From the Paris Clinic to the Framingham Heart Study to modern BMI research, more data has always held the key to better understandings of health. Following this trend, the notion of big data has been increasingly discussed across the health care industry over the last several years as the most promising driver of improvement.
This project explores this history of big data and in particular how, as much as the big data phenomenon has followed a historical obsession with data, it has deliberately marginalized the algorithm and data methodology. Intriguingly, much of the rhetoric around big data contrasts itself to “traditional” data methods, their limitations, and implicitly their failures to improve our medical condition. The big data phenomenon thus constitutes a distinct epistemological shift, and a direct parallel to the rhetoric of the scientific revolution is hard to miss—particularly big data’s ability to reveal knowable but hitherto invisible secrets. Yet, while key features of big data remains its variety and volume—thus increasing the complexity and importance of the algorithm(s) to make sense of data—the epistemological role of the algorithm has, ironically, receded further into the background.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tuberculosis reigned one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Although its exact cause was unclear, doctors believed that tuberculosis was a sickness caused by an unhealthy environment, whether a cold and damp climate, or crowded and dirty cities that were rapidly expanding. As a result, health resorts known as sanatoriums began to appear across the United States and Western Europe to provide supervised care and treatment for the disease in what were deemed salubrious climates. The southwest, and New Mexico in particular, soon experienced an influx of health-seekers in pursuit of the “climate cure” provided by the pure, high and dry air.
Physicians also regularly remarked on the importance of a strict dietary regimen and large quantities of food (hyperalimentation) to counter the affects of the disease (TB was also known as consumption or the “wasting disease”). While historians have clearly illustrated the role of climate in treating TB, the role of diet in treating the disease, while widely recognized as important, has been largely neglected in historical research. This is a particularly glaring omission considering that the height of the TB sanitariums coincided with the advent of the science of nutrition in Germany and the United States, an effort that outlined how proper nutrition could prevent or cure many common diseases. So exactly what were the dietary regimens of New Mexico’s tuberculosis sanatoriums? How were they affected by the developing science of nutrition? How did health seekers (especially considering their large demand for food) contribute to the food infrastructure in their communities?
The Spatial Humanities Working Group aims to build connections across disciplinary boundaries by providing an informal setting in which students and faculty across the university can meet to discuss theoretical, conceptual, and methodological questions regarding space and human societies.
I’ve long been interested in the ways digital scholarship might or might not be different from what might be considered traditional scholarship, and particularly how we should evaluate new processes and forms of humanities scholarship. In considering the changing forms and goals of scholarship and scholarly service, I’m attempting to fundamental values and evaluative criteria of humanities scholarship in the digital age, and how they might best fulfill the goals of the humanities in the twenty-first century.
Programming Historian offers novice-friendly, peer-reviewed tutorials that help humanists learn a wide range of digital tools, techniques, and workflows to facilitate their research. As a general editor from early 2012 to mid 2017, I carefully edited and guided over a half-dozen lessons through the publication process. More importantly, I have focused my efforts on developing and documenting a transparent and sustainable editorial process anchored with free, open source tools and a commitment to open access.
This project was an experiment to see if a small academic workshop (on speculative futures in the history of science) could produce and make available a collection of scholarly work in an open access web format that would remain more visible an active than the results (and papers) from a typical academic workshop. Our work lives on at histscifi.com.
This manuscript (forthcoming from Routledge) explores late medieval and early modern medical debates about the nature of poison (venenum). Drawing from an unusually wide range of medical and natural philosophical texts—especially treatises on poison, pharmacy, pharmacology, plague, and the nature of disease—this book explores a neglected but enlightening ontological debate about the existence of a category of substance fundamentally harmful to the human body (that is, poison) and the corresponding implications for medical theory and practice.
This project developed a prototype (funded by the Mellon Foundation) to ease the process of mapping historical data and clean up (inevitably) messy data in the process. MIVIAM’s rich user interface allows users to map specific sets of data—about which they have expertise—and thus can easily recognize and correct problems with metadata, thus improving their own maps and making the data more useful for everyone else at the same time.
With funding from one of the twelve Google Digital Humanities Grants, Dan Cohen and I explored the massive corpus of Victorian literature held at Google Books in order to reevaluate and complicate the stereotypical characterizations of the Victorians based on anecdotal sampling of the traditional literary canon.
With one of the earliest “Digging Into Data” grants from the Digital Humanities Office at NEH, the Criminal Intent project demonstrates the potential roles for text mining in historical practice, showing that greater historical rigor can be achieved, and new insights gained, by moving from a single trial or narrow run of relevant examples to an analysis of statistically significant textual patterns found in Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court over a period of 240 years, as a single, massive whole. In addition to the Old Bailey Proceedings, our work builds on the successes of Zotero virtual collections, TAPoR and Voyeur analytics.
Most online education tools remain far too closed, proprietary, and complex for most of the essential tasks that scholars need to do on a daily basis. Scholarpress created a suite of focused plug-ins for the ubiquitous blogging platform WordPress to help humanities teachers and researchers create syllabi, course websites, and display bibliographies.
My work centered on citation formatting, an effort fundamentally about abstracting and standardizing non-standardized data and theories about data, both of which greatly enhanced my knowledge of bibliographic metadata and standards and reflection on what I call the metaphysics of metadata–how our taxonomies and categories have important implications for access to information and research questions.
More technical details about these projects can be found on my CV.
As the web developer and designer for the UW Center for the Humanities, I worked closely with the directors and staff to help redefine and modernize their web presence, as well as to identify ways of using the website to carry out the Center’s core mission. This has entailed establishing and documenting best practices for how to better integrate content creation and deployment with the Center’s workflow.
I architected, designed, coded, and implemented a robust content management system for a conglomeration of about twenty separate programs under the SAA administrative umbrella. I embarked on a three-year plan to gradually implement new features while managing productive relationships with each of the constituents.
As the lead designer and programmer, I focused on designing the clearest possible user interfaces to help farmers reduce energy costs. On a larger scale, I also served as a project manager, developing milestone driven timelines, as well as to establish more efficient processes for content review and testing efforts among the core team.
I’ve been fortunate to work with over a dozen different organizations and research scholars to create websites that best reflect their individual personalities and goals. The cumulative experience remains highly influential on my sense of design, interaction, usability, and how scholars most comfortable with text tend to think in terms technological familiarity rather than innovative possibilities.