Week One Reflective Essay

So you ask, what does your DH look like? And that is a valid question. Digital Humanities is such a personalized look into scholarship, that it will look different from one person to the next. I am reminded of our conversation surrounding digitization, and if that counts as scholarship in and of itself. Well, is it? Maybe not, probably not. But I do think it is DH. Or, at least, it is a facilitator for Digital Humanities. Without it, many practitioners of DH could not do their jobs.

Our working definition of Digital Humanities is as follows:

“Digital Humanities encompasses any humanistic inquiry facilitated by digital technologies. Digital humanists use tools for mapping, data visualization, text analysis, online exhibits, digital collections, storytelling, and more to interpret, analyze, and present research across all disciplines to a broad audience. Digital Humanities work is characterized by collaborative approaches, public engagement, openness, and transparency. We value process and experimentation as well as scholarly outcomes.”

DH seems to be about equality. Digital Humanities remove the labels of education and allow anyone, regardless of regular collegiate degrees, to take part in a global discussion about given topics that interest them. While expecting that that is a possibility with the current state of the world is a bit problematic, I do think that it is an honest and innocent attempt to make scholarship accessible. Conversely, the internet provides a forum for someone to truly escape the ‘canon.’ For example, when you walk into a library, yes, you can hope that the information residing on the shelves was chosen to represent the interests of the patrons, not the librarians. However, librarians will have to make executive choices surrounding which books are picked and which are not. On the internet, for the most part, these decisions do not need to be made. Every word, every article, every (hopefully-functional) website has equal right to be there.

The goals of openness and transparency aid in this attempt but more than that, allow readers to be able to add to the conversation. Openly presenting your sources and ways in which you displayed information makes it easier for audiences to continue the work. This promotes lifelong learning. When you write a scholarly text, the goal is to be published, and that’s it. Sure, some choose to continue and edit and publish new editions, but that’s not as common as it probably should be. With digital humanities, publishing a website does not have to be the end of the story.

It is so much easier to edit and republish on websites, encouraging ‘scholars’ (a term I use loosely here) to continue their work. And that’s a great thing. If a scholar is, for example, analyzing changes in leadership from the 1800s to the present, they have the ability to keep extending their work with every new change in leadership that comes and goes.

For me, I want to make sure that I create an open and safe space for other contributors to add to the conversation that I hope to facilitate with my research. While that may be a lofty goal, I do believe that it is possible.

What DH Means to Me

Before I started this fellowship I had never heard of Digital Humanities before. When people would ask me what I was doing over the summer I would mix up the words saying things like “a research fellowship that’s digital scholars and humanities” or something similar. They would ask for further information and I would simply say, “I’m doing a project but at the end instead of coming up with a paper I make a website.” It was only sitting in our sessions the first week of the fellowship that I realized how wrong I had been. Digital Humanities is not simply making a website instead of writing a paper. It involves and allows so many other aspects to scholarship than straight academia requests. Through reflecting over the last week I have come to understand Digital Humanities to be most importantly about doing work that’s not simply for me by engaging the public with pleasing visuals and room for input in order to teach and communicate rather than prove something.
Throughout the entirety of my academic career, I have always done work that stays between myself and my professors. I never had to think about how someone without expertise in the subject would view my work and this shaped the way I wrote. I left terms unexplained and made a great deal of assumptions that would never come across correctly in a public setting. In starting my current project, I have had to spend a great deal of time figuring out exactly how to define the terms modern and postmodern which has proven to be much more difficult than I ever thought it would be. This is because the goal of this project is in large part to teach. Therefore, I must work for coherency and clarity like I never have before.
I have thought a great deal about ways in which to present my research as well, which is a key component to Digital Humanities scholarship. I have been a web user for most of my life, yet I have rarely been a website creator. I have often been frustrated by a website’s functionality or design and now I find myself responsible for avoiding the mistakes that make that frustration possible. I have always been a design person. I love colors and I can recognize when visuals are well put together. I worked for a few years in a flower shop, often designing arrangements for weddings and parties. I think that in many ways, though the work is completely different, designing flowers is not so different from Digital Humanities. When you make an arrangement, you have to put everything perfectly together to make a whole that is beautiful and pleasing to the eye. There are many small components that go into it, and the grunt work behind preparing flowers for an event is often difficult and almost always unseen. But the finished product is for the public. There are many people that will look at your flowers, and scrutinize them by bringing their own opinions and tastes to the table. You may have done the design and all the work to create that product, but it was never meant for you. It was always meant for others to enjoy.
Digital Humanities is scholarship, but it is scholarship that engages with others and asks for feedback and collaboration. There should always be room to allow people to comment and participate. It should not end when you finish researching, there should be some continuation, whether that be by you, or those who view your work.

