Category Archives: Students

Anke Geertsma

Apologies for the late posting, and, even though I would never accept such an excuse from my students (there are plenty of computers in the library of course), I just need to share that my macbook crashed a few days ago. It’s a devastating experience. Maybe I expect to find some sympathy here. Everything was backed up, but it’s still hard to have to give your dearest companion to a genius at a bar hoping he will be able to resuscitate it.

About myself: I was born and raised in Friesland, a small province in the north of the Netherlands, famous for its Frisian horses, black-and-white cows, open skies and lakes, islands, and for the strange language we speak, Frisian. This is now mostly a spoken language (I was never taught how to write it and can barely read it), but is one of the oldest European languages which closely resembles Old English with a bit of German and Dutch thrown in. Frisians are officially the tallest people on the planet, but I am clearly an exception.

I have a BA and MA in American Studies and am now a fourth-year PhD student in Comparative Literature, where I work in German, French, but mostly contemporary American literature. I have been teaching World Humanities Gen Ed classes for the past few years and went to the Institute of World Literature at Harvard, where I became interested in “world literature” as a field, and in questions concerning translation, circulation, and canonization in multicultural and multilingual classroom such as those I teach in at CUNY. One of my goals for this course is to come up with a way to teach literature so that student can see (literally, on a digital map of the world) how a text can change over time (different translations), and where and when it sees publication for the first time. Knowing I have to be careful not to want to do too much, I want to limit and link it to for example a Nobel Prize winning book, showing its “origin” on a map, and its reach before and after the moment it wins the Nobel Prize, with possibly links to reviews, selections of translations, and dates of publication in various parts of the world. I really don’t know if this would be at all possible, but it comes out of course I am designing on Nobel Prize novels, which is set up in such a way that student are exposed to the (politics of the) selection process and hopefully start to see a book or text not as a stable, finished product but as something that is always in the making, and always responding to the local culture in which it “lands.”

Introducing … Joseph Paul Hill

Please pardon my picaresque musings, but an introduction wouldn’t be complete without some anecdotal humor. Since we briefly discussed our technology interests in class last week, I decided to use this space to talk about the development of my other academic interests.

I was born and raised in southern California. At that point in my life I had never been to New York City nor did I know anyone from the east coast, two facts that made it all the more unusual when I decided to spend several months of Kindergarten speaking with a New York accent. I do not remember the incident myself, but my mother maintains that my public school teacher, who had over forty years of teaching experience, thought it best for me to see a therapist. Since I was the third of four children and had always tended towards the dramatic, my mother insisted that it was a phase and would pass. The New York accent passed, my flare for the dramatic did not.

While growing up (and indeed, even to this day), my mother and grandmother actively consumed MGM movie musicals. Although not particularly enthralled by Judy Garland’s journey over the rainbow or Gene Kelly’s tap dance in the rain, my father was a musician and occasionally surprised us with a chorus by Lerner and Loewe or, even more unexpectedly, all four verses of Rado, Ragni, and MacDermot’s “Hair.” Since neither of my older siblings expressed any interest in musical performance, the responsibility fell on my six-and-a-half year old shoulders. And I like to believe that I rose to the occasion. I cherished music, and I adored performing—or, at the very least, I proudly carried the banner for middle children everywhere and adored being the center of attention. Yet despite my childhood dreams to make it big on Broadway and ensure my parents’ favoritism, my career in musical theatre peaked at the age of twelve when I played the Artful Dodger.

Upon entering high school two years later, I decided to get more “serious” about theatre, opting to establish myself in drama instead of choir. (Besides, my voice changed in junior high, and I never fully recovered.) Although I had success as an actor, I was never satisfied with my theatrical education, repeatedly challenging my instructor and her unrelenting insistence on class time being used to play improv games. Wanting my artistic opinions to be heard, I cultivated interests in both directing and scenic design early in my senior year, and since I wasn’t about to receive any satisfying instruction in my high school drama class, I applied to undergraduate theatre programs.

For the majority of my academic studies, both undergraduate and graduate alike, my own theatrical interests were heavily influenced by my mentors and advisors. I was quick to latch onto the passions of academics whom I admired, just as I had been quick to latch onto my parents’ passion for musical performances. Amongst my four undergraduate mentors in theatre and English departments, three were self-identified Shakespeareans and two were musical theatre enthusiasts. Perhaps it’s little wonder then that for several years I believed that I too wanted to be a Shakespearean scholar—as if I had something more to contribute to four hundred years of Shakespearean scholarship.

Now at the precipice of my academic career, my decision to pursue academic fields other than my long-time interests perhaps surprises me more than anyone else. My views on scholarship have grown, and I no longer believe that interest is the only factor that should attract a scholar to her or his work. Scholarship should contribute qualitatively to a discussion, and although my interests in Shakespeare and musical theatre persist, presently I do not feel as though my contribution to such fields would be anything beyond quantitative. If I want to produce worthwhile scholarship—and I do—I need to work in areas that don’t just pique my interest but that also challenge my artistic understanding of the theatrical medium.

