D3plus and Theatre History

After reading Anastasia Salter‘s ProfHacker post on D3plus visualizations, I was intrigued by D3’s ability to create creative, interactive visualizations.  I’ve been thinking about exploring other paths to visualizing my genre data beyond network graphs, and this seemed like an intuitive, clear approach.  After adopting the example she recommended, I created the following graph of genres at rival New York theatres in the 1839-1840 season: The Bowery Theatre and The Park Theatre (see this post for another view of the data).

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As in a network graph, the size of the nodes within the bubbles represents the number of productions of each genre for that theatre.  While it does not show connections between theatres, it can help give us a sense of the generic fingerprint of each theatre.

The result isn’t earthshattering, but a) it’s more intuitive and effective than a bar chart, b) I did it in about 30 minutes, so c) it’s looking like a great gateway drug to the rest of D3!

For a more complete and interactive graph, see the code that I adapted from this D3plus example.

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Following my previous post on humanities and satellites, I had an experimental day in one of my NYU Introduction to Theatre Studies classes where we explored Shakespeare from and overview perspective.  The course is intended to be an introduction to theatre as an academic discipline, and what better way to conclude a section on dramatic literature than doing some experimental work with a little-known and little-respected (but very stage-worthy!) play, Pericles, Prince of Tyre.

I wanted an assignment that would look at a text that traveled, and that could be said to be about moving through time and space.  Pericles fit the bill perfectly, and since I’ve always loved his messy plays best, this was a good one.

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Space For Humanities

One of the most exciting development in the past several years has been the rapid democratization of space. Whereas during the cold war and its immediate aftermath, access to space was tightly controlled, this hegemonic access to space has been rapidly shifting in recent years (succinctly put here and here).  With technological leaps in miniaturization and industrial changes towards privatization, the ability to view the world from a low earth orbit and place objects there is opening up at a fantastic pace (a low earth orbit is roughly between 100 miles and 1,200 miles; the International Space Station is usually orbiting at around 260 miles.  If you want to look at the earth from space right now you are blessed with a range of options:

1) Google Earth: Although it is not anything close like live images, GE is a kind of archive of satellite imagery.

2) The ISS livecam: cameras have been placed on the International Space Station to test their resilience to the harsh environment of space.  If the picture is black, the ISS is in night and the resolution is not good enough to pick out cities in the dark.  If it is grey, the feed is switching cameras.  Hang around to watch a sunrise!

3) The LANDSAT program

4) DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 ()

and many more via the web and apps, such as streams of earth, mars, the Sun, etc.

And why be restricted to pretty pictures (check out the art of The Daily Overview!)?  There’s plenty of places to acquire data about the earth as well.

But this is all changing.

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DH Class Final Projects

This Spring, I taught at class on Digital Humanities for Theatre at NYU.  It was the first strictly DH class I had taught and it was a fascinating experiment.  The class was set up to be collaborative, project-based, and exploratory.  Typically, each class session would have us examining other projects or tool, writing about them in a class-wide Google Doc, and commenting on each others’ notes.  The class was a great mix of computer-savvy users and newcomers.  For the most part, we learned that good DH is really hard!

Students’ final projects let them apply something we practiced to a research project of their choices.  While most projects were map-based (i.e. looking at Ziegfield’s productions, Chicago jazz bars, Civil War battles, among a few), there were XML documents made and plenty of very creative projects that I would fund if I had the money.  Below are a few examples of projects that were executed in a spirit of fun but have a lot of promise:

Map: “Brothels of 1870”

One student began with an 1870s guidebook to New York houses of prostitution (brothels were closely allied to the theatrical life of the city), put it in a map, adding layers that showed nearby theatres, churches, and police stations.  This type of work, showing intersecting layers of culture and society provides a fascinating look at life in the city at the time.  And it’s fun.

Minecraft Globe

There is increasing interest in virtual reconstructions of historic theatres, but I doubt many students could learn to build a detailed virtual space in a couple of weeks, so: Minecraft.  I experimented with Minecraft extra credit in an ancient Greek theatre course with some interesting result, so two students built a scale version of Shakespeare’s Globe, following the basic rule of 1 block = 1 meter.  The result is rougher than any detailed reconstruction, but it allowed the user to enter the space, move through it, and be in the environment.  Plus, you get to fight zombies in the Globe.



Who doesn’t want a game where you kill each character in Hamlet, while making sure not to kill Harry Potter?  Isn’t that a traditional part of theatre pedagogy?

Hamlet Mole

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* note: there are only a sampling of excellent projects, and by no means represent what were the best.  Each student has given me explicit permission to post about their project.


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Brief Thoughts on Presentation Software

Although I do not wholly subscribe to the powerpoint is evil movement (“Power Corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely”), I am always looking for alternative platforms and tools.  Powerpoint is fine and servicable, but I think we can look forward to find other ways to package presentations than something based on outdated media.  Powerpoint more or less replaced slide shows in education, but it is still built on a model that emulates the very technology it put out of business.  Generally, I am a BIG fan of Prezi, which emulates a blank canvas.  There’s more chance for creativity in how the information is structured and presented, as you have much greater control over the flow of text and images.  Of course, there are drawbacks: if one is hasty or inexperienced, it is easy to make your audience seasick!  Fortunately, the Prezi team is very aware of this and has a ton of videos and guides for beginner prezification (here’s one of many, in prezi form).

Recently, I came across slid.es, a quirky, online presentation site that allows for more interactive presentations.  Perhaps designed best for people to work through themselves, slid.es’s main innovation is that the user can navigate through slides in a vertical (i.e. how one usually experiences powerpoint-related formats), but also horizontal.  When presented by a single person, it retains much of the feel of any generic slide program, but it can be put online and turned over to a wide number of users, who can all tour it at once.  The extra navigation options allow for a more customized experience.  One can literally browse across and then go down in depth if something is particularly interesting.

Recently, I made a slid.es presentation for my Digital Humanities class to play with as an introduction to 19th century New York theatre history.  The idea was simple: show them a few images and ask a few, basic questions.  The response was overall very positive, as students enjoyed the feeling of control and pace that it allowed.

Here it is:


As you can tell, slid.es has some limitations.  It is not easy to finely manipulate text and images, and it would be fantastic to be able to collaborate; however, with its current level of functionality, slid.es is definitely a valuable addition to the arsenal of powerpoint alternatives at the ready (and available for free).

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