Critical Visualization for Humanities Research: Designing for People, Context and Politics

March 4th, 2020

Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Study
University of British Columbia

Catherine D’Ignazio (MIT Media Lab)
Ben Shneiderman (Peter Wall Institute)
Charles Berret (UBC Journalism)
Tara Zepel (UBC Chemistry)
Sheelagh Carpendale (SFU), and more.

Organizers: Charles Berret and Tara Zepel.

Visualization is a powerful tool for communicating and gaining insight into complex subjects. Maps, graphs, and diagrams can help us see patterns and connections that might otherwise remain hidden in data. Once uncovered, the visual means of presenting these insights can easily seem neutral and objective. And yet, every visualization promotes a certain perspective of the world, often concealing its own assumptions, gaps, and biases. The choices made in creating a visualization, who or what is represented, and the context in which it is perceived — all influence what we see and do not see. The emerging field of data feminism navigates between these two poles, both acknowledging the power of visualization techniques and also urging critical attention to the forms of power that these techniques implicitly support.

Article: “Knowing Together: An Experiment in Collaborative Photogrammetry” in Leonardo / SIGGRAPH Art Papers

Knowing Together is a collection of sculptures designed to explore collaborative techniques for capturing three-dimensional images. Thirty-five participants collectively created these images by forming circles and passing a camera around. These images were stitched together to form 3D models whose distortions are preserved as artifacts attesting to their creation process, suggesting novel approaches to photogrammetry that do not treat photorealism as its ideal quality.

Article: “Walter Benjamin and the Question of Print in Media History” in the Journal of Communication Inquiry

Although Walter Benjamin’s ‘‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’’ is a seminal essay in the study of media history, the work itself gives a surprisingly brief account of one of field’s core subjects: the printing press. Books and literature present only a special case of mechanical reproduction, accord- ing to Benjamin, but the implications of this point remain largely unexplored by scholars. The purpose of this essay is to ask why Benjamin would have considered print to be different or less historically consequential compared to photography and cinema when the revolutionary potential he ascribes to these more recent technol- ogies is also prefigured in his other writings on books and literature. Answering this question helps to create a sharper picture of what matters to Benjamin about new media and also points to figures like Georg Luka ́cs who influenced Benjamin’s account of technology and art. Ultimately, this line of questioning also raises con- cerns about the place of the ‘‘Work of Art’’ essay in the study of media history, a field in which the signal error is to treat new media as unprecedented developments.

Berret, Charles. 2017. “Walter Benjamin and the Question of Print in Media History.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 41 (4): 349–67.

Sneakercon: A Forum to Reexamine Offline Networks

August 25-26, 2017

Charles Berret (organizer)

The Internet has grown so omnipresent today that it’s easy to overlook the continuing role of “offline networks,” systems for exchanging digital information that bypass the Internet. “Sneakernets” (by which we mean any kind of offline networking, a slight abuse of the terminology) take many forms, whether it’s a thumb drive passed between friends or a semi-trailer truck full of hard drives delivered to a server farm, or games played over a private network. Sneakernets form countless links in our digital infrastructure, but nevertheless tend to pass unnoticed in favor of a totalized, global Internet. The purpose of Sneakercon is to reexamine the offline side of the digital age by foregrounding the prevalence, variety, and uses of offline networks during two days of talks, discussion panels, and workshops.

Nathan Freitas, The Guardian Project
Hans-Christoph Steiner, The Guardian Project
Eileen Guo, Journalist
Charles Berret, Columbia Journalism School
Pablo Arcuri, Internews
Gal Beckerman, New York Times Book Review
Greta Byrum & Raul Enriquez, New America Foundation
Felix Candelario, Amazon
Juanita Ceballos, Jika Gonzalez & Dave Mayers, VICE
Jason Griffey, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
Harlo Holmes, Freedom of the Press Foundation
Ellie Irons, Artist & Educator
Simin Kargar & Mehdi Yahyanejad, NetFreedom Pioneers
Dia Kayyali, WITNESS
Josh King, Commotion Wireless
Zach Mandeville & Dominic Tarr, Scuttlebutt
Susan McGregor, Columbia Journalism School
Deji Olukotun, Access Now
Dan Phiffer, Mapzen
Edwin Reed-Sanchez, SayCel
Soudeh Rad, Spectrum
Afsaneh Rigot, Article 19
Eleanor Saitta,
James Warnock, Human Rights Foundation
Carrie Winfrey, Okthanks

Article: SecureDrop and Whistleblowing Tools in CJR

As a break from dissertation writing, I accepted an invitation from the editors of the Columbia Journalism Review to write an article revisiting last year’s Tow Center report on the use of SecureDrop in newsrooms. Here in the early months of the Trump presidency, all indications point to an incredible surge in the use of secure whistleblowing tools among Washington insiders hoping to contact journalists anonymously. A handful of my sources not only confirmed that this is the case, but also offered some sense of how they’ve coordinated this growing stream of information. Find the article here.

Interview: Talking SecureDrop with the “It’s All Journalism” Podcast

Posting this a bit late, but I was invited to speak on the podcast “It’s All Journalism” back in June. They were curious about my research on SecureDrop and I think we covered the subject pretty well in just under thirty minutes.

You can tune in here:

And my report on SecureDrop is available here: