Wednesday, 4 December 2013

week 12 follow-up

It seemed appropriate to end with some actual salsa, so today's wake-up music was the legendary Tito Puente's song "Oy Como Va." His contributions to music were important enough to earn him not one but several guest appearances on The Simpsons -- which, in my book, counts as direct participation in a social research project.

Both of our topics this week can be found in the same set of lecture slides, where are also available in the usual place on BB as well as below:

A student asked a very good question about submitting the final blog logs: should the logs contain all the posts and comments for the entire term, or just the ones from week 7 onwards? Please do the latter, and only include links to posts and comments that we didn't consider in the earlier evaluation. Hopefully that makes things simpler for you and us.

I discussed the concept of modelling in relation to Euler's map/diagram/model/mental Rubik's Cube of the Bridges of Konigsberg problem. You can read more about that example in the Steve Ramsay reading I assigned (as suggested reading) for this week, and you can view a low-quality facsimile of the original article here: An interesting aside: a couple of years ago I looked up the copy of the original mathematics journal issue from 1735 in the Fisher Library, and it appeared that someone had stolen the page with the Konigsberg images. Whether that was before or after the volume went to the Fisher I couldn't say.

Another project we looked at is HyperCities. If you like maps and history, I suggest avoiding this site until you've submitted your final project for this course... there's a lot to explore, and they keep adding new cities.

Finally, a motif in today's lecture and readings was the William Blake Archive. Here's a link to a version of the image of Blake's character Urizen that I used to lead off the lecture:

Friday, 29 November 2013

week 12 blogging question

For our final blogging question, we'll keep it simple and look back to where we started in September: how has your research question evolved during the course (or longer)? What sub-questions have emerged as you've read and thought about your topic? What new theoretical frameworks, methods, materials, or other context have changed how you approach your question? In what ways are you still wrestling with your research question, and what kinds of feedback could your fellow-bloggers provide that might help?

As Glen and I mentioned in our feedback to the first round of blog posts, we'd like to see more commenting in the final half of the course, and this topic should give you all an excellent opportunity to request and share feedback with each other. As I've been repeating throughout the course, developing persuasive and clear language for your research question is a social process -- no one can do it alone -- so don't hesitate to test language from your research descriptions on your fellow-bloggers.

Friday, 22 November 2013

week 11 blogging questions

This week we didn't spend much class time discussing peer-review in a general sense, including your thoughts about Fitzpatrick's arguments. Your examples of feedback you might have given as peer-reviewers of her chapter were insightful, including the identification of some potentially obscure cultural references, but in retrospect it would have been nice to have an open discussion as well. Let's do that in this week's blogging question. What are your thoughts on peer-review, whether the traditional kind described by Lovejoy and our recommended readings, or the alternate approach championed by Fitzpatrick? Are there other examples or models of peer-review that are worth considering?

An example of a peer-review controversy you might have heard about is the Sokol affair. I won't retell the story here, but it's worth knowing about because it tested many of the principles that underlie peer review. The Wikipedia page for this controversy is reasonably detailed and impartial, and contains links to further reading, including the publications in Social Text and Lingua Franca that ignited it all, and Sokal's subsequent entries in the debate: Interesting to note that the controversy has become known as "the Sokal affair," not "the Social Text affair." To test this, I searched for the latter phrase on Wikipedia and was redirected to the stable url above.

<tangent type="baseball">There were many rubuttals of Sokal's hoax, including one by Derrida, but if you read just one, I suggest making it Stanley Fish's op-ed piece for the New York Times, "Professor Sokal's Bad Joke." Fish, in passing, helps to establish baseball as one of the best proving-grounds for ideas about epistemology -- something I've been trying to do indirectly with music in our course, though Fish does it better. In that spirit, let me recommend an academic prank that embodied many of the qualities missing from Sokal's: William S. Stevens's legendary 1975 article for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review on "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule" (originally published anonymously). In addition to making some great legal and sports insights, this piece deftly satirizes the citational excesses of law articles, and at one point on the first page footnotes the use of the word the. As a scholarly prank, this one is intelligent, inclusive, scrupulously researched, and honest in its use of humour to light a candle where Sokal settled for cursing the darkness.</tangent>

In your post, feel free to comment on the Sokal affair, or to explore any other aspect of peer-review, whether the underlying principles, their practical application, or both. As I mentioned in class, these are questions that affect everyone who produces or uses research, no matter the discipline. 

week 10 follow-up

This morning's wake-up music was the song "Tamacun" by the amazing Mexican guitar duo Roderigo y Gabriela. A little closer to actual salsa, and hopefully the kind of energetic music that gets us through the last weeks of term. Like a lot of good information research projects, they combine different elements (Mexican guitar/Cuban music/Metallica) into something greater than the sum of its parts. Hard to know which shelf to look for them in a record store, but good music like good research is sometimes difficult to categorize (as Luker points out repeatedly). Something to remember if you're feeling like your research proposal doesn't fit into a single definitive niche.

