Understanding DH through #DayofDH Projects

When I was in art class in high school, we consistently used the words “systematic investigation” and “creative problem solving” to the point where it almost became a joke: “My entire project just fell apart… I guess I have some systematic investigating to do!” The more the teacher used the term to guide us in creating, the more it made sense. We were using trial and error, asking questions, and working to solve problems in a creative way. I had never put together the experiences I had in art and digital humanities until I read David Lacho’s write up for his project for the Day of DH, “Mapping the Day of DH: Using Google Fusion Tables to build a map of #dayofdh and #dayofdh2016 from user’s location on Twitter.” 

One concept that Lacho touches on in the first part of his blog post is that of the archive, which we have written about on the blog before. He writes: “If anything [the project] will serve as an archive of a day where digital humanists participated in making a day that belonged to them.” The notion of making a space for ourselves as DHers made me oddly emotional. It reminded me that if there isn’t a space for something we want, or if there is information we want but can’t find, then we can create it (like the maps of day of DH). In elementary school, my friends and i created a holiday called nothingwhatsoever day where we would exchange gifts. It was in May, and we made it because we wanted to exchange presents, but there were no holidays in May where we could do so. We’re creating a Scalar project on humanity because we believe that it’s important to talk about. And with the globalization of the internet, technology, and ideas behind DH allow for ideas like this to be abundantly spread.

Lacho’s project also put into concrete terms for me the greatness of the open projects that exist on the internet, through the DH world. And the greatness comes from the projects and data collection all being open for interpretation. He writes: “I put the tools and the data in your hands.” The final post, where he links to the spreadsheet and all the data used, is even titled “And here be thy data: This project is for you.” The project demonstrates the DH community’s ability to interpret, share, and collect data. Through looking at the data and the maps that were created, I can draw my own conclusions. I didn’t have to do any of the problem solving of creating the tool or gathering the data, but now I can go into my own type of systematic investigation and close read the data to create an argument (if I wanted). It’s reminiscent of the “beginnings” of DH, where primary sources were uploaded to the internet so that people could gain access to these documents.

At the heart of it, Lacho defines DH in a way that is very similar to my experience in the art room:

To me, the digital humanities is exactly what I did today. I asked questions and I came up with a solution, which led to more questions. I would say the Digital Humanities is an iterative cycle in itself, always stepping towards another question, but remaining reflexive on our tools and processes.

It’s helpful for me to hear DH phrased in this way and looked at through this lens. Currently, I’m working in a group to create a project questioning the humanity in digital humanities. Many times, I’m finding myself having more questions than answers. And Lacho has assured me that this is just part of what DH is. If our project raises more questions, then it has done its job.

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