From Chronicle: Is This the Hardest Course in the Humanities?

For most of my professional life, the future of the humanities was a conceptual matter. That’s no longer the case. When enrollments are down, majors are down, funding and jobs are down, adjuncts are up, and departments are being closed, abstract debates over which new theory or interdisciplinary vision is on the rise don’t much count. When a formation as renowned as the Humanities Center at the Johns Hopkins University is proposed for shutdown (it later was saved in modified form), we know that the prosperity of the humanities doesn’t rest with people at the top.

No, it depends on the people at the bottom, undergraduates who vote with their feet. If an English department’s chairman tells the dean, “We’ve got to hire someone in this new area of ____,” the dean replies, “But you can’t even get your existing courses half-filled.” If, however, a parent calls and grumbles, “I’m paying lots of money, and my daughter can’t get into any of the English classes she wants,” well, that calls for action.

It’s a situation that few humanities professors are equipped to overcome. Graduate school and assistant professorships don’t impel you to attract freshmen and sophomores. Instead you learn how to impress senior professors. But right now, nothing is more crucial than the preferences of 19-year-olds.

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From Poynter: How Can We Solve Fake News?

Fake news isn’t all fun and games. But for Mihai Avram, it kind of is.

The Indiana University master’s student has developed a prototype for a game that allows users to decide whether or not to share, like or fact-check stories on social media. The game scores each action you take, giving top points if you share credible stories or fact-check dubitable ones.

Essentially, the game aims to increase users’ news literacy skills.

“Ideally, we would want to have a lot users play the game, nationally and internationally,” Avram, 25, said. “At the very least, I know journalists will definitely be interested because they’re the ones who are very curious about this new domain of trying to figure out, given these sources, what is real and what is fake.”

The game uses the News API to pull in different mainstream outlets. At the same time, Avram and his adviser, informatics and computer science professor Fil Menczer, pick fake news sources by leveraging Hoaxy, a tool that crawls social media and articles based on lists curated by fact-checkers.

While it’s still early to see how users are interacting with the game (Avram said most have just been helping him test that everything is working), most of the preliminary feedback has been positive. And that’s because it’s gamifying a complex problem, Avram said.

“We wanted to be creating a game that also has a purpose, so when you look at some of the most popular examples, such as the ESP game or even CAPTCHA,” he said. “You don’t really see them as games, but they definitely serve a purpose.”

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From Humanities: American Poet W. S. Merwin Transformed Anger into Art

W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize, first tried his hand at poetry as a child. Growing up in Union City, New Jersey, he was moved to bring pen to paper after hearing his father, a Presbyterian minister, read from the King James Bible at church. Young William realized that there was a “distant connection” between that kind of heightened language and poetry. “And that’s what I wanted to do, to write poetry. And the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it.”

Merwin developed an impersonal formalist style, but in time his poems trended toward a freer and more lyrical approach. His work, steeped in legend, the classics, and the Bible, is also anchored in the present, marked, above all, by a vigilance for all living things. Although he has been an angry poet at times, he has avoided bitterness by learning to transform his rage into art. Transformation is the key to understanding his work, as the hallmark of his poetry since the early sixties has been his mastery of “the turn,” the moment in a poem where an idea turns, often with a surprise, into something else.

His first books of poetry were marked by objectivity, elegance, and formal constraints. He wrote in meter and tried his hand at a variety of poetic forms, including the sestina. One critic observed that his first book, A Mask for Janus (1952), “exhibits a young musician trying out his instrument.” His diction was elaborate, using such terms as “anabasis” (a difficult military retreat), “koré” (an ancient Greek statue of a woman), “saeculum” (an Etruscan word for a specific period of time, usually the length of a generation), and “penates” (household gods in Roman times). To understand the volume’s first two poems, “Anabasis,” parts I and II, it helps to have read Xenophon. History-laden words, as in the poetry of his mentor Ezra Pound, had for Merwin a creative force all their own.

But erudition always vied with living things for Merwin’s attention. Plants, trees, and animals have been of particular interest…

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From Humanities: New Museums Confront Mississippi History

The ceiling sculpture, “This Little Light of Mine,” is the focus of the center gallery at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

The chess set is so small, it’s easy to miss in a case crowded with other artifacts in the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.

The pieces were fashioned from white bread and spit by Freedom Rider Carol Ruth Silver during her time in Parchman prison. The pieces—pawns roughly similar to a Hershey’s kiss and the knights and queens most recognizable by their distinctive shapes—bear the seams of tiny bits of bread, molded and pushed into place and dried, the darker pieces marked with blood. On a “board” scribbled in pencil, the set helps illuminate the larger story of determination and injustice in the movement that changed a state and a nation.

