Last Thursday’s GC Digital Fellows Workshop, “The Lexicon of DH,” as the title suggests, provided attendees with a great overview of tools and terms to better understand DH and possible DH projects. Jojo Karlin’s presentation began with a simple parsing of the term “Digital Humanities” as follows:
Digital Humanities projects use
digital methods of research
that engage humanities topics in their materials
interpret the results of digital tools from a humanities lens
Among the attendees, I saw some of my classmates from DH Praxis alongside PhD candidates in Art History, Sociology, and Education. I was surprised to find some faculty in attendance from Literary Studies and Middle Eastern Studies. All this is to say, it was a pretty diverse group who came to the workshop with a broad range of digital skill sets, questions, and concerns.
Jojo explained that data for humanists is “constructed, interpretable, processable (digitally), and can have evidentiary value.” Without data, digital humanities projects would not be possible and Jojo provided us with several sources such as databases (NYC Open Data, Digital Public Library of America) institutional collections (Digital Scriptorium, NYPL Digital Collections) and other digital projects (Around DH in 80 Days). She also gave us tools and techniques we could use to collect data with audio/visual (TANDEM, CUNYcast), web scraping (Scrapy), text analysis (Python, MALLET, R , AntConc) text encoding (Text Encoding Initiative), and geocoding (Mapbox, CartoDB, OpenStreetMap, QGIS). I appreciated that Jojo spent some time discussing APIs. Her definition of APIs as a way to communicate with websites, made them more approachable instead of intimidating. Jojo emphasized that “digital things” often have documentation, keys that allow them to be accessed. She also encouraged us to register for Zotero in order to easily save, access, and cite all the tools and information we come across during our research.
A heated discussion arose regarding ethics in response to Lev Manovich’s “Selfie Project,” which involved gathering images from thousands of Instagram users’ selfies. In the age of big, rapidly accessible data, where do we draw lines based on privacy? How does a digital humanist deal with personal information when it is possible to acquire from social media? The IRB and their scrutiny of human subject research was invoked as a possible model. Some pointed out that Manovich’s project is a creative and artistic project and not subject to IRB guidelines. We did not come to a concrete resolution but I do believe that “the human element” is an important thing to consider in designing DH projects.
Early on in the workshop, we did an exercise which involved talking to the person seated next to us about their background, digital skillsets, and research interests. This exercise helped cement the social and collaborative aspects of DH. One sentiment expressed by Micki Kaufman’s presentation and echoed by “The Lexicon of DH” workshop is to consider what information you might need for a project and to let that be a guide. Mastery of DH tools are certainly helpful but, for those who do not possess it, resources exist to have at least working knowledge in order to execute one’s project. For example, the GC has upcoming working groups for mapping and Python. Jojo’s post, Helpful Hints, has more on this.
Attending the “Lexicon of DH” workshop, we did not leave with a single easy definition of DH. However, from the examples presented and the myriad of research interests the attendees had, we left with a positive sense of DH’s potential possibilities and how we can tap into them.