apply to the betterment of our project. However, after a semester of applying the critiques and directives of those we admire, we feel that our project is in a place that has recognized its weaknesses, engaged with them as an element of our presentation at the Digital Showcase, and addressed them to the best of our ability on the project’s website.

Future of the Project

Modeling Value in the Anthropocene is just the beginning of the work we will be doing utilizing text analysis in philosophical and other academic research. The goals we have for the future of this work are twofold. On the one hand, we will be taking the lessons gained from this project and bringing them to more mature text analysis that will lend itself to close reading and the production of philosophical writing that utilizes such analysis and reading. On the other hand, we hope to develop an application that can do the kind of word embedding conducted here (and in the ways we hope to adjust it in the future with the perspective we gained here) with a user-friendly GUI that will allow academics and other interested folks to do this kind of work without needing to know how to program. This will allow more researchers access to this tool and will hopefully contribute the work that so desperately needs to be done in the Anthropocene. This could also potentially be part of a larger idea of how to produce a word processor that could link tools such as this along with others to produce writing that could be hyperlinked in a large collaborative research network that could allow new knowledge to be transmitted and shared by others in new ways. This dimension of the project is, however, much more long-term in scope.

Anthropizing in the Anthropocene – Group Update

Hello fellow digital-humanists-in-training,

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for Hampton and I as we wind down toward the end of the spring semester and put the finishing touches on our text analysis project. Spring break saw us able to increase our corpus to five texts by Stiegler and some of his disciples. It also saw us accomplish what we set out to do, which was find a new vector which took the vector for “value” or “profit”, subtract from it the vector for “Anthropocene”, and add to it the vector for “Neganthropocene. The hypothesis was that by doing this, we would take away the characteristics of value which correspond to the Anthropocene (non-)epoch, and add those which correspond to the desired Neganthropocene epoch.

This has provided us with some interesting little tidbits to think about, such as the recurrence of the Greek topos ouranios, which bears a strong cosine similarity with our new vector for value in the Neganthropocene. The topos ouranios is the place in heaven where Plato believed that all the ideal forms were located. Stiegler (along with many other continental philosophers) are critical of this metaphysical construct which posits a transcendental world beyond. Stiegler is philosopher of materialism, situating the ideal world of thought within physical human bodies, technical systems of memory support, and material social relations. This poses the question: what similarity does that which ought to be valued in the Neganthropocene bear to this theological dimension? This reminds us of Stiegler’s treatment of Aristotle’s theos, wherein he resituates God as a dimension of being to which questions about being are posed and from which knowledge about being comes. It is also the object of all desire and all attention. We cannot go further into this now, but this is a little taste of what the results of our word embedding have got us thinking about.

Ultimately, though, however, our results have proven a little confusing, and a little disappointing. After a final meeting with Michael Gavin from the University of South Carolina, a literary scholar experienced in word embedding, we realized that there was a fundamental flaw in the premise of our project. When working with a corpus as small as ours, running simple word embedding models on the entire corpus creates too much noise for anything statistically significant to emerge. We have some ideas about how this project can be taken moving forward, and some better ways to approach word embedding. If nothing else, we have learned a vital lesson about text analysis, and have learned a fair amount of Python this semester.

So, we are pivoting the final results of our project a little bit in an attempt to show something a little more interesting. We have queried the model for 40 terms which we deemed most interesting and important to Stiegler’s work. We will be creating a table to visualize the 5 most similar words for each term. We will then be creating a network graph with Gephi to visualize this constellation of Stieglerian neganthropological concepts based on the results of these cosine similarity clusters. We are having done doing this work, and we can’t wait to share it with ya’ll.

Lastly, Hampton and I are working on a project for our Digital Memories class here at the GC that we are calling Modeling Memory in the Anthropocene and we will be hosting it on our website for this project. It will also be a Gephi network graph that models Stiegler’s conception of memory and how it relates and differs from the conceptualizations of memory in memory studies and digital memory studies. So keep an eye out for that.

Thanks for reading guys. We hope that you are all staying sane and healthy at this point in the semester and we look forward to hearing how your projects have been shaping up.

God bless.

Mainframe Group Project Update 04/28

This week I continued making wireframes for the website on Figma; the link to the sheets can be seen here:

Our aim is to convert the layout into the code; however if we stray off from the initial design that would be inevitable. One change we are making is in terms of videos; as opposed to embedding them we perhaps would provide links to the web pages instead. We still have yet to purchase a domain name as well. We also still need to compile text for site as well, which Kai is currently putting together.