The country’s first state-owned civil rights museum and the Museum of Mississippi History opened December 9, 2017, capping the state’s bicentennial and drawing more than 25,000 visitors in the first month.

Funded by $90 million from the Mississippi Legislature and an additional $19 million in private donations for exhibits and endowments, the two museums together cover 200,000 square feet. A lobby links the two, which share an auditorium, classroom space, cafe, community room, and a shop in downtown Jackson. The museums complement each other with a complete look at Mississippi’s past—confronting the pain and celebrating the progress. Richly layered exhibits and interactive displays engage on a historic and a human scale with compelling artifacts, images, art, sound, settings, and media.

The civil rights museum focuses on the period from 1945 to 1976, when Mississippi was ground zero for the civil rights movement. The sometimes violent, often valiant history of Mississippians’ struggle against racism and oppression unfolds in stories of segregation, integration, intimidation, murder, marches, voting gains, and strength.

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Robert G. Bringle Civic Engagement Showcase

Plater Medallion Recipients from 2015 Bringle Showcase

Service, partnership, and research. The Robert G. Bringle Civic Engagement Showcase recognizes the impact of each of these things on the IUPUI campus and in the community.

Held in the IUPUI Campus Center (420 University Boulevard) on Tuesday, April 10, the showcase will honor faculty, staff, and community partners who exemplify IUPUI’s commitment to deepening community engagement. The showcase will highlight the contributions of four IUPUI honorees. Poster presentations will show the various and diverse contributions IUPUI students, faculty, staff, and organizations are making to this commitment. Finally, the event will conclude with a formal recognition of the graduating students who have been awarded the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion for exemplary commitment to serving their community.

To register or to learn more, visit the IUPUI Center for Service & Learning website.

Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology Salvaging Endangered Data

Original article by Marah Harbison at News at IU.

A reconstruction of a vessel from the Angel Mounds excavation site.

Archaeologists spend days, months, even years at digs sifting through mud and dirt searching for artifacts that will lead to an understanding of another time and place. Now, the staff at Indiana University Bloomington’s archaeology lab is embarking on a dig of its own – a data dig.

The Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, named for the first archaeologist to teach at IU, functions as a museum, library, and research laboratory dedicated to understanding Indiana’s archaeological heritage. Its largest collection derives from Angel Mounds State Historic Site and National Historic Landmark near Evansville, Indiana, where Black led an excavation from 1939 to 1964 and archaeologists from IU have been working ever since.

From this dig and others, the lab has acquired more than 12,000 archaeological collections composed of nearly 5 million artifacts, 30,000 historical photos, 3,600 books and scholarly publications, and more. It is also the keeper of more than 800 linear feet of documents, field journals, maps, and drawings as well as more than 700 legacy data formats like floppy discs, 9-tracks, and CD-ROMs documenting excavations.

While 70 percent of the artifacts are card catalogued and more than 1,300 of the historical photos are available in an online archive, much of the research data has yet to be retrieved from deteriorating paper journals and obsolete formats to be digitized for accessibility.

“The nightmare is that there is something really important on a floppy disk that doesn’t exist on any other format,” said Jennifer St. Germain, collections manager at the lab. “If we aren’t able to digitize this data then we may lose it.”

So the lab’s staff has launched an effort to salvage its data, much like archaeologists salvage artifacts from excavations. They have taken inventory and assessed the current state of collections and are seeking support from IU Libraries to digitize documents, create online catalogs and finding guides, and retrieve data from legacy formats. Their efforts align with IU’s larger commitment to digitization led by the Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, which is working to digitize all significant audio and video recordings on campus before the IU Bicentennial in 2020.

“The Glenn Black Lab is emblematic of the rich and varied collections we are dedicated to preserving and sharing at IU. Not only do their collections have regional ties to the state of Indiana and immense research value, but they are closely tied to the history of Indiana University,” said Jamie Wittenberg, head of Scholarly Communications at University Libraries. “There is a lot of potential for use of the collection by current students and faculty.”

“One of the biggest threats facing data and one of the biggest causes of endangered data is not using the collections,” said Melody Pope, curator of collections at the lab. “The more intellectual control we have of archaeological data, the more accessible it is, the more we can promote collections as a research core for students and scholars. Hopefully by the end of this project, a dissertation doctoral student won’t have to spend years sorting through data. The data will be accessible and they’ll just have to bring their questions.”

Beyond reaching students and scholars, the lab hopes the data digitized from this project will be more accessible for the Native American tribes associated with its collections. The lab’s Great Lakes and Ohio Valley Ethnohistory Collection – the fruits of a Department of Justice-funded research project led by IU professor Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin in the 1950s – hosts information pertaining to 15 tribes and spanning the years 1540 to 1907.

While this particular collection now has an online finding aid, the lab hopes to digitize the majority of the research and make it available online. Many tribes included in the project have already been in contact with the lab and are eager to have more access to information that will tell them more about their histories.

