What Has it All Meant?

Over the last two months, I have spent most of these reflections analyzing digital humanities and the ways in which it continues to perpetuate the same privileges and problems as higher education as a whole. It seems fitting that find some sort of conclusion to that in my last reflection.

I have found myself confronted with the reality that I have been presented with a number of opportunities based on my ability to go to college. I am the first and only member of my family to graduate high school in the United States.  That is a privilege that I don’t think I really understood for a long time. But I was allowed to dream. I was allowed to dream of being whatever I wanted to be.

I got to spend this summer researching and practicing digital humanities. I didn’t have to worry about if this would help me get into law school, because I have always been taught to do what would make me feel happiest at the moment.

That is what I love about digital humanities. The openness of the internet allows for digital humanities to fuel passion projects. The internet allows people to find themselves in rabbit holes and want to learn more. It is a place for creating, learning, and just… being.

So here I am, 8 weeks later. And I feel as though I have finally understood what to do with all of that privilege: who as hard as I can to prove that I earned it.

Week 7 Reflection

The idea of being paid to create knowledge rather than to research seems to be a bit idealistic, but I can see where the DSSF program is coming from. When I think of being paid to research as an undergraduate, I think of the task-oriented style of researching with a professor in the sciences. I think of my friend who is doing political science research and assists her professor in what he asks of her. I don’t think of what we are doing.

Perhaps this is because this is the most open-ended form of research I have ever done. But I do think that there is something to be said about the way I get to do research through DH. I didn’t have to start with a thesis because it isn’t a paper. I started with a topic and let the research take me where it did. I don’t exactly think that this means that I was paid to create knowledge. If anything, I think that means I was paid to create a DH project, which ended up creating knowledge.

Sometimes I don’t think that I am adding that much more to the wealth of global knowledge. But I do think that I am bringing some information that people outside of the Gettysburg community would not be readily aware of, and that makes me feel like I am serving some purpose.

Burdick writes that “[o]pen-source culture possesses a multitude of facets and definitions, comprising many of the attributes already discussed: collaborative authoring, multiple versioning, flexible attitudes toward intellectual property, peer contributions, access to multiple and multiplying communities, and overall patterns of distributed knowledge production, review, and use.” (Burdick 77) The idea that someone, somewhere may view my project and become inspired to create something of their own makes me happy.

Rather than creating the knowledge of reenacting in Gettysburg, I am more proud of creating the knowledge that I can do this… that anyone can do this. The ivory tower is such an established thing, that any chance to dismantle that system is worth it.

Anyone can create knowledge. With or without digital humanities, anyone can create knowledge. Everyone’s experiences, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs add worth and knowledge to the world. In some ways, even though digital humanities are relatively more “open,” they aren’t that much more open.

To view my project, you have to have internet access. Most people that want to view my project would have to understand English. They would most likely have to be aware of digital humanities. That is already such a small population.

However, digital humanities is the next step towards creating a more open concept of knowledge. Twenty years down the line, what we view as ‘open’ will be so different. More people will have access to knowledge. At least, I hope so.

Week 6 Reflection

Every week, we look at more and more Digital Humanities projects, and I find myself wondering where I will fit in. There are many times where I think about how future DSSFs will probably look at my project and critique it. I am not afraid of that, but it is just a fact.

I want them to think that it was an interesting addition to the collection of websites they review. I want them to think that it was well-executed and well-designed.

But more than just wanting them to like my project, I want to take away something from it.

I want anyone who comes across my project to consider the arguments on both sides for living history models. I want them to confront their existing opinion, or consider the ideas for the first time. I think that wanting your audience to think critically about a given topic is pretty common surrounding most published materials in academia, nonetheless, I maintain that this is something that I am heavily considering with every design decision.

I recently changed my theme to my website. It definitely set me back some, both in time devoted to looking into other options and in work put into customizing the website the first time. But I still felt as though it was important. Every day, more likely every minute, I find myself considering whether or not I would visit my own website if it was not mine.

More often than not, my answer is no. Not only do I not see myself spending a large amount of time perusing the digital humanities projects of undergrads. But my internet usage if usually based out of necessity, and not in wandering through different urls. And I think those two things are similar for many other people.

I have found myself stuck in that crisis a few times and have realized that my approach was unproductive and pretty negative. Now I ask myself: if I was to encounter my website, how long would I stay? I spend my time attempting to lengthen the time of my answer with everything I add to my site.

I more likely than not will have an audience mostly consistency of the DH community, and the friends and family I explicitly show my project. But I want them to forget the original goal of seeing my website, the goal of seeing the tools I used or appeasing their annoying friend, and experiencing what I have been experiencing for 6 weeks now. If I can get an audience to just let their guard down enough to actually read what I have to say, I will consider this a success.


