Tag Archives: dhpraxis

Presenting… DH Box

In the interest of spreading the mission of DH Box far and wide, I’ve been working on a brief presentation that might also serve as an online introduction to the project. It’s available here. Take a look!

I’ll be using these slides to give a short talk about DH Box to faculty this Tuesday at Hunter College. It looks like we’ll be making quite a few presentations like this one, because as it turns out, building a community is one of the key factors determining success for DH Box. We will need the help of an invested community to:

  • Determine which tools should be included
  • Identify new platforms to target
  • Contribute to documentation
  • Spread awareness about DH Box

and it seems clear that in-person meetings and discussions are the best way for us to create interest in our work. That’s not to discount social media approaches at all; they allow for broad outreach we couldn’t manage otherwise. But in-person conversation allows us to demonstrate and discuss DH Box in greater depth, thus solidifying each potential user’s understanding and their relationship with us and our project.

New Friend, New Platform for DH Box

This week the DH Box team reconsidered their choice of platform, with the help of Dennis Tenen, a professor at Columbia University in the Digital Humanities and New Media Studies program (and former developer with Microsoft).

A couple weeks ago we were surprised and delighted to find that another team had come up with the idea for a portable tool that could help users quickly get going with DH applications. And this week we found that Professor Tenen and colleagues had also discussed how to tackle such a project and had come up with yet a different solution! In discussing that solution, we found it matched our aim of providing an ease of quickly setting up an environment for new users and made us change our focus for both implementation and outreach.

We’ll keep a description of Professor Tenen’s proposed approach for a later post, but say that using his method circumvents big issues we would have encountered with our original proposal — what if users don’t have one of the operating systems that a DH Box install script was written for? Moreover, what if an addition works for one operating system but not others (a painful lesson Steve learned this week!)? What if unaccustomed users have issues with the install scripts? Or with the command line? This will save us a lot of user issues in the long run. We were happy to hear we wouldn’t have to give up our Raspberry Pi pursuits — Professor Tenen was also excited about the potential of the hyper portable/affordable Raspberry PI platform, suggesting a DH Box ‘lite’ version to be later produced.

So, we will be abandoning the install script approach and with it the need for a robust way to deal with different operating system issues. Our main issues will now be:

  1. Creating meticulous documentation to get unaccustomed users up-and-running
  2. Maintenance of new releases of the DH tools in DH Box
  3. Building of a community invested in suggesting improvements for DH Box and helping with maintenance

Professor Tenen suggested starting with GitHub for organizing pending tasks (as GitHub “Issues”) into Milestones, recording documentation on a GitHub Wiki, and inviting users to enter requests through new Issues.

Not only did Professor Tenen’s suggestions prove invaluable, but forming a relationship with him did as well — he offered to continue meeting with the DH Box team weekly, to present a workshop at CUNY on the technologies he suggested for us, and to help start our documentation based off his own.

The DH Box team is very excited to dive into our new implementation strategy and to work through how maintenance and community building will be executed.

A huge shoutout and special thank you to Professor Dennis Tenen!

Refining our focus and finding connections

The DH Box team has been working hard on defining the scope for DH Box and setting up our project plan. We’ve started using Asana as our project management tool. As the project manager, I’m really enjoying Asana. It’s flexible, easy, and it allows our team to collaborate on building the plan as we go. It’s also very nice that it tracks everything and sends out plenty of reminders!

Our scope has been narrowing down as we refine our concept of DH Box. We are thinking more about who will use DH Box and thinking about the best way to make it a valuable toolkit for introductory students in digital humanities classes.

Pedagogy is a key part of the digital humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center and the Praxis Network. Our focus for the first phase of development will be text analysis and topic modeling including key tools such as Mallet, Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK), and the Stanford Named Entity Recognizer. We are going to build an interactive textbook using IPython Notebook. The textbook will be bundled with the DH Box install scripts and it will help orient students with the tools through interactive code execution. We have also thought more about our platform and what would be most useful for our users. We are going to make DH Box available for download not only for Raspberry Pi but also for Linux, Mac, and hopefully Windows.

