“Project” as Scholarly Genre: Designing Digital Projects

The reading for class this week are all very helpful tools to get us started with our projects for this course. They can serve as a jumping off point as we start to consider how we will implement digital history this semester and beyond. 

The two chapters from Guiliano essentially explain exactly why we have these readings for this week. 

Jennifer Guiliano, A Primer for Teaching Digital History

Chapter 2 – Learning Outcomes

Guiliano explains how learning outcomes in a digital history class differ from traditional history classes. She then outlines three learning outcomes that she thinks make the most sense: historical learning, methodological application, and technological proficiency. All of these things have to connect and be clear to students in how they fit together. She therefore explains that it could be beneficial to go thematically through a course rather than chronologically, or have students make their own timeline. She also outlines the importance of a digital history review assignment to understand course outcomes, and projects that require students to work together. 

Ch. 3 – New Forms of Assignments

Guiliano explains that Digital history does not benefit from analog assignments such as written essays. Moreover, humanities professors found that students often started out disinterested because they were used to assignments that they had little control over. 

Therefore, Guiliano introduces the idea of an “unessay” where students set the standards for how they will present what they learned. She also proposes micro-projects that ask students to complete one step of the digital history process they have learned. 

Trevor Owens and his digital history graduate students 🙂 are mentioned on page 58 with the fact that we propose two different types of projects and can choose one. A big takeaway from this chapter is to be open about failure, understand that the process is not perfect or linear, and to be open minded. 

This then raises questions posed by Kirschenbaum, in “Done: Finishing Projects in the Digital Humanities” 

He asks “What is the measure of ‘completeness’ in a medium where the prevailing wisdom is to celebrate the incomplete, the open-ended, and the extensible?” This will be important to consider as we outline our projects and what we hope to take away from them.

Furthermore, many of the readings for this week are prescriptive guides that we can use throughout the process of completing our projects.

Daniel Brown, Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning

Brown Introduces the importance of communicating the design deliverables and lists 10 possibilities. He explains that each deliverable is layered like a cake with different levels of useful information that come with it. The 10 deliverables are: 

  1. Personas – A picture of the site’s target users that comes from audience research. This helps you prioritize content and system features as you know basic info as well as behavior and tendencies of potential users. This is particularly for the design team so they know what they’re going for and is mostly used at the beginning of the design process to create a framework 
  2. Usability Test Plan – This is a plan for how the team will assess the project. It is usually long and explicit about purpose, logistics, and methodology. They can differ in scale, but can be helpful to everyone on the project. Test plans can pair with other user needs documents
  3. Usability Report – This is the documentation after the test (that you previously planned) that gives you the readings and results. They can happen at multiple points in the process and help especially the design team know what users think. It compiles the feedback and analyzes it.
  4. Competitive Analysis – This helps the design team place the product in context. It gives a  baseline understanding of what works and what doesn’t as shaped by the competitors and the competitive framework. It usually comes at the beginning to get a lay of the land. Think of it like a literature review.
  5. Concept Models – Essentially, concept models illustrate how different ideas relate to each other. It is as much about brainstorming as it is about presenting the ideas. They can look like a lot of different models like webs, flow charts, etc. Brown suggests starting with nouns or ideas and then connecting them
  6. Content Inventory – This is literally a list of everything on the website. It gives the design team the scope of the site. It is most likely laid out on spreadsheets.
  7. Site Maps -These present the structure and hierarchy of information on the site. It can be an org chart or a much more complicated web. It shows how the site will be constructed/ However, one downside is that sometimes you can get stuck on labels and hierarchy.
  8. Flow Charts – Usually represents a series of screens or displays for users. It helps visualize the user experience.
  9. Wireframes – A simplified view of the content that will appear on each screen. This also helps to visualize what the end product looks like. 
  10. Screen Designs – The closest to what the final product will look like, but it doesn’t work yet until it’s built in HTML. This shows stakeholders and other team members what the plan is. 

To me, it seemed like this might be one of the more helpful readings in outlining exactly what we should be thinking about with our projects.

 IDEO. The Field Guide to Human Centered Design.

The authors of this guide explain that human centered design is based in the belief that the people who face a problem are the ones who hold the solution. They outline the human centered design process and explain that it is all about thinking outside the box. The authors outline the mindsets that set such designers apart as Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure. With this in mind, the field guide offers countless exercises, experiments, and thought activities that help to frame and complete a project. Again, it is a text you can refer back to throughout the semester to find direction with our projects. 