Week 5 Reflection

I was doing an interview for my project a few weeks ago where my professor, an alum of the college, told me how different students were. He said that this new email fad where students add all of their titles under their name is so new. Beyond that, we discussed how resume oriented everyone seems to be. I think that new fad proves that there is some truth to Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia’s article.

They argue that digital humanities “is, instead, about the promotion of project-based learning and lab-based research over reading and writing, the rebranding of insecure campus employment as an empowering “alt-ac” career choice, and the redefinition of technical expertise as a form (indeed, the superior form) of humanist knowledge.” And I don’t think they are wrong. There is something to be said about the amount of time that I have caught one of us saying, “well at least I can say I learned this tool.” But is that really true?

We have learned all of these tools to serve our purposes, but we haven’t really worked all of these tools. The idea of project-based learning is somewhat in line with the way we were taught to write essays.  Is learning just enough WordPress to turn out a website really any different than writing an essay in the 11th hour for a grade?

Can I really say that I can create a digital humanities project after this? I can say I created this one. But there is really no telling if the next time I do this it will take any less time. I think it would be slightly ignorant for any of us to think that we have really conquered the heart of some of these tools.

And then, there is the funding. The article argues that “[t]he work that the NEH and the Mellon Foundation tend to fund remains largely confined to the “tools and archives” paradigm that many in Digital Humanities claim to have surpassed, but that continues to drive the institutional expansion of Digital Humanities through its likely receipt of major research grants. This is no coincidence. Digital Humanities enabled the creation of new pools of funding specifically devoted to an entirely new conception of the humanities that was promulgated by a small minority within English departments.” The concept that we are being paid to do what we are doing, while very nice, makes me question the worth of what I am doing.

Realistically, I don’t think my work is going to positively or negatively affect anyone, other than myself. It seems a tad ridiculous that foundations are funding these programs instead of putting that money to a more worthy cause.

However, I don’t think this is the fault of the digital humanities ideology. I think it is the fault of the ideology of higher education. We have, as a society, turned higher education into training epicenters for white collar jobs. We all pride ourselves as being so open-ended in our learning processes, but we are just as goal oriented as a vocational school.

We can all do better to think of the real-life effects of what why are doing way up in the ivory tower. We need to fix this privileged ideology of education for the sake of education. There is so much that needs fixing in this world, and if we are among the privileged few that get to receive a higher education, we owe to ourselves, and the rest of the world to create a system that breeds altruistic intellectuals, rather than resume-obsessed ladder-climbers.

Reflection Week 4 #TransformDH

I have often struggled with what my identity means in an academic context. Within anthropology, I often find myself writing about being an Indian-American woman in my essays, and speaking about my viewpoint in class. But most of the time, I felt like it was a safety net in case I didn’t have anything else to add. At least my experience speaks to what we are talking about, right?

But now reading about #TransformDH, I fear that my project is on the opposite side of the spectrum. I am a woman of color. However, if it wasn’t for my name no one who views my project would know that. That didn’t bother me. I am not sure if it does now.

While I think that it is important that many voices join to be a part of the world’s narrative, I don’t think that it is important that their identity is put on a pedestal above their actual work in the name of diversity. My project is not about diversity, race, or gender, so I don’t think my identity needs to be this pivotal aspect of my work.

I think #TransformDH is important when the work is indicative of that ideology, but not when the creator just happens to be something other than a straight white man.

I find it troublesome to know that whatever I do, my identity will always be preceded by my race and gender, but I have learned to accept it is as a positive. Here’s how:

My work is transformative. But not for the reasons one would think if they had read “Reflections on a Movement.” My work is not transformative because I am a woman of color. However, because I am a woman of color, I am more sensitive to the stories that are pushed out of the spotlight. I chose to talk about performance and storytelling in Gettysburg because there is so much more to this town than people realize.

When I go home to Philadelphia, my friends call Gettysburg ‘Hicksville.’ Back home, Gettysburg has a reputation for being backward and agriculture. But there is so much more to Gettysburg than that image that is so ingrained in these urban areas. There is an industrialized mindset when it comes to tourism in Gettysburg. Creators of entertainment businesses are innovative and always looking to expand.

There is, perhaps, a socioeconomic divide between the world of performance and Gettysburg. Maybe even a political one. But if there wasn’t my job would be too easy.

It would be easy to look at the history of Broadway and call that scholarship. It would be easy to look at the golden age of Hollywood.

Analyzing my scholarship as transformative based on my identity borders on tokenism. We all, regardless of gender, race, class or creed, can do better, be better, to #TransformDH together.

Reflection #3

Confession: I have never conducted research before.

Okay, so I have, in the not-so-traditional sense. My research consisted of reading the books my professors told me to read and writing a paper on them or interviewing the person my editor told me to interview and writing an article about them. I have never sat down… in a library… for eight weeks… and conducted research.

I remember telling people about what I was doing this summer and everyone looking at me confused. My dad asked… no… exclaimed... “why would someone pay you to research something you want to research?” I honestly still do not know the answer. But with that obvious boost in my confidence, I was terrified that I would need to prove myself to the DSSF committee every day.