Because my interest is in the theatrical experience, I want to pursue scholarship that confronts contemporary theatre practices and how practitioners continue to develop the art form. Over the last two years, I have become particularly engrossed by theatres of disability, specifically deaf theatre and the theatrical company Deaf West. Since I do not yet sign, my interest in such theatrical experiences is perhaps a bit Artaudian, yet I can’t deny my fascination with theatrical languages and the depth of the emotional expression contained within such performances. At this particular time, disability studies are taking off, and deaf performance has been largely ignored. But hopefully that will change before long.

Bio: Sissi

Hello everyone! My name is Sissi (pronounced as “see-see”—meaning “to muse, to philosophize” or “pathway to wisdom” in Chinese), and I’m very excited to spend the semester with all of you!

I’m a doctoral candidate in the Theatre Program, and am currently writing my dissertation tentatively titled Wukongism: “72 Transformations” in the Age of Transnational and Transmedial Performance.  As you can probably tell from my dissertation title, my research interests include: theorizing intercultural theatre and performance, critical race theory, gender and sexuality, Asian and Asian American performance, mediatization, digital art, affect theory, game theory, and theory of liminality.

As a former concert pianist and on-and-off composer, I have a penchant for musical theatre, especially Broadway musical theatre that employ jazz idioms. I am currently working on a digital project that conceptualizes Broadway musicals as cartography of US sociocultural values through exploring their production of desire, consumption of pleasure, and creation of national identity from the 1920s to the present. The humanities aspect of the project is largely informed by Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological studies. At the very initial stage of this huge project, I am familiarizing myself with data scraping and data mining tools, and exploring possibilities of analyzing the distinctive “Broadway sound” digitally (as opposed to musicologically—using Schenkerian analysis, etc.).  If any of you out there are familiar with sound software, or are interested in exploring sound digitally, please let me know and we could maybe work together!

I am particularly interested in digital art forms that challenge social norms and existent ways of thinking.  I am also a huge fan of games. One goal I have this semester is to initiate a small project (a game or a form of digital art) that stimulates one to rethink and revalue, in a small but significant way, the performance of one’s own everyday life.

Bio: Patrick Smyth

I’m a third year English PhD student studying the history of science in the 18th and 19th centuries. I also have an interest in new media, particularly new ways of approaching the ebook in general and the scholarly edition in particular. As a Digital Fellow with CUNY DHI, I work on digital initiatives around the GC. The Digital Fellows site is here. We have a blog, Tagging the Tower, and our workshop schedule should be going up soon.

Both my project ideas have to do with the aesthetics of science, including how science is portrayed in literature. The first idea is for an online archive or database of technologies as they appear in various works of science fiction. Visitors could view books by technology and see when new technologies were first introduced in literature. Ideally, they could also compare the advent of technologies in fiction with the real-world development of those technologies. I envision this database as primarily crowdsourced. Not sure how I’ll build it, though I’ve been experimenting with Django, a Python framework for building web apps. I also have some experience working with the Drupal content management system, although for various reasons I’d prefer not to build this project with it.

My second idea is a digital scholarly edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memoir, which is titled Memories and Adventures. The book is interesting from a history of science perspective because of the contradiction between Doyle’s invention of Sherlock Holmes and his fascination with spiritualism, psychical phenomena, and the occult. I’d like it to be something of a linearly curated archive, where readers could branch off the central text to explore information about  Doyle, Holmes, the Boer war, and other subjects covered in the book.

I’ve researched a lot of platforms and systems for publishing on the iPad, and most have pretty big drawbacks. I’d have to either bite the bullet and pick one of those frameworks or try to come up with something on my own, which might be tough going.

It’s been great to read about everyone’s background and scholarly interests. Looking forward to class tomorrow evening!


Bio // Cailean Cooney

I’m a librarian at City Tech (New York City College of Technology) and in my second year of studies in the MALS digital humanities track. I’m interested in scholarly communications, open access (particularly OERs=open educational resources), critical pedagogy, and social justice in higher education. I’m leading City Tech library’s pilot program which redirects library textbook funds to faculty members who will develop OERs to replace a required textbook in a course. I’m planning to conduct ethnographic research in the classrooms piloting the OERs during the Fall semester.

Bio: Gioia Stevens

I am a second year student in the MALS program in the Digital Humanities track. I am also the Metadata Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center Library. I am very interested in exploring digital humanities tools  in order to devise new ways to approach user search and discovery tools in digital libraries. I am especially interested in how text analysis and topic modeling might be used to create a new method for subject analysis and structured searching by topic.

Bio and Projects: Sarah Litvin

I’m a second year student in the History program, where I’m working toward starting a dissertation on cultures of Jewish philanthropy in Progressive Era New York. Specifically, I’m looking at poor Jews, rich Jews and art, and the relationships between Jewish givers, receivers, and administrators in arts-based philanthropy. At least that’s what I think I’m doing.