Digital Gardens Update 4/28/22

In the final weeks before presenting my group and I had made several changes to our WordPress site. In order to match the scope of our new and improved project theme we decided, with the help of our Tableau guru Kelly Hammond to frame our work more like a story. If you look to our website we now have multiple tabs most of which are under the title of a question. Kelly gave us the great advice of setting our work up as an inquiry to entice the viewer to click and investigate. Because our project is now driven more towards those already involved in the garden sphere we narrowed down our visualizations to what could possibly of interest to them. At the time of writing this post we have about 3 1/2 visualizations already up. By the completion of this website we will have about 5 charts and maps. Here is a look of what we have so far: *Note some posts are still in a work in progress*

1.Where are NYC Community Gardens?- This interactive map showcases NYC’s “digitally listed” gardens via data found on Greenthumb and Open NYC. This map allows users to click through several categories coinciding with the status of the garden (active, closed, inactive etc.) We felt that this was important information to share as it gives a sort of one stop shop look at what gardens in NYC are open and operating and which are left stagnant. We imagine this data may be helpful to those who may wish to take over a space left abandoned or perhaps give an introspective look to an area in NYC that lack and are in need of green spaces.

2. What is the Area Income of Community Gardens?- Our second interactive map shows the general household income associated with number of gardens per zip code. Kelly gave us the idea of correlating number of gardens with the size of the circles. This gives a more clear indication of the density of gardens per area. By observation one can see that most gardens are situated in lower income areas. This may be linked to produce and a need for more resources and outdoor space. In order to see how community gardens improve the general space for living we will also have a map connecting air quality in neighborhoods brought on by the affect of the green spaces.

3. How Many Gardens can you find on the Web?- A interactive pie chart showcasing the number of gardens in each borough with a web presence. This vis is more of a forward suggestion to those involved or looking to start a CG.  Having a digital identity is almost crucial these days to be known in the world. As Digital Humanists coming in to this project we felt it was our due diligence to push this angle 🙂 (we also wanted to tie in our original idea)

4. What do NYC’s Community Gardens Produce?- This is a 2 part vis. The map portion that is already uploaded lists gardens featured on GrowNYC that are listed as having produce. The type of produce and neighborhood are shown as well as an indicator to show which gardens give away produce (Could go to residents, farmers and markets or all the above). This map was inspired by an interviewee who was interested in knowing what other gardens grew. We presume those involved in green spaces will also share a similar interest. Perhaps to gain insight or maybe even inspiration.

We still have a few more tabs on our webpage we need to fill with information but we hope to finish up our website by the projected date of 4/30/22. In other news I was able to attend the Tulip Festival at West Side Community Garden over Spring Break. While there I talked with the treasurer and volunteer who were very excited over the prospects of our project. I will upload the photos from my visit in our photo tab soon!


Sounds of Music Group Project Update April 28th, 2022

We changed the theme of the website in order to streamline the user’s experience when navigating the site. We are still at work on a few of our webpages, and have one or two additional blog posts lined up, but the website is mostly complete.

However, we would like to acknowledge at this point that any work, whether it is of art or otherwise, is never finished, merely abandoned. This popular adage, often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, holds true for our website as well. With proper funding and adequate time, we would expand our website, our toolkits, and our blog further.

We are proud of what we accomplished this semester thus far. 

Raquel has been finalizing the Accessibility Toolkit, creating an accessible PDF version of it for distribution, and preparing to present our project. 

Caitlin has been making final website edits, and Felicity has been expanding the Latency Toolkit and editing it for ease of use. She has offered a blog post with suggested reading on topics relating to music and emotion, the meaning of music, and the language of music, that might interest people attracted to the idea of music participation in our Sounds of Music program.   

As our pilot program approaches, we remain excited about this project. We are confident that our work in introducing a virtual, synchronous music enrichment experience can be recreated in most public or private settings, and that others can learn from both our failures and our successes in our own attempts. We also hope that our Accessibility Toolkit can be useful to those who have disabilities and experience difficulties accessing content on the web, as well as their caregivers and families.

As we approach the dress rehearsal and launch day, we will be supporting Raquel in her efforts to practice and perfect the presentation. We will be crafting a narrative that will explain the problem of social isolation, especially amongst senior citizens, the homebound, and the disabled. We will offer the Sounds of Music not as a solution, but as an outreach and a start to solving the conundrum we face as we enter a post-pandemic world. 

