Questions, Questions, Questions

We very recently completed week two of our quest for understanding the Digital Humanities, and it seems that the questions never end.  While week one begged questions like “what even is/are the Digital Humanities?” (the simple idea of whether to use the word is or are being a debate in and of itself) and is the field itself simply a precursor to a word whether all scholarship is digital, a field destined to a life of redundancy? But this week we stepped away from some of those more cosmic questions in order to ask a few questions of ourselves. From what I’ve gathered, the schedule of our internship is structured in such a way that we learn methodologies for digital scholarship (creating exhibits, mapping, text analysis, other fancy terms that I haven’t learned yet), put each into practice and then select one for our larger project involving the archival collection to which we’ve been familiarizing ourselves. During a workshop about asking research questions and building concept maps, I found myself at a loss. My prior experience with the research process can be credited to a seminar which I took this past semester, a class which one of the librarians working closely with our team co-instructed. Said instructor asked us to come up with a list of questions we could explore for our grande research project and had us build concept maps and I found myself asking, “about what?”

“what is this all about?’

“what is the larger significance?”

In my research seminar, most students came in with topics that they felt a pull toward, topics which evolved more or less from person to person, but still topics which were relevant to each student nonetheless. We developed lists of topic questions to familiarize ourselves with the terrain surrounding our topics and commenced a semester-long process of refining and refining and limiting scope and refining and limiting scope, etc. It took me up until the last few weeks to secure a concrete research question and even in writing my prospectus for the class I wasn’t entirely sure of the question and the claim which I was trying to make. So here we are drawing up concept maps for a collection with which we were only vaguely acquainted with at this point and I’m feeling lost.

Before long, we started having methodological workshops and creating deliverables, all the while trying to keep in mind which methodologies we feel can use for our grande finale. Based on some of our research questions of course. All the while I’m feeling like I barely know my topic. Sure I know his genealogy and that his sons down to the fifth generation are named Edward in his honor. But where’s the meat? Where is the stuff that I need?

I would be lying if I said that I was completely comfortable with the fluidity of the research process which we’re taking up. But I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what I would be doing even if I went through the same by the book process of the semester long research seminar I took either. The research process is strange and unique, in every field, in every attempt, in every question. In an interesting Trevor Owens post, Owens discusses the order of the research process–whether we must start with the question, the “stuff”, or the tool? In my not-so-extensive experience it only made sense to start with what I knew in order to come to what I what I didn’t know in order to figure out how to, well know it. But in this new scape of digital humanities things aren’t so concrete. Maybe its the tool that inspires the question. In a field where technology enriches scholarship rather than just serving as a reference point, it well (dare I say it) could make sense. And digital tools could help liven this archival collection in a way that answers questions like that about larger significance that a secondary source analysis could not.
So in short, I’m learning to get comfortable with that which has notoriously made me (and let’s face it, a signifcant portion of the human race!) uncomfortable.

And that’s the ambiguity and the uncertainty of not knowing. But I’ll just keep asking questions and getting the tools to help me properly do so in this field.

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