This week's slides are posted in the usual place on BB, and can be found here:

Michael Tyworth's blog post from which I quoted in a couple of slides may be found here: (He links to a clip from Good Will Hunting that's worth a chuckle as well, as Matt Damon delivers a withering on-the-spot peer review in one of cinema's more unconventional bar fights.) We spent a fair amount of time considering Kathleen Fitzpatrick's chapter from Planned Obsolescence, but I also recommended checking out some other publications from MediaCommons Press, including a guide for donors, dealers, and archival repositories on the handling of digital materials: Finally, I touched briefly upon the peer-review of unconventional forms of publication, including source code and digital prototypes. An example of a journal that applies peer-review principles to these kinds of digital artifacts, alongside conventional publications, is Digital Humanities Quarterly. See their submission guidelines here, and a published example in their latest issue (scroll down to the entry by Montfort and Strickland; incidentally, students in my Future of the Book course can do some advance reading by checking out Whitney Trettien's article in the same issue).

Friday, 15 November 2013

week 10 blogging question

This week's blogging question has to do with a practical matter raised by our Kirschenbaum reading from week 9: how will you ensure that your research materials, especially digital materials, are preserved? Imagine that someone in the far future (say, the year 2112) wants to understand what research your project was doing, much as we look back to the lab notebooks, letters, records, and other materials left behind by Darwin, Freud, Turing, Banting & Best, and so on. Not long ago I had the exciting experience of paging through Alexander Graham Bell's lab notebooks at the Smithsonian American History Museum and the Library of Congress. These notebooks document the day-to-day activities that led to the invention of the telephone, among other developments. It was a window into the process of scientific research that I couldn't have obtained solely by analyzing its products -- even through the close analysis of artifacts that we discussed this past week. Scientists have a strong tradition of documenting the processes of their work, due largely to the need for valid scientific results to be replicable by others. Researchers in anthropology and ethnography often keep field journals for different reasons, too, but all fields could learn from the tradition of self-documentation for the sake of the future.

However, as Kirschenbaum and other scholars of digital preservation point out, this all gets tricky when our notebooks and other records are digital. What kinds of records (digital and otherwise) will your project generate, and what best practices will you follow to preserve them? Where would you look to find those best practices? In the field(s) where you situate your research, are there professional associations who have issued statements or guidelines on archiving digital research materials? Thinking back to our class on research ethics, does your project involve records or data that must not be preserved, and how will you ensure they are destroyed? (Is it enough to press "delete" and then empty your recycle bin? Kirschenbaum's book Mechanisms suggests otherwise...) Keep in mind that this question isn't just asking how you'll back up your work to save you from, say, a laptop theft or hard drive crash. Rather, the question is about preserving our materials into a technological future that we can't actually see from here. We don't know how technology will change, but what's the best we can do at present to leave behind records that will survive those changes?

Before I came to the iSchool, my own strategy was to encode all my research data into the metadata fields of YouTube kitten videos (click at your peril), since they seem to be the most durable and pervasive digital records that humans have ever made. We can be fairly certain that someone in 2112 will be watching a kitten video when they should be researching their INF 1240 assignment, though the video may be a hologram, and the kittens may be cyborgs or genetically modified to catch mice telepathically or something. However, I expect you all to come up with a more intelligent strategy -- one based on what we actually know about responsible documentation and digital preservation, not idle speculation about kittens.

Incidentally, this isn't an entirely new question in the history of research, technology, and record-keeping. Here's an interesting story to serve as a counter-example to Bell's still-readable notebooks: More details and recordings may be found here:

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

week 9 follow-up

Our music this morning was a synthesis of salsa and jazz, in the form of Tito Puente's reinterpretation of a tricky jazz standard we heard just before reading week: Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Tito's energy, enthusiasm, and mastery of polyrhythms are a lesson to us all... And, speaking of referential meaning, he was a guest on The Simpsons many years ago.

