A Day With the Scholars’ Lab

Nothing quite starts the day like your professor jumping out of the Enterprise saying, We’re taking a big ass van to Charlottesville. And then Tweeting about it.

Rethinking Digital Humanities

Scholars' Lab Logo

Today was a fun and clarifying day for me and I’m sure all others in the class. Meeting with the very nice and generous folks at the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab gave me a greater insight into the scope of digital humanities as well as how cutting edge the field is. When I last defined digital humanities, I largely focused on the collaborative nature of digital humanities projects:

Digital Humanities attempt to break down the barriers that humanities scholars have placed between themselves and each other. It further attempts to bridge the humanities to those who are in the sciences and elsewhere by increasing dialogue; the esteemed publication is replaced by the website and other digital tools.

I wish to specifically add that in addition to digital humanities reaching across disciplines, it also reaches across professions. The sometimes unapproachable vernacular of the humanities is compelled to be altered for view by the masses. The motivation behind a scholar creating a digital humanities project expands with the understanding that tools are being created that can help a wide variety of individuals solve problems.

The most significant change to my definition is what makes digital humanities projects truly unique. The projects are about much more than their result. Even if a digital humanities project fails, team members learn and hone the art of negotiation and project management. In essence, participants are encouraged to focus on the fruits of collaboration, eschew selfish single authorship, and embrace the fruits of many minds working together. Successes and failures are duly met with ideas for revising and complemented with ideas for brand new projects.

Design Jam Session

The Scholars’ Lab also helped to direct the direction of our project in a design jam. (To begin, one fellow wished us massively good luck and described our tight time deadline as awesomely trembling.) The issue of time assisted us in resolving to a project targeted toward W&L researchers (i.e. students, faculty, prospective students, and alumni) that presents a narrative without taking a side. We had to table a few ideas (such as extended psychology research) because we wanted to avoid spreading ourselves too thin. We also wanted to leave time for the inevitable problem. In a discussion regarding design with one of the fellows, we discussed creating a site so that each visitor can have a truly unique experience. For instance, if a researcher is looking for information on alumni thoughts on coeducation, one could easily call up that information specifically. If a researcher is looking for newspapers, then one could easily call up every newspaper without regard to topic.

In the spirit of producing a poly-vocal product, we homed in on the strengths and interests of each group member. This helped us to answer the “why” question. I am particularly interested in how understanding coeducation will help the university respond to current and future challenges that are emotional in nature. I will focus on performing a retrospective analysis of alumni reactions working with Alumni Affairs and directly interviewing alumni. Melissa is interested in unpacking the SPSS data that she has gained from Professor Novack and taking a deeper look at the Calyx (our yearbook). Kelsey has a special interest in interviewing and has a super special interest in the design of the website. Patrick will be using his computer science interests to focus on accessibility.

What is greatest about these roles is that they overlap. We will each capitalize on our interests and skills while empowering each other – bringing fresh viewpoints to each segment of the project by staying in touch with what each member is working on.

In Sum

I will remember this day as a lot of fun. It was refreshing to see the eagerness of the fellows to be working in an area of academia that is truly cutting-edge. I enjoyed learning new ways to define digital humanities and loved to discuss ideas with people who were as excited about our projects as we were. I really felt part of the larger academic community today, most assuredly a testament to the unwritten (but surely created with collaboration) digital humanities charter.