Qualities of a Good Digital Humanities Project

The qualities of a good digital humanities project include:

1. Usefulness

A good project is useful to scholars from varying disciplines, offering resources for more extensive study of a topic when viewed from different perspectives. The project can then allow conversation between subjects or disciplines. The Old Bailey Archive, for instance, is an excellent example of a resource made accessible to a larger audience that allows the visitor to view a large collection of reports from the court’s criminal trials. The information gained from the project could be useful for various academic disciplines, from a study in the historical contexts of specific crimes to the frequency of crime in certain areas of London. These multiple studies can be used either apart or in conjunction with one another to take full advantage of the information provided by the archive.

2. Collaboration

One of the things that makes digital humanities unique is the ability for its users to collaborate on projects and furthermore on the comprehension of those projects. Just as the project should allow for the conversation between disciplines, it should be able to spark conversation between scholars about the topics it covers. The creators should work together to produce a tool that offers a complexity that is lacking in small, single-disciplinary projects. Just a brief glance at the “Project” pages of some of these tools reveals an extensive list of contributors from different faculties and with varying areas (and levels) of expertise.

3. Design

The design of a project should be visually engaging and simple (to a degree). It should remain aesthetically pleasing without being gaudy, and the designer should refrain from making it too busy. The design should compliment the resources provided, rather than distracting from the information. The Ninteenth-Century Disability Cultures & Contexts archive has a clean, attractive design that does not take away from the project’s text. Less professional-seeming projects like word clouds run the risk of being aggressively tacky and prevent the viewer’s full focus from being on the text. (The default results from the Voyant tool still make me cringe.)

4. Accessibility

The tool should be easy for anyone – professional or student – to understand. This ties into the design, of course, but also to the specific presentation of information. If the language used is too technical, those who aren’t pretentious enough may not be able to comprehend what is being presented. As stated above, one of the most crucial aspects of digital humanities projects is the conversations they create between subjects and scholars. Just like any old conversation, communication can’t exist unless there are efforts made at mutual understanding.

5. Innovation

What truly allows scholars to ask new questions via digital humanities projects is the presentation of new perspectives on old topics. As information is continually published in innovating ways and unique resources are produced, the ability for people to gain alternative understandings of the subjects is increased. These understandings translate to new answers to questions – old or new – that were previously not considered, well, answerable. Hammerich’s article “Humanities Gone Spatial” suggests just a few questions that can be posed and sought to answer through the use of digital humanities, like “Would Robert E. Lee have been able to see Union forces on the far side of the battlefield when he ordered the notorious Pickett’s Charge?” These questions and answers can span many existing disciplines and may even create new ones. The field of digital humanities allows for the interpretation and analysis of information that was not possible in the past.

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