“In general our goal is to spread awareness of the resources we have, but it will be particularly rewarding to assist tribes that are interested in the materials we have but can’t travel here to use them,” St. Germain said. “Digitizing these items will give us the power to help some people learn more about their ancestors.”

Kristi Palmer Appointed Interim Dean of IUPUI University Library

Original article at News at IUPUI.

Associate Dean for Digital Scholarship Kristi Palmer will lead University Library as Interim Dean effective April 9.

IUPUI Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer Kathy E. Johnson has announced the appointment of Kristi Palmer as Interim Dean of University Library.

Palmer has served as Associate Dean for Digital Scholarship in University Library since 2014 and is an associate librarian. She will begin her new position as Interim Dean April 9 as David Lewis prepares to retire effective May 18.

As interim dean, Palmer will provide leadership and guidance of library operations, strategic direction, and responsibility for the mission of the library, connecting people with resources and services and transforming the lives of community members by facilitating discovery, creativity, teaching, learning, and research.

“I’m delighted that Kristi is taking on this role, which builds on her impressive leadership and service to the campus and the community through her responsibility for the library’s digital scholarship program and the Center for Digital Scholarship,” Johnson said.

As Associate Dean for Digital Scholarship, Palmer developed and implemented the library’s digital scholarship strategy. She supports the creation, digitization, and preservation of scholarly, historical, and cultural content as well as manages the campus’s institutional repository and other library tools for accessing digital content. She has been a leading supporter of the promotion of open access in the library.

Palmer is responsible for the library’s operations team, which provides security and management of the server environment, operating systems, and network and application infrastructures utilized by all areas of the library. As a member of the library’s administrative team, Palmer assists in the oversight of the library’s liaison program, including planning and program review and the assessment of liaison librarian performance.

“IUPUI has been a welcome constant in my educational and professional life for 17 years, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to serve my campus in this new role,” Palmer said. “I’m privileged to be part of a University Library staff that is committed and driven to fulfill our mission to inform, connect, and transform the IUPUI and Indianapolis community.”

Palmer began her career at IUPUI in 2003 as an assistant librarian and has steadily risen to her current rank and position. During her 15 years working on campus, she has served as Chair of the University Library Faculty Organization, been a member of the IUPUI Faculty Council Executive Committee, served as liaison to the IUPUI Staff Council, served on the IUPUI Libraries Faculty Council, and served on search and screen committees and administrative review committees. Presently, Palmer is the Chair of the Faculty Council Campus Planning Committee. She has been honored with the 2016 Indianapolis Business Journal “Forty Under 40” award and was named a 2009 Library Journal Mover and Shaker.

Palmer earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Ball State University in 1999 and her Master of Library Science from IUPUI in 2003.

Proper Disaster Planning Results in Savings

Original article from News at IUPUI.

In a time of unpredictable and extreme weather events, can we prepare for disaster? And if so, will the benefits outweigh the costs?

The National Institute of Building Sciences has put a price on it, in dollars and lives. The institute’s project team reviewed results of 23 years of federally funded mitigation grants provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Economic Development Administration, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and found that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation, the country can save $6 in future disaster costs.

Additionally, designing new buildings that exceed select provisions of the 2015 International Building Code can save the United States $4 for every $1 spent. In total, the two strategies would prevent some 600 deaths, 1 million nonfatal injuries, and 4,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder over time.

Designing new buildings would also result in 87,000 new jobs and an increase of approximately 1 percent in the use of domestically produced construction material.

The Polis Center at IUPUI played a significant role in the development of the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: 2017 Interim Report, released earlier this year, by conducting the analysis associated with river flood hazards.

“Taking preventive action to protect against floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters saves money by decreasing the costs of recovery,” said Kevin Mickey, Director of Professional Development and Geospatial Technology Education at The Polis Center, who led a team of investigators. “This study also reveals we can strengthen building codes to achieve this benefit at a reasonable cost.”

To determine the effectiveness of federally funded mitigation grants, the Polis team examined a sample of grants associated with acquiring or demolishing flood-prone buildings, especially single-family homes, manufactured homes, and two- to four-family dwellings. The team also analyzed the cost-effectiveness of designing new buildings to exceed provisions of the 2015 model building codes. Specifically, they explored the effectiveness of building new homes higher than the base flood elevation required by the 2015 International Building Code.

Sponsors of the report include FEMA, HUD, EDA, ICC, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Institute of Architects.

Measuring Light Pollution in the Hoosier National Forest

Original article by Bethany Nolan from News at IU.

