Jumpstarting Digital Humanities Projects
“Jumpstarting Digital Humanities Projects” is a half-day pre-conference workshop on various aspects of beginning a digital humanities project: scoping and planning a sizable project; determining when to use institutional infrastructure and when to go beyond the institution; winning cooperation from institutional authorities and collaborators; collecting and digitizing materials; and designing for iterative development and efficient feedback loops. Our sessions will focus on the common type of digital humanities project that consists of a assembling a database of source material and generating interactive interpretations such as maps and visualizations from that database. Five scholars from different disciplines and institutions, each a participant in the Mellon-funded Resilient Networks for Inclusive Digital Humanities initiative, will give short tutorials, and workshop attendees will spend an hour on exercises in which they can begin planning a digital humanities project with help from the instructors.
Description of Content
“Jumpstarting Digital Humanities Projects” is a half-day pre-conference workshop on various aspects of beginning a digital humanities project: scoping and planning a sizable project; determining when to use institutional infrastructure and when to go beyond the institution; winning cooperation from institutional authorities and collaborators; collecting and digitizing materials; hiring students and technologists; and designing for iterative development and efficient feedback loops. Our sessions will focus on the common type of digital humanities project that consists of a assembling a database of source material and generating interactive interpretations such as maps and visualizations from that database. Five scholars from different disciplines and institutions, each a participant in the Mellon-funded Resilient Networks for Inclusive Digital Humanities initiative, will give presentations apiece of 30-45 minutes, and workshop attendees will spend an hour on exercises in which they themselves can begin planning their own digital humanities project with individualized help from the instructors. We will end the day with a brief group discussion on how humanities scholars at institutions without digital humanities centers can best form networks and advocate for infrastructure at their own institutions to support digital scholarship.
Scoping and Planning
Workshop leaders will discuss the collaborative and creative processes by which they determine what is achievable in a given project, and how they found the most optimal paths towards achieving their goals. These presentations will not be didactic but exploratory, the “leaders” having at this stage, on average, only begun to execute their workflows. This will provide an ideal space for attendees at various stages in their projects to feel invited to ask questions and contribute to strategies for determining what can be achieved within the specific constraints of budget, time, skills, and archival resources.
Institutional and Extra-Institutional Infrastructure
One of the major decisions projects have to make in their beginning stages is where to host content. Digital humanities projects of the type we are discussing in this workshop require a website, yet many if not most institutions do not provide server space for humanities scholars. Increasingly, libraries will host and manage digital humanities projects, but not all libraries provide this service, and those that have provided it in the past often find that as software and systems age, the cost in labor of maintaining digital humanities projects is a disincentive to provide such services for future projects. Commercial hosts such as GoDaddy and HostGator are one option, and an increasingly well-known option is Reclaim Hosting, founded by instructional technologists by and for educators, but many humanities faculty members are either not aware of these options or do not know how to choose between them. Workshop leaders will discuss their own choices and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each, balancing speed, efficiency, cost, support, sustainability, and longevity.
Feedback loops & iterative design
Collaborative humanities projects depend on the gathering of diverse skills in the pursuit of complex goals. While it is difficult in institutional settings to achieve appropriate parity, this sort of cross-department and cross-strata project work can form alternative modes of collective intellectual labor that takes seriously the input of all stakeholders. The appropriate site for this integration of viewpoints in the context of project work is what we call “design.” By negotiating over what a thing does and how, a team comes to understand better what it is they are doing in the first place. A project often looks different at the end than it did in the earliest planning stages, and this aspect of the discussion will invite participants to think more creatively about the possibilities of interdisciplinary and inter-departmental collaboration.
Achieving and Maintaining Buy-in
The differences in institutional situations between the different groups represented by collaborating members in an interdisciplinary project necessarily create communicative friction and potential divergences in goals and perceptions. While this on some level represents differences in commitments, the perceived shared goal of any project is what brings collaborators to the table in the first place, and a flexible orientated-ness is what maintains buy-in. Workshop leaders will lead open-ended discussions about experiences in this process.
Collecting and Digitizing Materials
Many digital projects in the humanities begin with non-digital materials, such as the images and documents in the county archives of Waller County, Texas. Projects that include oral histories such as the Houston Asian American Archive now usually capture recordings in born-digital formats, but comprehensive archives of this nature may also need to convert analog audio and video materials from earlier eras. Libraries and archives have a great deal of knowledge about digitization and metadata standards and conversion and migration technologies that can be of use to humanities scholars, so partnering with library and archives professionals early on can be of great benefit. Workshop leaders in this section will discuss their practices with digitizing and collecting materials, especially in partnership with librarians.
