Counting propaganda and ethical conduct

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!

Kukryniksy, 3 November 1944, Spanish-Portuguese neutrality

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.