Digital Humanities, a collective effort.

At the moment, the digital humanities carries a broad definition. The aspects that allow for a successful DH project are however a bit more rotund. We’ve looked at many projects from the beginning of the semester, and the aspects that make them successful become increasingly evident when reflecting back upon them.

First of all, consistency of subject matter throughout the project is essential. A mapping project of victorian London that includes images showing the evolution of flip flops wouldn’t make sense. On the contrary, it would likely confuse a user looking for information on the geography of Victorian London. While the map included on such a project may include valuable information, irrelevancy detracts and can easily render the project inutile.

Making the information included clear to the user is additionally important. Carrying on the map example, if a map is derived from bad scans it quite simply cannot be used. In the same vein, putting a high quality rendering of the same map online is of little use if the largest it can be seen at is only a few hundred pixels wide.

That is to say, the quality of materials included in a project are important. But even if the project is relevant to one topic and has high quality information, poor organization and ease of use can detract potential users. Here, interaction design (IxD) is important. We have certain expectations of a tool when using it (being able to zoom in on a map, access information from different pages on a website). When a project does not meet these standards it becomes a bit more unsuccessful.

Next to IxD is user experience design (UX). Perhaps the clearest way to explain this is by referencing industrial design. When we see a flip light switch, we expect that by flipping it one way or another a light will receive or be deprived of power. If the flip switch is meant to be pushed, then the design fails. Similarly, faux drawers that are only there for aesthetics. Seeing a link that doesn’t look like a link may cause a user to miss an important function of a site, and static element that looks like a button will work to frustrate the user.

The ability for a project to expand is yet another important aspect of a successful DH project. The internet is such a malleable medium that a project should be built in a way that more information and materials can be added with time. It’s not set in stone, nor should it be.

A good DH project is accessible, has clear intent, intuitive project navigation, and the ability to grow. Collaboration is also an important aspect that is aided tremendously by the ability to work with others by the means of using the internet. A good DH project also allows scholars to ask new questions.

This can be achieved by the nature of a project. By concentrating a DH project on a facet of a subject, projects about adjacent subjects can be enriched. That is to say, we can read a text set in London (as we’ve done) and increase our understand why certain events occurred in specific locations by using a variety of different DH projects, each complementing the other. Reading crime reports allows us to see what types of crime are committed, allowing the question into the state of poverty (or lack thereof) inherent within a neighborhood during a specific period of time. Other starting off points lead to using different DH projects, each focusing on an aspect of what one is researching. The aspects not covered by a specific project can provoke questions, which may be answered by other projects. The cycle can easily repeat itself, but when a question cannot be answered? That might just make good fodder for the beginnings of another DH project.

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