Week 5: Scholarship Through Design: Communication, Collaboration, and Knowledge in Digital Humanities Projects

This week is all about digital humanities as scholarship, through communication, implementation, and collaboration in the field. As scholars and historians move into an increasingly web-based world, it is vital to ask “reporter questions” of the Digital Humanities, analyze examples, and see how we can implement it in our own scholarship, as means of changing modes of historical scholarship, while making sure to maintain a practice of “good” history.

As a means of analyzing the Digital Humanities, one should look no further than the almost encyclopedic examination of the Digital Humanities in Short Guide to the Digital_Humanities Fundamentals. By asking simple, yet important questions, the reader can get a sense of what the Digital Humanities are, what they can be utilized for, and a way to effectively engage in the field, which the Short Guide argues is as far back as World War II. Digital Humanities “stands not on the opposition of the past, but on its shoulders” (Short Guide, 123). As is argued, these projects are both nouns and verbs; they move along the study of the humanities, work to evaluate scholarship, foster an open dialogue between a collaborative number of scholars, and is more inclusive than print alone. The Digital Humanities fosters the growth of interdisciplinary and collaborative work, culminating in an increased level of scholarship and usefulness of the field.

Perhaps the best example of the Short Guide’s explanation is if we look at NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grants as a case study. Perusing the guidelines can initially make your head spin, but each section was created to uphold and support the pursuance of digital scholarship. These grants come in three levels (I,II, and III). Level III assumes that you have already had a previous grant through Levels I or II, but these latter levels are used for mainly start-up costs. The “Narrative” section within these proposals include long term goals of the grant, the environmental scan, the project history, a complete work plan, and the final period including dissemination of the finalized product. As the website mentions, the goal of these proposals is to ensure the finalized product is accessible and free to the public, which mirrors sections of the Short Guide that state digital humanities should promote “citizen scholars” and public knowledge (Short Guide, 126). Below is an example of Stanford University’s Level III Table of Contents for their grant proposal, which not only includes the general subcategories within the Narrative and Abstract sections, but also notes the “user-tester base”, an addition for Level III grants:

While the grant process in particular and digital humanities in general may seem like a complicated process, Matthew Kirschenbaum brings up an excellent point in his article “Done: Finishing Projects in the Digital Humanities”. When is one of these Digital Humanities projects truly finished? If we consider what both the Short Guide and the NEH guidelines state, these projects hold an open and continuous dialogue. And as Kirschenbaum argues, the inherent fluidity of the web and digital products in their very nature are constantly evolving. If this is true, can one ever really finish a digital project? Or is this another aspect of digital scholarship that should be celebrated for its fluidity. Tom Scheinfeldt’s article, “Omeka and Its Peers”, perfectly exemplifies this. Not only does Scheinfeldt notice the changing nature of the web, but he argues free and collaborative projects such as Omeka celebrate the increase of knowledge to not only the public but to different areas of scholarship (i.e. librarians, archivists, editors, programmers).

And if these readings were not in depth or clear enough, Dan Brown’s Communicating Design will certainly fill any void. This “cookbook” of information on the process of web design works as a road-map for anyone interested in design projects. Brown takes the reader through a very complicated process in a simplified and easy-to-follow manner. Specifically, he talks about the documentation that goes with web design, or “deliverables”. He stresses the importance of representing these deliverables by going through three parts of the book: User-needs documentation, Strategy documentation, and Design documentation. Each part includes what he calls “layers” on delineating importance of each task and those involved. While not the same as the NEH guidelines or the Short Guide, one can see that by reading this book there is an extensive process that goes into not only web design, but the communication involved. Through each of Brown’s examples, we can extrapolate that among all of the fine details, communication and collaboration are key to the success of web-based designs and the Digital Humanities as a whole.

While reading these rich texts, we should be thinking about furthering the conversation and continuing to engage with the scholarship:

The Short Guide focuses heavily on where the Digital Humanities began and where it could be going in the future. What is the benefit of understanding where digital humanities originated, where it is now, and where it could be going?

Kirschenbaum celebrates the fact that digital projects may never be “done” completely, but do you agree with him? What are the benefits of the fluid and ever-evolving process of digital humanities projects?

Many of the texts for this week focus on the interdisciplinary and collaborative work that is involved in the Digital Humanities. What are the positives of such work? And what, if any, could be the potential pitfalls?