Finding my Inner Scientist: Documenting in Digital Humanities

This blog post was written by Jen Rajchel who recently finished her role as digital initiatives intern at The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education. 

Over the course of this year working on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Higher Education, I found my inner scientist. We often don’t think of documenting projects and experiments as methodologies associated with the humanities, or at least I hadn’t. However, over the course of working on a few digital projects this year, documentation has been a key component.

Last summer, I attended a course on creating digital editions at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI),  aptly tagged as “summer camp for nerds.” In that class, our instructor Meagan Timney, advised us to document everything and that it can be helpful to think about the scientific method when beginning a digital project. Experimentation works best in a framework where it can be tested, adjusted, and revised, and even better when others can collaborate as a result of good documentation. Whether it’s testing a new platform, like the iBook, or learning a new coding scheme, such as TEI, processing steps as they happen can go a long way towards thinking through outcomes beyond the initial phase.

Throughout my year in a hybrid role as project assistant on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Higher Education and working on the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative (Tri-Co DH), I have learned how documentation is a way to collaborate on digital projects and create a shared community of knowledge. Working in a consortium like the Tri-Co (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore) allows for exciting overlap in projects, especially digital ones, when expertise is shared even when subject matter doesn’t quite intersect– as in the case of my working on the Digital DuChemin project with Richard Freedman which focused on French Renaissance polyphony and on The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education researching dorm culture at Bryn Mawr in the 1900s. While working with on the DuChemin project, we explored systematic workflows and tested user personas in order to gauge the scope and interest of users. When beginning the work in the Bryn Mawr Special Collections, I was immediately engaged with questions of audience and considering what angle of research might best apply to large constituency.

By taking notes on the process (even something as seemingly small as a shared Googledoc or screenshots of a work in a progress), collaboration becomes a major component of the project and creates a shared community of expertise. Documentation becomes a great way to share your perspective on a project, whether that be through understanding the nuances and standards of transcription and TEI or creating a digital workflow and it also contributes to the sustainability of the project or center itself.

As part of The Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Higher Education staff, I was able to test out new platforms for publishing and document those processes as well as be part of a team thinking through the larger digital workflow. It was incredibly exciting for me to come together with a team and map out the components of the entire project from research to digitizing to curating a digital exhibit. As a team, we’ve channeled our inner scientists and have produced a lot documentation. From creating models of digital workflow to producing digital preservation guidelines, I am really excited about how these will serve not only a great archive of the Center but also generate new collaborations and spark new discoveries with future digital projects within the Tri-Co and beyond.

2 thoughts on “Finding my Inner Scientist: Documenting in Digital Humanities

  1. Greetings! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering which blog platform
    are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  2. Hi, well you might not be too pleased with the answer: We are using WordPress! We are using it alongside Omeka for our site (available at http://greenfield.brynmawr.edu/)

    Sorry to hear you are having problems. Perhaps we avoid that because we are going through the Bryn Mawr College hosted version of WordPress, I’m not sure. Best of luck with your search for a different platform.

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