Through the Glass Darkly

“Hello, darkness, my old friend,” to quote a panelist at the SSRC’s recent event, “Speaking in Light and Dark.” His reference to the opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s, The Sound of Silence, aptly set the stage for a discussion about light and dark hosted in the late afternoon of January 18 on a stage lit only by natural light coming through the windows of Cortelyou Commons. As the sun set at 4:48 pm aOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd darkness progressively pervaded the room, four DePaul faculty members from different disciplines reflected on how lightness and darkness have informed their work or thinking, either literally or metaphorically.

DePaul’s College of Communication had just begun when Associate Professor Daniel Makagon proposed an addition to the schedule called The City at Night, a class held during the unorthodox hours of 10:00 pm to 1:00 am. To see how people utilized the night, his class visited a social worker, a karaoke expert, a needle exchange site, a CTA routing and operations center, and the Guardian Angels, the self-appointed, volunteer safety brigade that once patrolled Chicago subway lines. As an enthusiastic supporter of experiential learning, Daniel fondly recalled one class visit when education become a public event itself. The class was meeting with the Guardian Angels on a subway platform in the Loop when curious onlookers began raising their hands and spontaneously joined in the learning experience themselves. “There was this of kind of opening up at night,” he said. He’s still contemplating its meaning.

Daniel has also applied a night/day lens to his research into the punk music culture to examine underground performance spaces. Subverting our usual notions of how we use spaces by day and night, these all-age punk shows often occur in basements in DIY (do-it-yourself) spaces, during the day. There the basement space becomes a “liberatory, temporary, autonomous zone for folks to enact a different kind of economy, a different social experience in terms of how they meet together in the world, and also a different kind of political experience as well, guided by an alternativepolitics, an alternative economy, to the mainstream music industry as we find it,” he said.

A compilation of night sounds gathered by Daniel’s DePaul students formed an ongoing soundtrack that played throughout the panelists’ presentations. DePaul’s Media Production and Training (MPT) video-taped the event. The results illustrate the significance of light to a technology that depends solely on light to capture and store images.

Field observation has been fundamental to Public Policy Studies Professor Bill Sampson’s academic pursuits. Bill shared with the audience the personal question that has nagged at him throughout his educational and academic life. How was it that he, growing up poor and black in a poor, black neighborhood in Milwaukee did well in school while others sharing the same outward circumstances did not? The explanation his high school teachers gave him — that he was “an exception” — didn’t sit well with him. He has reached some conclusions based on his analysis of observational data students in his classes have gathered over the years, chronicling the lives of poor black and Latino families for comparisons of how the children of those families performed in school.

Not neighborhood, not school, not teachers most affect the results, he found. That leaves him pessimistic about how much of a difference current education policies that shower resources on schools and teachers will ever make. “What mattered most were specific things about the home environment. Kids who did well in school lived in quiet, orderly, structured homes, which is difficult to maintain when you’re poor,” he said. Those students had chores at home, took part in extracurricular activities, were internally controlled, and displayed high self-esteem. All had parents or guardians who showed that they valued education, often by participating in their children’s homework even if they couldn’t do the work themselves.

Acknowledging that “we can’t control families” and that not all families even want the best for their children, he asked: “How do we take what we’ve learnedand give it to the families that want it?” Assuming that teachers and schools are doing what they should (not a given, he noted), “for the parents who are willing, we can make a difference.”

Steve Harp, associate professor of Art, Media, and Design, approached lightness and darkness more formally, but also subjectively. Against a backdrop projection of his own striking, black and white nighttime photos (including the image accompanying this post), Steve presented what he termed a short “pseudo theoretical paper” in which he explicated the word dream from the literary and psychological perspectives of a variety of writers. Noting the seeming similarity between the words trӓume (dreams in German) and trauma (derived from the Greek word for “wound”), he said it’s hard to believe they’re not related etymologically “while linked in so many ways conceptually and experientially.”

