Author Archives: zelda montes

Reflecting on Engagements with the Four-Dimensional

In “The Four-Dimensional Human: Ways of Being in the Digital World,” my annotations focused more on guiding students towards connecting their own personal experiences to those they are reading on the page. Oftentimes, I struggle with readings that deal with more abstract or foreign terms that can cause confusion. In those instances where I could envision myself drifting away from the reading, I left annotated questions for students to reflect on how the reading is related to their own lives. My hope is that students can find themselves engaging with readings on a more personal level, in a way that builds their understanding and empowers them to share their unique perspectives with others.

QuoteAnnotationExpected Impact
“It was postulated in many ways: as ether, as the unconscious, as a duration in time, or as time itself. But most popularly it was a space into which one might travel, a world that could be reached if only the right conduit or portal could be found. The prospect of discovering this dimension was so appetising that it belonged to everyone.”What ways might you interact with a fourth dimension described here? How has this dimension changed over time, and how has it remained the same? Who might you be able to talk to that can share their experiences and feelings of voyaging into this dimension?This annotation is found earlier in the reading, and is intended to start building a foundation  for students to insert themselves into their reading. The idea is that students will feel encouraged to continue to ask themselves similar questions that immerse themselves in exciting ways.
“So the modems gave the sense of a journey. Through certain designated portals we could move into a specific way of being that felt like entering a new territory.”What modern day modems do you feel like you interact with, similar to as described in the passage thus far?Personally for me, I didn’t know what a modem was until recently. It can be frustrating for unfamiliar terms to be introduced. Thus, the idea behind this question was for students to build their own definition of what a modem is, as it relates to how it’s described in the quote, before they look up what it might be themselves. The question serves to shift focus more towards the exploratory portal experience of what a modem does (which is more relevant in the reading), rather than what the technical aspects of a modem are.
“A truth and cliche of digital life is that our comeliest meals occur both on our table and in the pockets and on the desks of our international 4D colleagues, a meal to be both eaten and approved of.”Think about the phrase: “Instagram has to eat” – how is your own experiences with food (or otherwise) simultaneously experienced, curated, and consumed?The question I posed is meant to encourage students to reflect on their own experiences with documenting meals on social media. In this reflection, I hope students are able to think more critically about their relationship to social media moving forward.
“With walls not being what they once were, the home itself has become four-dimensional, with new ground plans to match its digital environment.”How has your home become associated with the space in which you experience other digital spaces?The annotated question invites students to bring their own experiences in juxtaposition to the reading. In doing so, students are guided towards a deeper understanding of the four-dimensional that centers their experiences.
“Our portals to the fourth dimension have been wedged open, and there it is, spread out across the everyday, indeed nestled inside the everyday, causing it to ripple and bend.”How has growing up on the internet impacted your perception of self, and of community? What are some moments where you have felt deeply entrenched and touched by the fourth dimension, both in ordinary and unsettling ways?The final annotation aims to contextualize the “rippl[ing] and bend[ing]” of everyday life described in the quote. The words “ripple” and “bend” evoke strong visuals, and in posing this question alongside the imagery, I hope students are able to think about both the tangible and intangible ways the fourth dimension of the internet shapes them.

Using Voyant for Insights into Frank Ocean’s Albums Blond/e and Channel Orange

For this praxis assignment, I struggled at first with deciding what texts I wanted to explore. I wanted to explore which corpora were publicly available, in hopes of using an existing corpus instead of building my own. However, I ended up making my own corpora in realizing that I couldn’t force myself to be interested in the existing free-to-the-public corpora I had seen. Though I’m sure there must be something out there that speaks to my interests, I had a tough time effectively searching for resources on my own as a novice to text mining. Despite the fact that building my own corpus would require more work, it was a fun exercise that made the experience more rewarding.

I use Voyant in hopes of gaining some insights regarding themes within Frank Ocean’s Blond/e and Channel Orange albums. These albums are personally some of my favorites of all time. I was interested in seeing what insights Voyant could provide for the “bigger picture” between (and among) the lyrics on each album, especially in comparison to my subjective experience of listening to these albums.

My first instinct was to try and figure out how I would be retrieving the lyrics for Frank Ocean’s songs. I figured I could use an API to pull song lyric information. I was planning to use Genius, but their API focuses more on the annotations, and not necessarily the lyrics themselves. So, I manually copied and pasted the lyrics to all his songs on both albums into .txt files within separate folders representing the albums instead. Initially, I was planning to just pass each album in separately to Voyant. I wanted to explore how Frank Ocean’s lyrics changed from Channel Orange (2012) to Blond/e (2016), especially with regards to his queerness (which I’ve personally felt has been greater explored in his later music in Blond/e, but is definitely subtly present within Channel Orange). But after reflecting more on the insights I was hoping to gain, I decided to pass all the songs from both albums combined, in order to see what themes may have overlapped in the context of one another. Additionally, I passed two separate parts of the Blond/e album split in half.  The album Blond/e is actually split into two separate parts – the album is exactly one hour, with the transition in “Nights” occurring at the 30 minute mark, directly splitting it in half.. Hence, there are two spellings of the album; the album cover art says “blond” while the album title is listed as Blonde. Duality is a major theme explored in Blond/e, with regards to the album branding, the song lyrics, and the musical composition. I think the duality themes present could be interpreted in reference to Frank Ocean’s bisexuality!

