Humanities Lab

Humanities_LabThe Humanities Lab sponsors research projects in the digital humanities.

For more information, contact Jeremy Browne (DH)

Current Projects

“Visualizing Intermedial Fairy Tales: Television, Film, Other Audiovisual Media”

In concert with the application for the SSHRC Partnership Development Grant envisioned by Pauline Greenhill at the University of Winnipeg, Jill Terry Rudy instigated with Jarom McDonald, director of the BYU Office of Digital Humanities, a Mentored Environment Grant (MEG) to visualize a bibliography of fairy tales on television.  Known in-house as the teleography, this data was thoughtfully gathered and arranged by Kendra Magnus-Johnston for the essay collection, Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television published Fall 2014 by Wayne State University Press.

Under the auspices of the BYU Humanities Center Humanities Lab, in fall of 2013 Rudy learned about the capabilities of big data projects and visualizations to use algorithms and swaths of data to create maps, charts, and visual representations of latent relationships and patterns.  Her initial inclination to visualize the teleography involved curiosity and the computer’s capacity for counting; she mostly wanted to know which of all the fairy tales in teleography-land was fairest of them all and had appeared most on television.  Not the most conceptually rich inquiry, but a starting point.

Jarom signed on because fairy tales on television have innate appeal, the project has potential to identify salient relationships and ask deep research questions, and the scope of the teleography is manageable.  They applied for the internal MEG because it supports a research team including undergraduate and graduate students working together on a faculty-directed project.  They are creating a database of fairy tales on television, visualizations related to research questions of the MEG team, a blog, and paper presentations at the American Folklore Society annual meeting.  The MEG students are most excited about the database and visualizations so other scholars can interact with, and create their own iterations of, the patterns of fairy tales on television.











You can look this chord diagram here:

This is a chord diagram, where genres are represented along the left half of the circle and fairy tales along the right, and the bands between them show the relationships. There’s lots of meaning packed into a small area here, so it may be just what you’re looking for … for example, the size of a section of the circle indicates frequency (and so you can see that 510A is far more represented than many other tales; on the genre side you can see that children’s shows are the most frequent, followed by comedy and drama). The size of a band represents the frequency of just that tale with that genre … so you can see, for example, by mousing over 510 A, that Cinderella takes a dramatic instantiation more than others, while Snow White is often much more a comedic instantiation. You can also mouse over the genres instead … something that might reveal that children’s shows are pretty evenly distributed among a wide variety of fairy tales, but something like Reality is very much over-weighted towards Cinderella (what does it say, for example, that “reality TV” uses the Cinderella trope so often, but the “romance” genre tends to go for Beauty and the Beast more, relatively speaking?)


You can look at this chord matrix here:

Which is the same idea, but it draws one graph for each of the 4 major broadcast networks (where the size of the graph is representative of the number of overall fairy tale references … hence you can easily see that ABC has significantly more episodes than NBC, which in turn has many more than FOX, which has more than CBS). Mouse over the center of a graph to see what the network is. This also lets you look at the fairytale/genre breakdown by network … so Cinderella, for example, outweighs all competitors on ABC (in spite of ‘Once Upon a Time!’), yet on other networks it seems to be equal to or even less than Snow White. You can also see that ABC tends to be more comedic in its fairy tale episodes, but also has a much more diverse genre layout than the others (this last point may be a sample size issue).”


“What – Where – are the Humanities?”

As an early iteration of a much larger undertaking to measure the impact of humanities disciplines, this project analyzes what the humanities are in practice by way of the expressed learning outcomes for all humanities courses, programs, and majors at BYU. The computer interprets these outcomes, identifies key themes, and then maps these themes in spatial proximity to one another. We then expand the “map” to situate the humanities in proximity to every other college (and course, programs, and major) on campus. Our next step will be to expand the map even further to situate the humanities at BYU relative to humanities disciplines at other universities and colleges. After that, and in conjunction with BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library, we will begin analyzing these maps against huge swathes of research in the humanities. Our aim is to ascertain relationships between what the humanities say they are and what they actually do, and to uncover important relationships between diverse institutions and disciplines that may elude awareness otherwise.