The Gods of Norman

In my history of science survey, we talk about how ancient cosmologies reflect the geography of the people. Thus the Nile River civilizations believe in mostly benevolent gods that bring annual, predictable, life-giving floods. The Norse have more vengeful and terrifying gods reflecting their harsher geography. Cosmologies are thus often connected to the lived reality and understandings of nature for a group.

Along these lines, I have the students write a cosmology reflecting their own hometown. They describe how the gods must be based on our observations. One of my students this semester, who goes by the handle xmac342, wrote the following entry. I think it should be used in our town’s marketing material.

The Gods of Norman

Norman, Oklahoma is a very lively town in which many people of various backgrounds come together. This must be in part because of the large school that is placed in the middle of it. No doubt this school was a gift from the Gods, as if it weren’t here, this town would not nearly be as advanced.

There are the Gods of education, love, lust, earth, sky, families, Agriculture, Music/fine arts, Roadways/construction, sleep, revenge/conflict, luck, and sport.

The God of education has not been happy with majority of the people, as they tend to evade the gift of schooling, so he punishes the people by giving them public schooling that is subpar, and making upper-division schooling so expensive that not many people can attend even if they wanted to. They also make sure that the people who continue their lives in the education field aren’t paid as well as in other places where people value the God’s gifts.

The God of love of course gives people the ability to love one another, but this is often mistaken for the gift from the God of lust. The God of earth gives us the green grass and trees that are seen throughout Norman, however, she has been at war with the God of roadways/construction, thus explaining why majority of the grass is dead and why the trees are all small. Also, the roadways and construction are a punishment from the Gods because of people’s continuous desire to have something better than they already do. Because of this, the Gods put endless construction, and when it does happen to be finished in one spot, after months or even years, it is just as annoying as before because of the quality, or confusion that it brings with it.

The God of the sky is also in charge of the wind and rain. He has so far protected Norman from major destruction from his Tornados, but also decides to allow a major drought majority of the time to punish us for our wastefulness of water. When he does allow it to rain though, he creates a flood everywhere, not only to rehydrate the earth, but to make the humans suffer as much as possible.

The god of families creates the different families of course, and works with the gods of love and lust to influence people’s lives. The God of Agriculture allows us to continue our farms and ranches and for the most part allow them to evade disasters caused by other Gods.

The God of music/fine arts allows the people of Norman to express themselves and create a culture. This plays into human identity, however the God also works with the God of lust to establish with artists are the most likely to be lusted over (Guitar players are definitely at the top of the list, while oboe players (really all woodwinds) and other unknown artists are very far near the bottom).

The God of sleep despises college students, band members, and all new parents for reasons unknown. The God of revenge and conflict loves to target high-school, and sometimes middle-school girls, as well as drivers. They tend to find the teenage angst and need to be better than everyone, and the need to get places quickly while believing that everyone around you is incredibly stupid very easy to manipulate. The God of luck is completely unpredictable, and greatly impacts the God of Sport, whose main gift was the University of Oklahoma football team. However, sometimes his gift seems like a punishment until the 3rd quarter, in which he decides that the people have been punished enough.

The Gods of Norman are very unforgiving. However, a little bit of each of them lives in every human, as they all came together to create the humans in the image of themselves. No God is more powerful than the others, and they all work with, or conflict with each other, equally.

Time for R

Here at OU, there are at least 4 or 5 that teach introductory R. You can take a statistics class, an economics class, a biological stats class, or a class just on R as a programming language. R has become one of the most commonly used languages for computational stats and data visualization, so it’s not surprising to see it pop up in a number of different departments. However, it has not yet made its way into the humanities.

For those of us in the humanities then, I wanted to pull together a few online resources that can help you get started.

My favorite introduction is TryR from Code School. This pirate themed introduction is great for people with little coding experience. It walks you through basic expressions, variables, arrays, loops, and graphing in a lightly gamified, campy platform.

