Getting Started

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    Andy Schocket

    We’re at the beginning. How are your ideas starting to take shape? What general stuff (if I may use that technical term) interests you?

    Andy Schocket

    OK, since no one’s jumping in, and I shouldn’t ask of anyone else what I would be unwilling to do, here goes…

    The project that I’m working on is called the Magazine of Early American Datasets (MEAD). A big challenge in the digital humanities is preservation. In the study of early American history over the past four or five decades, many historians have used quantitive methods, and in doing so had to compile datasets. These are from a variety of sources, depending upon the historian and the project: census, probate records, tax lists, militia muster rolls, church journals, business ledgers, city directories, ship manifests, and so on. But in the humanities, unlike the sciences, the culture of scholarship is to publish the analysis but to keep one’s own notes and data. So many datasets are retiring or will die with their original compilers–and almost none are accessible to other scholars or the public.

    Because the project hasn’t been officially announced, I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I’ll be working with a prominent historian of early American whose done a great deal of quantitative analysis, along with a center that sponsors early American research, to construct an online repository for these datasets and future datasets where they can be preserved, and publicly accessible. So far, signs are encouraging: the center’s host institution library is amenable to hosting the project on its electronic institutional repository. More anon.

    What are other folks’ ideas?

    Katlin Humrickhouse

    I have been thinking very much about what sort of project I want to do, but I’ve come up with little to nothing. I have had a couple of ideas, but I’m still pretty hesitant on what exactly it is I want to do.

    My first idea was to digitize my husbands (short) military career. However, I have no idea how exactly to tackle this.

    Then I had this great idea to expand my Omeka stuff – retro games. But I’m not sure if I want to go that directions.

    I could also – instead of digitizing my husband’s military career – digitize another family member’s or one of the folders at the local historical museum.

    I’d love anyone’s input, especially Dr. Schocket’s.

    Becky Jenkins

    My project involves historical photos (the date range is 1860 to 1930) from Scioto County, Ohio, where I was born and where my parents still reside.

    The project started with an album my mother found at an estate sale – a leather bound book with ten tintype images of an African American family. I’ve scanned all of the photos and cleaned them with a photosafe cleaning agent. Here’s a link to the exhibit.

    I’ve requested books from the library for more information on identifying the photographer and coming to a better date range, based on the clothing, props and backgrounds in the images. I’m learning that there is very little information about identifying specifically African American historical portraits.

    I’ve also contacted the National Portrait Gallery’s research staff, and they’ve given me information about some further databases and resources for searching.

    I know the name of the woman whose estate these came from, and i’ve attempted to “friend” her adopted daughter on facebook for more information. Through county-specific facebook history group pages, I’ve been able to find some people that knew Mrs. Cavanaugh, and I’ve learned some about her life. I plan on using the university’s account to maybe identify the names of the subjects in the photos.

    While researching the Facebook forums, I uncovered a wealth of information about my home town, including some gorgeous portraits from around the area. I decided to expand the focus of my project to historical portraits from Scioto County, not just the Cavanaugh tintypes. My favorite part of this side of the project is the Millbrook Park page – you’d never know it if you visited now, but the Portsmouth area once was home to a beautiful amusement park with a half mile roller coaster – these photos are from that area.

    I also had some people mention they had photos that “looked similar” to the Cavanaugh tintypes, so I’ve included a section for comparison of these images, and also of a friend’s family – all taken around the Scioto County area.

    I am going home next weekend, and plan to spend a few hours in the library, checking out their photo archives for more source material.

    This is the most fun I’ve ever had researching a project!

    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.

    Matt Younglove

    So after much thought, mostly triggered from listening to the many blogs from, I think I have an idea for my project proposal.

    Being a DMA in the music school, I want this project to be music related. The saxophone, my primary instrument is very young, so information on it might not be appropriate for my first DH project. However, my musical passion is contemporary music. This can be divided into two categories: the music of living composers (present) and the music of the later half of the 20th Century (past/historical).

    My idea is to compile a database of concert programs, not just the images but the pieces and composers, from 1945 (post World War II) to the year 2000. A well constructed database could answer innumerable questions, such as:

    1) Were there any spikes in prominence of a particular composer’s music during certain time periods? Why might this be the case?
    2) How many world premieres were given by major orchestras in each year? Is new music increasing or decreasing on the orchestral stage? (There is constant debate about this, but no numerical statistics to back it up)
    3) How often after a world premiere does a piece either a) die out or b) become the next hip phenomenon that many orchestras are programming? What is the time line for such events?

    I have numerous other questions, but a database that could be added to by every orchestra in the country with current information for each concert season would be fascinating. Additionally, monetary success from season to season could be tracked and traced and orchestras could use this information to build upon their future programming choices.



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