Just a head’s up

I’ve created a (long overdue) post over at DH New England that springs from some of the conversations we were having about getting together to do DH stuff in the Boston area. I’d love it if you went there and left a comment! Maybe we can get a group going?


Digital Graveyards

In my Dork Short I presented my observation that there’s been a great push to get digital materials up and online, and not necessarily a lot of thought as to what happens to those collections/portals afterwards. This has resulted in what I call “digital graveyards,” a term I’ve since loosely defined as:

“A site or portal, designed as an information resource, usually but not necessarily providing access to digitized archival materials, on which no future development is planned.”

I say “loosely defined” because this definition may include sites that would not be considered “graveyards” (or may not even be broad enough!).  As I think about the issue, especially its definition, I come up with more questions surrounding it. For instance, can a website ever be considered final in the same way a published book is? My inclination is no, if I come across a site that looks like it’s outdated, I automatically have the tendency to discount the information it provides. I don’t necessarily feel the same way about a book, but I do react to the information a book provides based on it’s publication date; I attempt to place the book in a contextual history, so to speak. If I’m writing a literature review, I may mention the book in a narrative time frame that explains its reflections on the topic on which my thesis relates to, but I would then continue on to list more recent analysis of my topic, concluding with discussion of the most recently published items. Perhaps the way I respond to an outdated site is based on not understanding the context in which it was created.

Which brings up an additional question: can such resources be compared to books? As an information professional, I try to describe materials in the most objective manner possible, observing faith to the original and leaving analysis to the researchers using the materials.  But description doesn’t happen in a vacuum; much like a publication, it happens in a time and a place. Archivists continually struggle to maintain objectivism while providing contextual information they feel is necessary for a researcher to understand a collection. Any description of archival materials, no matter how standardized and data-ized it may be reflects the current thought of the time and place it was created, much the same way a published book is expected to.

Books are often revised. Finding aids, the main descriptive tool used by archivists, often need to be revised. Why would we not expect the environment of digital collections or websites to need to change as well?

This leads me back to my question of what really could be defined as a digital graveyard. Is it akin to a finding aid that never gets revised? Are the circumstances of the publication of the digital site obvious enough to researchers that they can evaluate it within the context it was created? And of course there’s always the bigger question of who is responsible for making sure such a site stays published online, let alone updated.

As I process these questions, I’m interested in what you would define as a “digital graveyard.” Is it a project that existed, but today is not online? Am I being too broad or too narrow in my definition, which is based on my own observations as a librarian/archivist and not a digital humanities person? And most importantly, do you have examples of projects you would consider digital graveyards?

Although this post has been mainly focused on me trying to define the term “digital graveyard,” my goal is to eventually be able to identify the common factors that relegate a project ultimately to being unsustainable. This may be a difficult venture- no one likes to talk about unsuccessful projects. But I strongly believe that the evolution of successful projects is based on learning what went wrong in the past, and I don’t feel there is a better forum for that takes into account not only the data providers (librarians and archivists) viewpoint but also that of those that use such materials.



I’ve been saving links as I hear them, and maybe we could start an open thread for links to projects?













Tools we use for dh/dh hacking etc.

Out of our little dh discussion, we wanted to have a geek out session to share specific things we use. Feel free to comment here and record them for posterity!



On the practical level, I’m interested in using scripts as a way to tailor the applications that we use to interpret the (sometimes huge) amounts of data that we have. And though it’s impossible to learn any programming language in a single 1-2 hour session, I think it would be helpful for those of us who have had to deal with repetitive, but labor-intensive processes to know of all of the alternatives.


museums and learning; technology and types of learning

I would be interested in discussing ways in which digital technologies can increase access, improve the depth and breadth of learning, or promote critical engagement in public cultural institutions (museums, libraries, parks), etc.. Also, I wonder who is left behind, e.g. what “kind of learners”/what forms of learning do current technologies  privilege? How can we accommodate active learning for people of different knowledge bases, needs, and literacies?


Research Paper 2.0?

I’d be interested in hearing from THAT camp folks about how new media might work as part of the core of humanities assignments in college classes. I’ve worked as an instructor in video, audio, and digital image production, and completed an MFA in which digital media was at the core of 90% of our assignments. However, I’ve noticed that among my colleagues in the humanities straightforward research papers, essays, and written exams are still de rigueur, with few exceptions.