Zoom has become more than a tool for virtual meetings; it has become a forum for discourse, discussion, learning, family connections, and more. It connects us to one another, and brings us into each other’s homes. As we enter the ‘new normal,’ we will continue to use Zoom as a platform for our pilot program. Zoom has the capacity to forge new friendships, reinforce existing ones, and create connections between people in different parts of the NYC metropolitan area and beyond.  

We hope that the Digital Humanities will be a useful means of connecting those who would otherwise remain isolated and lonely. We wish to reach an audience that is often overlooked by DH as a field, and bring elderly folks who have limited computer literacy into the technological fold. 

We have a meeting scheduled on Monday to complete our plans for our pilot program and to practice our presentation. 

Mainframe Group Project 04/14

Dancing in the server room

For the next week we plan to remove the non-rendering images, purchase domain name and direct GH pages to it, rename the collection, and work on the layouts.

The day before the presentation, I attended an ‘Intro to GitHub’ webinar to get a better understanding of how GitHub operates in terms of cloning, forking, branching, and pushing, and committing. I have only have experience creating a website by myself; but being able to work with another person collaboratively on the same project is a little bit more complicated in terms ‘Pulling’ and ‘Pushing’, sending pull requests, and getting code to work. I’ve starting looking at websites codes to get a better understanding of what I am reading and how they are structured in terms of sizing, margin, accent, position, align. etc. I also had to determine how to work in the terminal by either using bash or zsh.

For Spring Break we have communicated to each other that we will still continue to work on projects and are still open to forms of communication despite. Taking a break from work I plan to use this time to determine what our final product should look like.

Modeling Value in the Anthropocene | Group Update 4.14

This week, the theoretical foundations we’ve tilled throughout the semester and the sprouts of code that we’ve been working to steadily nurture have at last hit a growth spurt – a welcomed sight considering season’s harvest is fast approaching us. Brian, Modeling Value in the Anthropocene’s preeminent vector producer, has worked diligently to develop our code, surmounting the entropy of depreciation and navigating a sequence of potentially-progress-preventing errors. Most recently, in coordination with the GC’s resident Python wizard, Rafa, we’ve managed to tackle a malevolent IndexError, seen below, through a simple excision of futile functions silently lingering within the complexities of our cipher. As far as we can tell, the sailing is smooth from here on out. As is likely evident at this point, writing about coding is a difficult thing to do so, while I apologize for the brief nature of this update, rest assured that value is being modeled in an anthropical manner.

Extending our sphere of mentors to include Rafa has proved to be wildly helpful, as we were provided with additional workshops to assist us through the last leg of our Pythonic journey along with the necessary troubleshooting to overcome our now-disentangled block of code. Despite Rafa’s incredible demanding schedule, presently saturated due to his role as an advisor for the Digital Humanities program, he managed to find time to enthusiastically assess our code, bypass the hindrance that had held up our progress, and provide valuable guidance for the next steps of our modeling of value in the Anthropocene. As we noted in our presentation, if we’ve learned anything from the process of developing this project, it’s been the strength of the support systems available at the GC and the talented folks that populate them.

Over spring break, Brian and I intend on developing our code to some stage of “near-completion” (with the tentative assistance of Leanne on Monday) so that we might finally have a concrete sense of the shape that our final findings might take in order to begin developing elements of the project that are determinant on these results.

In the meantime, our previous group updates have started to be accumulated and restructured into a “blog” of sorts, in order to detail our processes, our difficulties, and our victories for those who seek to work on similar text analysis projects in the future. Additionally, the creation of our digital “Introduction to Bernard Stiegler” document that will detail Stiegler’s thought in an approachable fashion is underway, with both the script and images being constructed and compiled behind the scenes. I’ve attached a few provisional mock-ups that represent the aesthetic direction this production might take.

And lastly, as we’ve noted previously, our Modeling Memory in the Anthropocene project for our Digital Memories class has been approved with production at last set in motion, providing an exciting additional element to our exploration of Stiegler’s work that we look forward to incorporating into Modeling Value in the Anthropocene.

Alright, folks, that’s all from us. We hope everyone has a happy and safe Spring Break and we look forward to seeing everyone’s project flourish in this delightful spring air.

Be well,
H & B