I was originally interested in trying to model Watson, my freshman dorm. However there aren’t any right angle on Watson, the corners are all cut at 45 degree angles. This made placing the origin almost impossible. I got frustrated, bailed on a lot of effort thrown at my Watson model, and tried to fall back on Musser.

It isn’t anything more than a big rectangle, but even this felt clunky. I could never get all of the axes to line up properly. I think I would have been better off making my own model and projecting the images on to that. Making the model from the images really isn’t advisable.

All of this being said, I do think that this tool is useful in the context of a much stronger tool belt that is SketchUp. If I took my own pictures, I could make realistic materials for my models. Photo Match does NOT let you cut corners as far as making your model goes.

Journey to the Center of the Back End

The back end of a website is a lot like the creepy basement at your grandma’s house that scared the daylights out of you as a kid. Both serve a necessary purpose, but neither are necessarily easy or pleasant to interact with. Personally, I would pick SQL queries over baseball-sized spiders any day, but i admit that they can look like some of the most obtuse computer jargon out there when they get complex.

Nevertheless, SQL databases can present real advantages over simpler data structures like spreadsheets. A lot of the trade-off has to do with scale. A card catalog attempting to gather information about thousands of sources in a huge collection would be extremely unwieldy in even a well-organized spreadsheet. Excel is a powerful tool, but it has its limitations. Relational databases, accessed via SQL, can distill massive amounts of information down to a manageable format. Imagine searching for all the works of a certain author. Perhaps you don’t care about publisher information, simply don’t retrieve it.

In fact, a relational database can take advantage of the benefits of a spreadsheet as well. SQL queries can retrieve data that is then parsed into a manageable spreadsheet form. SQL also allows for a modular query structure: on the front end it might be as simple as checking boxes to choose which columns appear in your table.

Learning SQL and, more importantly, the art of constructing relational databases can be incredibly useful to a Digital Humanist. The goal of most DH projects is to present information in new, intriguing ways. Thus, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that an efficient system for storing your data isn’t available. At that point, it would be up to you to create your own structure.

A Closer Look at America’s Public Bible

A graphic showing the trend of Bible quotations by testament from 1837 - 1992.
The site allows users to see trends for any bible verse, or there are pre-configured searches which can be viewed.

Bible verse may not be the first thing we expect to see when reaching for a newspaper. Today, newspapers expected to be impartial columns of facts. Op-eds and editorials have their place, but that’s not what most people consider news.

However, America has changed a lot in the past 200 years (go figure). America’s Public Bible, a project spear-headed by assistant professor of History and Art History at George Mason University, Lincoln Mullen,  shows just how much American newspapers used to rely on a much older publication: the King James Bible.

Biblical verse was (and still is) deeply ingrained in American culture. Mullen’s project strives to give some insight into how the Bible informed and even supplemented American reporting in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Public Bible allows visitors to see how specific verses rose or declined in popularity over time. What were Americans thinking and feeling during important points in the country’s history? The Civil War? World War I?  Visualizing which verses resonated with people at different points of upheaval not only lends a unique perspective into their hearts and minds, but it also sheds new light on how the interpretation of scripture has changed over time.

As for the inner workings of the Public Bible itself, prominent Digital Humanist Miriam Posner suggests a useful paradigm for breaking such projects into three crucial parts: sources, processing, and presentation. Mullen used almost 10.7 million pages of newspapers available through the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America API. Through a complex process of machine learning, Mullen trained an algorithm to detect altered quotations of and even allusions to biblical verse by feeding it nearly 1,700 hand-classified quotations. Finally, the website itself offers a simple but powerful graphing tool to present the data.

While Mullen’s graphs aren’t the most visually stunning Digital Humanities project around, the true feat is the analysis that is going on behind the scenes. For anyone familiar with machine learning, the significance of Mullen’s work is immediately apparent. Teaching a computer, a bundle of especially precocious rocks, to recognize a specific range of complex human allusions is no small feat.

My House, in the Middle of my Street

Oops, My House didn't load properly!    I believe my house would fit into the colonial style. I’d certainly peg the windows as having been made in the 18th century. Fortunately, the shape was fairly simple to capture. Other than the garage and two chimneys, the basic layout is just a rectangle. I did my best to make the windows look as authentic as possible, but in the end I decided I couldn’t really capture the molding very effectively and left them flat. I did, Oops, My House View 2 didn't load properly!however, add some depth to the impressions under the first floor windows, the eve over the front door, and the door itself. By the end, I was pretty pleased with my work.

A a big part of what made this model really feel like an honest impression home was the ability that SketchUp gives you to edit the built-in textures. The colors on the roofing and the lattice-work by the garage both had to be tweaked. Oops, My Real House didn't load properly!With a bit more time, I think I could have fixed the scale on the garage and made it look a bit more finished. Still, SketchUp is really great for throwing together a decent sketch (pun-intended) fairly quickly. Closer detailing were take quite a bit more training. Whether that is a criticism of SketchUp or just a reality of 3D modeling is hard to say. Nevertheless, the software is remarkably easy to pick up and get going on a small project with.