The Digital Humanities and Word Clouds

Ever since I joined the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, I've had a growing interest in big data analysis. With so much information being digitized -- whether it's criminal records, government documents, or historical archives -- researchers can engage with old resources in new ways and ask questions on scales previously unimaginable. Though I'm not too vocal about it here (yet), right now I'm working to apply what I've learned at the Initiative to the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" archives. This crossing of fields, for those who are curious, is called the "Digital Humanities." (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out the historian Dan Cohen's blog. Fred Gibbs also has a helpful introduction to historical data analysis here). I won't reveal any of my graphics here (I'm saving them for a future post), but here's an example of the Digital Humanities that everyone's familiar with: Word clouds. Technically, these were possible before the digitization of famous works, but it's the kind of work that required slave labor teaching assistants. The following I put together in a few minutes using Project Gutenberg and Wordle.

How not to report the news: Food stamp fraud edition

After my father died, growing up, my family depended on entitlement programs like WIC, free school lunch, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Hardly the mystical "Welfare Queens" conservatives imagine, we were just a low-income, single-parent household. You know, like a lot of families who rely upon these programs. By not worrying about where my … Continue reading How not to report the news: Food stamp fraud edition

The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”

It's time for some Minnesota trivia: Who said this?We have had to oppose the swaggering insolence and the millions of the war profiteers and the low moral endeavor politicians made by the froth of the war.... We needed success to call a halt to the wild orgie of Wall street legislation which the politicians thought … Continue reading The Time’s Don’t Change: “The 98 Per Cent Have Some Rights Entitled to Respect.”

“The Basketball Diaries” by Jim Carroll

First published in 1978, The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll is a slightly-fictionalized account of growing up in New York City. Spanning the Fall of 1963 (when he was 12) to the Summer 1966, the reader follows Carroll as he wanders the streets, shoots heroin, and makes love. Although much has been made of his drug and sex life, which in fairness is most of the book, what's often overlooked are the themes that slowly rise from his experiences. Rather than being merely "the classic about growing up hip on New York's mean streets" (the person who wrote that should be imprisoned) it's an account of maturity - sexual, emotional, and even political. As these all run parallel, they soon converge at a point that transcends any one person's experiences: we are our lost innocence.

Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky on “Is There Hope in This Desperate Time?”

I know some of my readers won't be particularly interested in this, but I thought I'd share it anyway. Recorded in September 2004 to raise funds for Spare Change, a street newspaper, the video brings together two of the top public intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, to discuss whether there is "hope … Continue reading Howard Zinn & Noam Chomsky on “Is There Hope in This Desperate Time?”