Lecture slides are available here and in the usual place on BB:

We looked at a few examples that aren't in the lecture slides, including an example of coding from Prof. Hartel's article from earlier in the course: Hartel, J. (2010). Managing documents at home for serious leisure: A case study of the hobby of gourmet cooking. Journal of Documentation, 66(6), 847-874. [].

The anthropological technique of thick description, which Prof. Hartel mentioned in her lecture on ethnography, is generally attributed to Clifford Geertz. See his chapter on the topic in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973).

Here is the James Bond clip we looked at: I also mentioned the Bechdel Test as an example of a very basic quantitative interpretive method. You can find an example of a popular application of this method here: . Try applying it to the next film or tv episode you watch, and let's see what informal results we get in the next class. The Bond canon probably doesn't hold up too well against the Bechdel Test -- though I'm pretty sure there's a scene in From Russia with Love that might pass -- but what's more important is that the test's value derives from the best tradition of quantitative methods: it prompts us to notice the things that might otherwise escape our attention, especially phenomena that try to fly under our cognitive, social, and ideological radar. Some of the most important insights in feminist research have come from simply running the numbers in relation to gender, especially salaries. Quantitative approaches to interpretation may be a blunt instrument, in the sense that they tend to deal poorly with context, nuance, and ambiguity, but sometimes a blunt instrument is the right tool for the job -- especially if there are barriers in the way.

Regarding the peril and promise of quantification in interpretation, I also mentioned The Guardian's questionable application of the Flesch-Kincaid reading-level test to State of the Union addresses. See The Economist's critique (containing links to other critiques) makes some good points about the too-easy reduction of texts to data, as well as the social value that is sometimes uncritically bestowed on certain methods. A more thoughtful application of text analysis to State of the Union addresses may be found here:; and especially here: . In the latter case I recommend reading the essay that accompanies the analysis, which we looked at briefly in class. It's biased, unobjective, and selective in its evidence, but also makes no claims to be otherwise (hence the author's deliberate use of the term essay), and thereby avoids The Guardian's mistake of assuming that data speaks for itself. I also recommend using the text-zoom feature on your browser -- probably ctrl- or command- plus or minus -- to block out the site's bright red background, or just wear sunglasses...

If the study of texts and artifacts from an information perspective interests you, I'd recommend some further reading in the form of the Latour and Winner articles I referenced in this week's blogging question. I'd also recommend two pieces of very recent work (which will almost certainly show up in my Future of the Book course next term). Actually, I just realized that one of them isn't published yet, but should appear in the next issue of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST): Bonnie Mak's "Archaeology of a Digitization," which gives a brilliantly nuanced reading of the digitization project Early English Books Online. Another similar article which has been published is Whitney Anne Trettien's "A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: the Case of English Reprints Jhon Milton Aereopagitica" in the latest issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly. Both of these are great examples of researchers who discover and unfold the stories that artifacts can tell about how they were made. Matt Kirschenbaum has a very interesting article in the same issue of DHQ, and I'd encourage you to explore this issue if you're interested in the topic. I also mentioned my own study of e-book and print versions of a recent Giller Prize novel, The Sentimentalists, which was very much inspired by the kind of work represented here. As I mentioned in class, this topic is an example of traditional information research extending into new frontiers -- not just studying new materials, but also using new methods and theoretical influences -- and the result is that there are a lot of opportunities here for junior researchers, especially those with eclectic iSchool backgrounds.

PS: Last James Bond reference of the course, I promise:

Sunday, 10 November 2013

week 9 blogging question

[Note: after applying a complex multivariate statistical analysis, I've concluded that this is week 9, not week 10, and have emended the title of this post accordingly.]

Given that we're shifting our focus this week to texts and artifacts as objects of study, I'd like to pose a question to get us thinking about some examples. In your other courses you may already have run across some key readings that consider information questions by closely reading a particular artifact, device, designed object, or text. Two canonical examples that you'll almost certainly encounter in other iSchool courses are Bruno Latour's sociology of a door-closer (written under the pseudonym "Jim Johnson") and Langdon Winner's analysis of the Long Island Expressway in "Do Artifacts Have Politics?" -- the latter being a useful reminder that the term artifact can encompass the very small and the very large, even civil infrastructure. In both cases, Latour and Winner did not conduct interviews or surveys, nor did they collect data in the traditional social-science understanding of a research process; rather, they read their objects of study just like we would critically read a text, though their approaches are no less methodical, as we'll see on Wednesday. Latour and Winner nonetheless arrive at conclusions about social questions that would be right at home in Luker's picture of salsa-dancing social science, which reminds us that research methods can be different roads by which we converge upon the same places.

