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.

One Reply to “What DH Means to Me”

  1. Design work is a huge component of DH, and it’s always frustrating to see a DH project that has a lot of potential but is not really aesthetically pleasing. On the other hand, there are tons of really pretty DH projects that are short on substance. It’s a tough balance, and especially for this program and its timeframe, you may have to make some sacrifices in design for the sake of good scholarly content and a good user experience when it comes to navigating your site. I’ve half-joked in the past that often DH’ers spend more time picking out a WordPress theme than putting thought into their research process. But we will keep that in check and still make sure you have a great product.

    To one of your points of people asking what you are doing during the summer, before the fellowship starts … that’s something that comes up more often than I’d like. We may need to think about working with incoming cohorts on how to talk about what they are doing during the summer, not just what they did! Not sure what that looks like, but it’s worth thinking about.

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