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Questioning Street Names Leipzig: how gender bias affects street naming in Leipzig and how the DH can help make bias visible

Since 2016, the University of Leipzig has been offering a Bachelor’s program in Digital Humanities (DH) at the Faculty of Computer Science. According to the program description on the university’s website, students are “taught new perspectives on subject-specific approaches to solutions”.

Note: This is the English translation (automatically with DeepL). The German original written by Magdalena Bui, Lea Gleißner, Fey Kühn and Amelie Nenninger (University of Leipzig) can be found here.

Studying DH – About what is trying to teach us and what is important for us to learn

Since 2016, the University of Leipzig has been offering a Bachelor’s program in Digital Humanities (DH) at the Faculty of Computer Science. According to the program description on the university’s website, students are “taught new perspectives on subject-specific approaches to solutions”1.

We, Magdalena Bui, Lea Gleißner and Fey Kühn have been studying this bachelor’s program since the winter semester 2020/2021. The program in Leipzig is divided into a large proportion of compulsory informatics (elective) modules, an elective area in the humanities and some modules at this interface. The website of the University of Leipzig writes about this:

“The modules from the Digital Humanities have the task of linking both disciplines in terms of content and of identifying and communicating areas of application for corresponding synergies.
You will be shown possibilities of informatic solutions for specific problems in the humanities in the relevant modules of the Digital Humanities. Likewise, you will be enabled to develop analytical skills that allow you to deal critically with data. Building on this, you will be able to prepare media (re)presentation forms, test humanities theses, and create digital publications and tools.”1

In this blog post, we chronicle our professional development as it unfolded in the winter semester 2020/2021 in the introductory module “Introduction to Digital Humanities”. Sociology student Amelie Nenninger worked with us on our final module project “Questioning Street Names Leipzig” (QSN Leipzig), as she was able to take the module as an elective in her subject. Dr. Thomas Köntges was in charge of the module. By applying the principles of Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein’s Data Feminism concept, published in 2020, to QSN Leipzig, we learned a critical approach to data and data science.

Data Feminism – About the handbook for DH projects we can believe in

In this blogpost we first introduce the Data Feminism concept. We continue to report on the work on our project Questioning Street Names Leipzig, or EqualStreetNames.Leipzig, and introduce thoughts that place Digital Humanities as a key science for technology-critical projects. We continue this by raising digital interventions as a possibility for marginalized2 We ask ourselves what potential DH offers for such projects.

Data Feminism is a 2020 book by Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein and is freely available to read online. The book is paraphrased as “A new way of thinking about data science and data ethics that is informed by the ideas of intersectional feminism.”3 In it, the authors lay out seven principles that serve to build Data Science more ethically and with a point of view that is particularly attentive to marginalized groups. Lauren Klein herself directs Georgia Tech’s Digital Humanities Lab, so she’s at home in DH.

Questioning Street Names Leipzig – About our first DH project

In the winter semester 2020/2021, our task was to freely design a first Digital Humanities project. We were joined by several fellow students and it was clear to us quite quickly that the seven principles of Data Feminism should find their way into our work. In addition, we wanted a topic that was close to the reality of our lives. So we decided to analyze the street network of Leipzig’s urban space from a gender perspective. The reading of Data Feminism and our experiences in queer feminist4 and intersectional feminist exchange have shown us that such an analysis, works best when it is clear beforehand who is doing it and what privileges and marginalizations the team has. Since our project focuses primarily on gender, we would like to contextualize only this at this point. We chose this focus because our team consists of two cis5 women and two non-binary6 Persons. Thus, we fall under the acronym FLINTA* (women, lesbians, inter persons7, non-binary persons, trans*8 persons, agender persons9, and other persons of unnamed but marginalized gender identity). At the same time, however, we are aware that the gender perspective illuminates only one axis of inequality and that we are quite privileged on other axes.

This is how the Questioning Street Names Leipzig project was born. It is divided into two parts: Based on the EqualStreetNames Project we developed an interactive map: EqualStreetNames.Leipzig. For this we cloned the repository of the EqualStreetNames Project with the help of Jonathan Beliën and adapted it for Leipzig. The code works with OpenStreetMap10 and links OpenStreetMap with Wikidata tags11. This connects the streets with the information of the persons from the respective Wikidata entries. From these entries, among other things, the gender entry can be separated. However, we cannot assume with absolute certainty that this information is true, since publicly identifying oneself as trans* could and can be life- threatening. We are aware that there is thus the possibility of misgendering people who were not publicly considered trans* with this project. Furthermore, we do not fully agree with the way gender is tagged on Wikidata.

About the technical process and the two mapathons12, which we organized as community building events within the project, there is a video with Sören from OpenStreetMapDeutschland on their website and on Youtube.

Our work and also the mapathons, although they are called “inclusive” at OpenStreetMapDeutschland, have the big weakness of not being adapted for people with disabilities13. As described above, our community building was also primarily gender-focused. We acknowledge that our project and mapathons are thus only selectively inclusive. Also, our visualization in the final product only includes male and female genders and does not include identities that do not feel they belong to these two descriptions.

With the help of different colors, the final result on the Leipzig EqualStreetNames map visualizes how many streets are named after people and what gender these people are. Our results are clear: Almost 94% of the streets in Leipzig are named after cis men. Only a little more than 6% of the streets in Leipzig are named after cis women. Thus, the culture of memory in Leipzig’s street naming network is patriarchal and selective. It excludes people whose gender identity does not opt for one of the two binary options “cis man” and “cis woman” and does not create a balance between them either.