In that spirit, this week's question revisits our very first blogging question, based on Luker, but with a twist. If you could undertake a research project and be assured that you'd have all the resources you'd need to answer your research questions, but you had to focus your study on a particular artifact or text rather than, say, a social group or more abstract information problem, what would you choose to study? It could be a unique artifact, such as the Long Island Expressway, or a type of object such as a door-closer. (In fact, a post from last week by a member of our class identifies a great candidate of the latter kind: the QWERTY keyboard.) Tell us about the artifact you'd study, including why it interests you and what we can learn about information from studying it. Does the nature of the artifact raise any interesting complications for a researcher? (For example, there's a great deal to be learned from studying the website, but how deeply can we get "under the hood" of an artifact like a government website?) What are the potential threads of inquiry that lead outward from your chosen artifact to bigger questions?

Remember, too, that for this week we're considering texts and artifacts interchangeably -- they are both products of human artifice, and can reveal details about their creation and uses -- so you could choose something like the latest federal throne speech or a cultural text like the recent Wikileaks film. Your example might be as specific as these, or you might need to think about how specific to be in your choice -- for example, perhaps Latour can safely generalize about door-closers, but if you took, say,  "the cell phone" as your artifact, would that be too general to be useful? (Hint: probably, given that a cell phone from 1999 isn't the same object as one from 2013, at least in many important respects.)

To put it another way, what can the study of your particular text or artifact reveal that wouldn't otherwise be obvious? As Winner argues, "If our moral and political language for evaluating technology includes only categories having to do with tools or uses, if it does not include attention to the meaning of the designs and arrangements of our artifacts, then we will be blinded to much that is intellectually and practically crucial" (Winner, 1997, p. 125). It's not just a matter, then, of knowing what artifacts to study; it's equally a matter of framing the right questions to ask about them. What might we see in your chosen artifact if we ask it the right questions?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

week 8 follow-up

Sorry for the late post... what would we do without reading week to get caught up?

Since we considered experimental and quasi-experimental research in class, I thought we'd start the day with some experimental music. Nothing too weird, just the Dave Brubeck Quartet's classic "Take Five," from the experimental 1959 album Time Out. What makes it an experiment? They weren't recording in lab coats or anything like that, but as with the experiments we discussed in class, they manipulated variables -- and kept others constant -- to see what would happen. In this case, Brubeck and his bandmates composed songs in unusual time signatures, departing from the traditional one-TWO-three-FOUR count of most western popular music. (Try counting along to "Take Five"; you'll get the title right away...) However, Brubeck and company retained the traditional harmonic and melodic structures of jazz, as well as the traditional instrumentation of a quartet. They were asking, in musical form, the basic question that drives all experimentation: what happens if we change X?

Here are the week's lecture slides, also posted in the usual place on BB:

The painting we discussed was Joseph Wright's An Experiment on a Bird in an Air-Pump (1768). Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer offer an important reading of this painting in their foundational book on the history of science, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985). I also mentioned the painting's fleeting but significant cameo in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall. An impressively thorough analysis of paintings in this and other Bond films may be found here:

The video for the invisible gorilla experiment -- actually it should be called the "unnoticed gorilla' or something like that; that the gorilla is visible is precisely the point -- may be found here: . See also this NPR story on a recent study involving radiologists shown human tissue slides with gorilla images added to them:

We also discussed a couple of social experiments that went sideways in illuminating ways. Our primary topic was Stanley Milgram's infamous experiment on obedience to authority figures. This New York Times story revisits the experiments decades later, and links to some interesting pictures taken during the original experiments: I also brought up the yet more infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. When all of you become well-funded social science researchers, please don't do stuff like this. We'll talk about it more in our class on research ethics.

Finally, I trust you'll all be spending your reading break doing actual reading, but if you want to take a video gaming break that doubles as infotainment, you could do worse than the game Portal and its excellent sequel, which I mentioned in a previous post. Taken together, they offer one of the most intelligent and subversive critiques of instrumental research methods I've encountered; it just happens to be in the form of a video game. (One written, I'm sure, by someone well-versed in Milgram and the associated history of 20th-century research cultures.) Just don't read a synopsis ahead of time -- you want to play these games with no foreknowledge. There are no invisible gorillas, but there may or may not be cake.