As we have narrowed down our scope, we are also discovering a much wider range of connections to the DH community. Our professor, Matt Gold, has put us in touch with his colleague Dennis Tenen. GC Digital Fellow  Micki Kaufman suggested we check out Ian Milligan’s work and we’ve found amazing stuff in Big Digital History: Exploring Big Data through a Historian’s Macroscope, a co-written manuscript by Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart. My library colleague Roxanne Shirazi, who edits the dh+lib blog, suggested we check out an idea for a project called DH creator stick which George Williams proposed at THATCamp Piedmont 2012 (see also a blog post by Mark Sample).

We’re amazed by the range of rich ideas we are beginning to discover. We hope to reach out to the DH community and ask for advice and feedback as DH Box takes shape.

Tackling DH Box’s Project Scope

We have this great Digital Humanities project idea, but what happens between now and launch time?

With an idea like DH Box (a customized linux OS with preinstalled DH Tools and the flexibility to operate on a computer as cheap and portable as the Raspberry Pi) there are a number of directions we could take, and will certainly consider for further iterations of DH Box beyond the Spring term (this blog currently documents the experiences of a project team enrolled in a graduate course in Digital Humanities Praxis at the Graduate Center, CUNY).

In order to refine the scope of our tool, we asked ourselves some questions.

  • What approach will we take around educating users about coding, the infrastructure around the DH Box software, hardware, and operating system?
  • Which DH Tools should we include? See Alan Liu’s curated list for more info on the scope of DH tools out there
  • What user(s) are we building this for?

The success of our project hinges on our ability to carefully model the scope of the tool by shaping the answers to these questions . . . all by May 12th (public launch date)!

Educational Value

Beyond providing a collection of accessible DH Tools, we want DH Box to help bridge knowledge gaps by delivering a strong educational component. We’d like for instance, undergraduate English students to gain exposure and develop proficiency in Digital Humanities inquiry through the kind of guidance and practical experience DH Box will offer. To that end, we will begin an interactive textbook to provide instruction about the specific tools included in this first iteration of DH Box. We are most inspired by the Learn Code the Hard Way textbook series by Zed Shaw.


We are gearing this version of DH Box to bring Topic Modeling and Text Analysis to Humanities students!

We began by considering the most popular DH Tools out there and quickly realized it made a lot of sense to whittle the list down for this current project phase. We’ve made choices based on optimal software performance with the Raspberry Pi. We also want to provide DH Tools that haven’t yet had the level of proliferation (as some of the more popular content management systems like WordPress).


Undergraduate Humanities students currently have little familiarity with terms like tokenization, sentiment analysis, etc., and how these components of text analysis can open expansive modes of textual inquiry. As part of its mission, DH Box will work to make these methods accessible to a broad audience!

Stay tuned for exciting updates on implementing the install scripts, using IPython Notebook, and more!

Questions? Comments? Tweet us!

Opening DH Box

This is it! The inaugural post of the DH Box blog (the DH stands for Digital Humanities). Here we intend to make the process of planning, creating, and publicizing the DH Box transparent for our readers. Hopefully this provides some inspiration, and even a blueprint, for future collaborative DH projects.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! First, some questions and answers:

What is DH Box?

Not much, so far. But we intend it to be a portable, customized linux environment for Digital Humanities learners that can rely on incredibly inexpensive technology. All you really need is a computer that runs Linux (and a monitor and keyboard, of course!) — but the platform that excites us most is the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer that sells for just $35. Imagine a collection of DH tools, pre-installed and configured, and a set of texts for users to interrogate — all on a portable and inexpensive device.

What inspired the idea of DH Box?

Several ongoing humanities projects have begun to take advantage of the continuing miniaturization of computing technology. One in particular excited my imagination: Library Box, which repurposes a wireless router into a “portable digital file distribution tool…that enables delivery of educational, healthcare, and other vital information to individuals off the grid.” The possibilities for ’embedded’, specialized miniature computers are massive.

What is needed to run DH Box?

Our first major goal is to get DH Box running on the Raspberry Pi. Once that’s done, DH Box will also be runnable on nearly any Linux computer!

Who do you think will use DH Box?

Anyone and everyone who is interested in learning Digital Humanities inquiry techniques, but especially those who may not have any prior programming experience. We hope that instructors will use our tools to set up almost instant DH labs, and that students will use DH Box to get an edge in their research.

We see DH Box as an example of what is likely to be a robust and interesting future field, ‘humanities hardware’.

Who are we?

We are an interdisciplinary team of learners and do-ers, librarians and developers and digital humanists and more — with an interest in making DH work more accessible. Find us:


More to come as we continue to develop DH Box!