Deep Learning Digital Humanities Propaganda in Context

Propaganda in Context: Eastern European Nationalist(ic) Symbols

The goal of this project was to train an arti­fi­cial neur­al net­work to rec­og­nize spe­cif­ic nationalist(ic) sym­bols from East­ern Europe. Ini­tial train­ing anno­ta­tions were fund­ed by the Ger­man BMBF at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pas­sau, Ger­many. Fur­ther anno­ta­tions were fund­ed by the DI4DH ini­tia­tive at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Inns­bruck, Aus­tria. Train­ing was con­duct­ed using the infra­struc­ture of the Research Cen­ter High Per­for­mance Com­put­ing in Innsbruck.

Our project can be con­sid­ered a con­tri­bu­tion to the emerg­ing field of “dis­tant view­ing”, which uses quan­ti­ta­tive meth­ods to assess a cor­pus con­sist­ing of a large num­ber of visu­al media. Cur­rent­ly, deep learn­ing meth­ods play a minor role in dis­tant view­ing, as most of the projects use pre­trained net­works. This is under­stand­able, as train­ing is not triv­ial. How­ev­er, using pre­trained net­works sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces the amount of pos­si­ble research ques­tions. More­over, a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the train­ing process allows us to con­tribute to the field of “crit­i­cal machine learn­ing”; more pre­cise­ly, we try to point out some of the ben­e­fits and pit­falls of train­ing an arti­fi­cial neur­al net­work for a human­i­ties research project.

We select­ed YouTube as an exam­ple, which has become the most impor­tant online media out­let in Rus­sia. In 2020, 82% of those aged 14–64 years used it dai­ly, mak­ing in the most suc­cess­ful exam­ple of Social Media in Rus­sia. There­fore, it is of vital impor­tance for Slav­ic cul­tur­al and media stud­ies to devel­op ana­lyt­ic tools for this platform. 

Three test cas­es were used in our project: Ukrain­ian nation­al­ist Stepan Ban­dera (1909–1959), who was instru­men­tal­ized by both sides of the Ukraine con­flict start­ing in 2013; promi­nent Russ­ian oppo­si­tion leader Alek­sei Naval’nyi; and Belaru­sian pres­i­dent Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka, who was re-elect­ed in fall 2020. In the case of Naval’nyi and Lukashen­ka, YouTube clips with sev­er­al mil­lion views helped to bring the protest to the streets. Nat­u­ral­ly, demon­stra­tions rely a lot on visu­al sym­bols such as flags and thus, allow us to test our the­o­ries. Pro­test­ers in Belarus, for exam­ple, do not use the offi­cial flag and coat of arms, which stem from Sovi­et times, but rather those of the first Belaru­sian repub­lic found­ed in 1918.

A sam­ple video show­ing protests in Min­sk, auto­mat­i­cal­ly anno­tat­ed by our arti­fi­cial neur­al network

For these test cas­es, Deep Learn­ing was used to train an arti­fi­cial neur­al net­work (Resnet1010) to auto­mat­i­cal­ly detect 45 pre­de­fined nationalist(ic) sym­bols and 40 politi­cians from East­ern Europe. This net­work can now be applied in a wide vari­ety of research ques­tions. The trained net­works togeth­er with our scripts and per­for­mance met­rics are avail­able on Github.

(Auto-)Biographical Practices Digital Humanities Literature

Weaving Lives

My PhD the­sis focused on (auto-)biographical strate­gies of Russ­ian writ­ers on the inter­net and was pub­lished in 2020 as an Open Access mono­graph: Weav­ing Lives: (Auto-)Biographical Prac­tices of Russ­ian Authors on the Inter­net (in Ger­man, Biele­feld: Transcript). 

The inter­net as a bona fide medi­um of self-expres­sion is used by count­less Russ­ian authors. They bor­row author images from the canon of Russ­ian lit­er­a­ture, adjust them to match the com­mu­nica­tive struc­ture of the inter­net and rein­vent them in media experiments. 

How can we iden­ti­fy these cre­ative mech­a­nisms oper­at­ing beneath the sur­face of Web 2.0? How can we bring them togeth­er with lit­er­ary the­o­ry? In my book I com­bine qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive approach­es not only to answer these ques­tions but to uncov­er (auto-)biographical prac­tices in the Russ­ian-lan­guage inter­net (Runet).

For my the­sis I received the Gus­tav Fig­dor award for lit­er­ary sci­ence by the Aus­tri­an Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (2018), the the­sis award of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pas­sau (2018) and the DARIAH-DE Dig­i­tal Human­i­ties Award (2018).

You can browse the pub­lish­er’s page to order a phys­i­cal copy or read the Open Access ver­sion right here:

Literature Positivism

Intention & Reception: Re-Reading Polish Positivism

I am writ­ing a post­doc­tor­al the­sis about Pol­ish pos­i­tivist lit­er­a­ture where I inves­ti­gate the rela­tion­ship between lit­er­a­ture and pol­i­tics in 19th cen­tu­ry Poland. The so-called “powieść ten­den­cyj­na”, or ten­den­tious nov­el, is not imag­in­able with­out an author’s inten­tion. This cat­e­go­ry, how­ev­er, was right­ful­ly prob­lema­tized by post­struc­tur­al theory. 