Friday, 1 November 2013

week 9 blogging question

In the spirit of Reading Week, our blog topic for week 9 is wide open. You could bring up a topic that's been developing in your mind during the course so far, ask your fellow bloggers a discussion-starting question, test out an idea from your own research proposal assignment, or just roll the dice on a random topic. Just remember that it should be related somehow to the general topic of research and research methods, given that Glen and I will need to take its relevance into account when grading.

And now, for no particular reason other than it was Halloween yesterday and we discussed Ghostbusters briefly in class, here's an idea that would win best costume prize at any reasonably geeky Halloween party:

Friday, 25 October 2013

week 7 follow-up

Glen's lecture slides are now available for download on BB in the usual place. If you'd like to take a closer look at the Minard flow map I showed at the end of class, see last week's lecture slides and you can zoom right in on Prezi. Wikipedia has a good page on Raphael's painting School of Athens, with labels for the identifiable figures. The reading I was drawing upon is from Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood's excellent book Anachronic Renaissance, particularly from their final chapter, "Space for Fiction" (

In the spirit of Glen's examples of badly designed survey questions, there's an odd and interesting survey that you can take as part of an alternate reality game that was created for the videogame Portal.  Go to and type "LOGIN" at the prompt. Enter the username "CJOHNSON" and the password "TIER3", then type "APPLY" at the prompt. The survey should start from there. If you have any trouble, see

week 8 blogging question

This week's blogging question is prompted in part by Glen's comments on statistical literacy from our lecture this week, and partly by an NPR article on scorekeeping in baseball published in the summer but worth revisiting as the World Series gets going.  Alva Noë's fine essay points out that although few fans today maintain the old tradition of watching ball games with scoresheet and pencil in hand, the practice should not be mistaken for dispassionate number-crunching. Rather, close observation and recording of details -- combined with the exercise of judgment about, say, whether or not a play constitutes an error -- should be recognized as a different kind of engagement with the game. As 
Noë suggests, attending to the myriad details that make up a single play focuses the mind on the complexity of the event in ways that simply watching and listening to the announcers cannot. As Sherlock Holmes often points out to his companions Watson and Lestrade, we see but we don't observe. The act of recording the data generated by a baseball game, and especially of counting and analyzing them, helps us to observe patterns and details we might otherwise see but never comprehend. The same argument could be made for quantitative methods in social research: counting, measuring, and analyzing for statistical patterns can reveal dimensions of our lived experience that aren't available to the observer any other way. 

Supposedly Einstein had a sign on the wall of his office at Princeton that read "Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts." I believe this is true, but I also believe there are stories that can only be told by numbers. What are some of the significant things you've learned about the world that took the form of statistics? On Wednesday I told the story of when I learned about gender differences in pay and promotion among the faculty at the university where I was doing my PhD. Are there any statistics that have struck home with you? How were those stats derived from data? How were they communicated such that they'd have a human resonance beyond cold, abstract numbers? Another way to answer this question could be to share an example of a data visualization that you believe to be especially eloquent or insightful, such as the Minard flow map of Napoleon's march on Moscow, which I discussed on Wednesday.

Enjoy the World Series -- and go [insert team name here]!!

Friday, 18 October 2013

week 6 follow-up and week 7 blogging question

The slides from Prof. Hartel's guest lecture on ethnographic methods are now available in the usual place on BB in PDF.

This week's blogging question is inspired by Prof. Hartel's discussion of the concept of the field in her guest lecture this week -- which really got me thinking, as you can tell by the length of this post. As she pointed out, fieldwork is not only a necessary stage in many kinds of social research, it's also a kind of ritual exercise of professional standards and intellectual virtues. This dual importance of fieldwork comes through in her quotation from the twentieth-century American sociologist Robert Park, who enjoined sociologists to "get the seat of your pants dirty in real research" (emphasis added) by getting out of the library and spending time in the actual spaces under study, from luxury hotel lounges to "the doorsteps of the flop-houses" (see this week's lecture slides for the full quotation). What interests me here is the dialectic between the library and the field, and especially the latter's association with the real. One can understand what Park is getting at: as researchers of all kinds, not just sociologists (but them, too), we need to expose ourselves to contexts where our assumptions may be challenged, and where materials, phenomena, and people can exert their own agency in the research process. The field is where our objects of study can push back in unexpected ways against our preconceptions, which, in the safe space of the library or office, can all too easily ossify into fact. Perhaps the ultimate example of fieldwork in this sense -- as both a process of discovery and demonstration of intellectual virtue -- is Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition of 1947 (there's a really good film about it that came out last year: In other words, the field -- broadly defined -- is the space where surprise can happen. Therefore, the act of venturing into those spaces signals an epistemic virtue on the researcher's part, like dirt under the fingernails after a full day's work.

