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2020-2021 Mellon Fellows Projects

Posted by on Sunday, April 25, 2021 in Events, Past Fellows Projects.

Vanderbilt Center for Digital Humanities Presents: The 2020-2021 Mellon Fellows’ Digital Project Showcase

Update (4/30/2021)

Missed our event? View the project video from the showcase.

Event Details:

When: Thursday, April 29th from 4 PM to 5 PM central

Zoom link:

Event overview:

  • Welcome remarks from Mickey Casad and Lynn Ramey
  • Overviews of our fellows’ projects
  • Breakout Q&A panels with our fellows about their work:
    • Text Analysis panel featuring Melanie Forehand, Abraham Liddell, Holly McCammon, and  Rebecca VanDiver. This panel will offer examples of how to use computational tools for text analysis including data mining, topic modeling, word frequency analysis, and network visualization platforms.
    • Public Humanities panel featuring Elizabeth Barna, Leah Lomotey-Nakon, and Rachel Underwood. This panel will include examples of how digital and public humanities can encourage inclusion and facilitate community outreach.
    • AI/Machine learning panel featuring Caroline Colquhoun, Sahai Couso Díaz, and Anna Young. This panel will discuss tools, applications, and issues related to transcribing and generating text including Transkribus and GPT2.
    • Storytelling and Spatial Humanities featuring Laura Carpenter, Ashley Kim, and Wendy Timmons. This panel highlights mapping technologies, digital ethnography, scholarly methods, and immersive technologies for humanistic research.


Preview Our Fellows’ Projects:

Faculty Fellows

Laura Carpenter, Associate Professor of Sociology

“Throw Momma on the Train: Gender, Generation, and Family Journeys” (View Poster)

In 1924–25, three teenage farmers’ sons set off to see the United States, hopping freight trains from Maryland to San Francisco and back. In 2018, the 40-something granddaughter of one of the men recreated their journey, taking her mobility-impaired, homebody septuagenarian mother along for the 7,000-mile ride. “Throw Momma” tells the stories of both adventures, examining changes and continuities in women’s and men’s geographic mobility and the stories family members tell about travel and about one another. This online exhibit, a companion website for the creator’s book-in-progress, uses the digital multimedia platform ArcGIS StoryMaps. Interactive maps feature each stop on the two journeys, showcasing excerpts from the travelers’ diaries, “then” and “now” photographs, city histories, short sociological essays, videos, music, interviews, and links to external resources.

For more information, view project video.

Holly McCammon, Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of Sociology and Professor of Sociology

“A War of Words:  A Legal Framing Contest and the Undue-Burden Standard” (View Poster)

Lawyers aligned with the antiabortion and reproductive-rights movements have argued numerous legal cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Beginning with the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, a core focus of this legal debate has been the undue-burden standard. The debate considers, does a law restricting abortion access place an undue burden on an individual’s legal right to seek an abortion?  In this project, I use the undue-burden legal debate to discern basic and recurring structural elements in the legal-framing contest. I examine the litigant briefs in a set of abortion cases to discern core frames articulated by both sides. I then follow use of these frames in the unfolding dispute across a group of key Supreme Court abortion cases where the undue-burden debate takes place. 

More specifically, I trace this undue-burden legal-framing contest using computerized text analysis as a tool to discern these key structural elements in the discursive struggle. The analysis uncovers two structural features, both a) framing innovations and persistence and b) dialogic and monologic framing.

For more information, view project video.

Rebecca VanDiver, Assistant Professor

“African American Arts Coverage in the Black Press” (View Poster)

The goal of this text analysis project is to investigate coverage of African American visual art and artists in the Black Press. We sought to explore which African American visual artists and arts events were mentioned in the Black Press and whether or not these mentions correlated to the scholarly treatment of African American artists. The first dataset we selected to approach these questions was culled from the ProQuest Historical Newspapers Database (Black Newspapers) collection. Working in the ProQuest TDM Studio Jupyter environment, we are experimenting with Spacy and NLK to refine our method.

