Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Howard University MMUF Summer Institute & Digital Humanities

By Kenton Rambsy

For two weeks, I served as the curriculum instructor for Howard University’s inaugural Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship summer institute. In this DH intensive institute, I facilitated the Fellows engagement with data storytelling techniques. I taught a mini-version of my Jay-Z class, that I teach at UTA, in order to introduce the Fellows to basic concepts related to data analytics and how it might relate to their individual research projects.

The driving force behind this institute was how to develop insightful and measurable research questions. The foundation of any DH project is a clear question that can be measured and or observed over time. Therefore, before the Fellows could have optimal engagements with digital tools, we had to learn how to narrow the scope of a question given the evidence available to us. We returned to this idea throughout the duration of the institute.

We used a dataset that I created with my brother in order to analyze various features of the artist’s works. We focused primarily on Jay-Z’s use of samples. Fellows sifted through over 300 rows of information and identified recurring trends and rare occurrences in order to support discussions of the Brooklyn rapper’s music.

I guided the Fellows as they used Voyant Tools to extract numerical information from digitized texts. I also facilitated their engagements with Tableau Public, as we created visualizations from the datasets we had available on Jay-Z. In the end, Fellows walked away with an understanding of how to use online archives and other soruces to collect and organize data in a spreadsheet. Using #TheJayZDataset as a reference, I modeled how to create a dataset, analyze its contents, and later transform the materials into infographics.

My work with the Fellows represents one approach or a series of approaches that we can expand DH training at HBCUs.

10 Years as a Mellon Fellow

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