Since June, my work for the Digital Scholarship Summer Internship at Amherst has been dominated by exploration. Throughout my time working as an intern this summer at Frost Library, I’ve had the opportunity to digitize nineteenth-century Emily Dickinson poems, attend data visualization conference workshops, consult with Native American scholars about digital scholarship possibilities for Amherst’s own Native American book collection, and contribute to this blog. The list goes on and on.
But this week ends on a different note as the supervising staff helped us mark deadlines for our final projects and its components. In late August, our DH initiative must transform from an abstract idea to an actual digital experience for others to explore. What we’re trying to do is develop an educational webspace featuring a few model projects in digital scholarship that could serve as examples for fellow undergraduate students, especially those unfamiliar with digital scholarship.
Not too long ago, my fellow interns and I met with visiting scholars from The American Antiquarian Society to discuss how digital scholarship can enhance the field of Native American Studies. (Victoria Turner wrote an excellent post about that dialogue with those AAS Fellows). One of the most enlightening moments of that discussion was when the AAS Fellows revealed the slight discomfort that humanities scholars have with the digital humanities. Despite all of the possibilities of DH to expand access to literary and historical knowledge, they suggested that at times, digitization can actually distance scholars from the original works. I definitely agree: reading through a digitized text of an original work can be quite different than actually holding the physical edition with your hands (it’s part of why I still prefer checking out books from the library over e-books). The book covers in the Kim-Wait Eisenberg Collection of Native American literature provide a unique, distinct historical field of study in their own right. Viewing digitized book covers, author portraits, and illustrations could help to humanize and enhance the experience of interacting with an otherwise unexicting electronic text.
The Kim-Wait Eisenberg Collection, the newest component of Amherst College’s Archives and Special Collections, is indeed a comprehensive collection of literary works from the Native American past, admirable for both its chronological and thematic breadth. However, when we walk into a collection of Native American books, what do we expect to find? In the American imagination, Native American history and experiences in the United States have centered so deeply on the relationship between Native American people and European settlers. This Eurocentric focus can come at the expense of other considerations in Native American Studies, such as the historic relationships between Native Americans and other ethnic minorities.
The beginning of this week, I headed to the nearby University of Massachusetts Amherst for a NERCOMP conference! I know it sounds like NERD-COMP! To be fair, we were all kind of geeking out about data and other techie stuff all day though…Anyway, during the data visualization workshop that we attended, I spent a good chunk of the exploratory “sandbox” period evaluating Google Fusion tables. What’s really cool about Google Fusion Tables is that you can take data from spreadsheet columns or CSV files, and create quick visualizations. In particular, I tackled the Network Graph feature. According to Google, “this type of visualization illuminates relationships between entities. Entities are displayed as round nodes and lines show the relationships between them.”
What was the price of coffee in 1920? Today, for my second day as a Digital Scholarship Summer Intern at Amherst College’s Frost Library, I explored The New York Public Library’s digital initiative, “What’s on the Menu?”. Could questions like the coffee question be potentially answered through digital scholarship? “What’s on the Menu” is a crowdsourcing initiative that seeks everyday people beyond the NYPL staff to help transcribe menus from a vast array of historical periods from around the world. Eventually, scholars could easily look up specific dishes and prices in these menus rather than rely on the menu titles for their research. Evaluating “What’s on the Menu?” provided me with a platform for planning the digital program that I will work on along with other interns and library staff.
Our society seems to like binaries quite a bit, whether they are gender binaries or the academic binaries we artificially create between the humanities and the sciences. Before, I never considered technology and science as potential aspects of my professional life, confining myself in a self-imposed false binary of humanities versus science. Today, I’m starting to work with the humanities and technology side-by-side, learning to respect them as distinguishable but interconnected fields.