After passing 5 different corpora into Voyant, the resulting cirrus and link visualizations follow.

Channel Orange

  • Some notes:
    • With regards to love, it seems as though Frank Ocean is looking to make something real happen
    • In the cirrus, I come to understand Channel Orange to be about thinking and looking for real love, and being lost in the process.


  • Some notes:
    • Blond/e appears to be on his own, and learning to navigate that
    • In the cirrus, I come to understand Channel Orange to be about thinking and looking for real love, and being lost in the process.
    • As a whole, Blond/e could be interpreted as a farewell to a past fond lover, and trying to make it through the days (and nights)

Blond/e Part I

  • A note:
    • In the first part of Blond/e, there tends to be more words regarding struggle, such as solo, night, hell, leave, etc., as well as reference to marijuana to likely cope with heartbreak.

Blond/e Part II

  • Some notes:
    • In the second part of Blond/e, there is more references to day (which ties back in to my original statement about the two album parts representing duality)
    • In the overall word links, there are also links to Frank being “brave” and thinking about “god” – knowing the album myself, I interpret references to god to deal with learning to let go (hence his song “Godspeed”)

Channel Orange + Blond/e

  • Some notes:
    • Overall when combining the two albums, there seems to be prevalent references to love, god, and night/day.

Overall, playing around with Voyant was a fun experience. I hope to explore more, especially with regards to music analysis. I’m wondering if there’s similar analysis tools that can incorporate mining both text AND audio on bigger scales (though I know with audio files, it’s more difficult due to data constraints potentially). I wish I had more time to analyze the visualizations, and to dig deeper into formulating some insights that align (or contradict!) with my own personal close listening.

Responsible Trauma-informed Archiving

This week’s readings particularly moved me as I have come across questions of responsible archiving throughout the past few years. Jessica Marie Johnson’s “Markup Bodies” articulated a festering discomfort I have sometimes found myself feeling in archival spaces (ranging from curated museums to viral social media posts) with regards to the commodification and spectacle-making of trauma. “ The brutality of black codes, the rise of Atlantic slaving, and everyday violence in the lives of the enslaved created a devastating archive. Left unattended, these devastations reproduce themselves in digital architecture, even when and where digital humanists believe they advocate for social justice” – Johnson points to a lack of critical engagement that can occur under the guise of “archiving” that ultimately leads to a desensitized and disconnected consumption of trauma through media that continues to replicate and give power to it. As we engage with traumatic archives, it’s important to question and think critically about the desired impacts of archival engagement, potential unintended consequences, emotional labor of archivists, and imagine creative, responsible ways to archive in a way that does not make light of the deep brutality experienced by real people. I found two really interesting readings when looking for more about responsible trauma-informed archiving that I think might be good for folks interested in more: Love (and Loss) in the Time of COVID-19: Translating Trauma into an Archives of Embodied Immediacy and Safety, Collaboration, and Empowerment.

Maps, Sovereignty, and Truth

I was particularly moved by Mayukh Sen’s “Dividing Lines,” as I remembered the years I spent on Google Earth trying to find my grandparent’s home in La Cumbre, Colombia. From 2007-2018, I was unable to see my grandparents in Colombia, and I often yearned for memories of them. To this day, the unpaved dirt road that leads to my family’s finca remains un-mapped on Google Earth or Maps. Entire areas of the globe continue to be marked as “unexplored,” allowing for colonialism disguised as “new development” to take place. In “Visualizing Sovereignty” by Yarimar Bonilla and Max Hantel, they mention the map as “a technology of possession… promising that those with the capacity to make such perfect representations must also have the right of territorial control.” The act of mapping is political because of the ways in which it puts forth an objective, incontestable truth by those already in power. Mapping is more about drawing the world the way it appears, and there is no denying that desires of that appearance are inevitably embedded. What powers and experiences are “necessary” to justify oneself (or a county, company, etc.) as capable of creating an “authoritative” map? When I think about maps, I think about travel – so  who has the power to travel (as dictated by passports and visas, money, etc.), and by what means is this travel allowed (by air, sea, land)? A major mode of transportation for those in La Cumbre are the “brujitas” that utilize the otherwise abandoned railroad tracks. How are these experiences of travel not recognized by corporate maps? Why are maps created by local civilians not recognized with the same credibility when they more truthfully reflect people’s lived realities? I’m really intrigued by many of the questions raised by this week’s readings, and I hope to bring more critical thinking and questioning in my engagement with maps in many different capacities.