My goal is to bring back ‘inten­tion’ as a cat­e­go­ry for lit­er­a­ture the­o­ry; in order to achieve that goal, I inves­ti­gate four dif­fer­ent ‘posi­tions of inten­tion’: author, text, recep­tion, and imag­i­na­tion. First of all, the pos­i­tivist authors had a clear goal in mind, as is demon­strat­ed by their poe­t­o­log­i­cal texts: They strove to edu­cate the peo­ple. This orig­i­nal inten­tion can­not be over­looked. Sec­ond, the text employs var­i­ous lit­er­ary devices to achieve a spe­cif­ic impact on the read­er’s side. Third, the read­er has inten­tions as well, which fun­da­men­tal­ly shape the recep­tion process. Fourth, the audi­ence often imag­ines the author’s alleged inten­tions. These imag­i­nary inten­tions often prove to be impact­ful as well.

By means of bring­ing togeth­er Eliza Orzeszkowa’s, Bolesław Prus’ and Hen­ryk Sienkiewicz’s nov­els and poe­t­o­log­i­cal texts with the recep­tion of con­tem­po­raries and lat­er gen­er­a­tions, I try to uncov­er how these ‘posi­tions of inten­tion’ work.

Vorträge & Konferenzen

Ich-Splitter. (Cross-)Mediale Selbstentwürfe in den slawischen Kulturen

Work­shop an der Öster­re­ichis­chen Akademie der Wis­senschaften, Wien, 8. Okto­ber 2016

Vor­läu­figes Pro­gramm des Work­shops herunterladen

Die lange Tra­di­tion von Auto­por­traits und Auto­bi­ografien führt den Stel­len­wert vor Augen, den Beschäf­ti­gun­gen mit dem Selb­st in der kün­st­lerischen Aneig­nung der Welt seit jeher ein­nehmen. Nicht zulet­zt durch die stetige Weit­er­en­twick­lung der tech­nis­chen Möglichkeit­en liegen heute zahlre­iche medi­ale For­men vor, die zur Repräsen­ta­tion und Insze­nierung des Selb­st einge­set­zt wer­den. Fotografie, Film, Musik, Skizzen, Sprachauf­nah­men oder Pro­file in sozialen Net­zw­erken brin­gen jew­eils unter­schiedliche Möglichkeit­en mit sich, Aspek­te der eige­nen Per­sön­lichkeit zu zeigen oder in den Vorder­grund zu rücken.
Die geplante Kon­ferenz nimmt diese Phänomene aus ein­er cross­me­di­alen Per­spek­tive in den Blick. Selb­sten­twürfe treten in Lit­er­atur, Kun­st oder Pop­kul­tur mit sprach­lichen Selb­st­darstel­lun­gen in Inter­ak­tion, wer­den in dieser Kom­bi­na­tion als State­ment des Selb­st wirk­sam gemacht und erproben damit post­struk­tu­ral­is­tis­che The­o­rien der Sub­jek­tkon­sti­tu­tion (Smith et al. 2010). In diesem Rah­men sollen der Ein­satz und das Poten­zial unter­schiedlich­er Medi­en zur Selb­st­darstel­lung in ver­schiede­nen slaw­is­chen Kul­turen sowie die dadurch geze­ich­neten Per­sön­lichkeit­skon­struk­te, Men­schen­bilder und Selb­stveror­tun­gen beleuchtet wer­den. Die Kon­ferenz legt ihr Haup­tau­gen­merk auf Medi­enkom­bi­na­tio­nen und ver­ste­ht sich damit als Ergänzung zu Arbeit­en über Dichter­bilder (Städtke 1996), Ich-Entwürfe (Schmid 2000), Mys­ti­fika­tion (Frank et al. 2001) und Selb­stin­sze­nierung (Tipp­n­er et al. 2014) in den slaw­is­chen Kulturen.
Mögliche The­men für Beiträge inkludieren musikalis­che und filmis­che Auto­bi­ografien, die Rolle von Fotografien in Auto­bi­ografien, das Zusam­men­spiel ver­schieden­er Medi­en in sozialen Net­zw­erken oder auch Por­trait­bilder als Topos in der Literatur.

Frank, S., R. Lach­mann, S. Sasse et al. (ed.) 2001. Mys­ti­fika­tion – Autorschaft – Orig­i­nal. Tübingen.
Moser, Ch., J. Dünne (ed.) 2008. Auto­me­di­al­ität. Sub­jek­tkon­sti­tu­tion in Schrift, Bild und neue Medi­en. München.
Smith, S., J. Wat­son 2010. Read­ing Auto­bi­og­ra­phy: A Guide for Inter­pret­ing Life Nar­ra­tives. Minneapolis.
Schmid, U. 2000. Ichen­twürfe. Die rus­sis­che Auto­bi­ogra­phie zwis­chen Avvaku­um und Gercen. Zürich.
Städtke, K. (ed.) 1996. Dichter­bild und Epochen­wan­del in der rus­sis­chen Lit­er­atur des 20. Jahrhun­derts. Bochum.
Tipp­n­er, A., Ch. Laferl (ed.) 2014. Kün­st­lerin­sze­nierun­gen. Per­for­ma­tives Selb­st und biographis­che Nar­ra­tion im 20. und 21. Jahrhun­dert. Bielefeld.