THATCamp Mallet Results

We have spent the last few weeks working to build a python script that would allow us to download and prep all of the THATCamp blog posts for topic modeling in MALLET (for those catching up, we detailed this process in a series of previous posts). As our last post detailed, we encountered a few more complications than expected due to foreign languages in the corpus of the text.  After some discussion, we worked through these issues and were able to add stoplists to the script for German, French, and Spanish.  Although this didn’t solve all of our issues and some terms do still show up (we didn’t realize there was Dutch too), it led to some interesting discussion about the methodology behind topic modeling.  Finally we were able to rerun the python script with the new stopwords and then feed this new data into MALLET.

MALLET, or MAchine Learning for Language Toolkit, is an open source java package that can be used for natural language processing.  We used the Programming Historian’s tutorial on MALLET.  Topic modeling is an important digital tool that analyzes a corpus of text and seeks to extract ‘topics’ or sets of words that are statistically relevant to each other.  The result is a particular number of word sets also known as “topics.” In our case we asked MALLET to return twenty topics based on our set of THATCamp blog posts. The topics returned by MALLET were:

  1. xa digital art history research university scholarship graduate field center publishing open today institute cultural knowledge professor online world
  2. university games pm humanities http digital september knowledge kansas saturday game conference state registration play information representation workshop boise
  3. thatcamp session sessions day participants free technology page unconference university nwe conference discussion information google propose hope event proposals
  4. people make time questions things idea access process ideas world work great making lot build add kind interesting nthe
  5. digital humanities data tools text projects research scholars omeka texts tool analysis scholarly archive reading online based book scholarship
  6. digital humanities session dh library libraries support projects open discussion librarians amp talk work journal sessions propose faculty list
  7. history public digital historical collections museum media project projects mobile online maps museums collection historians users sites site applications
  8. games zotero thinking place game code end cultural chnm hack year documentation humanists version number pretty application visualization set
  9. session open area data workshop tool knowledge teach interested bay prime bootcamp gis workshops reality night thatcampva virginia lab
  10. work interested students ways teaching post working talk writing blog love issues don conversation create collaborative thinking start discuss
  11. project web content information tools community resources archives experience research create learn creating learning share development materials specific provide
  12. xb xa del se humanidades digitales xad al madrid www mi este aires buenos digital personas taller cuba parte
  13. caption online id align width open attachment accessibility women read university american building accessible gender media november floor race
  14. data http org session www open twitter texas good wikipedia nhttp status wiki start commons drupal metadata people crowd
  15. xa workshop session omeka publishing http gt propose org workshops friday docs open hands amp doc studies topic discuss
  16. students digital learning technology education media college faculty humanities research game pedagogy student courses classroom assignments skills arts social
  17. xa oral digital humanities video event local application community offer interviews planning center education software jewish weekend college histories
  18. een het voor op te zijn deze met workshop kunnen om digitale bronnen data onderzoek historici nl wat worden
  19. social media technology studies arts performance museums xcf play participants cultural performing reading st email object platforms interaction technologies
  20. xa thatcamp org http thatcamps details read movement published planned access nthatcamp browse software follow break series google join

As you can see we have an impressive list of terms. Before we organize them in a meaningful way, we will briefly point out a common problem that scholars may confront when working with MALLET. As you may notice, we realized that we have quite a few errors such as ‘xa’ that appear in the results.  While we don’t have a great answer for why this is, we think it has to do with complex encoding issues related to moving content from a WordPress post that is stored in a MySQL database using Python. Each of these uses a different coding system and the error appears to be related to non-breaking spaces.  A little bit of Googling revealed that the non-breaking space character used by WordPress is ‘&nbsp’ which is different that the ASCII encoding of a non-breaking space ‘/xa0’.  When Python reads WordPress’s non-breaking space character ‘&nbsp’, it understands the space but encodes it as the UTF-8 version ‘/xa0’.  As second year fellow Spencer Roberts explained the issue is that meaning is lost in translation. He used this analogy: Python reads and understands the French word for “dog” then translates it and returns the English word.

