Reviewed by: Ostap K., Matt P., and Lola Shehu-Endo
Review started: April 6, 2021
Review finished: April 30, 2021
Data and Sources
- The academic corpus of 40 years of Signs journals. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society is a peer-reviewed feminist academic journal founded in 1975
- Information concerning feminist scholarship and academia
- 70 consolidated topics derived from a corpus of text
- Cocitation Network Graph shows how feminist works have been cited on the site
- A collection of graphic design work by women that serves as cover art for Signs
- Commentaries by feminist scholars
- Signs@40 is a visualized interactive archive of the Signs corpus using topic modeling. Topic modeling is a text mining tool used to discover the abstract “topics” that occur in a corpus. “Topics” are clusters of similar words that occur together.
- On the Topic Model page, there is a sidebar with several subsections that give in-depth, detailed explanations on how the topic model works.
- The Editorial Comments page, when accessed, presents users with an article titled “Tracking Changes in Transformative Scholarship,” which offers further information about the topic model.
- While not on Signs@40, the main site, Signs has a set of guidelines for those wanting to submit their own work.
- The site is organized in five sections that are presented on the landing page. There is no curated path or highlighted section inviting the visitor to follow a particular direction. The pages are displayed in high contrast, although the font in certain pages is small.
- The 70 topics the site offers can be found organized in rows on a separate page. These topics can each be clicked on for more information.
- The Cocitation Network Graph speaks for itself.
- The cover art gallery is split into a “designs” and an “artworks” section.
- The commentary selection is organized by commentator.
- Signs@40 works best in on devices with at least 1,500-pixel-wide screens.
- Certain features on it may not function as intended on mobile devices.
Digital Tools Used to Build It
- Browsing software by Andrew Goldstone, extending his dfr-browser. Modeling conducted via Goldstone’s dfrtopics R package. A full list of code used in constructing the topic model, can be found on the site’s Modeling Choices page.
Matt’s Reflections on the Project
Reviewed by: Matt P.
Signs@40 is a project that covers 40 years of feminist scholarship by way of primarily topic modeling and appraisal of material. It uses a Cocitation Network Graph to map the patterns and to aid in “visualizing the conversations among scholars that have occurred in Signs.” The graph takes the form of a large web of interconnected nodes. The graph has both an interactive and static variant—the static variant is essentially just an image that one can examine, while the interactive version can allow one to navigate the project’s data in one’s browser. This is a tried-and-true method of presenting data to users, but Signs@40 breaks the mold somewhat with its degree of interactivity, including features such as “sticking” and “unsticking” nodes, a visible relation between citations and node size, and the ability to gain information from a node by simply hovering over it rather than needing to click on it in order to navigate to another page.
Outside of this, Signs@40 offers a selection of cover art and commentaries, giving the project a degree of versatility. There isn’t quite as much to say about these sections as they are rather self-explanatory. The site’s collection of commentaries is noteworthy in its thoroughness and breadth of content, though, and it lets users read the thoughts of the site’s past and current editors.
One significant issue about the site is the fact that some content appears multiple times on the Content Network Graph. Although this is not the most detrimental problem the site could have, it is still a potential cause for confusion.
Ostap’s Reflections on the Project
Reviewed by: Ostap K.
For me, one of the most interesting sections on the website is the one called Curated Table of Contents, which provides lists of topics over 40 years. This table of contents is divided into 10 parts: Intersectionalities; Interventions in Theory; Methodologies; Bodies, Identities, Differences; Science Studies; Political and Social Movements; Cultural Production; Labor and Political Economy; Field Formation; Violence and Conflict. Each section provides bibliographical information about articles that fit into each of these categories. As usual, the item includes the name of the author, title, year, volume, issue, and a link to view article. On top of that, you typically have a blurb prefacing each of the 10 sections and shed light what one might find in this section. This helps users, research, and scholars to navigate through the long history of publications, and breaking those articles into categories is worthy from several points of views. For example, one can easily study the ways certain topics were approached and studied in certain decades and look at the trajectory of development of studies in those areas.
Another important part on this platform is Editorial Commentaries. This section contains (short) essays by current, past, and future Signs editors; Signs associate editors; and feminist scholars. All these materials, especially those written by former Signs editors, provide a look into the ways the journal has been functioning through the decades. Commentaries by feminist scholars give us a chance to understand the importance and variety of the materials published in Signs.
Lola’s Reflections on the Project
Reviewed by: Lola Shehu
I navigated this site asking the question of what the interactivity and visualizations of topic modeling bring to the experience of engaging with the corpus, and how it can help or direct further research. I navigated through topic models, which are really useful when placed in a timeline to highlight and draw attention to particular events and trends. Beyond this function, the topics themselves provide little information that a reader or researcher would not find in the title of the article itself or through a simple search of the archive. It is very telling that in the Curated Contents section of the site, the topics are not drawn from topic modeling, but rather chosen by the editors. I found the visualizations most useful in the Cocitation Network Graph which reveals scholarship as a conversation by grouping related sources together. It is also a fun feature to interact with for the public or those new to research.
There is no search function on this site. The visitor’s experience is guided by topic modeling or by the Signs editors in the aforementioned Curated Contents section. The complete Signs digital archive is hosted by University of Chicago, but it is not linked to Signs@40. Visitors can only link to the archive through the main Signs website. Signs@40 is a curated experience that is designed to hold the reader's interest, not only for those interested in academic research, but as an accessible guided experience for the public. The Cover Art section is a great example of this as it highlights designs of covers and artwork through the years in a simple gallery. This is a carefully curated page that can be enjoyed visually, but also directs visitors interested in further analysis to a rich commentary by Susan Sidlauskas. Every step of the Signs@40 experience feels guided to the extent that it challenges my original description of the page as an interactive digital archive. A more accurate description would be a “guided interactive tour of the Signs digital archive.”