For more information, view project video.

Post-doctoral Fellows

Elizabeth Barna, Ph.D. in Sociology (Vanderbilt University)

“The Trump(ism) Memorabilia Collection” (View Poster)

Inspired by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia founded by sociologist David Pilgrim, the Trump(ism) Memorabilia Collection strives to preserve objects emblematic of the Trump Era.  By preserving and displaying material culture associated with Trump, I hope to combat future denial of this figure’s popularity—especially by the 55% of white women and 61% of white men who voted for him in 2020.  Future exhibitions will provide space for reflection and dialogue on Trump’s rise to power, reactions to it through material culture, and what each suggests about American history, culture, and futures—particularly as related to white supremacy, anti-intellectualism, and fascism.

So far, the collection consists of more than 40 objects explicitly related to Trump support and Trumpism, and to critiques of Trump.  In this poster presentation, I discuss the process of (re)defining the scope of the project, acquiring objects for the collection, and learning best practices for long-term artifact preservation.  Next steps include incorporating a crowdsourcing component to object acquisition, expanding the physical collection, and cataloguing and exhibiting the objects using Omeka.

For more information, view project video.

Melanie Forehand, Ph.D. in Spanish (Vanderbilt University)

“Is Peloton Your Love Language?: The Vocabulary of the Peloton Culture” (View Poster)

From the White House to The Bachelor Mansion, it seems like Peloton is everywhere. The bike’s ubiquity has led Peloton to rank as the second-most influential brand in the United States and has created a fiercely loyal fanbase. The goal of this project is to examine the culture of Peloton as seen through a textual analysis of the recurring vocabulary and themes in their cycling classes. This project studies a dataset of 36 Peloton classes using a combination of Voyant Tools and Python. Through the combination of word frequency analysis, topic modeling, and distinctive vocabulary analysis, this project identifies a company ethos based on comradery, grit, and wellness.

For more information, view project video.


Graduate Student Fellows

Caroline Colquhoun and Sahai Couso Díaz, Spanish and Comparative Media Analysis and Practice

“GPT-2 Habla Español: Training a Transformer to Write like Spanish Authors” (View Poster)

Our project interrogates and responds to intersecting manifestations of Anglocentrism–in technological developments like artificial intelligence and in digital humanities methods and practices–by seeking to fine-tune Open-AI’s GPT-2 natural language model in Spanish, and in the tone of authors of Spanish literature. The aim is that these models will serve as engines for literary and archival discovery, allowing students and researchers to explore well-known authors and their works in novel and creative ways. Following a series of dead ends and failed attempts, we successfully built on the work of Josue Obregón and Berny Carrera and fine-tuned their “Small Spanish” model of GPT-2. We used datasets of texts by three different authors, Miguel de Cervantes, Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, to fine-tune three models that generate texts in the “authorial voices” of the writers whose works they were fine-tuned with.

For more information, view project video.

Ashley Kim, Sociology

“‘We’re talking eggs…and we don’t mean brunch’:  The Gendered and Racialized Discourse of Fertility Care” (View Poster)

My current project, “’We’re talking eggs… and we don’t mean brunch’: The Gendered and Racialized Discourse of Fertility Care,” examines digital technology in a digitally literate world.  Today, we live in a world where almost everyone has a smartphone, interfacing with technology is our norm, and our health is no different. My research dives into this burgeoning field of reproductive technologies that mostly live online and through online spaces. I use digital ethnography to examine fertility tracking technologies and fertility health companies. Through my research, I argue that despite some minority involvement and a growing awareness of men’s health, the fertility health culture is informed and defined by whiteness and women, thereby promoting a new racial ideology I call colorblind eugenics. I identify 3 mechanisms of colorblind eugenics within fertility health that keep and maintain this space as white: whitewashing, marketing, and neoliberal healthism.

For more information, view project video.

