Evaluating DH

Like Liz and, it seems, so many others I am still struggling with the concept of DH. I am not necessarily struggling with the general definition of DH but rather what can be categorized as DH. Now, we have added the concept of evaluating DH which, at this point, might seem even more foreign to some of us who lack the necessary background. Not only is the definition of DH changing rapidly, all concepts related to DH are changing. This, of course, makes evaluating a project in DH much more challenging. In a way, I worry that I am in no way qualified to evaluate a DH project because I cannot even come to a simple conclusion on what kind of projects can even be considered DH.

I looked through the links provided in the description of our evaluation assignment and I was blown away at how many different types of projects there are. Moreover, I am completely overwhelmed with the notion that I actually have to choose a single project for evaluation. The first link I opened was from the Carolina Digital Humanities and I was immediately struck by the concept of Ancient World Mapping. I have an interest in this practice because I have been a teaching assistant with Professor Mladjov in the History Department who makes his own maps of Ancient Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece to name a slight few. I began to think, “This could be very interesting. Digitally mapping the ancient world is beneficial to several different humanities in the academic community.” Unfortunately, I made the mistake of scrolling down the page and felt myself drawn into an entire world of projects that seemed “logical” for me to pursue. The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, Early Maps of the American South, North American Slave Narratives, the Southern Homefront; the list seems endless and the question that once again comes to mind is: How am I qualified to evaluate any of these projects? If so, how should I do it?

The historian in me wishes to stick to the typical politics of production when evaluating the project. My instinct is to consider who created the project. However, as referenced by Dr. Schocket, there are often multiple people who are responsible for the production of projects both outside and within DH. I will start with considering both the people who contributed to the project as well as the potential jobs each of them took. The next step is to evaluate the purpose of the project and whether the scope of the project is too broad or too narrow. In history projects and research papers, there are often times in which we discover that the topics we have tentatively chosen are much too broad. I am guilty of that nearly every semester in every class I take. A project that seeks to look at all the ships that left Africa during the last 20 years of the British Slave Trade ends up as an examination of the last 34 ships to leave West Central Africa in 1808 and 1809. This project went from a Masters’ Thesis or dissertation into a manageable 20 page paper.

The next step is to determine why the project exists and its intended audience. It is very important to consider the scope or theme of the project when compared to the (perceived) intended audience. Is the theme of the project more important? Or is it more important to cater to a broader audience? In the case of DH, I think it is more important to cater to the theme of the project. Staying on course, using proper terminology, and discussing only relevant information is much more vital than changing aspects of the project to pander to larger crowds.

The world of DH is already so vast that there is a good chance that that very specific project you are looking for is already out there. Finally, the project must execute all of its goals. If it is, for example, an interactive map that shows the areas of anti-slavery sentiments in the North and South alongside the positions of Union military forces, it must convey both of these goals in a clear, logical way. Above all, the interactive map must be easy to use. I have experienced several occasions in which I have come across interactive media that has been nearly impossible to use. In addition, the information must be correct (but that goes without saying). Finally, one of the most important aspects of a project is its reusability. While it is important for the project, in this case the interactive media, to be well-designed and easy to use, the project should also have some human aspect. As evidenced early in the class, DH is a combination of technology and humanity and these projects should also feel like they have a human feeling to them.

5 thoughts on “Evaluating DH”

  1. I too felt very overwhelmed by this project. I didn’t understand how I was going to write about something that I feel I am still trying to pin down my understanding of. Your post was very helpful. Not only did it show me that I am not alone, but you proposed many questions that will help me while writing my 1000-1500 words.
    It really is quite interesting looking at all of the different projects and accomplishments that these DHers have accomplished. Though the exact perimeters of What defines DH is constantly changing, we can see the different things people have accomplished because of DH.

    1. I also felt overwhelmed by the project because of the essential question of what really is DH? After picking a project and doing some research I found some very interesting things. It opened up a better understanding of what DH could potentially be especially while working in history. This is still a broad topic about what actually falls into DH, and like most others I am still struggling in other aspects of this course. The project was a nice opportunity to take a break from the coding aspect and frustrations. I picked DAACS a project focusing on slavery in the colonies and antebellum period it was very interesting, and fascinating to me as a graduate student studying American history!

  2. I want to comment on the part of your post that appreciates the people who had a hand in the DH project. How did you go about determining those involved, and how impactful their involvement was? For me, I find it hard to want to consider that as a criterion for evaluation because I’d wind up blurring the lines between what the creators intended and what the project really offers. Or maybe that’s a line that SHOULD be blurred in DH, as opposed to other areas?

    1. When I wrote this post, I had a project in mind. It ended up being a project designed by several members of the historic community. Because of this, I considered the usefulness of the project considering these people had strong historical backgrounds which, by my judgement, should indicate a relatively high usefulness of the project. On the other hand, after considering things, it is hard to consider that because they may not have the DH background necessary to complete a project that’s wholly interactive, in the case of the project I evaluated. I ended up not using that as one of my criteria because I ended up thinking how you did: Because there is a blurred line between the historical part of the project and what they intended to create.

  3. I agree with you Arron about the fluidity of the definition of Digital Humanities and its contents. I personally like to think of Digital Humanities as a tool that allows us to see the wider world of the study of humanities. Much like how a microscope allows us to see the microbial world. Like I mentioned in my last post, Digital Humanities functions better as a combination of practices rather than a defined methodology. Much like how we view modern History, we tend to avoid the trap of the one narrative perspective. With the combined practices we our taught in Digital Humanities the ability to observe multiple ideals allows us to make much more open ended narratives. In addition, I was also drawn to the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative specifically Documenting the American South.

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