Digital Humanities: Involved

Learning and defining the digital humanities leads to an appreciation for projects that exist in the field. The next natural step for anybody interested in the field is to become involved. The problem is how. As people from all realms of academia become involved with the more technical realm of the digital humanities, it can become problematic to simply start.

As a computer scientist, I have seen the result of steep learning curves. The learner has great ambitions but slowly the hill gets too steep. Projects are left unfinished and other priorities take up time. The result: a notion that ones own ambitions were misguided. This occurs far too often and the cure is small steps, knowing where to start, and personal genuine interest.

This issue of ‘where to get started’ is very prominent and many feel exposure to different projects can create inspiration for starting personal projects. Works have started to surface including ‘Around DH in 80 Days’ (http://www.arounddh.org/) which was designed to introduce people to different works within digital humanities. This post is about a few of the projects that ‘caught my eye’ through google searches and a blog [1]. By first learning what is out there, one can drill down into what it is about digital humanities that truly intrigues them. My process when learning about these projects is creating a self definition of the goal of the project, noting the progress of the project, and how they allow member to get involved.

Mapping The Republic Letters

http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/

Goal:

The goal of this project is to visualize the transfer of information in early society. This visualization will create an ability for academics to dynamically follow the correspondences between people, cultures, and nations. This focused project can be branched out into many different use-cases besides contributing to scholarly work. Some projects that could step up from this include creating a dynamic textbook that could jump from topic to topic based on people the reader is interested in after covering one specific topic.

Progress:

The group has developed numerous case studies including an analysis of Science in the Spanish Empire where they answer questions such as ‘Was the Spanish world part of the Republic of Letters?’ [2]. The visualizations appear very interesting and conclusions appear valuable, but there still seems to lack a unified application that can easily present in real time a valuable model for a general user.

Get Involved?

The project in 2012 appeared to be interested in help [3], but the open source code for the project appears to have been removed. Therefore, direct contact is most likely required and no attempts at creating a distributed project appears in order. This results in the necessity to talk one-on-one to be able to see the code and get involved.

Biblion:

http://exhibitions.nypl.org/biblion/worldsfair

Goal:

The initial goal of Biblion was to archive the 1939-40 World Fair and provide an immersive experience for users of their iOS application. They take unstructured media including images, films and audio and provide a structured repository that are designed to tell every possible story of the World Fair. They branched out to create a new topic feature of Frankenstein with the same goals of following every story.

Progress:

While archiving the World’s Fair archive is impressive, it appears that it has been difficult to replicate the work as the only follow-up has been a structuring of Frankenstein. The web-version also is extremely static and not seemingly maintainable.

Get Involved?

There appears to be no open source code available or welcome signs into this project. This may be an indication on why the project has not moved forward much.

Global Shakespeares

http://globalshakespeares.mit.edu

Goal:

Similar to Biblion, Global Shakespeares unites all information related to the famous William Shakespeare. The goal is provide access to different works on stage or in writing about the productions that he wrote.

Progress:

There seems to be a lot of user involvement and a large community supporting the project. One may organize there search by region and each region may be curated by individuals. They describe the project as a work in progress that has amassed over 502 works.

Get Involved?

Unlike Biblion, the project page has a direct ‘Participate’ button that encourages researchers to get involved creating content for the project. This may seem disconnected from the overall project, but it is actually an excellent indication that you may get your foot in the door and provide meaningful advice over time.

This progression of finding projects that initially catch the eye and then performing extra research into what the project is really about can prevent making decisions that result in misguided progression. A surprising number of people make decisions without including a ‘trial period’ where they genuinely try to match-up the problem/product with their everyday lives.  By spending this extra time to ‘give it a go’, you may find what you are looking for much quicker as you will learn to pick apart what you like and dislike from each small sampling. This initial survey of the projects above is a baby-step and a following baby-step would be to follow-up on the ‘get-involved’ section of projects you are most interested after the fact.

Involving oneself in the digital humanities can be difficult, but by taking the right steps finding the perfect match can be much smoother and rewarding than getting stuck at making the initial choice.

[1] https://www.brainpickings.org/2011/08/12/digital-humanities-7-important-digitization-projects/

[2] http://republicofletters.stanford.edu/casestudies/spanishempire.html

[3] http://openglam.org/2012/03/21/mapping-the-republic-of-letters/

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