Considering any distinction between dream and nightmare as artificial, he discussed the trauma of the nightmare as the experience of waking into consciousness. He linked the traumatic aspect of awakening to the act of departure, or awakening. Inviting the audience to think of dreams spatially, as a path into darkness, he suggested that dreams might be regarded not as wish fulfillment, but as the tension between arrival (or our visions of arrival) and departure. His last words were a lyric from the late Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

The panel concluded with Assistant Professor of Philosophy Peter Steeves’ mind-bendingly succinct but sobering, 15-step timeline of the birth and death of light. His only prompt, a DIY “power point” flashlight beam trained on sheets of white paper carrying dates, effectively underlined his observation that light’s lifespan is a relative blip within the sprawling chronology of the universe. In increasingly bad news, he pegged the lifespan of humans on earth at a mere million years and forecast our sun to end 6.5 billion years from now, when it will swallow up the earth. A hundred trillion years from now, all stars — the manufacturers of light — will have been extinguished. Earth too, whose rank as a “Goldilocks of stars” (not big, not small), will succumb with one of the less remarkable star-death displays, he said.

Peter’s interest in the topic is rooted in “the overlap of philosophy and physics,” his twin loves, “and light plays a major role in that,” he said. “Light is not important in any fundamental way,” he concluded. “So I sometimes think, why do we make it so important? Why do we think it’s all about life and why do we think it’s all about light? That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently.”


Mess Hall: Robin Burke and John Shanahan Talk about Reading Chicago Reading


In October, Robin Burke (of CDM) and John Shanahan (of English) stopped by the SSRC’s Mess Hall to discuss their venture, Reading Chicago Reading.  The project, which was recently funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is an empirical examination into who reads what kinds of books.  The digital humanities project started by examining the One Book, One Chicago (OBOC) program, operated by the Chicago Public Library.  Essentially, Burke and Shanahan (as well as their research team, which also includes SSRC Staff Members Nandhini Gulasingam and Jessi Bishop-Royse), are using OBOC data from CPL to examine various aspects of the well-known reading program.


The Reading Chicago Reading project is innovative in that the team is combining data from texts, community demographics, circulation records, and social media to yield book-level predictions on who is interested in a particular item.  Combining CPL checkout data with other data, such as Census data, the Reading Chicago Reading research team is hoping to determine how the characteristics of branch libraries influence OBOC participation.  Burke and Shanahan are hoping to use these various data sources to predict community interest in various titles CPL might consider for future iterations of OBOC.

For more information on their recent projects, please check out the results page of the Reading Chicago Reading website.


DePaul Professor Steve Harp’s Project “In Sleep’s Dark Kingdom”

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

Anthem, Leonard Cohen 

In Sleep’s Dark Kingdom, by DePaul faculty member Steve Harp, is an artist’s book created in response to the SSRC’s call for proposals to celebrate the UNESCO designated International Year of Light.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My approach takes as its starting point the notion that conceptions of light are meaningless without framing notions of darkness. Light only enters the realm of perception out of a darkness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In “The Hollow Men,” (1925) T. S. Eliot writes of “death’s dream kingdom,” a place of disguises, with “eyes I dare not meet.” It is a kind of limbo, a twilight kingdom – a place between. The dream kingdom is also, of course, the place of sleep – itself a liminal zone between the clear consciousness of the light of day and the obscure darkness of unconsciousness.  If light is a metaphor for clarity or understanding, sleep has its own light emerging from darkness: the cold, crystalline clarity Freud posits residing in the dream continually hidden by layers of resistances obscuring it in metaphor, symbol, displacement.   Yet centrally, what Freud suggests is that the light of the dream (the latent content) can only become visible emerging from a darkness (the manifest content – always only known through its telling or representation, never through direct access to the dream “itself” – a kind of double cloaking or darkness).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My project touches on or suggests four “realms” or kingdoms of darkness, terrestrial and extraterrestrial, conscious and unconscious, in which light’s emergence from darkness and obscurity is to be celebrated all the more for its rarity and brevity. What I have attempted to do in this project – itself obscurely explained thus far – is to suggest darkness as an opportunity for light, darkness as the necessary frame allowing glimmers of light – of clarity, of understanding, of meaning, of hope – to break through and become manifest themselves.




