Reflections as We Move Into the Final Stages

We’re coming around to the homestretch of the Digital Scholarship Internship, and as we move into the final stages of the program, I can’t help but feel the need to reflect. Over the course of the summer, we’ve done numerous readings, workshopped tools and methodologies, critiqued and learned from individual projects which used them, and put these lessons into practice on a small scale in an effort to amass skills for a culminating project. But rewind back a bit more to before this phase of the internship, and what were we doing then? Let us go back in time to the first few weeks of the DSI.

In the beginning stages of the internship, we dedicated a lot of time to figuring out exactly what the Digital Humanities were. A LOT of time. We thoroughly examined readings upon readings and combed through blog posts upon blog posts in an attempt to answer the standing question of what constitutes digital scholarship. What are the Digital Humanities? (What is the Digital Humanities?) *cue painful memories of utter confusion and anxiety about whether or not to use “is” or “are” when discussing THE Digital Humanities* Are scholars simply putting a name on something which would one day be the standard? Is defining it as a discipline or practice redundant? Was it a digital take on the humanities or a humanist take on the digital? What qualifies as scholarship? Since a huge portion of what makes the Digital Humanities THE Digital Humanities is the facilitation of the exchange of information and peer review, accountability and validity also become increasingly important. (Let’s face it, it’s a lot harder to get published in a journal or to publish a book than it is to purchase a url and call it a project or exploration) So what is up? And where do we fit as some undergraduates trying to navigate the field and create good work in such a short amount of time?

Throughout the summer, we’ve taken a number of pauses in order to stop and go back to the concept of what constitutes digital scholarship. We’ve looked at a great deal of projects, analyzing and critiquing their methodology and execution in an effort to learn from the mistakes and successes in order to make our own project as useful and productive as possible. Of course many of our critiques tended to fall into the category of consumer-side failures, such as browsing capability and its effect on the user’s experience with the site, presentation and aesthetic, usefulness or applicability of the material, etc. In our exploration, we unfortunately did not see any projects quite as dynamic as that which we hope to create. Most of the projects had singular focuses (foci?) and used one methodology or tool to make an argument about one small thing. For one thing, our project is seeded in the archival collection of one man and his wife (a not so popular name in history, I must add) a characteristic which inherently makes one ask the purpose of studying the collection so closely. Last year’s interns’ work dealt with a widely applicable and or at least recognizable topic pertaining to American history, as it was research related to a collection of Native American literature. Our collection is quite different, making part of the challenge of our project proving the value and the importance of the subject of the collection in question. Why should we care about Edward Hitchcock? If he were really that important, wouldn’t we know his name already? Wouldn’t the world? Each of us has a different idea about what makes the collection and more importantly the man important, and consequently we all have different ideas and different strategies for how to sell him.

Many of the projects which we’ve looked at already dealt with much larger but much more universal concepts. For example, visualizing the distribution of wealth in the United States is very admirable and relevant project given the intellectual moment in which we live. People are becoming more and more aware and vocal about social and economic inequality and injustice. Hence studying how such inequalities physically and geographically play out in our society makes for a project whose value is rather hard to dispute. Additionally, making a project solely visualizing these disparities can serve as a standalone project, which many of the projects we looked at did. However as I said, Hitchcock isn’t exactly a household name, so we bear the burden of telling a story to our audience as we make an argument about the story, which the average man or woman will probably not know. In a way the four different aspects of Hitchcock’s life which we hope to analyze tell this story, giving body and a narrative to what may otherwise come off as a snazzy book report on some scientist who lived at some point and did some things. For this reason, I must say that I have yet to encounter a project that does something very close even in principle to what we how to put into practice.

As for my portion of the project, I hope to visualize a network of intellectuals discussing the “Cross in Nature” as we’ve come to know it (we being the interns, although we did not coin the phrase ourselves) in journals and correspondences with Hitchcock. The scope is narrowed organically by the limitations to which publications can be accessed via an Amherst College computer, although this still doesn’t narrow the scope too much and I still have plenty of work ahead. A project which does a very similar thing to what I hope to express in my section is one that I’ve referred to before, the Society of Letters. The project maps correspondences on a map with a network analysis type of framework connecting the various points on the map. So essentially the same deal. I’m feeling confident that the work will get done. (although it would be nice if some magical work fairy did it for me) But until that happens, I’ll be gathering data for what will hopefully turn out to be a successful wing of a successful collaborative project.






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