The specific value of this characterization of fieldwork might be found in what the archaeologist Ian Hodder calls, in a brilliant phrase, "interpretation at the trowel's edge," in which the processes of data collection and interpretation are not carried out separately, with a temporal interval between them, but instead overlap in the same moments. (Hodder mentions this idea in several places, but summarizes it most accessibly in the introduction to his edited collection Religion at the Emergence of Civilization [Cambridge University Press, 2010], p. 12.) You can imagine how that would be an especially potent idea in archaeology, where data tend to get collected through an inevitably destructive process that physically intervenes in the literal fields where it works. Hodder's point is that some interpretations only become available at the trowel's edge, and that some insights are available only in the field, amid sunburns, mosquitos, and -- unless Indiana Jones and Lara Croft have misled me about archaeology -- secret societies, Nazis, and ancient booby traps. You know it's fieldwork if you come back from it dusty, sore, and a bit wiser about what you're studying.

What, then, is the fieldwork of information research? How does your own research complicate or reflect this notion of the field? How does information research call us to rethink this notion of the field beyond the more straightforward sociological and archaeological pictures of fieldwork, which may happen in actual fields with grass and mosquitos? How does the traditional notion of fieldwork change when the field is online or virtual? Also, for those working in areas that aren't particularly ethnographic, what is your area's equivalent to the field, or does it have one? For example, I'm a book historian and bibliographer, and much of my fieldwork actually happens in the library -- the field's supposed antithesis -- and takes the form of examining material objects to see what surprises they reveal. Your fieldwork might be similarly non-obvious, but might have the same functional role: a space where our objects of study retain their power to surprise, confound, and illuminate.

Stories of your own experiences of fieldwork (or its equivalents, broadly defined) are welcome too, and feel free to wear your dusty Indiana Jones fedora as you type. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

week 5 follow-up

Today's warm-up music, chosen for our class on "Thinking Through Writing," was a nod to someone who proves that there's always value to revisiting the basics of your craft. By the 1990s, Rush's drummer, Neil Peart, had won a bazillion best-drummer awards and yet still singed up for drum lessons with a master jazz drummer named Freddy Gruber, whom he met while doing a tribute for another great jazz drummer, Buddy Rich. After studying with Gruber, Neil changed his grip, his playing style, and even started adding Buddy Rich songs to the ends of his live solos, like this one. Someone like him taking drum lessons is a little like a first-rate novelist taking writing lessons, but that's exactly the point: good writers, regardless of their level of ability, never stop being students of their craft, and neither should we as information researchers.

Here are the slides:

The first slides show Charles Darwin's own revisions to his writing, which you can go see in the Fisher Rare Book Library if you're interested. Here are the details:

Charles Darwin. [proof sheets for] The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: J. Murray, 1872. []

Thursday, 10 October 2013

week 6 blogging question

In our last class we looked at several pitfalls to avoid in research and proposal writing, including some examples of sentences that go off the rails for various reasons. For the week 6 blog post, let's balance those negatives with some positive examples. What is an example of research writing (broadly defined) that you admire, whether at the level of the sentence, paragraph, or larger structures? What makes the example admirable, and what specific qualities would you point out for the benefit of others? In addition to a example of good research writing, are there any examples of writing of any kind -- fiction, blogging, poetry, movie taglines, whatever -- that you believe exemplify qualities that could inform research writing? Put another way, what kind of reading helps you write? Keep in mind that for the purposes of our class, the term research writing could encompass many genres and disciplines.

My own offerings in the latter category would include George Orwell's short story "Shooting an Elephant." You could call it a literary exploration of the themes of ethics and social forces that Dean Sharpe and Kristin Luker unpacked for us earlier in the course. I'd also offer the final paragraph of James Joyce's short story "The Dead" (from Dubliners). Both examples show a real economy of language -- there's not much fluff in either of them -- yet they also reveal that their writers were  sensitive to the rhythms of words and phrases. Both examples also seem fitting given that the Nobel Prize for literature was just awarded to another master of the short story.

Friday, 4 October 2013

week 5 blogging question

This week we considered research ethics primarily in relation to research involving human subjects, though the question of ethics and research extends beyond that scope, and encompasses us all. That's the premise of our next blogging topic.

What are the ethical dimensions, and potential research-design consequences, of the research interests
 and questions you've been outlining in your posts so far? Might your research require review by a research ethics board, and if so what would you need to take into consideration? Did we learn about ethics questions this week that you wouldn't have expected?