Burdick, Drucker, Luenfeld, Presner, Schnapp, Short Guide to the Digital_Humanities Fundamentals

The authors of this guide explain that “Digital Humanities is less a unified field than an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which print is no longer the primary medium in which knowledge is produced and disseminated.” They also explain that digital humanities is not just using digital tools to study humanities and it’s not just the study of digital artifacts. It is a field that brings together social sciences and hard sciences, and builds on traditional forms of research. 

The guide emphasizes project based scholarship and outlines that projects are “a kind of scholarship that requires design, management, negotiation, and collaboration.” A lot of different groups and disciplines are usually involved. Similar to Guiliano, the authors assert that projects must be evaluated in their intended medium and for intellectual rigor over success. They also lists very similar learning outcomes to Guiliano, which are Ability to integrate digital methods, Ability to understand, analyze, and use data, Critical savvy for assessing sources and data, Ability to use design critically, Ability to assess information and information technologies critically, and Ability to work collaboratively.

There are also two readings that help to understand what a “completed” project could look like. 

Trevor asked us to look at NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grants, specifically the narrative section of proposals. I looked through a proposal titled Freedom’s Movement: Mapping African American Space in War and Reconstruction.  

This project tells an historical story about a black soldier in the Union army and the difficulty in finding archival records about him. The proposal asks for a grant to extend and integrate three existing digital humanities projects–Visualizing Emancipation, African American Civil War Soldiers, and the Last Road to Freedom. The outline that “The end result will be a project that actively engages scholarly and genealogical audiences, and one that is useful both to teachers and students at the high school and college level and to specialists in the field.” The researchers also outline a work plan and deliverables. 

In looking at this proposal, it is helpful to see what a digital history project can look like and incorporate all of the aforementioned lessons.

The last thing that we had to read for this week was the article from Scheinfeldt, “Omeka and Its Peers.” This is a helpful background on Omeka as a unique digital tool, which we will be seeing demonstrated in the practicum. 

In class we’ll be thinking about how all of these ideas apply to our own projects and goals for the semester. 

Introducing Katie Peter

Hi everyone! I’m Katie Peter, a second year in the Public History MA program at AU. I am originally from Buffalo, New York, which means I am contractually obligated to remind you that this is the year the Bills are going to win the Superbowl (if we say it every year, one year we’ll have to be right). Growing up in my beloved, snowy, rust-belt city, I fell in love with local history at a young age. By fourth grade, I was already building dioramas of the McKinley assassination to tell my class my favorite thing about New York State. I was also reading every biography and historical fiction book I could get my hands on. Thus began my journey as a weird history kid (pictured below, excited to crush my sisters in trivia). 

Christmas morning 2009

As I got older, I thought I wanted to be a journalist because I loved telling true stories. Just like Kit Kittredge the American Girl, I established school papers in both middle school and high school. Then I got a little older and a little more jaded, and decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I graduated high school and entered college with every intention of going to law school. I was an American Studies and Political Science major at SUNY Geneseo with my sights set on the LSATs. 

Then I remembered I was a weird history kid. The Geneseo history department opened my eyes and showed me it was still possible to spend my life telling people my favorite stories. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in History and American Studies (I kept a political science minor) and got to read and write about a wide variety of topics, from urban planning, to women’s suffrage, to TV dads. In my senior year I completed a year-long project about the popular memory of blizzards in Buffalo. I conducted over thirty oral history interviews, and combed through decades of print and tv news to understand how people felt about the snow. Not only was it fun, but it was so rewarding to bring attention to the rich history of my own community. It inspired me to pursue a Master’s degree in public history because I wanted to share history with people.

At American University, I feel like I have come full circle. If only my younger self could see me now. For one, I met all of the other weird history kids who have now all congregated in Washington, DC. I have gotten to learn and experience so many cool things that I can hopefully bring into a career in the museum world. I also work as a public history fellow for the White House Historical Association, where I get to research and write about presidential history, just like I did as a fourth grader. My current research interests include (but are not limited to) first ladies and pop culture. My hope is that this course will help me to tell even more stories, make them more accessible, and share history with people.

Me and some of my friends from the public history program all dressed as American Girl Dolls. I am Kit, of course.