Many scholars of digital media and the new generation—Henry Jenkins, Clay Shirky, John Palfrey—suggest that the PC has heralded a second “Gutenberg age” of sorts. The ability to produce a short documentary, a podcast, a game, a web exhibit, or a slideshow is now within grasp. Many “digital natives” are able to quickly pick up skills with digital media, having a high familiarity with technology and media exposure. And new technologies and techniques will only become more popular and important with time.

At the same time more humanities classrooms are assigning works of digital media as part of the “required reading.” Scholars are using digital media to collaborate and connect with one another. And there is an abundance of new original work that is could be considered scholarly in nature, but only exists in the form of digital media (just thinking of podcasts alone, this and this come to mind).

But I wonder: are classrooms and syllabi keeping up? How much are humanities instructors building non-traditional assignments into the core of their curricula? How can scholarship in digital formats be recognized by the academy? Will we one day be seeing essays in YouTube form, podcasts as final papers, Powerpoint presentations as final exams, and feature documentaries as dissertations?

Moving beyond using digital media tools in research, I’d like to discuss the advantages, disadvantages, and challenges with assigning projects that involve creating original video, audio, and images.


Digital Humanities for the Masses

I am an educator above all else. So my vantage point is as someone who is primarily interested in an end-user as opposed to the technology (mean) or even the historical materials (content). I want to know how I can share information with people in compelling ways.

My work in the digital humanities thus far, though always firmly grounded in sound scholarly practice, has been all about harnessing technology to create access to historical material and to present those materials in intriguing ways that inspire inquiry and (hopefully) learning.

While I understand and value the need for scholars and academics to connect with one another and materials, I’m hoping we can talk about a place outside the realm of this specific group, to explore how to use the practices/experiences of digital humanists to reach a much broader public with our work. We are all so deeply involved in doing the real work of historians, humanists, etc.–we are experts. How can we channel this energy into more public offerings that will invite novices, teachers, high school students, etc. into our world so they to can become deeply involved and invested in this work as well?

I have been working on one specific project (www.oldnorth.org/tories), but would love to hear more about other initiatives that are geared toward connecting with non-academic audiences and that are about more than just ACCESS to materials, but using technology to model and encourage the use of these digital materials.


The Learning Management System: Threat or Menace?

The frustrations with and criticisms of learning management systems (LMSs) run the gamut from usability (“why is it so hard to load content?”) to integration (“why can’t it work with my blog?”) to the very purpose of the tool itself (“can we really manage learning with this tool?”).

All of these points are valid, but are they the result of inherent flaws with LMSs, or with specific design choices made by the corporations or groups responsible for these systems? Institutionally, even the biggest detractors generally note that LMSs are a necessary evil, ensuring FERPA compliance and providing a barrier for copyright/fair use cases. Individually, however, many folks frustrated with the system simply go outside the system, using free online tools and avoiding the official campus LMS as much as possible.

None of the above is news to anyone who has used an LMS, whether a student, teacher, or administrator.

Here are some of the questions I’d like to discuss, preferably agnostically (i.e., this isn’t the place to discuss why Moodle is better than Blackboard or other similar topics):

  • Does a centralized campus LMS have (or could it have) value as a teaching, learning, or research tool?
  • How important are factors like privacy/FERPA, copyright, and intellectual property when thinking about using an LMS or other web services?
  • How can we drive the ever-changing LMS market to make it better able to support folks in the digital humanities?

General venting about how awful your campus’s LMS is will be met with both sympathy and empathy, but will be most appreciated if it includes constructive answers to the above questions (or poses new questions to ponder).


Beyond the “Course Blog”

I’m interested in a session that would allow THATCampers to share examples of the ways in which they’ve gone beyond the basic “course blog” in order to add additional functionality (and opportunities for learning) in their online course companions. I’m interested to hear about the platforms that people have chosen, the customizations that they’ve made, and the assignments that they’ve designed in order to take advantage of, or enhance, the course website. (And when I say “hear about” I actually mean see– and get a walk-through of– since that’s the format that I imagine this session would take).

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