Screen Shot of the Try R platform from Chapter 1

In a recent blog post, Jesse Sadler from UCLA, offered a more targeted  ‘Introduction to Network Analysis using R.’ Jesse does a great job of explaining  how nodes and edges come together in network graphs and how various R libraries make it relatively easy to produce these graphs. Jesse’s research involves mapping the correspondence of the 16th-century Dutch merchant, Daniel van der Meulen, which serves as a great example of the promise of R for DH research.

Screen Shot of Jesse Sadler's network graphing research projectLincoln Mullen is currently composing an open textbook called Computational Historical Thinking which uses and teaches R.  The resources he’s already assembled are fantastic, and his book serves as an excellent example of open-writing and review.

Screen Shot of Lincoln Mullen's Computational Historical Thinking Website

Less open but more complete, Matthew Jockers has produced a book and website with Springer called Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature. Taylor Arnold and Lauren Tilton also have a Springer book out called Humanities Data in R.

Last, but certainly not least, are the workshops provided by Software Carpentry. Here at OU and throughout the world. Software Carpentry provides two day workshops that introduce command line programming, versioning (usually with Git and GitHub) and R. These workshops are great because they work from a very introductory level and are meant to ease people into coding and data management. The group on OU’s campus is based out of the library and are particularly eager to help graduate students who are venturing into data analysis for the first time.

If you haven’t tried out R yet, take a minute to poke around at one of the resources above and thinking about how you already use maps, graphs, and tables in your work. Rather than hand-drawing your next map or searching for something to represent a network graph, take the same time to learn a new skill.

Visualizing Connections in the Sea of Information

Between podcasts, newspapers, blogs, journals, books, and video, I have access to far more media than I could possibly consume. Rather than having to search for information, I swim through a vast sea of it. The labor comes in deciding what I want to think about right now and then charting a path through good information.

These pathways through information are big business. Google’s algorithms and personalization through data collection are built to provide a path. Amazon is not so much a store but a service to guide you through the vast array of products to discover the one widget you can’t live without. Now JSTOR, Gale, and the other academic warehouses are investing in algorithms and tools to guide you through their dark waters.

Lately, I’ve been collaborating on a project that builds a visual pathway through the thematic connections between blog posts, creating a map for this cluster of information. ‘Inhabiting the Anthropocene‘ is an interdisciplinary, group blog started here at the University of Oklahoma “in order to understand better how humans’ transform the Earth through their habitation of it, and to imagine how the processes and results of habitation might better contribute to the Earth’s habitability.”

Screen Shot of Inhabiting the Anthropocene

In 2015, this group pulled together a selection of their blog posts and tagged theme with information about the intellectual approaches and thematic content. The project leader, philosophy professor Zev Trachtenberg teamed up with James Adams (at that time an Emerging Technologies Librarian at the University of Oklahoma’s Bizzell Library & now a Data and Visualization Librarian at Dartmouth College) to develop a web app to visualize these connections. ‘Habitation in the Anthropocene: An Interdisciplinary Interaction‘ uses Cytoscape to produce seven graphs illustrating the connections between the blog posts. Selecting any one of these graphs triggers changes throughout the web apps’ three main frames. For each graph there is a description and legend. Within the graph, you can select any of the posts, represented as nodes to pull up the text of the original blog post and information about the author. You can also mouse over the graphs’ edges to pull up more information about the connections being represented.

Screen Shot of Habitation in the Anthropocene

My part in this project was very small. As Zev has been preparing publication of a journal article on the project, I helped him clean up the code and make sure the latest version was available on Github. I updated the Cytoscape library to a slightly more recent version and removed some of the deprecated functions and data from the javascript files. We also stood up a new URL for the site in OU Create.

I find this project exciting because it provides a visual grammar for the traditional humanist’s research strategy of crawling through footnotes. By adding thematic tags, we can transform the traditional bibliography into a map of a research field. We could take the tags and categories from larger sets of blog posts and drop them into similar visualizations. We could use text analysis to create thematic tags for a corpus of primary texts or use to tag online readings. These curated paths can restore a sense of connectivity between writers and readers. This thematic visualization is one tool for restoring rational choice to the process of information consumption.

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