Redefining DH- One Year Later

Defining Digital Humanities is a nebulous task. We spent a while defining and refining our perception of DH last year. I do not, however, have a solid definition of DH that I use for myself. I went through many blog posts last year trying to understand DH for myself, from the first post to the last. It became a frequent topic of discussion in our cohort and at conferences. I mused on the topic in overly wordy ways, and even got trendy to appeal to those on social media.

Despite all this work, I am still refining my definition of DH. This adaptability is one of the qualities I most admire about DH. I can come back to my initial definition a year later and apply my new experiences to create a more nuanced definition.

My DH is open above all. It engages with an audience and is approachable. It is transparent. It creates excitement in its audience. It can and will change over time to fit the needs and values of the community surrounding digital excellence.

Digital Humanities is the use of digital technology to inform academic work and promote collaboration and communication.

In all this discussion, I am using my personal definition of DH that guides my own work. Creating a definition that can inform a broad group about DH values is a harder task. Luckily, Musselman Library has created one for use at Gettysburg College, so I need not worry.

The library definition is as follows:

Digital Humanities encompasses any humanistic inquiry facilitated by digital technologies. Digital humanists use tools for mapping, data visualization, text analysis, online exhibits, digital collections, storytelling, and more to interpret, analyze, and present research across all disciplines to a broad audience. Digital Humanities work is characterized by collaborative approaches, public engagement, openness, and transparency. We value process and experimentation as well as scholarly outcomes.

This definition works for the library. It encompasses a variety of DH tools and uses for those tools. This allows people outside the DH community to understand DH and envision what types of projects it can produce. This definition is far more public facing than mine because it needs to be. It reads like a mission statement, proclaiming the purpose of DH at Gettysburg College to the world.

This definition is open, far more open than any I had crafted. It does not use words like “project” or “academic work,” instead opting for the all-encompassing human inquiry. This expands the sources that DH can come from. It is not limited to professors, researchers, or students like me. Any curious mind with the capacity to create digitally can produce DH works under this definition.

Definitions of DH can vary greatly in length and specificity, but they all share similar ideas. The website What is Digital Humanities? has a collection of definitions from many sources. Last year, this website annoyed me. It had too many definitions and I could never find the same one twice. But that is a strength of this website. Users are constantly exposed to new definitions and can think about DH in a different way.

I was satisfied with my understanding of DH last summer and thought I had an encompassing definition for DH. I realize that is not the case. To improve my understanding and definition of DH, I will reexamine my ideas every year as I and this community grow.

Week One Reflective Essay

In a lot of ways, Digital Humanities (DH) is exactly what it sounds like in that it combines the content areas and goals of humanities — scholarship about the unique things that make us human — with digital methods and mediums. Coming into the program, I assumed that was all there was to it; however, the readings, sessions, and discussions over the past week have helped me understand that DH is more complex than that. Initially I conceived of digital projects — or at the very least digital projects that would be manageable for a beginner like me — as a digitized version of a traditional project. Our very first discussion about DH indicated that not only was that not the case, but that DH is largely opposed to such projects on a philosophical level. The philosophy of DH, whether explicitly or implicitly stated, emphasizes innovation and creativity within the scope of scholarship. Merely digitizing an otherwise traditional project does not raise new questions or challenge prevailing ideas of what constitutes an academic work. Instead, DH projects try and trailblaze new avenues.

