Evaluating DH projects

One way to get to know DH projects is to look at a few and really think about their comparative merits.  As you know, this is shaping up to be a tough nut to crack in DH: how do we evaluate DH projects?  There are of course several challenges here.  One is that DH products vary so widely that criteria for one might not be appropriate for another.  A second is that, despite evolving best practices, many do not offer the kind of information about their creators, creation process, and technical details that might be necessary for evaluation, depending upon what criteria we might think important. Finally, many of these kinds of projects haven’t been around long enough for scholars to reach a consensus on what’s most important.

By analogy, think of another kind of scholarly production that by now we know how to evaluate: books.  There are a zillion intergoogle guides on how to write scholarly book reviews.  They vary, but have common elements: what ground the book covers, or its scope; the book’s thesis; the book’s methodology; the extent to which it succeeds in its aims; and its place in the relevant scholarly literature.  You might think, that’s all there is to books, anyway.  But you’d be wrong. With rare exceptions, we don’t discuss the aesthetics of the book itself. We treat authors as sole actors, rather than considering the role of editors and manuscript reviewers. Many journals don’t ask that authors address audience, or the strength of a book’s writing, its length given its main points, its bibliographic apparatus (which can be as much as a third of a book’s word count), and so on.  We’ve come to a consensus on how we’d like to judge books, and this is what these many guides reflect.

Given DH’s youth, diversity, and reflexivity, there’s been a lot of discussion concerning how to evaluate DH projects.  It was the subject of an entire issue in the now-defunct (but still online, for now) Journal of Digital Humanities.  It also was the reason for the recent establishment of the DH Commons Journal. You should look through those. Here’s a good short recent list of criteria for an “ideal project,” but you must note that, like any such list, as an implicit ideology very different from, say, this point of view. You’ve got to decide for yourself.

So, here’s your assignment:

  1. Identify a project that you’d like to evaluate. Here are a few places with lists of projects that might be of interest:
    1. Around DH in 80 Days is an interesting, idiosyncratic recent global survey of interesting projects worldwide. Many of them (probably most, actually) are English-language projects. If you’re conversant in another language, feel free to pick one in that language.
    2. The DiRT Directory (formerly Bamboo DiRT) is a compilation of tools that can be of use to DHers. Note that while many of these are DH projects, many of them are not. For example, it includes a lot of Google products that can be of great use to DHers, but are clearly not the product of DH scholars.
    3. The Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative has a pretty good curated list of a range of projects organized by humanities discipline.
    4. The Digital Humanities Awards has run a competition in a variety of categories since 2012.
  2. Compose a 1,000-1,500 word evaluation of this project, considering its virtues and drawbacks, placing it in disciplinary and DH context as appropriate, and justifying the criteria you have used to evaluate the project. Please refer as appropriate to the resources that you consulted (course readings, the resources linked to on this page, or other ones that you have found or previously encountered) for generating and justifying the criteria you have chosen. Include not only your prose, but also screenshots, snippets of code, or whatever other evidence would be appropriate to help readers follow along.