Your Digital Humanities project, the big picture.
This week I dug deep into the publishing platforms Omeka and Scalar to begin to understand the potential for a digital art history project. As much as I don’t want to admit it, this presented a huge learning curve (I now understand that I might not be as tech-savvy as I once thought). Both platforms allow a user to upload, organize, and exhibit digital images and videos in context with larger themes. Both allow for detailed metadata entry which communicates even more information (and helps prevent and liability issues with copyright, if such an issue arises). I am truly awed by what these platforms can do and look forward to using them, despite my apparent lack of computer skills.
And in fact, it is because of my ineptness that I very much appreciate Paige Morgan’s article “How to get a Digital Humanities project off the ground.” Her blog post provides advice for conceptualizing a digital project (and less on the technical problems), but still she raises some great points that help me frame any project idea I might have. I greatly appreciate her point searching the web for similar projects. She describes three theoretical possibilities when doing this: 1) No one is doing it so go for it, 2) Someone is doing a similar project but with a fundamentally different approach, and 3) Someone is using a similar method but on a different set of texts. She encourages us to think critically and evaluate fo what end are similar projects striving. How can our projects enhance or expand upon theirs? Does it provide an alternate look? Her advice really stuck with me. Any digital humanities project is a type of argument, perhaps one that focuses on the capabilities of engaging with material digitally or even one that provides and intervention to previous scholarship. It is an argument just like an academic paper is an argument. It is a form of communication with the purpose to provide a new way of looking and thinking about the subject matter. Perhaps I was just too naive, but this was a key revelation for me. It suggests the fluidity of digital humanities projects– that arguments can take new shapes and different forms. If I find that there is already a similar project to my idea, that doesn’t necessarily mean I need to throw mine out, but rather reevaluate its purpose and imagine new avenues to pursue.
I also appreciated Morgan’s point to start small– identify the smallest component of your project and build that. She advises this to begin to understand how much work your project might need. If the smallest component of your project ends up taking too much work or presents new complications you weren’t anticipating, you have the opportunity to stop there and reassess your development strategy. As someone who likes to think big to the point where my grasp of details is loose, I think this is a very helpful way to begin working on a project. For one thing, I don’t necessarily know the steps required in the grand schemes and thus need to spend the time thinking about and working through these details. I also have a tendency to be a bit over-zealous and uninterested int e practicalities of my ideas, so I sympathize with the need to put in that time and think small.
As I sit here and write these reflections, the big takeaway is that I am venturing into a new territory of communicating my thoughts, but one that is still grounded in a familiar praxis. On the one hand, I am beginning to realize that this new mode(s) of communication are not entirely different than what I know (that is the ‘pure’ academic writing). It centers on arguments, evidence, and analysis while providing unique ways to engage with content. Elli Doulkaridou situates Digital Humanities within frame theory, as yet another and specific way to frame objects. Just like a DH project is similar to an academic paper, the frame of a DH project is similar to the many other ways we have framed content throughout history. For me, understanding DH as a continuation and adaptation of more ‘traditional’ modes of communication (within academia at least) suggests the similarities in approach. How do we begin any project? How do our ideas grow and taper, take shape and take weight? How do we build upon ideas? Formulate arguments? These questions are abstract, of course, but this implies that they resonate to any form of communication. We should be asking the same questions whether we write a paper, design an online catalog, create a work of art, etc. Obviously each method will illuminate new questions, specific to the method itself, but I hope that thinking about Digital Humanities in this way emphasizes the relationship it has with any and all forms of communication. And so, when it comes to cracking down and building that online project, our approach and considerations should not be totally separate from what we know. Instead lets use this as a foundation, solid enough to build upon a structure that engages with our world(s) in new ways.
Doulkaridou, Elli. “Reframing Art History.” In International Journal for Digital Art History, Issue #1, June 2015, pp. 66-83.
Morgan, Paige. “How to Get your Digital Humanities Project off the Ground.” http://www.paigemorgan.net/how-to-get-a-digital-humanities-project-off-the-ground/