Notes on Data for Hoodoo Studies

At THATCamp last week I proposed a toolkit-building session for newbies which was accepted on the first day. advertisement5I had decided to post some of the images of my source material, the dreambooks, but said very little about what I planned to do with them. Surprisingly there was not much creative input from those in attendance about what they were or how they worked, but lots of technical advice and suggestions was given on what questions one might want to consider before utilizing dh methods on these texts and artifacts. Image

Nonetheless, I think that the images held great appeal, piquing the curiosity of even the dorkiest of humanists, especially since I noted in my proposal that in my scholarly estimation, these dream books actually “work.”


The question of efficacy in magic has long interested me, but for different reasons than one might think. As a Religion scholar, I am often surprised that questions about efficacy are rarely asked about the most popular and visible of the religions, by people both in and outside of the game. Tell me, Professor, will God grant wishes if we ask? Is there a method for doing this? Does prayer work??  This latter question was actually the query subtext of a huge grant competition from the Templeton folks a few years back, only the prize money ended up going to social scientists, not humanists. Is it because we humanists assume that efficacy as far as the religions we study, is a dead issue? Ah, but Magic, squatting on the lowest rung of the epistemological ladder, the shitty little bird in the pecking order, the d’oh! of the savage in Frazer’s intellectual hierarchy, etc. etc., …one might start to believe that questions of efficacy are more naturally suited for magic, and in fact, somehow it is only fair that we get to ask these questions of the humanist scholar of Magic, because it would be quite impolite to ask these of the religionist, the theologian, the preacher, the practitioner, and so forth.

I have to think more about this.  advertisement3In the meantime, I will offer some materials from twentieth century Hoodoo advertisements, colorfully marketed as viable magical products that work…otherwise, why bother? and this before the introduction of the fine print disclaimers.

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A theory of digital humanities and Religion?

I have many questions about the endeavor called the digital humanities, but the least of these concerns what the thing actually is. The definition can change moment by moment. Personally, all I want to know is whether it is useful for me as a scholar, a teacher and as a learner. The answer at this point in time seems to be “yes.” If so, then I need to start framing my questions properly so as to set goals, and start the damn journey.

…everything is an experience, to be distilled and recorded

I started reading a book called The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick. And while I fell asleep with the Kindle in my lap, several questions came to me in my attempt to understand the emergence of information as form of measurement and quantification of data.

I like religion, right? And I wonder, what is the relationship between religion and information? And what is the difference between religious experience and information pertaining to religious experience? Is it comparable to the difference between history and theology? Can information about the religious experiences be quantified? Well, yeah, that is done with anthropological theory, or as the Christians have called it, “Theology.” But theology is not religious experience, it is an interpretation of the experience.

I am sure there is someone out there who can say this better than I can. But it seems that much of the digital humanities project is to make “dead history” and historical information come to life in ways that are visually and conceptually compelling, creative, realistic, and relational. Seen this way, using information in this way can bring life to “dead” history so as to arrange and display its data using various forms of digital modeling (the maps graphs trees paradigm).

I have been trying to do the same thing with “dead” religious history – make it come to life, to speak, in a way, for the dead who participate in the past as actors and subjects. This is, of course, how ancestors and the dead are brought to life by the historian, and more elegantly, by the poet and the artist.

They become engageable, and thus the living may interact with them, no longer as dead, but something else.

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