Reply To: Getting Started

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Andy Schocket

Several of you (Alex, Katlin, Becky) are thinking of some sort of digitization projects. That’s great, insofar as the great universe of undigitized stuff there is out there, and you’re all working with fascinating stuff.

But also think remember that mere digitization, as useful as it may be, does not in and of itself make a digital humanities project. It might constitute an archiving project, or a publicity project, but might not in and of itself be a digital humanities project–the same way that collecting non-digital sources in an archive or scrapbook might be a useful preservation project, but would not count as a contribution to the humanities.

Remember that to be doing the digital humanities means addressing a question, a challenge, in the humanities, in DH praxis, or both. That might mean building a new tool or method that can help humanists do their work. It might mean showing how an existing tool can be used to answer an important humanities question. It might mean using digital methods to disseminate findings, or to foster intellectual community, or offer an interpretation in ways that a more traditional delivery method (i.e., print) cannot.

Let me offer you a corollary. If you were in a literature class, and asked to write a paper, you might start by collecting six Mark Twain novels. Great! But merely digitizing something on a small scale is the equivalent: that is, it’s the gathering of the material in one place. The harder question is, what can you do with it that can be a contribution to knowledge? In that literature class, your professor would then ask, “What are you going to do with those books that will be a contribution to our knowledge on Twain, or literature?” Similarly, when you think of a digitization project, if that is going to be the project that you’re going to write a proposal for, will it be an interpretation of that material? Will it be some way of displaying the material that is innovative? Will it be some new way of interacting with material online?

It’s not that digitization isn’t useful, and time-consuming. The question is the next step.