Digital Humanities
@ Pratt

Inquiries into culture, meaning, and human value meet emerging technologies and cutting-edge skills at Pratt Institute's School of Information

Event Participation: The Lexicon of DH

On Tuesday, October 25th, we attended a workshop coordinated by the GC Digital Fellows entitled The Lexicon of DH. Workshop leader Mary Catherine Kinniburgh has posted an engaging wrap-up of the workshop here.  Assisted by Patrick Sweeney, it was a warm and resourceful workshop that managed to cover everything exciting about DH as an introduction for students from other disciplines.  In fact, my classmate and I were the only two MSLIS candidates in the room.

The title of the workshop was chosen as an entryway into the language and resources of DH and included an interactive presentation chock full of resources for experiential learning on the spot.

Right off the bat, we all set up (or synced into existing) Zotero accounts (Mozilla Firefox for download), enabling us to explore and instantly capture resources and inspirations to fuel potential DH initiatives. About half the participants were already familiar with Zotero, which is generally used to manage citations, and for those who were not, the relatively quick set up kept us all moving along.  In very short order, we were ready to document and store our dynamic web sites and open source DH tools.

Open access is particularly important to DHers and we were given the tour of freely available tools, with particular note when the paid version really added beneficial features. Another unexpectedly great feature was the path of found sources allowed by our use of Zotero.  By including a documented trail of our explorations we wound up killing two birds with one stone:  the ability to document our time and effort at the workshop and an outlined tracking system for future study.  Thirdly, it also allowed for the element of play and surprise.  As DHers are always being asked to account for the time they do spend on projects, we were practicing a necessary skill in a non-oppressive manner.

Our next task provided the opportunity to check in with our neighbor, have a little interview time with them and take turns afterward introducing each other for the workshop. My neighbor, for example, wanted to include some mapping for her thesis on music ephemera. (At the end of the workshop, she had set up time for a tutorial on Gephi, mentioned below.) There was such a diverse selection of expertise in the room.  Some folks were expert coders and site builders; others had hardly given a thought to activities such as mapping data and word clouds. It was truly a mixed group in terms of DH tools and proficiencies.  Somehow that made the workshop even more fun, because there was lots of sharing and aha moments across the rows.  Collaboration, particularly when team members bring different styles and expertise is a hallmark of DH projects. It was also pointed out that pertinent DH skillsets can also include event planning and the ability to communicate across diverse groups.  All skills do not have to be technology based.

We were given good advice with respect to IRBs and research ethics, copyright issues and cautioned to maintain mindfulness when sharing or accessing certain data. The best question to ask yourself as you being to formulate your data share plan, “What argument are you making when you display your data?”  Also, we were encouraged: “If you don’t see what you need, sit down and make it!”

Here in quick order, is a host of resources visited throughout the workshop and applicable to so many potential DH projects in art, music, literature, history and social endeavors. Many of them will be familiar to DH students, but there will always be another entry that adds to the list!

Remember to double-check sources and resources, and always sneak a peek behind the curtain to view web page source code as we did when viewing the Willa Cather Archive to discuss text encoding, such as Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and XML (learn XML). Don’t forget the ubiquitous Excel spreadsheet still has merit in some cases.

Finding data to play with can begin with sites such as NYC Open Data, DPLA (Digital Public Library of America and Around DH in 80 days. Audio/Visual methods of capture include tools from the Software Studies Initiative, which has a lab at the The Graduate Center, CUNY.  Web scraping, with resources such as Scrapy, can be greatly enhanced with the benefits of R language and learning Python.

Geocoding tools such as QGIS, Mapbox and CartoDB can lead to information visualizing in Gephi (mentioned above), Neatline and other mapping tools.  A host of resources can be found at DiRT, a ‘registry of digital research tools for scholarly use’ supported by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Along the way we would stop and answer such questions as what data are we interested in? How would we capture the data? How we would interrogate our data?  What is the best way to present our research data?  We touched upon all the salient points included in the lifecycle of data collection, curation and display.

This workshop was a great experience for me.  Being new to the world of DH, the workshop provided the all-encapsulating introduction to many front-line open access resources.  Although my School of Information classmate and I were outnumbered by graduate students from many other disciplines, we gained a solid understanding of how to introduce and excite everyone regarding DH tools.

Suggested further reading

Burdick, Anne, et al. (2012). “Emerging Methods and Genres” in Digital_Humanities, 29-60.

Davidson, Cathy N. 2008. “Humanities 2.0: Promise, perils, predictions,” PMLA 123(3): 707–717.

Drucker, J. (2011). “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display”, DHQ 5(1)

Posner, M. (2013), “No half measures: overcoming common challenges to doing digital humanities in the library”, Journal of Library Administration, 53(1): 43-52.

Ross, C. (2012), “Social media for digital humanities and community engagement”, in Warwick, C., Terras, M. and Nyhan, J. (Eds), Digital Humanities in Practice, Facet, London, pp. 23-46.


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