Making and Expanding DH Communities

Community and collaboration are two aspects that are integral to DH. DH is meant to be open, and it cannot be so without a great community with which to collaborate. So, this past week we traveled to Bucknell to meet with the current Digital Scholarship Summer Research Fellows. This meeting allowed us to get to know other undergraduates working with DH and see how other Digital Scholarship programs function.

Since I was a part of the DSSF cohort last year, I had an opportunity to make connections in the DH community before the other DSSF18 fellows. We went to conferences and meet-ups to see how other DH programs were taking shape at colleges. It was interesting to see how different institutions built their DH programs to meet their needs. After one conference, we discussed the differences between and strengths of our programs with other DH students.

We met with Bucknell students last year as well, although it was much later in the summer. At that point, we were able to compare and critique each other’s projects to help strengthen the final product. This summer, our meet up was about learning new skills and listening to project ideas that were still being formulated. We stressed collaboration. DSSF students and DSSRF students offered advice on what tools to use and how to frame their projects to make them engaging. We were able to swap knowledge to help each other’s projects grow.

This sharing of knowledge and expertise to strengthen DH as a whole is an aspect of the community that is particularly pronounced through social media. DH uses digital connectivity to pass information along to newcomers. Last year, a lab session was conducted in which the fellows used Twitter for DH and explored the DH Slack page. We used Twitter at this past meet up to share information and show what our programs were doing. These methods of communication make it easy to stay in contact with others in the DH field.

The cohort this year is a strong community. We are all living in one apartment where it is relatively easy to share information with each other. We only need to knock on a door to get immediate feedback and help. We share ideas and swap sources constantly to help each other succeed during this program. That same sense of community should expand to the rest of DH, both on this campus and in the wider DH world.

We can help others in DH who are not a part of this program by sharing knowledge and encouraging DH work. Many of our lab sessions are open to the public so that other student researchers living on campus over the summer can benefit from this program. We can share and collaborate about our programs. This past year, as our Digital Scholarship Office was trying to set up public sessions, I reached out to DH students at Muhlenberg College for advice, as they had run similar sessions. They replied and helped me to feel more prepared.

DH is meant to be open. We value open access tools and the sharing of information, as it makes the community stronger. People can build upon each other’s work and lift up projects and tools that succeed. While I made a DH community last year, it is always possible to expand and grow in the DH community. I am not done with this community, and I hope to collaborate more over the coming weeks.

ILE Reflection #3

We spent the first two weeks looking at different projects to help us better understand tool that are available. Each example of a digital humanities project has been unique – a diverse display of projects within the DH community. I don’t know how far my project will go, but I know it will serve as an example for future DSSF cohorts. As we learn more and more about DH we are reassured that our work is valuable to the larger community. Digital humanist are interested in the work of undergraduates because they are a small part of the larger DH community.
Collaborating with the DSSF cohort has shaped my understanding of my project. From the beginning, we agreed that constant feedback and sharing of information are essential to the success of our projects. Not only have we gained information for our projects, but we are also learning to talk about them for people that are not familiar with our projects. I am researching the history of Gettysburg College; although the other fellows do not have a similar research question, we have all found information that benefits the work of one another.
The trip to Bucknell was not what I was expecting. Our time there was dedicated to learning Omeka. Learning to add metadata and creating exhibits felt independent and not a community practice, however, my table felt comfortable asking each other for help when needed. Unfortunately, we did not spend time working with each other as cohorts, but rather as individuals. The DH community covers different aspects academia. The trip to Bucknell taught me that unity within a practice is essential to understand what we are doing. No one person understands fully comprehends all the tools available to the cohort; sharing the skills can help improve someone’s project and you can have fun while doing so.

A Community of Practice

When I thought of doing research this summer, the thought of community was not close to my mind. I pictured myself sitting alone somewhere doing work, not engaging a great deal with other people. When I got settled in this fellowship, I realized how important our community of practice really is. While there are a great many ways in which we still have to take responsibility for our own work, there are always people to catch us when we fall, and encourage us to move forward through our research.

