Week Two Reflective Essay

One major difference between traditional and digital humanities is the analysis not only of not only content material but also its means of presentation. Digital Humanities (DH) appealed to me because last summer I did very traditional research and presented my findings in a formal critical essay. While I enjoyed the work and was proud of the product, I was acutely aware that access to such research was severely limited. In tone as well as form, a formal essay tends to be inaccessible to those outside of academia. While many digital tools aim to rectify this, they should nonetheless continue to be evaluated critically.

For this project, I want to make secondary research available to students and teachers, but I also want to make the texts themselves available. Moreover, I want students to be able to engage with the text as they read, the way they would be able to flag or even mark a physical text. For that reason, I’m interested in using an annotation tool to allow students and teachers to make comments on the primary texts. Group annotation fascinates me for its ability to allow for conversation among readers rather than belated dialogue that is so often the result of conversations across published works, but it nonetheless raises questions about who can and should be allowed in those conversations. My instinct is to allow all comments from all parties because negative feedback is an important part of the reading process; texts are not only valuable if they are faultless. Still, some negative comments could affect the availability of the work in that teachers may not choose to use this site for their students if some annotations are offensive or otherwise not school appropriate.

This itself raises further questions about who is allowed to join in the discussions in academic settings. My aim with this project was to eschew the coded languages of academia – those unspoken expectations about what counts as “scholarly.” While the availability of free annotations removes such expectations as writing in full sentences and not using contractions (generally separating spoken from written language along a false dichotomy), some expectations are maintained such that some amount of vetting for comments would be appropriate.

In addition to the fact that, for this project, the finished annotation would have to be deemed appropriate, inputting the annotation itself requires a certain amount of familiarity with the tool. The major source of inaccessibility in DH at large is the fact that it inherently requires technology to access it. Although technology is becoming more widely available throughout America, it is not universally familiar; even for those who have access to the internet, it is not always widely used. Thus, although many annotation tools are intuitive for regular users of social media (is not a comments section just a space designated for annotations?) and the internet at large, it may not be as clear how to use such tools if the internet is not familiar to a given user. In order to ameliorate this in my project, I intend to create a page that uses clear text and visuals in order to explain how to use the annotation tool, thus allowing for greater access. I think that this process of bridging gaps between expected use and possible use is a key aspect of DH, which annotation makes clear.

2 Replies to “Week Two Reflective Essay”

  1. Awesome idea to have a “Help” page on your site for annotating! This is one of those things that helps your audience connect and interact with your page. There’s a lot of things you can do, including doing a screencast, or just having some instructions.

    I think it’s important, even in an open annotation environment, to reserve the right to moderate. It’s not a free-for-all. Some tools have the ability to have private groups, which may be best for younger students, as only their teacher and peers would be able to view and respond to annotations.

    I would push back a bit on the idea of Comments being annotation, as they are not semantic, that is, not generally linked directly with certain points and ideas and integrated into the experience, but rather something at the end. Annotation is more rich, in this sense.

    Check out hypothes.is as another annotation tool – https://web.hypothes.is/

  2. Great points from R.C.

    Maddie, keep thinking about this when we get to the Usability Testing workshop. It might be a good idea to have a usability test of your annotation tool so you know how easy/confusing it is for users. Usability testing can be a short and sweet process, and the information gained is invaluable to the author/developer.

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