Loving Dido

ENG 396 ‘Loving Dido’ is an Honors seminar structured around Virgil’s story of Dido in the Aeneid, and its long literary and cultural afterlife. Students are provided with readings from over two millennia of commentaries, poetry, novels – and viewings of 12 different operatic productions – and discuss the material every week in the context of the original text. There is also a digital component to the course. Professor Tom Hahn believes that a non-traditional course like ‘Loving Dido’, which considers vast arrays of unsorted data on a single subject, is ideally placed to make use of digital tools like content management systems, and the opportunities therein for establishing links and networks between individual items. The omeka-based website run by the class contains nearly 2000 images and video footage inspired by the Dido story. Every week, students post commentaries on selected images, and argue for relationships between the disparate items which moves beyond historical or archival principles. As well as being useful pedagogical tools, such websites promise remarkable possibilities for exploring how humanities material transforms its audience, and is itself transformed, through digital resources.

Seward Family Digital Archive


The Seward Family Digital Archive provides unprecedented insight into the life and career of William Henry Seward, and into 19th and early 20th century political, cultural, and family life.The depth and breadth of the collection – which boasts large numbers of pamphlets, broadsides, and other ephemeral materials rarely seen in such numbers in an archival collection of this period – has long attracted the attention of scholars from around the world, and has made it UR’s most consulted and prized collection. Continue reading “Seward Family Digital Archive”

Televisual Time


Although presently in its 64th year of publication, TV Guide might be said to be on the verge of becoming doubly obsolete. It is an out-of-date medium—the printed magazine—that provides information about another out-of-date medium, broadcast and cable television. But streaming television services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are only the most recent technological developments that TV Guide has had to weather, the increased availability of cable in the early 1980s being only one. Continue reading “Televisual Time”

Prime Time: Diving into TV Guide


In its first semester, Televisual Time encountered some of problems that face many DH projects, specifically around securing a data set; after all, the time-sensitivity of TV Guide epitomizes the ephemerality of the weekly magazine. Case in point: we procured the first few decades on microfilm, but they were reproduced at such a small scale—up to 4 pages vertically per 35mm reel—that they were difficult for us to read, let alone a computer. The next stop, both oddly and predictably, was eBay, where we procured a selection of issues from each decade at random. Our next step was to scan these issues and submit them to OCR, a task that has proved to have its own complications on account of typeface, symbol usage, and the presence of advertising, to name only some issues. 

1998 grid

To the extent that preparing these files for digital analysis remains very much a work in progress, this semester as well as last, our work so far has taken a different page from Williams’ work, which is that of distribution. In his 1973 analysis, Williams worked with a selection of categories: News, Documentaries, Education, Arts and Music, Children’s Programs, Drama, Movies, General Entertainment, Sport, Religion, Publicity, and Commercials. He doesn’t say where his “conventional” categories come from, but for us, TV Guide’s evolving categorization of programming offered a fairly straight-forward mode of reading. In view of our interest in time, we calculated the general distribution of programming, according to contemporary TV Guide categories, in one issue from each decade, and constructed (admittedly rudimentary) charts to display our results.

genre 1953 genre 1966 genre 1977 genre 1985 genre 1998 genre 2001

I say “fairly straight-forward” because even this is not entirely so. Throughout its decades-long run, TV Guide’s categorization of shows is inconsistent and incomplete: not every show gets a category. Upon cursory examination, it seems possible that categories were more often applied to less popular shows—or perhaps local ones—and left off for well-known shows, putting a premium on “culturally relevant” information rather than comprehensive detail. In the 2000s, the magazine has stopped providing genres at all except for movies, the genres for which are distinctly fewer in number.

comedy time

That being said, there are some interesting trends to note that we hope to explore through further analysis. As one example, the chart in the 1980s shows a dramatic uptick in comedies, a development we hypothesize owes to the expansion of cable and the concomitant increase of re-runs. Comedies, as serial shows, are perhaps the most easily syndicated, since they can continue to attract new audiences every week. But whether this is the cause or isn’t—a question still worth exploring—we can also ask how this distribution allows us to think about television’s structuring of time in this period. Thus, another way of thinking about the distribution of comedies is to calculate them in minutes: how long, with the aid of recording technology, one could spend watching all of the comedies on air in a given week. For 1998, this number—13,560 minutes—far exceeds the total number of minutes in a week, being 10,080. It’s an odd comparison, but striking nonetheless.


As Televisual Time develops, we hope that distant reading will bring new insight to these kinds of qualitative questions and, in turn, to a different way of looking at television’s changing presence over time.