Even if your research doesn't involve human subjects -- say it was an historical project on women in 19th-century newspaper publishing -- what are the ethical dimensions of your research in a broader sense? What ethical questions come into play in your research process, but also in the relation between your research and its future audiences? Are there ethical relationships we need to consider beyond the traditional ones of researcher and human subjects?

These questions should give you all plenty of avenues to explore, which will let us take advantage of the diversity of projects that you're all considering.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

week 4 follow-up

This week's wake-up (or wish-you-were-still-in-bed) music was Miles Davis's "All Blues," from his milestone 1959 record, Kind of Blue. What's that got to do with research ethics, you ask? Actually nothing that I can think of -- I tried to find something with a connection, but was stumped. Next week I'll find a better musical tie-in.

Just a quick post for this class, given that we had a guest lecturer, Dean Sharpe from the U of T's Office of Research Ethics. Dean kindly agreed to let me post his slides on BB, and you can find them there in the usual place.

One of Dean's historical points of departure for his talk was the Nuremberg Code, which was developed in response to war crimes involving human research in World War II. You can find the text of the code here: Reading this alongside our more recent research ethics guidelines (which, of course, have this code as their ancestor) makes for an interesting compare-and-contrast.

I also mentioned an upcoming talk (tomorrow) by Adrian Johns that will be worthwhile for anyone interested in the history of books, information, and communication technology. Details here:

Also, Junior Professors Research Day on Friday will be a great opportunity to learn about how different kinds of research projects in information are framed, both in terms of research questions and the practical design of projects. Students are very welcome, and the full schedule and abstracts may be found here:

Friday, 27 September 2013

week 3 follow-up & week 4 blogging question

Today's wake-up music: Frank Sinatra, "Luck Be a Lady." A good research proposal is like a good Sinatra song -- it's to the point, its parts serve the whole, and a bit of Old Blue Eyes swagger can be just the thing when you need a confidence boost. And a song about gambling seems right for grant application-writing...

The SSHRC documents we discussed are all linked from the course schedule, or on Blackboard. I mentioned Stanford's Spatial History Project, and quoted from the posting about the project here:

Here's an excellent book to have on one's shelf generally, and especially to get one into the research-design headspace:

Hughes, W., Lavery, J., & Doran, K. (2009). Critical thinking: an introduction to the basic skills. 6th ed. Peterborough, ON: Broadview.

I also mentioned the reference management software Zotero (also linked in the resources section). If you'd like to learn more about this and other kinds of citation-management software, check out the link to the Inforum's iSkills workshops:

Finally, as I promised in class, from here on I'll post the assigned blogging questions on Fridays rather than Mondays to give you more time. Next week's question is deceptively straightforward: what difference does an information perspective make in your chosen research area? (see Vito's question on discussion board) Put another way, what difference does it make to pursue your research interest in an iSchool context? This is an opportunity to pull in some of the ideas you've been encountering in the first weeks of your other classes. Happy blogging, and enjoy what's shaping up to be a perfect Fall weekend!

Monday, 23 September 2013

week 3 blogging question

For this week's blog question, we'll take a page from Luker again. This time, with research proposals and literature reviews in mind, let's take on Luker's "bedraggled daisy" exercise as she describes it at the end of chapter 4, and in more detail beginning on p. 81. No doubt everyone thought about what their daisy might look like when they reached that point in the Luker reading, but it's another thing entirely to sit down, work it through, and draw one. This is partly an exercise in using another medium (drawing) to think thoughts that might not come as easily in a purely textual medium, and partly an exercise in the value of visualization: the point is not just to make a daisy, but also to step back and consider what you've done. As with writing things down and explaining your ideas to others, there are often new things you'll realize once you externalize and formalize your thoughts.

Part of the exercise, too, is acknowledging the provisionality of what you've just made, so give some thought to Luker's suggestion that you should number your daisy and think of it as an iteration in a series.

In the spirit of Luker's visual exercise, please post an image! You can use whatever medium you like: Adobe Illustrator; a sketch on a napkin snapped with a camera phone; coloured chalk on a sidewalk (no spray paint, please); a pencil sketch complete with crossouts and revisions -- whatever works best for your thought process. Some people's daisies may look more like sunflowers; others' may look more like trilliums (appropriately enough for Ontario). The point is the thought process that this exercise provokes, and the reflections and discussion that arise from it. However, I'd keep it simple for this first exercise -- best to avoid maple leaves or fractal geometries that have subcategories (at least for now).

