The early afternoon of Day of DH saw me prepping for a guest visit to a graduate seminar. The faculty member teaching the seminar met with me at the end of the last semester and told me that she wanted to try something new this time around. The class is organized around our Library’s current exhibition of Seamus Heaney materials, and instead of having her students write a seminar paper, she hoped that they would create a digital surrogate for the exhibit (something that our library currently does not do). We met again last week to talk about the assignment and determined that I would talk to them about designing an exhibit in Omeka and some work on timelines.
The result was that I spent a portion of today re-familiarizing myself with Omeka’s interface and the various ropes within. Amazingly, I had never actually built an exhibit within the platform, so I got to play with that and figure out how it works. Fortunately, it’s really out-of-the-box simple, which is good when you’re trying to cram your preparation. (Thanks, Omeka.net!) For timelines, I showed them TimeMapper, which makes very pretty things, indeed.
But it turns out that the tools are much simpler than all the other things that need to be considered with a project. And so we spent far more time talking about issues such as copyright and trying to brainstorm what their take on the exhibit should perhaps be. What’s the rhetorical entry point for their work? What contribution will they be making to the exhibit that is already in place? Who is the audience that they are imagining for the exhibit? How do the materials and information relate to its different parts and then how will a viewer/user navigate these relationships? In other words, a story board for the project is what they need. A big piece of paper and lots of crayons is what was called for; this is what Bethany Nowviskie has called “graphesis” (see this article and this one). I left the seminar after about 105 minutes. But they stuck around for another 45, working on their imagined design.
It turns out that the most important (and hardest) work in digital humanities projects often depends on non-digital means. The tools are easy; the scholarship, however, abides.
I’ve just spent the last hour or so working with a graduate student in English on his new website. He, like many others, feels it’s important to have some sort of online presence, and I gave him an overview of the different types of web hosting available as well as different content management platforms. Thanks to Emory’s Domain of One’s Own project, he had already heard of Reclaim Hosting and wisely had decide to roll his own site for the low, low price of 12 American dollars.
The only downside of Reclaim Hosting is that its emails get trapped in our institution spam filtering. So once we had sorted that, we got him logged in, discussed the C Panel, and installed WordPress. We then covered WP settings, posts, pages, plugins, themes, and more. He’s still got all the content creation to do still, but he’s left with a framework to build on and a theme that he’s reasonably happy with. And I was pleased to discover once again that it really IS possible to have a fully functioning website in less than an hour.
Of course, as anyone will tell you: building a blog is not really digital humanities. My own Intro to DH students became fond of saying this when I asked them to build their own website. And this is true if you consider digital humanities to be the process of using computers to assist you in the identification of patterns in some sort of humanistic document.
But another way to think of “digital humanities” is what happens to scholarship when it becomes imbricated with digital networks. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this changes things. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has a very good book on the subject. Getting your digital identity sorted is something you’ve got to do at this moment. It’s not topic modeling, but insofar as I’m the digital humanities strategist in these here parts, I’m going to call it good.
As I was explaining to some of my coworkers yesterday, Day of DH started with the goal of trying to make public the work—and the many different types of work—that take place under the rubric of digital humanities. We accomplish this by blogging and tweeting, just making note of what we do throughout the day.
Of course, the not-so-secret part of Day of DH is that one doesn’t get it all done in a single day. And that’s why last night found me in front of my computer, churning through email and the like. In doing that, I found an email from a collaborator with whom I’ve been writing a project proposal. We had been aiming to deliver it on the first of April, but some serious illness interposed. Since she was feeling better, she’d done the last fact check on one of our references. The proposal was ready, so I cleaned up the file and sent it on to one of the Co-Directors of Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship. Only after I clicked ‘send’ did I realize that it would have been more appropriate to wait to send it until this morning, so I could have #DayofDH’d about it. Oh well.
I don’t think that I’m quite ready to share what we hope to do, but I’ll say that it builds on the work that Rebecca Sutton Koeser and I have been doing on the Belfast Group.
Writing this proposal was an interesting experience. A group of us started brainstorming what we could do right before the academic year started, and we followed with some monthly meetings. Given the schedules of some of our collaborators, monthly meetings were about as good as we could do. When we suddenly found ourselves in January, with not a lot of progress made, I made a suggestion that we move the proposal writing group down to a smaller number of individuals. That’s exactly what needed to happen. Following a 90-minute conversation, Lisa Chinn and I knew what direction we wanted to take. A few writing sessions later, we had a proposal ready to go. I hope that we’re able to keep it within scope.
The real lesson here—apart from timing one’s emails to big blogging events—is that while collaboration is important and often a big part of DH work, collaboration isn’t an end in itself. If collaboration isn’t working for you, then there’s nothing “DH” about sticking to its current form. Adapt and get the situation that you need in order to get your work done. Because, at the end of the day, getting your work done is about the most DH thing you could be doing.
While I’ll be blogging some here for Day of DH, you can find other musings at my regular site: http://www.briancroxall.net.