Being thrown into living with the people that I’m working with this summer has taught me a great deal about valuing community. When we’re at the library doing our work, we inevitably come across frustrations in our research. But when we got home for the night, we are able to distress with people who are going through precisely the same thing. When I get excited by an idea, I know to go tell my fellow cohorts to test it out on them and get some feedback. Living and working with the same people creates a system of support that offers empathy in so many circumstances.

Of course, it is so helpful to have the research partners in the library as well. When we are able to interact with people who have been working in the DH field for longer than we have, we are able to hear their knowledge. The task set before me would be a daunting one if I did not have Clint and the rest of the librarians to offer guidance when I started to lose hope. I think in terms of the library, our sharing session on Friday really showcased the value of our community here. I had spoken to a few of my fellow students about feeling drained last week and struggling to stay motivated. A couple of us mentioned this in our session, and all the librarians agreed. Being apart of this community means that we are not alone but instead we are able to share our emotions and our thoughts with people who will support us.

Through our sessions we have met other people at Gettysburg doing DH work. It has been interesting to see their projects and the range. We have Kolbe fellows who are more straight humanities oriented than our cohort, yet they are able to incorporate digital aspects to their projects. Then we have the DTSF’s whose projects are in the technology field. They are not doing humanities per say, but they are a part of of our community because often they come to our sessions to learn beside us. There are also faulty members who participate in our sessions and engage in conversation with us about the nuances of Digital Humanities.

Lastly, we were able to meet the fellows at Bucknell last week. While I wasn’t able to talk to all of them extensively, I was able to talk to a boy named Craig about his project. He was studying the way that the media portrays mental health issues and I thought his project was fascinating. It spurred a conversation amongst my table about this issue in society. I think we were in some ways able to give Craig some ideas that he may explore in his research.

Research seems like a rather individual and lonely practice, but when it is Digital Humanities research, the principles ring true and call for the importance of collaboration and openness throughout the community.

Week Three Reflective Essay

As someone who is much more familiar with the Humanities side of Digital Humanities, I knew that the collaborative nature of this fellowship would be unfamiliar. Luckily, the fellowship is set up to both model and facilitate good practice for working together with peers and mentors alike. Watching the DSSF committee work together throughout the process has set a good example for the way scholarly discussion can flourish in a community. The committee has not only demonstrated how to collaborate, but it has also allowed me (and the other members of the student cohort) to join in discussions about what DH means and what it can do. Our Wednesday discussions about DH as a discipline as well as our planning sessions on Mondays and Fridays provide a unique space where, regardless of experience in the field of DH, all members of the DSSF community can share their ideas. These sessions are particularly important in a college setting where the professor-student relationship is often slanted such that knowledge moves in only one direction – professor to student. It is really refreshing to have a more open discussion where I feel my knowledge is valued and I can also gain from others’ knowledge.

I have also seen collaboration in the public sessions of the DSSF workshops. I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to professors (shout out to Dr. Robertson) about their research plans and feel that, despite the fact that our projects did not overlap, I was part of a collaborative effort of discovering the possibilities of DH. The public sessions have also been available to Kolbe Fellows and DTSFs, so I can see how DH extends beyond those explicitly involved it in—that is, sometimes people who are using DH methods and principles to guide their work would not necessarily describe it as DH.

Our trip to Bucknell this past week allowed me to collaborate with members far from home, while continuing to talk to those closest to my DSSF experience – namely the student cohort. While most of our time was spent learning a new tool, I most enjoyed the time we had to discuss our projects. I was inspired by the big dreams the other students had for their projects and by their model I started thinking about my project in terms of possibility rather than limitation. I was also able to hear their perspective of ways to improve my project with all the possibilities of DH. On the ride back from Bucknell I was able to see how my experience was similar to and different from that of one of the other members of my cohort, thus tying together my discussions with the Bucknell DSSRF cohort and the Gettysburg DSSF.

My cohort has been invaluable to my experience in the DSSF program because hearing about their projects continues to give me new perspectives on my own work. Moreover, I really enjoy learning about the other directions DH can take a project; my work in DH will not conclude with this project, so even things that will not directly benefit this project will be of use to me in the future. I think DH collaboration is at its best when all members come with both insight and willingness to learn (the former being much easier to come confidently with). I am grateful to the members of my cohort, the DSSF committee, and everyone else with whom I have engaged with DH who have exemplified this balance.

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.