Description of Audience
Humanities scholars in the early planning stages of large projects that require a broad array of technical and scholarly competencies. While Digital Humanities is of course a conference for advanced practitioners, we hope in this session both to entice “analog” humanities scholars to commingle with more experienced digital humanities scholars and to encourage experienced digital humanities scholars to think about how best to foster the spread of their methods.
This workshop requires a digital projector with audio capabilities, preferably one that can be used with instructor laptops: it requires no special software or hardware. We will expect attendees to bring laptops, and we hope that the workshop room will have sufficient power outlets for attendees.
Length, Format, and Budget
“Jumpstarting Digital Humanities Projects” will be a one-day workshop on the following schedule:
9am-12:30pm: Presentations of 20 to 30 minutes by course instructors
1:30pm-3:30pm: Guided exercises in digital humanities project planning
3:30pm-4:15pm: Reflections on the day and discussion of institutional support needs for digital humanities projects
The Resilient Networks for Inclusive Digital Humanities project can fund the registration and travel of instructors. We would prefer a cost of no more than $25 USD for participants, especially since this workshop is meant to appeal chiefly to relative beginners in digital humanities.
Title: Manager, Houston Asian American Archive
Address: 3970 Inverness Dr., Houston, TX 77019
Anne Chao is manager of the Houston Asian American Archive at Rice University. She oversees Rice student interns to conduct interviews with Asian Americans in Houston and the greater metropolitan area. Since 2010, HAAA has accumulated over 160 oral history interviews spanning diverse ethnicities from East, to Southeast, and South Asian-Americans. The collection of primary source materials details the contribution of Asian Americans in the building of greater Houston since the Jim Crow era, and provides new insight into the history of the region. Working with the archivist at the Fondren Library, HAAA uses the Omeka platform and includes GIS mapping to plot the life trajectories of the interviewees. The interviews are fully transcribed and time-stamped, synchronized, indexed with key words through the use of the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS).
Title: Director, Resilient Networks for Inclusive Digital Humanities
Address: GWU Libraries, 2130 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20052
Amanda French’s particular expertise consists of making humanities content (both cultural content and scholarly interpretation of that content) openly available online, as well as introducing scholars to the various methods of and issues with making humanities content openly available online. She held the CLIR Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at NCSU Libraries from 2004-2006. From 2010-2014, she was first Coordinator and later Principal Investigator for the Mellon-funded initiative THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), an international unconference that has seen more than 300 events to date attended by more than 7000 people. She often speaks and sometimes writes about open access, the scholarly publication landscape, Omeka, Scalar, Hypothes.is, THATCamp, the Digital Public Library of America, Wikipedia, grant-writing, and alternative careers for humanities PhDs. Her most recent digital research project is a catalog with accompanying exhibits of the personal library of the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, available at
Title: Professor in the Practice of Humanities; Associate Director, Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality – Rice University
Address: CSWGS, MS-38 | 6100 Main St | Houston, TX | 77005-1892
Brian Riedel received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Rice University. His research and teaching focus on engaged research and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer social movements, particularly in Greece and the United States. Two of his current projects use GIS to examine the historical connections of place and sexuality. One project examines the histories of the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, Texas, and the uses to which they are put. A core component of that project is a GIS visualization of Houston’s LGBT-centered businesses from 1945 to 2015. The other project, conducted in collaboration with the African American Library at the Gregory School (part of Houston Public Library) and Rice Century Scholar Cameron Wallace, documents Houston’s formal red-light district known as the “reservation,” which operated from 1908 to 1917. Although freed slaves had settled on that land since Emancipation, the city claimed the area held “only a few Negro huts.” The project uses GIS and StoryMaps to meld primary resources like census, city directory, and tax record data.
Title: Assistant Professor of History, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, Texas
Address: Division of Social Work, Behavioral, and Political Sciences, Prairie View A&M University, P.O. Box 519; MS 2203, Prairie View, TX 77446-2203
Marco Robinson is an Assistant Professor of History at Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, Texas. Marco’s research is centered around capturing the social, political, economic, and cultural histories of communities in the American South through collecting, preserving, and analyzing archival and oral history data. As it relates to digital humanities, Dr. Robinson uses this data to tell digital stories, for mapping using GIS and the digitization of historical artifacts. His most recent publication and project are “Telling the Stories of Forgotten Communities: Oral History, Public Memory, and Black Communities in the American South” (Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, Volume 13, Number 2, (Spring 2017): 171- 184.) and Using Interactive Maps and Apps to Preserve Local History: Digitizing the Black Experience in Waller County, Texas.