I come to the GC from a career in Public History, and expect to return to work in a Museum after completing my degree. I worked first as Oral Historian at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, MS, and then in education and exhibitions at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum where I was on the project team for the Museum’s most recent permanent exhibit, Shop Life. My role in developing Shop Life included a two-year collaboration with an interactive design company to envision, design, assess, and tweak an interactive table. Coming out of that experience, I had a lot of question about how programmers, designers and “project owners”/humanities folk might better communicate their needs and expectations on these types of projects. I’m really excited to be in Core2 to get a better understanding of the tech and design sides of the process.

I’m starting to think about two project ideas for ITP:

1. One idea centers around a document I discovered last year that I’m so excited about that I went to the archives to visit it last week. It’s a small leather notebook that contains a compilation of charity workers’ notes about their visits to needy Jewish families on the Lower East Side (then known as Little Germany) between 1870-1873. I stumbled across this document last Fall and it turns out to contain information about one of the families featured at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum; a former resident of 97 Orchard. A photocopy of one page is now a part of the Museum’s interpretation. I’d like to make the rest of it digitally accessible; I could see it functioning as both a research tool for me to learn about patterns in philanthropy as well as a public-facing tool for Museum Educators and visitors to the Museum who might be interested in exploring how the experience of the family they learned about did/did not fit into the larger neighborhood patterns.

2. A second idea is to create a website that would be a clearing house for CUNY’s public history resources and research centers/archives—both digital and physical. Few know that Queens College administers the Louis Armstrong House Museum, or that Roosevelt House (which offers guided tours) is an “integral part” of Hunter College. I envision this being useful for History professors, prospective history students,researchers, CUNY’s PR folk and the general public.

I’m working on my 5 W’s and an H for these. More on that to come.


Bio: Jeff Binder

I am a 2nd year doctoral student in the English program. My focus is on technologies of reading and writing in the 18th and early 19th centuries; some of the things my work has focused on include the development of the back-of-the-book index, dictionaries and language standardization efforts in the early U.S., and imaginary accounts of poetry-writing machines in the long 18th century. I am interested in bringing these older technologies into dialogue with contemporary computer technologies, including digital publishing and text mining/corpus linguistic techniques.

Before I came to the Graduate Center, I worked as a database and data visualization programmer, first at Nature Publishing Group and then at NYU Medical School. Although I studied literature in college and at the MA level, I also have an extensive background in computers, especially in graphics and compilers/programming language design. The inspiration for the work that I am doing now came in part from my experience working with faculty data in a large university. One of my overall goals is to historicize the roles that databases and other computer technologies play in organizations like universities. What assumptions, I want to ask, underlie the way in which we incorporate these technologies into our institutions at the present moment?

Like many people who have switched from programming to the humanities, I am strongly committed to a humanistic approach, and I am wary of scholarly approaches that straightforwardly attempt to apply computer science methodology to the humanities. What I have tried to do instead is engage with computers as a historically-situated object of study that sits on a level with material from the past. I began taking this approach in my first major project, a collaboration with Collin Jennings in which we looked at the index from the 1784 edition of The Wealth of Nations in comparison with a topic model generated using the text. I also wrote a sort of manifesto about the possibility of a critical approach to text mining for Core 1, and I am hoping to carry on in this vein in Core 2.

On a more practical level, I have been working on developing software to help with scholarship and teaching in the humanities. One project that is fairly far along in its development is the Distance Machine, a program that identifies words in a text that were unusual at a particular point in time based on a statistical model of the Google Ngrams corpus. I also have been experimenting with ways of manipulating outlines of texts using computer logic, either as a way of helping people come up with ideas for writing or for playing with conjectures about the structure of an existing text (this program is not online at the moment, but I have a prototype that I could demo on my computer if anyone is interested). Last but not least, I am a fan of Twitter bots. I created one so far—Coleridge Bot—and I have a few more ideas in the pipelines.

About: Genevieve Johnson

I am a student in the MALS Program in the Digital Humanities track. I am very interested in using art and data to impart information and create visual stories to address critical issues, with outcomes that are beneficial to individuals and society as a whole. Some of these areas include education, autism, the prison industrial complex, income disparity, homelessness, civic awareness, police brutality, and the list goes on. The development of a visual toolbox is necessary to engage viewers and provide opportunities to increase community and social development.

My Bachelors program included the study of visual arts and film, so although I have not concentrated on these areas (medical reasons), I am well aware of the ability to create given the wide array of tools I have used in the past, and I am looking forward to making and building using these and fact based tools. 


About Gwen Shaw

I’m a fourth year student in the art history doctoral program at the GC. My areas of interest and research include violence, race, and gender in 20th and 21st century art. I’m currently working on a couple of projects: on avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren’s Haiti project and the representation of Haitian Vodoun; intersections (and lacunae) in the art history of the 1960s, especially Minimalism,  African-American artists, and the Civil Rights Movement; and the representation of disabled veterans in contemporary art (versus visual culture).

In addition to the PhD, I’m earning 6 (yes, 6) doctoral certificates: Instructional Technology and Pedagogy, Women’s Studies, Film Studies, American Studies, Africana Studies, and Critical Theory.

I think 2015 will be my last year of coursework, and look forward to this class and all the others I am taking this semester.