Marie’s Post

It’s only my second day as a Digital Scholarship Summer Intern and already I’m wishing that I could go back to college. Or rather, I feel that I somehow haven’t quite graduated yet—after all, I am still here, surrounded by Amherst’s verdant June beauty that so quickly makes one forget the pain and stress of semesters past—and that this summer of exploration in digital humanities scholarship is just the natural continuation of the education I pursued during my past four years at this college.

Because although it’s only my second day as a Digital Scholarship Summer Intern, from what little two-day introductory exploration I’ve done in the field of digital humanities (DH), studying and working in this field already feels so important and so relevant to the liberal arts education I spent four years working towards that I can’t believe I wasn’t more exposed to it during that time. At this point, it’s still difficult for me to pin down exactly what it is about DH that excites me so much intellectually.

Part of this difficulty stems from my struggle to define what exactly DH is—a question that the DH community itself still wrestles with. Answers from those who work within the community (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/40) range from exhaustively descriptive—”Digital Humanities is the integration of sophisticated, empirical techniques utilizing tools and technologies typically associated with practical sciences into the study of traditional humanities questions,” via Elijah Meeks of Stanford University—to pithy—”A term of tactical convenience,” says Matthew Kirschenbaum of the University of Maryland.

For me, Ed Finn (Stanford University) has produced the most helpful and intriguing definition for me so far:

For now, digital humanities defines the overlap between humanities research and digital tools. But the humanities are the study of cultural life, and our cultural life will soon be inextricably bound up with digital media.

DH both excites me and intimidates me a little bit: it feels like a challenge. As an avid childhood reader turned English major, I can get 100% behind the “h” of DH, but am a bit unsure of the “d.” My love for the traditional analogue liberal arts entirely took over my education, and I have no experience with coding, web design, or many of the other digital skills that seem to be so ubiquitous in the DH community.

But I’m only a semi-Luddite in practice, not in theory, and while it’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling to admit that I’m nearly illiterate in a certain field, I also want to use this summer as a continuing education experience—not because I’m afraid of falling “behind with the times” or as a way of preparing for the supplanting of the analogue humanities by digital technologies, but because I truly see so much potential that these digital tools offer in examining texts (and a variety of other resources) from new perspectives. In a concrete, practical sense, I would like to walk away from this summer with some applicable new skills. I’d like to be less intimidated and unsure of myself when working with digital tools in general, and I’d like to have not just the vocabulary to build further on these skills but the confidence and drive to do so. I’m not sold that DH is the savior of the humanities, or that the humanities need saving, but I am open to the possibility that my study of the humanities (and the way I communicate it to others) can be enriched by the tools that DH has to offer.

If I can say one thing for certain about DH, it is that it is constantly moving, evolving, in flux. It began as a set of methodologies but became a community, one that is using innovative digital technology not only to address questions within the humanities but also turning the tradition of humanistic inquiry around to examine the technology that suffuses our lives.

Oddly, I believe that this hits close to the mark of what compels and fascinates me about DH: it allows me a framework to both utilize and critique the increasingly digitized world, and it assures me that despite what cynics and “doomsday”-ers may cry, this burgeoning world is not antithetical to or excluded from the range of humanistic inquiry that I’ve learned of (and learned to love) through the liberal arts.

Introduction to All

What questions do you have after the first couple of days?

I arrived a bit late, but even after half a day of discussion and a couple of hardcore reading hours I’m filled with thoughts. We have not answered the question of “what is digital humanities” – and, for now, agreed not to have one, or to at least allow it to have its vagueness for now.

In addition, while I am all completely for the use of digital tools to look at primary sources and data, Daniel’s constant question, “What does the digital add to the project?” Many of the projects we looked at could have been done in a physical form rather than a digital one. Victoria’s second map from last year’s project, while incredibly appealing, could be made with some ingenious sliding mechanisms in a book. The linguistic analysis piece could have also been done by hand, albeit painstakingly.

As I’m thinking about the proper usage of digital humanities that helps the viewer better understand the material, I remembered about the Book of Kells, an Irish calligraphic version of the Bible made circa 800. I took a 3-day calligraphy class in high school; we watched the animated movie, “The Secret of Kells” (fantastic, unique, imaginative, 9/10, would recommend), gained a newfound appreciation for the book, and then proceeded to observe the book itself, in all its intricacy and beauty, through a digital collection of Trinity College in Dublin. What followed then was a practical demonstration of Irish calligraphy and then our own student trials of pen and ink. The movement from digital media to practical hands-on experience really solidified the small course and brought the students the most benefit in the most constrained time – a quality of efficiency that I hope to emulate in the less-pedagogical-more-research-oriented project.

This is the most famous page of the Book of Kells, the  Chi-Rho Page, named for the large character. 

Compare this image with Trinity College’s digitized version, which allows a fantastic amount of zoom (you need to scroll to folio 34 r to see it).

I’m not yet sure what  to do with this example yet except keep it as a model for a context where the use of DH helped more than hindered.

 

What are you particularly interested in exploring/learning this   summer?