In this case, what shows up in our results is not ‘/xa0’ but rather ‘xa’ because we had stripped out all of the non-alphanumeric characters prior to running the data through MALLET.  We think the errors such as ‘xa’ and ‘xb’ are because of these encoding issues.  Anyone interested in clarifying or continuing this discussion with us can do so in the comments.

Returning to our MALLET results, our next challenge was to present and analyze the large amount of data.  We drew from both Cameron Blevins and Robert K. Nelson in our approach and decided to group the topics by theme so that trends could be more easily identified.  We determined that there were about seven broad themes in the corpus of THATCamp blog posts from 2008 to present:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Building
  3. Community
  4. International
  5. Pedagogy
  6. Public Digital Humanities
  7. THATCamp Structure

Utilizing these larger categories, we were able to create several charts that demonstrate the changes over time with the THATCamps. The charts are available below; you’ll note that we have graphed them using percentages. The percentages that appear represent the number of times that topic occurred within the posts at that camp.

Chart of Topics Overall

Topics Overall

Chart of the topic Accessibility.

Topics relating to Accessibility

Graph of the Community Topic

Topics relating to Community

Graph of the THATCamp Structure Topics

Topics relating to THATCamp Structure

Graph of topics relating to Pedagogy

Topics relating to Pedagogy

Graph of topics relating to Public Digital Humanities

Topics relating to Public Digital Humanities

Graph of topics relating to building in the humanities.

Topics relating to Building

Topics relating to the international influence of THATCamp.

International Digital Humanities

We found these results to be particularly interesting. A larger overall conclusion is that THATCamp content emphasizes the various applications of digital technology to scholarship, from public uses to tool building or teaching. Since THATCamp was founded, it has become a more varied community. However close examination of the topic models this exercise produced reveals that a number of the same terms appear frequently across all of the topic models (“digital”, for instance, appears in 8 of the 20 topics). This references the way in which ideas are circulated throughout camps and unifies the community. It also reflects the subjects that are the focus of the community.

If you’re interested in the data, you can view the various files here:

Reflections: Year Two, Semester One

As the first term of 2013-14 closes, it seems appropriate to reflect on the experiences of the Digital History Fellows. Last year, our first cohort of DH Fellows spent the first semester meeting with Dan Cohen, learning the history of the center, discussing current projects, and thinking about how digital history is practiced. We spent our second semester working in each of the divisions for five weeks, and then decided in which division we would like to work in the second year. Although there was no specific requirement that we take positions spread across the three divisions, we were drawn in different directions. From the first days of the fellowship, Ben Hurwitz was most comfortable in Education and quickly entrenched himself at their community table. He now works on various educational projects, including the Popular Romance Project. Amanda Morton worked closely with Fred Gibbs before he relocated to New Mexico, which helped her transition into Research, where she works on Digital Humanities Now and related PressForward projects. Spencer Roberts was drifting toward Public Projects before the summer started, and settled in once the center received a grant to work with the National Park Service to revamp their War of 1812 site.

This year we welcomed three new members into the fellowship, bringing our total number to six. The second cohort follows a different schedule in their first year, so Amanda Regan, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, and Jannelle Legg stepped directly into the mix at RRCHNM, splitting their semester into seven-week blocks in Education and Public Projects. During those weeks, they have written reflective posts about the projects to which they’ve contributed, all of which can be found here. Next term, they will spend a block in Research before moving into a final seminar with Stephen Robertson.

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When Graduate Work Comes Together

The Digital History Fellows occupy a fairly unique role amongst the many graduate students currently studying in the humanities. We have been given research stipends to support the growth of our research capabilities, with particular emphasis on digital research methods. Because we are attached to the RRCHNM, our concentrated efforts are focused on specific projects, to which we contribute time and energy while developing digital methods and skills. We and the center benefit from the symbiotic relationship.

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