Google’s NGram viewer

This is probably old hat to everyone- but I recently discovered Google’s NGram Viewer, which can compile a line graph of specific words published in books on a timeline.

You could graph specific words against each other, like comparing medicine, public health, and demography against each other.  Even cooler is that you can specify specific datapoints, say 1800-2016.  Or, 1800-1900.

demography ph and medicine

It is a pretty elegant feature, it can show how our understand of subject areas have changed over time.

men women

It’s simplicity could be useful for people wanting to generate simple and elegant figures for presentations and classes, etc.

Field Learning

Newly graduated Master of Public Health (MPH) students Adenike Sosina and Joselyn Williams recently talked about the extra-curricular skills they acquired as research assistants at the Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE). Their analysis of one project will be displayed at the 9th annual Health Disparities & Social Justice Conference that CCHE and MPH will host at the DePaul Center on August 12.

In a conference poster, they will summarize the focus group discussions that CCHE helped Rush conduct in conjunction with Rush Medical Center’s comprehensive Community Health Needs Assessment. The focus groups were made up of residents and stakeholders from the 8 Chicago West Side community areas (West Town, Austin, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, Near West Side, North Lawndale, South Lawndale, and Lower West Side) and 3 near west suburbs (Forest Park, Oak Park, and River Forest) that Rush serves. They were formed to discover what Adenike described as “the impact of the communities’ perceptions, their needs, things they believed to be beneficial.” That should help Rush understand what makes a good community and what relationships community members value, Joselyn added.

The two researchers began working at CCHE and with CCHE Co-Director and Associate Professor of Sociology Fernando De Maio in 2015—Adenike as CCHE Program Assistant and Joselyn as CCHE Graduate Assistant. Founded jointly in 2015 and based at DePaul, CCHE is a partnership between DPU and Rush designed to link social scientists, students, community groups, and health care professionals in a search for data-based solutions to community health problems.

Last fall and winter Adenike and Joselyn collaborated with CCHE on the assessment report Rush prepares every three years to evaluate the overall state of health in its service areas and to develop internal implementation strategies and community collaAdenikeborations. Using NVivo software, they later analyzed 11 “massive” focus group transcripts—also prepared by a number of DePaul and Rush students—to identify recurring themes such as resources, education, socialization, social division, health care, safety, responsibility, and ownership, Adenike said.

“The software itself served as a resource,” said Joselyn, a self-describJoselyned ‘data nerd’. “[It’s] kind of intuitive. There’s not a lot of bulky things you have to have previous help with.” The researchers also utilized SSRC technical and consulting resources, for transcribing the focus group discussions and for training in GIS and mapping fundamentals. The poster will illustrate the findings of their analysis.

“There was an array of other concerns, besides health, in which they wanted their voices to be heard,” said Adenike. She was impressed by the range of what focus group participants wanted to convey. Across communities, focus groups cited the lack of resources, including insufficient recreational outlets for youth, job opportunities, access to retail and good food, and inadequacies in the city’s educational system.

“…It’s like we’re almost a forgotten community…,” a member of the North Lawndale focus group complained. “And if we could just get a lot of these young guys some work and young women and young men to work, it will be a big change in the community,” a West Garfield Park participant offered.

In conversations about what they liked about their communities, participants voiced “probably a lot more positive thoughts around social cohesion,” Joselyn observed. “Most identified with their community,” she said. “I didn’t feel like anyone said ‘this is per se a bad community.’ They recognized the good and the bad. They wanted the community to be better.” Discussions about how Rush might partner with the community produced suggestions for collaborating with schools, operating mobile clinics to provide services such as back-to-school vaccinations, or pairing medical school students with community teens around health issues and mentoring, Adenike noted.

Both MPH graduates agreed that their work at CCHE leaves them feeling better prepared as they start their own careers. Joselyn, who made some GIS maps for the assessment to show where Rush ranked in child opportunity and hardship indices, appreciated the opportunity to work alongside hospital administrators and to observe how a big organization undertakes a report of this scope. She was struck by the length of the assessment process.

