Monday, April 07, 2008

Primers in Digital Humanities

Jeremy Boggs at ClioWeb has begun a multi-part series on designing projects in digital humanities. It looks like Boggs is planning to be much more nuts-and-bolts, but it reminded me of a much earlier post at the now-defunct Semantic Humanities on what digital humanities tools could take from Web 2.0:

Give users tools to visualise and network their own data. And make it easy.

A good example is Last.FM. You run a program they give you that uploads the data about the songs you listen to, as you are listening to them. You can then see stats about your listening habits, and are linked with people with similar listening habits. The key thing is that you don’t have to do extra work...

Compare this to a Digital Humanities project: The Reading Experience Database, which aims to accumulate records of reading experiences. They ask that if you come across any reading experiences in your research, you note them down, and submit them to the database with their online form (there are two - a 4 page form and a shorter one page form if you can’t be bothered with 4 pages of forms).
I’m not out to disparage the RED here - in many ways it is a fine endeavour. But I do want to criticise the conceptual model of how it accumulates data:
It requires that you, as a researcher, do your normal work, and then go and fill in (ideally) 4 pages of web forms for every reading experience that you have found (and possibly already documented elsewhere). Do you like filling out forms? I don’t. Worst of all, you don’t get any kind of access to the data - yours, or anyone elses (you just have to trust they will eventually get around to coding a search page).
This doesn’t help you to do your work now.

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