Tracy Stuber is a PhD student in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. She is a 2015-2017 Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Digital Humanities.

Recap: Psychasthenia 2

The term “psychasthenia” originated in turn-of-the-century psychology as a counterpart to hysteria, broadly recognizable in more contemporary discourse as introversion and extroversion, respectively. Where hysterics seemed overly sensitive to and affected by their experiences, magnifying their presence in the process, psychasthenics appeared to disappear into their surroundings, choosing to withdraw rather than react. Psychasthenia meant the trading of one form of integration for another: obsessing often uncontrollably about the outside world replaces the synthetic processes of attending and adjusting to one’s changing subjective experience.

In more modern psychology, the term has largely been supplanted by more clinical diagnoses such as OCD and long-term anxiety. This has created room for its uptake in more metaphorical realms. In social biology, it was used to describe the ability of some creatures to blend into their surroundings, the most obvious example being the chameleon, an animal that protects itself by appearing to become a part of its environment. In the 1930s, Roger Caillois took this usage and expanded it into a meditation on social and corporeal experience in modernity. Often, perhaps too often, the ability to blend in turns inward on itself and results in an inability to stand out.

Psychasthenia 2 is an interactive artwork developed by Victoria Szabo and Joyce Rudisnky, a North Carolina-based new media artist. As they describe it on their website, the piece “explores the culture of psychological diagnosis and treatment within the context of a highly mediated consumer culture that often produces the ills it purports to treat.” During Szabo’s visit, we had the chance to view Psychasthenia 2 in the immersive setting of a 9-screen array, such that the game’s abstract and familiar mazes achieved a similarity to life size not usually encountered in video games. We thus moved through the game’s levels: historic and diagnostic psychological literature; the holistic marketplace of self-help books, medications, and binge eating; an alley of common fears; a coffee shop brimming with social anxiety; and finally the tedium of everyday “normal” existence.

The game is organized according to Maslo’s Hierarchy of Needs, a mid-century motivational theory that often appears in literary studies. This usage suggests something of the hierarchy’s tendency toward fiction, which figures in multiple forms in Psychasthenia 2 in the stories we tell ourselves in our quests for psychological help. What are we really afraid of? Will this book, this treatment, this attitude finally hold the key to self-actualization? Throughout the levels, one responds to intermittent survey questions modeled on self-diagnosis quizzes found in psychiatric practices and BuzzFeed articles alike. These questions push the player to maintain sight of herself despite the distractions or desirable escapes offered by the external world. And yet, as the game goes on, it slyly suggests that these questions might also function to imbricate us into the discourses they prop up, displacing a true sense of self-actualization with the document declaring it.

Playing Psychasthenia 2 was simultaneously fun and sobering. Particularly in the self-help marketplace, methods of seeking guidance that seemed at first easy to dismiss—reading, for example, I’m Ok, You’re Ok—quickly gave way to more socially acceptable but nonetheless still ameliorative strategies. But what was most intriguing about the game was its theoretical engagement with the medium of video games. To the extent that we might characterize the ailment of psychasthenia as being too immersed, Szabo and Rudinsky have selected the ideal platform for examining its diagnosis and treatment. Video games are in many ways distinguished from other media by their interactivity and even immersion, especially in the case of contemporary virtual and augmented reality technology. In this sense, Psychasthenia 2 provides a tool for thinking both about present-day psychological culture and for anticipating, and thus assessing, the ramifications of technology’s increased ability to disrupt and multiply our sense of reality.

Tracy Stuber is a PhD candidate in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. She is a 2015-2017 Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Digital Humanities.

Dorothy Kim, “How To Decolonize the Digital Humanities: Or A Practical Guide”

Dorothy Kim
Assistant Professor of English
Vassar College

Time: Friday, April 14, 1pm
Location: Gamble Room, Rush Rhees Library

Responding to digital humanities’ issues with openness, race, disability, LGBTQ, feminist, and other kinds of non-normative bodies in the field, Dorothy Kim will outline a set of practical steps to #decolonizeDH, or to make it less white, heteropatriarchal, male, and ableist. She asks what are the field, departmental, and institutional steps to #decolonizeDH? What are the considerations that must be addressed in terms of politics, local action, education, and resistance?

Co-Sponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor, from an award by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Department of Art & Art History, Department of English, Department of Modern Languages & Cultures, Film & Media Studies, Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies, the Digital Scholarship Lab, and the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the Digital Humanities at the University of Rochester.