Abraham Liddell, History

“New Methods and Old Church Records” (View Poster)

Ecclesiastical records for colonial Latin America offer rich data for scholars to study social change over time. The material in them often goes beyond the scope of religious information to provide data on the lives of Africans and Afro-descended people throughout Spanish colonialism. The goal of this project was to determine how applying text and data analysis techniques to the historical investigation of baptismal documents could allow scholars to generate new insights about free and enslaved people in Latin America. Using Python and several data analysis libraries, this project analyzed data on nearly 1,500 individuals (more than 700 of whom were enslaved) from 1719 to 1752. One of the motivating questions for the project was to determine if there were any discernible patterns in the ways free and enslaved Africans appeared in the volume. This project also sought to determine what ethnic groups appeared the most and what relationships they might have had.

For more information, view project video.

Léah Lomotey-Nakon, Religion

“Womanist Ways: Exploring a Method of Engaged Digital Humanities” (View Poster)​

“Womanist Ways” was designed to explore the feasibility of a transdisciplinary approach to engaging indigenous and critical methodologies through digital humanities tools.  Though the project began as a social network analysis of womanist scholarship, I pivoted based on my ethical concerns about the distant surveillance of Black women in academia, and instead developed a voluntary survey in collaboration with key womanist leaders to explore the dissemination of womanist thought via social media. The survey was designed for womanists in generations X, Y, and Z to share how they have engaged key womanist texts and how they deploy social media to develop community, organize for action, and creatively disseminate knowledge. The survey results will be used by the Center for Womanist Leadership and be shared with the Smithsonian’s Center for African American Religious Life to strengthen their support of Black womanist leaders and their digital initiatives.  

For more information, view project video.

Wendy Timmons, German Studies and Comparative Media Analysis and Practice

“’Fairy Hands’:  A Video Game by Wendy Timmons” (View Poster)

Lotte Reiniger, the stop-motion silhouette animator from Germany, was a filmmaking pioneer, deploying a unique animation technique that challenged the distinction between “high,” fine art and “low,” craft art. She modernized the then-antiquated silhouette cut by animating it to adapt fairy tales to the silver screen.

Using only free tools like Unity and GarageBand, I modernize her films by adapting them to platformer games, which resonate with the original aesthetics and material conditions of her films. The game, still in development, features quasi-8-bit music and will be easily accessible through any device’s internet browser. The goal is for players to experience Reiniger’s films and aesthetics in a new and exploratory way.

For more information, view project video.

Rachel Underwood, Sociology and Comparative Media and Analysis and Practice

“Women of Nashville: Photographs from the Invisible” (View Poster)

Women are a marginalized group and women experiencing homelessness are made further vulnerable by their invisibility in research on individuals experiencing homelessness (Bukowski & Buetow 2011). As the number of single women experiencing homelessness increases (HUD 2017), closing this research gap becomes a priority community need. This digital humanities project is one piece of a three-part endeavor that conducted a sociological analysis answering pertinent social questions about this population subgroup by highlighting the first-person narratives of women experiencing homelessness through photographs and critical dialogue. In partnership with the Center for Digital Humanities, I created an online gallery (using the Omeka platform) showcasing photographs and narratives generated by women experiencing homelessness. This digital exhibit will accompany two physical exhibits to be held in 2022 in Nashville, TN.

For more information, view project video.

Anna Young, History

“Building a Seventeenth-Century French HTR Model Using Transkribus” (View Poster)

This project involved the creation and test use of a Handwritten Textual Recognition (HTR) model based on a corpus of archival documents written in seventeenth-century French. Using Transkribus HTR software, an AI-powered tool used to create machine-readable transcriptions of historical manuscripts, I successfully trained a publicly-available HTR model that may be capable of recognizing a range of similar, seventeenth-century hands from the Parisian ecclesiastical court of the Officialité of Paris. Machine-transcribed documents from the corpus were also made available via a companion Omeka site dedicated to these and other materials from my dissertation research.

For more information, view project video.