Students in Himebaugh’s digital systems class build light monitors that will be installed throughout the Hoosier National Forest. [Photos by Tracy Theriault]
When the Hoosier National Forest wanted to know whether any part of its more than 200,000 acres could be eligible for an international designation intended to recognize those who minimize light pollution, it turned to Indiana University students for help.

The project is part of the university’s Sustaining Hoosier Communities initiative, which partners with a local community to explore, understand, and resolve challenges identified by the community. The initiative is one of the six areas of focus for the IU Center for Rural Engagement, which works within 11 neighboring counties in southwest central Indiana to address challenges and opportunities in the area.

Clinical assistant professor Bryce Himebaugh, who teaches in IU Bloomington’s new Department of Intelligent Systems Engineering in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, said the 28 undergraduate students in his spring digital systems class are constructing a set of monitors that can be installed in the Hoosier National Forest to measure light pollution. The project launched in August, when the fall cohort wrote a piece of software to collect data while several independent study students constructed a prototype monitor.

“Now I’m teaching the principles of how that hardware and software was designed to this spring’s class, and they’re learning how to build those systems,” Himebaugh said. “We hope they’ll be deployed in the field by April 2018.” He said the project is perfect for his class, which is a mix of students studying intelligent systems engineering and computer science.

“They work with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm, and when you see them figure out things, it’s almost like you’re seeing it all over again for the first time too,” Himebaugh said. “One of the most rewarding things for me is to see these students understand how this system works, and how they can apply it to other situations.

“I don’t expect students in this class will all have a career in developing outdoor monitoring equipment, but rather that they’ll see its applicability to other areas – some sort of medical wearable device or something that could track items in a shipping management system. All kinds of things are possible once you understand how to collect systems data and communicate it.”

That’s exactly what IU sophomore Jackie Youngs enjoys most about the class, she said. “Following a project from idea to physical completion through the entire design process reinforces understanding of each of the individual components and how everything – the programming language, the physics of the components, the devices themselves – connects,” the intelligent systems engineering major said. “This is one of the most important skills I intend to use after completion of this semester.

“I don’t necessarily plan on pursuing computer engineering as a career but am more interested in going to medical school. Even so, being able to identify how a large system is composed of smaller components and how they are connected is an invaluable skill I plan to take from this course.”

Once the class work is complete and the solar-powered monitors are deployed throughout the Hoosier National Forest, Himebaugh said, the data they’ll collect and transmit will help measure light patterns within the forest. The Hoosier National Forest is seeking International Dark Sky Places designation. The application process requires ongoing monitoring and documentation of specific programs intended to minimize light pollution.

“People might not think about the importance of dark night skies on their lives, but increases in nighttime light levels can have serious consequences for ecosystems, animal life, and even human rhythms,” Hoosier National Forest spokeswoman Andrea Crain said. “We hope through this project we can reach a whole new audience to communicate the importance of dark skies and potential recreation experiences on the Hoosier National Forest.”

She said the assistance from the class has been invaluable. “It’s been exciting to meet with students and see their progress throughout this process, as they’re learning to problem-solve and come up with creative solutions to new issues,” Crain said. “Being part of that learning process makes this project an extra special experience for the Hoosier National Forest employees involved.”

From Humanities: Texting in Ancient Mayan Heiroglyphs

The Madrid Codex, World History Archive

If King Tut were around today, could he send a text in Egyptian hieroglyphics? Yes, with the right font and keyboard. That’s because the writing system of the pharaohs has already been included in the Unicode Standard, meaning that a character like the Eye of Horus has a code point, 13080, that will render the same way on a tablet in Cairo and a smartphone in Beijing. Because Mayan hieroglyphs have yet to be encoded, the ancient Mayan emperor K’inich Janaab’ Pakal would have to stick to emoji—but that’s about to change.

Unicode is the international encoding standard that makes it possible for users to read, write, and search in a wide range of written languages on all manner of devices without technical miscommunication. Made up of a mix of academics, stakeholders, and interested volunteers, the Unicode Consortium has encoded 139 of the writing systems, technically known as scripts, ever to have existed. Given that alphabets like Cyrillic, Arabic, and Devanagari serve more than 60 languages each and that 500 languages use the Latin alphabet, Unicode makes electronic communication possible in almost a thousand languages. But there are more than a hundred writing systems to go.

In June 2017, the Unicode Consortium rolled out its tenth version in 26 years, which included four scripts as well as the Bitcoin sign and 56 new emoji. The scripts introduced this year include Nüshu, a writing system that was developed by women in the Hunan Province of nineteenth-century China as a workaround when they were denied formal education. Also newly available is Zanabazar Square, created by a Mongolian monk in the seventeenth century to write spiritual texts in Mongolian, Tibetan, and Sanskrit. Crucial as these steps toward cultural empowerment may be, it is the textable faces, socks, mermen, and the like that have brought this global standard into the limelight.

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