For what it's worth, I'll be doing the same exercise as I prepare my own literature review for a project proposal on applying bibliographical approaches to born-digital texts. Having done this kind of exercise on a regular basis, I can attest that it's pretty much guaranteed to help not only your literature-reviewing, but also your articulation of it when it comes time to write it out.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

week 2 follow-up and slides

Here's a follow-up to this week's lecture on "Major Paradigms in Information Research." At the beginning of class I mentioned a couple of Inforum resources that should prove really helpful in different ways:
Conducting research: a selected bibliography of Inforum holdings:

iSkills: Professional, Academic, and Training Workshops:

The Prezi presentation for the lecture itself may be viewed here below. I will also be posting a downloadable version of the slides to BB, where you can also find a link to the free software to download to view Prezi files offline. I wasn't able to get through everything today, but some of the slides toward the end can remain mysterious for now, and I'll find ways to work them into future lectures. The Darwin images at the end will definitely show up in our "thinking through writing" class not far down the road.

The U.S. patent filed for the 1935 book reader device we discussed can be found here: . A tip of the hat to my RA Matthew Wells for finding this.

References for sources I drew upon for the lecture (in addition to the course texts):
Bates, M. (1999). The invisible substrate of information science. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(12), 1043-50.

Steinmetz, G. (Ed.). (2005). The politics of method in the human sciences: Positivism and its epistemological others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Burke, P. (2000). A social history of knowledge: from Gutenberg to Diderot. Cambridge: Polity. (I was drawing mostly from his section titled "Varieties of Knowledge," pp. 82-90)
The slides also contain images from volumes held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, which will show up in future lectures but whose full reference info I'll include here:
Robert Hooke. Micrographia, or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, with observations and inquiries thereupon. London, 1665. []

Charles Darwin. [proof sheets for] The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: J. Murray, 1872. []
The Fisher Library is attached to our building through Robarts, and is the best rare book library in Canada (and one of the best in the world). If you are curious about these books, don't hesitate to call them up and go see them at the Fisher -- that's why the library exists

Happy reading, and see you all next week for our class on designing research proposals.

Monday, 16 September 2013

week 2 blogging question

You guessed it: our first discussion question for the blogs comes straight from the end of chapter 1 of Luker's Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences, which recommends that students begin their own research diaries with the following exercise:

[from Luker, p. 21] "Someone once asked Balzac, who supported himself by writing reviews of plays, how liked a play he had just seen. 'How should I know?' he is reported to have answered: 'I haven't written the review yet!' Balzac was onto something: I find that when I write things down, I write and think things I've never really thought before. ... Set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes, and write about what question concerning the ... research world you would like to investigate if you were absolutely guaranteed you would not fail. Be as ambitious and wide-ranging in your thinking as you want."

It's up to you whether you want to keep a private research diary, or treat your group blogs as your diary, or regard the two as intersecting from time to time. The point is simply to write down and externalize your thoughts so that you can step back, reflect, and see them evolve over time. However you approach it, this exercise is also a great way to get to know your other group members, so don't hesitate to discuss each other's posts in the comments. Even if you don't have a blog group yet, you can start writing offline so that you'll have your post ready once everyone is sorted into blog groups, which should be completed by the end of this Wednesday.

Btw, the Balzac reference really needs a proper citation, as do many of Luker's other references to cultural texts like William Blake poems. How would we know if Balzac didn't say this, or meant something different in context? (Remember how no one actually says "play it again, Sam" in Casablanca, despite all the erroneous attributions of that line to the film...) I recommend not following her example -- at least in this regard -- in your assignments.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Week 1 follow-up

Welcome to the course blog for INF 1240! Here I'll post lecture slides (as Prezi files) and supplementary materials to lectures. Most of the Blackboard material is duplicated here, too, and once the group blogs are set up you'll find them linked in the left-hand column.

Not much to add to our course overview from yesterday, though I'm happy to confirm that Jenna Hartel and Glen Farrelly will indeed be giving guest lectures on October 16th and 23rd, respectively. I've also updated the readings for our ethnography class on Oct. 16th. In addition to Jenna's article which I had already assigned, Jenna has suggested that students read one of two possible supplementary readings, one that's more relevant to information systems, or another that's more relevant to libraries. Of course, you're more than welcome to read both, and to explore the recommended readings if you think that week's topic might be useful for your own research proposals.

Happy reading, and see you all next week for our class on major paradigms in information research.