As two separate words, “digital” and “humanities” do hold some meaning for this child of the digital generation, whose liberal-arts education leans liberally toward the humanities. But simply put those two words together, and poof! I am faced with a hazy sense of meaning, which is just a kinder way of saying that my knowledge on the matter is basically non-existent. Thankfully, the description for this Digital Scholarship internship reassures that “no prior technical or digital scholarship experience necessary, just curiosity and commitment.” After reading a number of articles, some of which attempt to clarify the scope of “digital humanities” while others argue for the futility of defining/delineating boundaries for the field, I find some comfort in the collective confusion, at least for these first two days.
In the last 36 hours, one word appears to best characterize my experience with digital scholarship this summer: fluidity. Digital humanities is inclusive in its ability to hover beyond the wall of definition, welcoming vast networks of scholars, projects, and methodologies. But with this fluidity comes more responsibilities. The first half of the internship will be devoted to exploring some of the tools available to digital humanists, but how do I allow the tools to enrich my research project rather than to dictate it? There is a limit to what we interns can learn and apply in the first few weeks, so how does one even begin to maintain a conversation between the digital and traditional aspects of the research process? What kind of questions would take advantage of the potential of digital technology and yield insights that traditional research for a paper could not?
My first foray into the library’s archives yesterday was a mix of glee (combing through just a few boxes of student publications revealed some bizarre ads and an interesting sense of humor in the late 1800s) and apprehension (how can I synthesize all the information in this collection of 36 boxes occupying 90 linear feet?). The obvious challenge of diving into a collection of this size and variety is how to navigate it all effectively: do I studiously go through all of the boxes (a bit ambitious… just a bit), hoping to stumble onto interesting threads one day? Do I identify a theme or question beforehand? Do I take notes of interesting tidbits and try to weave a pattern throughout? Or do I view the brainstorming process through the digital tools that we will learn, thinking about how they can be applied in the formation of my questions? In short, how should I take advantage of the interdisciplinary potential of a digital project? And thinking about the end product, which hopefully will be a concrete presentation-ready thing, what would the experience be like for an audience unfamiliar with digital scholarship?
As much as I anticipate the long periods of ambiguity, confusion, and perhaps existential crisis this summer, I do look forward to experiencing them all (just with my fingers crossed for the light at the end of this purple tunnel of ambiguity). Who knows, maybe I will be able to define what “digital humanities” mean(s)… to me.
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.
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.
My individual digital scholarship project, which is now part of our collaborative ‘meta-project’ around digital scholarship, has changed a great deal in the last few weeks. And it’s changed even more since I first began to envision what our collective digital project would be. Initially, I wanted to explore a project that would map the publication data of the Native American books collection. Then, I wanted to plot geographic locations within various books to see what Native American authors were writing about a given region in the U.S. over time. And now, I’ve shifted to using text analysis programs and methodologies to compare two different Iroquois creation stories written by Tuscarora authors. How’d this happen? Continue reading Where Am I and How Did I Get Here?
Out of the different forms of data visualization that my fellow interns and I have begun to explore, geographic information systems (GIS) or mapping tools have remained one of the most interesting options to me. And for good reason. First off, as a tool for displaying information, maps and mapped data in general begin to shape a story about your data. Put another way, your data really has a chance to saying something once it’s been mapped. For example, trends and outliers within lotted publication addresses from pre-20th century Native American books will reveal themselves and because you’re looking at an image/display, perhaps an interactive (clickable, zoomable) one, that info sticks in your brain more. And we’re all about that here. Continue reading Maps on Maps on Maps
How do we, everyone working on this project, talk about the KWE Native American books collection as a whole? What sort of project and what kind of tools could make something that speaks to the whole collection? For some reason, I’m particularly interested in broad questions of place concerning these Native American books- How for instance would we present geographic- info on where these authors are from or where their books were published-in a meaningful and accessible way?
It’s my first week or so as an intern with the digital scholarship program and I’m already confused. And it’s not just because I’m still learning how digitization software works, or what exactly that mysterious word metadata means, or even how I’m supposed to answer the question what is the digital humanities? Maybe more so than confused, I’m conflicted. I’m conflicted because of the position that I’m in, at the time that I’m in it.
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.