Digital Humanities: The Home Depot for the Hammer-abusing Researcher

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Such a phrase describes my research process prior to this internship. When embarking on a paper, I would frantically skim through documents, desperately writing any fact that could take up footnote space. It was inefficient and incoherent. Many a paper have come back marked “Too sporadic!”

Oddly enough, that same inefficiency and in-coherency works out spectacularly when exploring the digital. The problem wasn’t the shotgun approach, but that I failed to use the data properly. With each workshop, I found a better use to integrate my findings into a research question that made it relevant. As we discussed in a research question workshop, “If you can’t think of a research question, just stick a ‘how’ in front of your hypothesis.”

Using TimeMapper, that random assortment of data can show trends across a town, city or even continent. Digital museums can display disconnected data in an elegant manner. Text Analysis gives a graphical representation to the unseen nuances of speech (even if it is, in my opinion, mostly useless). And topic modellig manages to make a summary of all those random footnote facts that were completely unimportant before.

Now, I feel like I have the right toolset (or at least the beginnings of one) for my collection of oddball observations.

For this reason, I am incredibly excited to move on to the project phase of the internship. It’s finally time to put together a project that builds a consistent whole out of my data. Admittedly, I have only an inkling of an idea of how to put that together, but I do feel prepared! It just all comes down to whether I can pick the right tool and use it properly.

2 thoughts on “Digital Humanities: The Home Depot for the Hammer-abusing Researcher”

  1. “It just all comes down to whether I can pick the right tool and use it properly.” < Yes! It seems like the tool we choose can make the biggest difference for us when we finally start our projects. Ideally, all the tools would work at consistent speed no matter what the input is, but sadly that does not seem to be the case.

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