The innovative aspect of DH means there is more risk for failure, but the Musselman DH committee has encouraged me to think of failures in a positive way. Not only are failures a natural result of trying new things, they are also excellent teachers; after you fail in one way, you can learn about how to proceed in other ways and also to apply the same lessons in future situations. Lisa Spiro writes in one essay about DH as a discipline (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/13) that “experimentation” is a key aspect of DH. Experimentation is the union of failure and innovation where the former yields the latter.

Many of the innovations in DH have been in making academia more accessible. The major thing that drew me to DH was its emphasis on openness — indeed, both Lisa Spiro and Dr. Amanda Visconti (http://literaturegeek.com/2016/07/21/dlf-digital-humanities-what-why-how) recognized that accessibility and openness are characteristic of DH. At the most explicit level, traditional humanities projects tend to be locked behind monetary access gates, whereas DH projects are usually more democratic by being freely available for those who can access the internet. Moreover — and less explicitly — the audience of traditional humanities projects are college-educated academics who are immersed in a particular subject area. DH projects tend to be more oriented to a less informed but no less interested public. The language of DH projects tends to be less esoteric and is an invitation rather than a barrier. I was delighted to read the term “passionate amateur” in a few of our readings this week because I think it accurately points to those who benefit the most from DH. Practitioners and users alike can be “passionate amateurs” in DH and neither will be left out.

My project, while firmly rooted in academia, aims to show all of these unique sides of DH — creativity, experimentation, and accessibility — by allowing the users’ freedom to navigate through the site to bring them to new (and hopefully exciting) revelations.

ILE Reflective Essay #1

Before our conversations on the definition of digital humanities, I thought DH was a collection of information given to a person and turned into several digital format. Over the span of the week, my definition changed drastically. After discussing possible definitions of digital humanities with the other fellows and librarian partners, my definition has changed into something more multidimensional. My current definition of digital humanities revolves heavily on the process rather than the rapid process creating digital forms of information passed and not researched. Digital humanities is focused on the research and goal of public education through digital formats like websites.

I recall a conversation where we discussed the importance of research during the process in digital humanities. During this conversation, I was shocked at the authors interpretation of digital humanities. Research is probably the most important aspect of digital humanities because it guides the project. If the end goal of a digital humanities project is to teach and educate, the researcher must be well versed in their project. My definition of digital humanities changed after that conversation because I began to see my misunderstanding of digital humanities. My original definition of digital humanities incorporated a small amount of the academic side, but I ignored the importance of a complete understanding of the research project.

Another aspect of digital humanities that I have encountered is the justification for the decisions I will make. This is something I am having a difficult time with. This week I struggled with a slight shift in my main idea – I have collected a lot of good information and I keep finding more, but I reached a point where I could not justify the grouping of my information. We then had a workshop on user experience and target audiences which was relieving. Instead of looking at the project as the creator, I was able to look at it through possible personas interacting with my work. I benefited from the workshop because I was given permission to step away from the project and I had to think of it as someone that has never heard my project.

Digital humanities, to me, is about research of the chosen topic to create accessibility and understanding for those that might not have direct access resources. My favorite aspect of digital humanities is the possibility of failure without a number or letter assigned to my final product. As a college student, we are able to explore areas that we are interested with limitations. We have to make sure that our products do not significantly affect our class grade and we have to cater to the professor. My goal is to cater to more than one person which is nice because the feedback becomes more of an average rather than something that is pointed. I am sure my definition of digital humanities will change as I learn more, but I am happy with my current definition and I am open to having the definition change over time.