This fall Joselyn will begin teaching English to elementary students in the Gyeongbuk province in South Korea. From there she hopes to explore opportunities for a career abroad in global health. Adenike wants to work in community health practice after her position at CCHE ends in late summer. She’s especially interested in childhood obesity interventions.

At CCHE, graduate and undergraduate student researchers will continue to gain project-based experience working on analyses of the new Healthy Chicago Survey, the creation of an “Index of Concentration at the Extremes” for Chicago census tracts, and comparative analyses of health inequities in Chicago and other cities. DePaul faculty and students will continue collaborating with the Chicago Department of Public Health and other groups across the city as they build on CCHE’s contribution to “Healthy Chicago 2.0”, the city’s four-year initiative to assess and improve health and well-being and reduce inequities among Chicago communities.

Visit CCHE’s website to see the Rush Community Health Needs Assessment report and to learn more about the upcoming Health Disparities & Social Justice Conference at DePaul. Faculty or students doing research on faculty projects who want to access NVivo are invited to contact the SSRC where the program is available in our Lincoln Park computer lab or through remote connection.

How Sarah Read Works


Location:  DePaul University (or Starbucks, where I am right now?)
Current Gig:  Assistant Professor, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
One word that best describes how you work:  Interval training
Current mobile device: Iphone 4S
Current computer: MacBook Air

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? My At-A-Glance paper planner (without it I am a useless woman) and Dropbox, which means I can move seamlessly between work and home and the coffeeshop.

What’s your workspace setup like: Minimalist and open. I use a fully adjustable computer desk. I’m a short, small person, so conventional desks are just too big.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day? Back when I ran track and cross-country in high school and college my greatest strength was pacing. I wasn’t the fasted member of the team, but I always ran my intervals during practice at a consistent rate; i.e., I didn’t tire myself out on the first few and then die through the last ones. This is my approach to research projects and writing. Small chunks. Over time at the same rate. The down side of this strategy, however, is that I don’t accelerate very well. In a nutshell, I don’t do all-nighters.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Good ol’ fashioned At-A-Glance monthly paper planner. I am very visual person and I like to see my whole month at once. I also find it that takes less time/thought/energy to enter a few cryptic notes with a few scribbles of my pen.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? Do I need to mention the almighty At-A-Glance planner again? Seriously, without it I am a woman without a plan or a life.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?Tracking the family to-do list and the contents of the fridge (which I can recite from memory at any given time). It drives my husband crazy. My secret? Well, my theory is that girls are trained to pay attention to things like the contents of the fridge (to plan the shopping list), the location of items (clutter clean-up) in the house, and the chores that need to be done (no one else will do them) by just observing what their mothers’ paid attention to as they grew up. My parents had a traditional division of labor at home, and this is how it imprinted on me, whether I like it or not.

What do you listen to while you work? Mostly the chatter of my own mind. However, if I am grading or doing administrative tasks I listen to WFUV FM (public radio from Fordham University in New York City—new alternative/folk/rock music) via the web.

What do you do to stay inspired? Who are some of your favorite artists?  Right now I am educating myself about contemporary dance choreography by attending all of the amazing contemporary dance company performances in Chicago. I am a particular fan of Hubbard Street Dance Company, a truly world-class dance company born right here in Chicago—their creative and interesting choreography and world class technique blow me away. As a language person, I am enjoying learning about the language of dance and how to join the conversation about it.

What sort of work are you up to now? Right now I am finishing up ethnographic field work about technical documentation and reporting processes at a supercomputing research facility int the Chicago area. I am starting to work on my book project, Writing Infrastructure.

What are you currently reading? Pride and Prejudice (By Jane Austen), the graphic novel (not by Jane Austen)

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe both?  Total introvert, although I have to come out of my cave sometimes in order to maintain my sanity. Teaching is good for that.

What’s your sleep routine like? Totally regular. Sleep by 11pm. Up at 6:45.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see__________ answer these same questions. Woodstock.  