On our own website Questioning Street Names Leipzig we have started to create a digital map with alternative suggestions under the tab “Map” with suggestions from digital FLINTA* spaces.

Our project has received a lot of positive feedback. The Las Callas de las Mujeres project takes a very similar, albeit binary visualized, approach to Spanish-speaking regions. It goes a step further by using the link with Wikimedia to count how many Wikipedia articles there are on the women after whom streets were named. In doing so, it opens up a new understanding of space that analyzes and visualizes the memory of these women in urban space, in Spanish-speaking space, and in the digital space of Wikipedia. Catherine D’Ignazio’s website for the Data+FeminismLab at MIT, which she directs, also includes references to a project called “Audit the Streets” on the culture of memory in urban space. On the website, in addition to this, are other projects devoted to Data Science. They directly analyze social conditions from a feminist understanding and try to use them ethically. The website tearthisdown.com, respectively the project “TEAR DOWN THIS SHIT – Eliminate Colonialism Now” visualizes colonial references in urban space for Germany and cooperates with local decolonial and postcolonial initiatives.

https://geochicasosm.github.io/lascallesdelasmujeres/ Status: 07.08.2021

Some of the projects mentioned were created directly with reference to the DH, others probably without thinking directly about this reference. We focus here primarily on cartographic visualizations and the sociological and cultural studies question of memory in urban space, since this was also the focus of our project. At this point, however, it becomes clear that the analysis and, above all, the mediation of questions in the humanities with the help of computer-assisted methods and digital media such as digital maps represent a new means of questioning existing orders, entirely in the sense of Data Feminism.

Issues – On DH’s support of marginalized groups as a science

In this blogpost we have tried to show the following by explaining our own project and introducing others: Because we as a digital humanities community have the knowledge of digital possibilities, we can – to the extent that this is possible for us where we are in the social and academic system – adapt our questions to give voice to marginalized groups. Furthermore, we can use our knowledge of visualization, community building, and science communication to actively stand alongside these groups.

The project EqualStreetNames.Leipzig was only to a very small extent worked on by us alone. Rather, it is the result of incredible input that we have received from numerous people. We would like to thank them here. We think it is important in the spirit of Data Feminism to show the work of all those who have brought us to this point:

To begin with, these would be all those who have developed and thought ahead ethical, (data-)feminist and critical computer science and data science concepts, as well as those who have done so for intersectional and queerfeminist concepts. In this regard, special thanks go, of course, to Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein. In addition, we thank all those who have introduced us to these concepts. These people are writers, content creators, podcast hosts, activists, friends, workshop leaders, people who put stickers in urban spaces, and so many more. They have done educational work for us, much of it for free.

Furthermore, we would like to thank the Informatica Feminale Bremen team for doing a fantastic job of creating an event to share those very concepts. Special thanks go to Silvia Bauer and Nadja Geisler for introducing parts of the team to these critical concepts.

We thank Jonathan and the team of EqualStreetNames Belgium for the preliminary work and for making available and explaining to us the work of this team. We have continued to benefit from free access to tutorials and learning videos on HTML and CSS on Youtube and want to thank them for this free education.

We thank Thomas Köntges for leading the module and for supporting and acknowledging our thoughts and work from the beginning. We thank Anno Kirchner for providing a seminar paper.

We would like to thank all those who were interested in our project: Frauenkultur Leipzig e.V., the OpenStreetMap Deutschland Community, the Saxorum Blog, SKILL2021, the team of #empowerDH and also the team of this blog. We would like to thank Jana Keck for the exchange on Data Feminism and all the people who shared their thoughts on our project with us at an #empowerDH event.

Furthermore, we would like to thank Georg Verweyen for creating quality control charts and helping us to keep the quality of our mapathons high.

This article is licensed under the following license: CC-BY 4.0. When reusing, please include the attribute rel=”canonical” in the link to the original post!

How to cite this Article: Bui, Magdalena, Gleißner, Lea, Kühn, Fey and Nenninger, Amelie (2021): “Questioning Street Names Leipzig: how gender bias affects street naming in Leipzig and how the DH can help make bias visible”. In: Kolodzie, Lisa, Schumacher, Mareike, Seltmann, Melanie and Brenn, Daniel (eds.): Public Humanities. https://publicdh.hypotheses.org/289.

  1. https://www.uni-leipzig.de/studium/vor-dem- studium/studienangebot/studiengang/course/show/digital-humanities-b-sc/ [] []
  2. Marginalized groups are socially marginalized groups that can only participate in social life to a limited extent due to systematic barriers. []
  3. https://data-feminism.mitpress.mit.edu/ – Intersectional feminism considers the impact of multiple forms of discrimination on an individual. []
  4. queer feminism or also post-feminism puts a special focus on sexual minorities. []
  5. A cis person identifies with the gender that was determined at birth []
  6. Non-binary is defined as anyone who does not identify as male or female. []
  7. Inter persons have both female and male biological characteristics expressed and therefore do not fit clearly into the gender binaries of male and female. []
  8. Trans* persons do not identify with the gender that was determined at birth, unlike cis persons. []
  9. Agender persons do not identify with a gender. []
  10. OpenStreetMap creates a variety of maps with the help of volunteers and makes them available. []
  11. Wikidata tags help to link streets with related data from Wikipedia in this case. []
  12. A mapathon is an event where data for maps is collected by volunteers, e.g. for OpenStreetMap. []
  13. We are still waiting for people who want to take over this part, as we have no experience with inclusive website design and barrier- free event access. []

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