 

I would like to know more about the concrete tools available for digital scholarship, which I suppose we as a team will be introduced to through workshop-like elements. Perhaps I can learn to tweak them to my advantage! After looking through the Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Finding Aid, I’m curious about seeing where their two strengths aid each other – his curiosity about dinosaur footprints, geology, and natural theology, and her accurate depiction of all things in the natural world. In addition, it would be interesting to compare the lecture notes that he used for teaching alongside her drawings, perhaps see the accuracy of their paired project as compared to current scientific drawings of the same objects.

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

Most of all, a new range of skills that I could then carry on and use in other areas. My work with the Archives & Special Collections in the fall showed me alternative uses of traditional media – I’d like to see what else is possible with it. In all else, I know that everything I will learn will not come from me declaring it but rather living through the experience. I look forward to learning about these tools, researching the interesting people who are Edward and Orra White (who I have to explain and re-explain to all who ask me what exactly I am doing with my summer internship), and producing an insightful project with equally awesome people that can help others understand the interesting lives of our subjects.

DH Blueprints is Live and Ready to Teach by Example

DH Blueprints is live and ready to teach by example. Visit our final project website, DH Blueprints. There you can see what came of our projects as well as the various resources we compiled for people interested in learning more about the exciting field of digital humanities. A more in depth recap is forthcoming.

(Image Credit: Libby Dowdall)

June and July – Process Dissected

Part of the goal of our internship is to provide adequate documentation of our process. Whereas some websites leave you hanging as how something was created or how to use it as a source, one of our aims aside from exploring the Kim-Wait Eisenberg Native American books has always been to provide transparency. To start off this process, it will be helpful to begin recounting the process thus far. Rather than boring everyone to sleep with a timeline of what happened, I’ll just cover a few salient topics.

Continue reading June and July – Process Dissected

Erecting the Backbone

At this moment, prospects for the DS Summer Project are still inchoate and hazy. After a week of exploring secondary sources, digital tools, we purposefully splintered ourselves into five proposals to see what projects might be best. Some common themes that emerged from the proposals we discussed were

1. Future in curriculum and student research

2. Geographic data and visualizations (sometimes referred to as maps)

3. Use in scholarly research

4. The value of book covers (the artifact itself, not just texts of books extracted with OCR)

5. Videos (short interviews of scholars, screencasts to explain how to use a website)

Most of our potential projects are broad in scope, and involve Herculean tasks like hunting down publicly accessible/accurate historical maps for each decade from the 1770s onward, or scanning and processing each of the 1300-odd covers of the collection. We are looking at projects such as a searchable gallery of book covers and author portraits or an interactive stack of map layers related to Native American history. Some problems arise with how comprehensive we’d like to be (for example, attempting to scan all of the book covers, or just some of them?) and how useful and interesting our site will be. I tend to get attached to thinking in terms of which tools seem most promising, rather than looking at broader questions of what scholarship should come out of the project’s use.

In the next week we’ll be meeting with Amherst Professors Kiara Vigil and Lisa Brooks of the American Studies Department to discuss what needs and interests the faculty can bring. By then, we should have locked into a fair idea of our project backbone so we can begin the work itself.

hexagonal metal framework

Word of the Week: orphan work

 

 

n. An orphan work is still in copyright but the work’s creator or their representative cannot be found. In this case, digitizing can be iffy because a relative might come knocking and wondering why you are sharing their copyrighted materials. However, some universities agreed to make orphan works available, saying that fair use of orphan works will help scholars and the public.

 

 

Meeting with the Antiquarian Fellows

   This week the DS interns met with five of the AAS (that’s American Antiquarian Society) Fellows, who are here to dip into the Kim-Wait Eisenberg collection. Each fellow’s focus ranges from more recent books in the collection to works from the 1820s by William Apess (who changed the spelling of his surname from “Apes”). Their consensus on the KWcollection is that the KWE is one of the largest collections of its kind, and as some of the first eyes looking it over for potential scholarship, we should feel free to use its size (approximately 1,300 volumes) to talk about Native American literature as a whole.

AAS american antiquarian society logo

   Our project might begin with the literature that escapes simplified timelines of Native literature. While some scholars stillpoint to the watershed in Native literature following House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday (1968), the AAS fellows pointed to other turning points in Native authorship and Native involvement in printed material, both in the 1800s and the 1920s. Written works by Native writers stand for a history that predates the admittedly Pulitzer-Prize-winning House Made of Dawn, something that the modern-day community can use to situate narratives of Native literature. While we begin to focus our internship on project proposals, one of our goals will be to represent the breadth and variety of works by Native writers since our two-hundred-and-forty-three year old printing of a speech by Samson Occom.

dawn-208279

Word of the Week: ingest

 

vb. to take in, to absorb

In libraries and archives, this verb does duty far past the usual descriptions of victuals. For example, you might hear someone say some records need to be “ingested into the collection” without a trace of hilarity.

 
It makes me wonder how useful this word might be in other, broader senses – “I want to ingest this vocabulary before I leave for Brazil.”