Why? Sorry, I only have goofy answers to this question.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Wow—this is the toughest question. I couldn’t tell you the source of this advice, but for me an essential insight has been to have the courage to believe that my ideas, my writing, my work has value and to put it out there in the conversation. It is an act of courage to declare oneself a writer (an academic writer, creative writer, etc.) and to just start doing it. I feel like I have to be courageous in this way almost every day. Writers, of all kinds, are incredibly courageous people.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans? Thanks for asking these questions. And thanks for reading.

The How I Work series featured on the re/search blog is shamelessly stolen from Life Hacker’s How I Work series.  The SSRC’s version asks DePaul’s heroes, experts, and individuals of note to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Jessi Bishop-Royse at jbishopr AT

Adapt and Evolve, Like a BOSS.

Members of the Lincoln Park Accountability Group had an interesting conversation recently about citation/reference management.  The context is that a member had just finished a book project and was feeling the headache of dealing with citations for this monster project.  Unfortunately for him, he was still using the low-tech method of citation management, which, lets be honest, has caused many a heartache for countless academics.

The low-tech way of dealing with citation management comes in a variety of flavors, but the unifying theme of all of them, is that they require active, deliberate efforts from authors to collect and organize articles necessary for literature reviews.  Whether it is a stack of papers you’ve printed out, a folder of articles that lives in your Dropbox, or a running list of abstracted points (with citation information) you have that is approximately 75 single-spaced pages long in Word, the point is, that there is an easier way IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ADAPT AND EVOLVE.

The fact is, that if you are an academic researcher not using a citation management tool, you are literally, doing things the hard way.

My guess is that most manuscript projects probably start with a collection of papers.  These are the papers that form the core of your project.  You might have hard copies of them and maybe even digital copies somewhere.  You take the citation information, find the article, download the article, save the article, perhaps with a clever name, like Bishop-Royse (2013).  Good for you, for being organized.  But wait.  Now Bishop-Royse (2013) lives in your files, but it is no where helpful in order to help you write, either by generating its own citation entry in your document or by being where you need it when you need it.

Think about your process- and how you might be hanging onto hard copies of papers that you printed when you were a grad student.  Your fancy-schmancy graduate institution had access to ALL OF THE JOURNALS, but maybe DePaul doesn’t.  So, while you have the hard copy of an article, you can’t get the digital one in order to complete your reference collection.  Worse, you have to manually enter all of that information somewhere.  With something like Zotero, you can click a button and pull all the information about the citation into a file, even if you don’t have physical/digital access to that file at the time.

The low-tech way would be to sit down with a text editor open (aka Word) and manually type the information included in the citation.  Now, keep in mind that the journals/fields haven’t all gotten together to decide what are the best ways to present this information.  Ideally, you’d include the full names of all the authors, using no abbreviations, etc.  This way, if you decide to submit this monster to another journal than its originally intended journal, you don’t have to go all the way back to the original articles and rework them.  This sometimes happen if your first manuscript requires names in the bibiolography to be abbreviated, like J. Bishop-Royse.  Unless you happen to remember that my name is Jessica, you’re going to have to go back to the either the original article or look it up online to modify your reference list to go to another journal.  You are literally doing monkey work.  A well-trained monkey of average intelligence could do this task.  dinosaur

You, my friend, with a PhD, who has important contributions to make to the world, are doing tasks that a monkey could do.

And please, don’t even get me started on the different intricacies of where things go in the citation information and how that might be different across journals/fields.  Is it author, year, title or author, title, year?

With a citation manager, you go back into your library, tell it to export in the format you need, and let it take care of putting italics where they need to go.  For something like Zotero, there are literally, hundereds of styles that you can download and install, allowing you to export in practically any format you could want.

Here is a practice export that I did for American Sociological Association (ASA) format:


With a couple of clicks, I was able to change the format to American Psychologist.


There are a lot of citation managers out there (RefWorks, Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, Papers).  They all have, to some degree of the same kinds of features.  Rodd Myers’ post on LinkedIn is fairly extensive.  There are also ways to adopt various tools that work nicely together.  So, its great to use something like Zotero or Mendeley, even better if you use in conjunction with Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can keep the actual articles in a place that the manager has access to.

For me, the question isn’t which citation manager should you use, it is rather, why aren’t you using one yet?