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Alex Koch

Reviewing Digital Humanities projects without having a specific project in mind, was a bit of a crapshoot. As a result, my review focuses on couple of sites I spent the most time examining from a few days of reviewing a number of projects. A quick Google search pulled a number of “projects to watch” from a wide variety of blogs, some of which were dedicated to the DH discourse – while others’ examinations started and finished with “check out this cool graph!” While some universities’ DH websites featured their ongoing work, others linked to DH projects that weren’t affiliated with the university in the slightest – highlighting the inclusive nature further showcasing the inclusive Big Tent nature of the discipline. While attempting to draw up my own evaluation definitions, I found myself struggling – not because of the sites’ differences in techniques or presentation, but due to the wealth and depth of the information presented (while setup exceptionally well, the volume of entries is staggering at Founders Online, a project from the National Archives)… this was the case even after the data was placed into infographics and/or visualizations (one of the more forgiving examples I found on Illustrations for Six Degrees of Alexander).

Some sites seemed focused on an academic audience, others aimed to for a wider viewing public. More often than not these sites featured tools we’re already utilizing on our own pages (Omeka and/or WordPress powered sites abound) or other freely accessible tools thanks to Google – though some more effectively than others. Two sites which heavily relied on Google Maps data, that I spent some time with were Cleveland Historical and Radio Aporee. While very different projects, the strengths of Cleveland Historical’s page, are due to the general organization and layout of the website overall. Granted, the Radio Aporee site appears to be the result of an unofficial group of hobbyists so a lack of funding is to be expected (especially compared to CH), but entering from the “Maps” page (which is how I was directed from UNC’s DH page) it took me awhile to determine what exactly I was sifting through, what the goal was, and who was doing it. Their accompanying apps feature similar organization discrepancies…though CH’s layout was clunkier than I expected (especially considering the app developer had created similar apps for 18 other regions), with the integration of the map lost after selecting an entry. This was also the case with Aporee’s was possibly even more unclear than the website. Here I was ready to participate in their project and upload my own geo-tagged recording on the fly, but was hung up due to tracking issues! That said, Aporee’s database of sounds was impressive, albeit difficult to navigate at times, but with the support of Internet Archive will likely continue to grow.

Based on Aporee’s organizational issues, I wondered if having an easier point of entry for users to contribute content to these databases correlated to the organization and display of their projects overall. Our Marathon – a digital archive focusing on the Boston Marathon bombing – allows users to submit their own content on the front page of the site. The submission page looks similar to Omeka’s backend “Add an Item” feature, and likely only relies on a plugin since the site is powered by Omeka. Although the theme has been modified, I did notice several layout issues, some of which we discussed last class appear to be inherent in some of Omeka’s free layouts – if a user clicks on the main flash slideshow it takes you to an item page and you’re unable to examine much else… but if you use the “explore” tab in the upper navigation you’re brought to a “Browse by Topic” page, which to those of us who have explored our own Omeka pages will recognize as a listing of Exhibits. Although the items feature geographic information there’s no way to examine multiple items on a map at once – which would have been interesting to see how close in proximity these items were.
So based on a limited examination, one which I’ll explore further in the evaluation post, it does not appear that a community-fed project is doomed to organizational chaos, rather the project website’s limitations is likely due to where the site is hosted and how it’s powered.