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Thinking About Your DH Projects

This is a sort of a version of the talk that I gave earlier today at THATCampHSS.

There’s a pretty standard story that you can tell about the birth of most digital humanities projects. (At least, in my experience. Caveats abound here, of course, but let me overgeneralize for a while.) You’re working on some area of research, and one of three things tends to happen. You might stumble upon a big corpus of data that you’d like to work with as an organic whole. You might see a talk or find a website for a tool that is asking some kind of question that you think could be really useful for your project. Or you might basically start doing a digital analysis, often long-hand and slowly, and realize partway through that there’s groups of people who are already doing this stuff.

Interviewed on Youtube

I was recently interviewed by Jackson Wheat, an LSU undergraduate student who has a Youtube channel offering long-form interviews with biologists, skeptics, philosophers, and others working on evolutionary theory and creationism. Check it out!

Are Bacteria Really Like a Soccer Team?

In a footnote to a great paper on bacterial systematics by Laura Franklin-Hall, my attention was drawn to the following aside that John Maynard Smith offers in one of his papers on the same subject. After wondering whether it makes sense to think of bacterial populations as composed of groups of reproductively isolated clones, he muses:

At the opposite extreme, is it better to take a wholly gene-centered view of bacterial evolution, and regard the bacterial cell – or, rather, the bacterial chromosome – as merely a temporary alliance of genes, analogous to a European football team, composed of players from many different countries, all liable to be transferred at any time?1

  1. At the bottom of the first page of the 1990 article “The Evolution of Prokaryotes: Does Sex Matter?” This article is unfortunately paywalled, though it can fairly easily be found with a quick search. 

Getting Started with RLetters

One of the lab’s main products is a suite of tools designed to enable users to perform textual analysis tasks in a user-friendly manner against a corpus of journal articles – a task not common in traditional digital humanities work, which tends to be focused on book-length material. The software is a bit of a challenge to get running, however, requiring some experience in system administration. This post is designed to offer interested researchers a “walkthrough” on how to get a quick server up, running, and loaded with data.

Niches, Red Queens, and Ecological Structure

I was struck the other day by a theme that Richard Lewontin pulls out in a long discussion of the concept of “adaptation” in Scientific American.1 Two common ways of talking about evolution, he argues, wind up embroiling us in a fallacious way of talking about the environment.

  1. Unfortunately, this article is behind a paywall. At the time of posting, this link points to a copy hosted elsewhere.