You can imagine my fear subsided when I realized my cohort were all older than me and had already conducted research before, ABSOLUTELY NOT. Now, not only did I have to prove myself to the committee, but I had to prove myself to my cohort.

Introducing myself on the first day, I was so scared that everyone would think my research was pointless or that I totally did not know what I was doing (which is absolutely true). But as days and weeks went by, I realized that everyone was afraid of something. Gus and I bonded over the fear of being unable to articulate what we are actually researching. Maddie and I have laughed over how confusing the ‘digital’ side of DH is. Ivana and I have motivated each other when we felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. We all have laughed when we didn’t know where we were going with our research, now that I think about it.

The cohort has allowed me to vent about what I am worried about but has also provided tremendous support and encouragement. Ivana, Gus, and I went up and listened to the 1971 recording of Jesus Christ Superstar while we sifted through boxes of archives. Those moments of building community have taught me why DH is important. Rather than comparing ourselves and trying to be better than each other, the cohort helps each other. Emma has shared oral histories with me that she found relevant. Gus has told me about random plays. Somehow, those are some of my favorite finds. The links between my research and the other members’ research make this experience richer. It no longer is five individuals working in the same space, but five colleagues working together.

The committee has been amazing in facilitating the community within the fellows, especially in blending us with the DTSFs and the DSSRFs and allowing us to have time to just talk and get to know each other. The great thing about learning in this type of environment, rather than a class, is that community building in such a key feature. We have time set aside to network and bond and communicate. Talking to Craig (shout out to Craig) at the Bucknell lunch about his research allowed us all to discuss a different side of research. His research isn’t all archives and old dusty books, and it brought out this side that made us all excited again.

I am so excited for all the progress we have all already made, and I am even more excited about the progress that we will have made when these eight weeks are up.

Reflection #2

One of the most interesting digital tools that we learned last week was StoryMapJS. StoryMapJS is a great digital tool to tell stories that have geographical data associated with them. For me, I liked StoryMapJS better than utilizing ArcGIS because it is more user-friendly, both as a creator and an audience. ArcGIS was very confusing to me, while StoryMapJS just requires easy plug-in for great results.

This digital tool will be able to help me answer the important places that practice performance in Gettysburg, mapped out. This digital tool is free to use, which is great because it follows the ideology of accessibility of digital humanities. StoryMapJS requires location, text, and images. It would be important to make sure whatever media I use is free use. It is very important to me that the tools remain open source.

Some biases that StoryMapJS have made is that every ‘map’ is geographic in its nature. So, even if it is analyzing a painting, it is still reading as a map, technically. While that can be great, sometimes it may not be the best option, as images need to be extremely large in rendering.

I can not see how often the code is updated, so I don’t know if that would mean that something would break and never be able to be fixed.

Some other possible issue with StoryMapJS is that certain data is not great for mapping. While this will work for me because my data is condensed to one area, for data that covers the globe, it would be dizzying and annoying to use. The tool is easy to use and does not require outside expert or special technical skills.

I think that would use StoryMapJS for my project because it would add another layer of depth to my website.

Project Charter

  • Project Name
    • The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Why Gettysburg Performs
  • Project Owner
    • Gauri Mangala
  • Project Summary
    • My project centers around the town of Gettysburg’s involvement in performance as a means of storytelling. Starting from the Gettysburg Address, Gettysburg has remained strong in its cultural roots as a historic landmark.
      • My research question: How has Lincoln’s call to action to remember what happened on the battlefield affected the way the people of Gettysburg remember history and tell stories?
      • In 8 weeks, I hope to have a specific understanding of the development of performance in Gettysburg College and a general understanding of the development of performance in the town of Gettysburg.
      • I believe my audience will most likely be people involved with the town of Gettysburg, either as residents, or regular tourists.
  • Deliverables
    • Photos/Videos/Audios of performances
    • Oral Histories
    • College History Books
    • Video interviews
    • Theory books on performance and the Gettysburg Address
    • TimelineJS
    • StoryMapJS
    • WordPress? Omeka? Who knows?
  • Timeline
    • Week 1:  preliminary college research
    • Week 2: plan interviews, finish basic college research, choose digital tools
    • Week 3: preliminary town research, adapt college research into embedded tools
    • Week 4: finish basic college research, finish digitization
    • Week 5: finish interviews (except for special circumstances), create all pages and embed college research
    • Week 6: adapt town research and publish to website, edit film
    • Week 8: practice practice practice, and edit website
  • End of Life/Future Plans
    • As I am only going into my sophomore year of college, my ultimate goal would be to continue this research. The more that I do this, I realize that maybe that will transfer itself into getting involved in Special Collections and continuing to archive performance materials and move them to my website, but in one way or another I want to continue this for as long as I am involved with Gettysburg.