The April edition of Digital Russia Studies seminar was opened by Dr. Reeta Kangas, a scholar of art history from the University of Turku. She presented A Quantitative Look at the Pravda Political Cartoons of the Great Patriotic War. A decade ago, Reeta collected all political cartoons published during the Great Patriotic War 1941-45 in the Pravda newspaper, counting 185. Her Master’s thesis based on these materials sought to quantify the use of the different themes during the three periods of war by use of crisp set categorization. Yet, today Dr. Kangas is looking for more advanced ways for quantitative analysis of political cartoons. She explores ways of applying digital humanities methods to compositional interpretation, as well as combining context, caption and code into a larger analysis using quantitative and qualitative methods. This is an exciting work in progress and seminar participants had a few suggestions for Reeta – we are looking forward to learn about the progress of this project!
The second part of the seminar opened up some of the acute questions of research ethics for scholars working with internet forums. Teemu Oivo, a doctoral candidate from the University of Eastern Finland, has made different experiences during his work on Karelianness in Runet discussions about nationalism. While internet forums seem like ‘easy data’ – open, free, and abundant – they can best be describes as a semi-private sphere that often turns out problematic in terms of research ethics. While people may share their thoughts on the internet, they usually do not think of these posts as a potential object of someone’s research. Hence, informing the users that they have become ‘informants’ in a research project is crucial, as well as obtaining their consent, even if from a legal perspective the data is ‘open’ and freely accessible. Another issue that Teemu has been wresting with is the use of memes as research objects. Memes are fluid and the attribution of intellectual property rights is often complex – or even impossible. Also, they have a tendency to come and go. Creating and curating own web-archives maybe a good way to preserve the memes and the context in which they were captures by a researcher.
The March edition of DRS seminar featured two talks by PhD researchers from the University of Helsinki.
The first presenter, Justyna Pierzynska from Media and Communication Studies at the Department of Social Research, asked in her research why historical brotherhoods are such an effective narrative in East European politics. She uses digital materials to discover how such ‘common history’ is being produced and how it becomes popular social knowledge. Comparative analysis of four ‘historical brotherhoods’ – Polish-Georgian brotherhood, Serbian-Armenian brotherhood (Serbia), Serbian-South Ossetian brotherhood (Serbia), Serbian-South Ossetian brotherhood (Republika Srpska) – show an interesting pattern. Brotherhood ideas do not spread to become „common knowledge“ without the mediating elite element!
In the second half, MA Ira Österberg from Aleksanteri Institute who will be defending her PhD dissertation “What Is That Song? Aleksej Balabanov’s Brother and Rock as Film Music in Russian Cinema” on Wednesday, May 9th, 2018, presented her proposal for postdoctoral research project. The idea is to study musical strategies of Soviet cinema by operationalizing film’s use of music along various dimensions. The aim is to find out how much music is in a given film, what types of music are used, how are the music type and positioning of the music connected. Using digital (semi)automated methods, Ira plans to scale her study to uncover how these features change over time. The ultimate aim of this exciting project is the creation of the overall methodology for quantitative film music analysis!
On 2.2.18, professor Arto Mustajoki has held a presentation on the use of Integrum database for research on Russian language and Russia more broadly. While the public transport was not running in Helsinki and we were only four people in the seminar room, twice as many participants joined online. Very nice to see that Adobe provides us a convenient way of enabling participation not only across our campuses but also across the world.
Integrum is the largest proprietary electronic archive of mass media from Russia and the CIS countries. Currently Integrum comprises more than 15000 databases, including newspapers and journals, news agency texts, TV and radio texts, online news publications from central and regional mass media, as well as legal texts, together constituting a corpus with over 50 bn words. Full-text archives of many newspapers and magazines date back to the beginning of the 1990s.
While the company, also called Integrum, is a private provider of the database, scholars at the University of Helsinki and everyone logging in from the University of Helsinki has free access to all its mass media collections.
During a live demo, professor Mustajoki showed different search queries that can be performed on Integrum directly, as well as provided a wealth of real examples on the use of the database stemming from his own research. For example, the advanced search functionality of Integrum allowed to find 2500 of a unique ‘semipassive’ voice; discover why people pretend (not) to understand; investigate attitudes towards ‘fashionable words’; and research the objects of Soviet nostalgia.
Professor Mustajoki emphasized that in advancing digital humanities, we need CCCP – cooperation, collaboration, curiosity and passion. While computational linguistics and social statistics have a long history, digital humanities seek to cross-cut these existing practices and add new functionality by leveraging the potential of big data.
On 5 Jan 2018, we held the first Digital Russia Studies seminar in Helsinki. Eighteen participants joined the kick-off event – some came to Aleksanteri Institute, others connected online. In addition to researchers in social sciences, law, languages, and cultural history coming from the University of Helsinki, we welcomed participants from the University of Turku and the University of Eastern Finland, making the session even more exciting and interdisciplinary.
Dr. Mila Oiva from Aalto University presented her ongoing research project that utilizes digital humanities methods in the field of Russian cultural history. Mila’s research investigates the depiction on Yves Montand’s visit to Moscow in 1956-57. During this period, the USSR was opening to the world, declaring the policy of peaceful co-existence. Mila is studying the archival materials devoted to Montand’s visit using, as she says, two sets of glasses. One way of looking at the material is a more conventional close reading. Another set of glasses is that of topic modelling and collocation analysis. Integrating both methods sequentially in her research design, Mila is alternating between ‘close’ and ‘distant’ reading to gain new perspectives upon her research materials.
In the second part of the seminar, Dr. Ekaterina Protassova and Dr. Mikhail Kopotev from the Department of Modern Languages gave an overview of the ongoing research activities in the discipline of Russian language and literature. Among the recent projects, CoCoCo – Automatic extraction of collocations and colligations, as well as Plagiarism Detection Algorithms for the Russian language, are of interest to the broader research community as they develop technical tools specifically for the Russian language that may be of interest to scholars of various disciplines.
At the end of the seminar, participants had a chance to tell each other a bit more about their current interest in Digital Russia Studies, as well as exchange ideas and tips with each other while having some coffee and pulla, a Finnish sweet bun. After this exciting January kick-off, we are looking forward to the February workshop by Prof. Arto Mustajoki on the versatile opportunities of Integrum database.
Digital Russia Studies (DRS) is a research network uniting scholars of humanities, social and computer sciences working at the intersection of ‘digital’ and ‘social’ in the Russian context.
First, digital Russia studies is the study of Russian society, politics and culture using the methods of digital humanities.
Second, digital Russia studies is a critical investigation of how Russian society, politics and culture are reconfigured in the context of digitalisation, Big Data and algorithmic governance.
During our monthly seminar running throughout Spring 2018, we aim to engage with questions concerning Russian cultural history, contemporary media industries, digital dimensions of Russian politics, as well as East European perspective on Russia. We will also look into established and emerging methods and data practices.