Archiving Historical Violence Through Architectural Technologies and Situated Testimony in Forensic Architecture’s “Dispossession and The Memory of the Earth: Land Dispossession in Nueva Colonia”

Forensic Architecture is a research agency based out of London that combines architectural digital technologies with investigative techniques to piece together evidence and ultimately craft visual archives of state violence that otherwise would not exist. The term forensic architecture refers to the emerging academic field at Goldsmiths, University of London that “produces and presents architectural evidence within legal and political processes.” I first became aware of Forensic Architecture’s work at the Whitney Biennial in 2019, and they are ultimately the spark for my interest in digital humanities. While Forensic Architecture does not necessarily identify themselves as a digital humanities collective, I believe that the work they do constitutes digital humanities with an explicit basis in critical theory. That is to say, Forensic Architecture employs digitals tools with the purpose of documenting historical oppression that lacks other “traditional” forms of documentation (such as writing, images, news, videos, etc) in an effort to question what knowledge is by exposing the gaps in what we “know” about human rights violations, and repositioning power by focusing on and working with structurally oppressed communities to effectively document their history.

In the investigative project “Dispossession and The Memory of the Earth: Land Dispossession in Nueva Colonia” commissioned by The Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition of Colombia, Forensic Architecture collaborates with Instituto Popular de Capacitación  (a Colombian government organization that carries out research, training and education, and more with communities, social and political movements, media, as well as with the State in its different territorial scales) and Forjando Futuros (a Colombian non-profit that provides legal representation for victims of land dispossession due to armed conflict) to show the dispossession of campesino farmer land in the Urabá Antioqueño region of Nueva Colonia from the 1960s to present day through a web platform consisting of cluster visualizations and mapping technologies. According to their investigation site, methodologies include “3D modeling, data mining, fieldwork, photogrammetry, remote sensing, situated testimony, ground truth, [and] software development.”

In pursuing this project, the various teams of investigators ultimately expose the different actors involved in the land dispossession of Urubá for the purposes of “commercial monocrop banana cultivation,” and calls into focus the governmental forces that were meant to protect the campesinos from the brutal violence enacted both on the people and environment of Urabá. The web platform Despojo Urubá introduces historical context and identifies 12 different groups of actors. Clusters of circles representing land are color coded to reflect each of the 12 different groups and their respective land ownership. Starting in 1950 and depicted throughout time, these circles are shown to shift and move as land is dispossessed from the campesinos, and ownership transferred between different corporate entities. The platform also introduces an alternative view through the use of a map which shows in a more geographical context which parts of Urubá are being dispossessed, transferred, and bought over time, and by which actors. Beyond the web platform, Forensic Architecture created a video as an accompaniment to the web platform that delves into historical context, providing a situated testimony of massacres inflicted against the campesinos of Urubá through architectural modeling, aerial analysis, and testimony. The investigation is a powerful project that transforms the ways that users think about knowledge, history, and memory, revealing the ways we can practice, as Presner writes, “building a bridge… between the mapped and unmapped, the global and the local… reestablish[ing] contact with the non-philosophical” [Presner, 66].

Despojo Urubá allows users to understand the conflict, scale, and timeline of land dispossession in Urubá in a way that could easily get lost in translation in “traditional” written research projects. The investigative video component delivers extraordinary insights that are more accessible than papers typically are, and rooted in testimony that can be envisioned through the use of digital technologies. The use of clusters and maps were tools specifically chosen, and they serve distinct purposes in crafting the archive of land dispossession. There are immense strengths in this project in archiving and writing a history that oftentimes goes unwritten. The interactive nature of the web platform paired with the video allow for insights to be explored by users in meaningful ways.

While Forensic Architecture engaged with Colombians from a wide array of backgrounds in their investigation and practice critical theory intentionally, my biggest critique is their lack of job pipelines to support non-European scholars who are interested in working on and developing their own projects. How does Forensic Architecture ensure that their on-the-ground collaborators are being compensated for their labor on projects that deal with violence and trauma?

Overall, I highly recommend checking out Forensic Architecture’s “Dispossession and The Memory of the Earth: Land Dispossession in Nueva Colonia”, as well as their other 84 investigations. I believe that their investigative work reinvigorates us to think critically and creatively about how digital (and architectural) technologies can be used in exposing and archiving human rights violations.

Week 1: Approaching the Digital Humanities

As I explored the different sites, I found a common thread of digital archiving. It’s crucial for these forms of story-telling to exist, and to be materialized in something that people can interact with, learn from, and share with others.

I was particularly drawn to Torn Apart / Separados. Beyond serving as a series of informative visualizations, I feel as if this project embodies how digital humanities extends beyond the “academic” in the creation of digital tools used for survival. The scholars of Torn Apart recognize that “visualizations and data are mere parts of” a larger conceptualization of the “carceral geographies of immigrant detention in the United States”. I am interested to see the ways that this project can continue to expand, and possibly document the historical rise of incarceration threatening immigrant communities throughout time. How have borders (and how the US enforces them) changed? What moments in time demarcate an increased surveillance of immigrants, and how does that reflect violence enacted at sites of incarceration at the border?

In centering an understanding about what digital humanities is around the Colored Conventions Project and The Early Caribbean Digital Archive, I would redefine digital humanities to encompass digital spaces of multiplicity. These sites serve as archives of digital humanities scholarship, as well as community resources in pedagogy for their respective focuses. In serving as a digital space for different projects to exist within, and for opportunities of entry to the field through community events, no singular definition of digital humanities is put forth in a way that allows for people to explore existing possibilities and envision new ones.