Welcome to Digital Tools for the 21st Century: Sherlock Holmes’s London (DHM 293)

 Course Description:

Do you want to learn how to read 10,000 books at a time? Create maps of crimes in Sherlock Holmes’s London? This course provides an introduction to digital humanities (DH)–the practice of using digital tools for scholarly purposes in all majors–including its different uses, methodologies, tools, and projects.  You will learn different DH techniques, study existing DH projects, and try these techniques yourself in weekly labs.  We’ll use DH techniques to examine Sherlock Holmes short stories alongside Victorian court records, coroners’ reports, and maps of crimes in London.  While the in-class material will focus on 19th century London, your final group projects can be more immediately applicable to your own major or academic interests.  In lieu of taking exams and writing traditional papers, we will create digital exhibits, write blog posts, share our work through social media, and collaborate with students and scholars from around the world.  All majors are welcome. Computer literacy is helpful, but no programming experience is required.

Student Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the semester, students should be able to

  • Have an interdisciplinary understanding of 19th Century London
  • Identify, use, and discuss different DH methodologies and tools
  • Explain the pros and cons of the different methodologies and tools
  • Identify and explain key DH terms
  • Create projects using the tools covered in lab
  • Articulate what makes a DH project successful or unsuccessful
  • Use social media to engage with the larger DH community of scholars
  • Come up with research questions that can be answered with DH tools and methodologies and come up with the idea for tools and methodologies in order to answer research questions
  • Work collaboratively in groups to create a project that relates to their own research interests

Course Materials:

Every week will focus on a different DH methodology will include a discussion-based class and a hands-on lab when you will practice the tools we have been discussing. All readings with URLs can be found online and through the course website.

Five Important Qualities of a Digital Humanities Project

A good digital humanities project should incorporate the following:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Intuitive Navigation
  3. Collaborative Potential
  4. Expandability
  5. Clear Intent/Purpose

If a project includes all of these aspects, such as the Charles Booth Archive or the Rosetti Archive, then we can learn from them in hopes of creating our own. The scholarly nature of both archives adds to their legitimacy; in fact, thanks to each sites’ design, the presentation of information is transparent, and bibliographic notes are included.Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 11.35.29 AM

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Digital Humanities allows scholars to ask new questions that would have been almost impossible prior to the proliferation of the internet. Collaboration throughout the world is much easier now, which increases the variety of viewpoints for a particular subject.

Another advancement that promotes new questions is the use of interactive maps which can be toggled on or off. This gives scholars a tool to investigate that would be either too difficult or too time consuming to recreate prior to digitalization.

These are just two of many innovations in thinking digital humanities has hoisted upon the world; it will be interesting to see how the discipline grows and changes with time.

What Makes a Good Digital Humanities Project?

1. Clear Objective/Topic

The purpose of the project should be clear, without users needing to dig deeper to find out why the site or project exists. Without a clear objective in mind, projects risk becoming too expansive, scattered, and/or diluted in their content and/or message, thereby limiting their relevance and usability.

booktraces
Book Traces has a very clear purpose, stated directly on the home page. Due to this, it’s quite easy to see how the information on the site is unified.

2. User Friendly/Easy to Navigate

A good Digital Humanities project needs to be easy for users to navigate and use. An over-complicated design or interface makes the project less useful in the long run, since users need to be able to find what they’re looking for as quickly and easily as possible in order for the project to have any merit for scholarly/research purposes.

3. Visually Appealing/Appropriate

A good Digital Humanities project should be as aesthetically pleasing as possible, without the design distracting or deviating from the purpose of the project. This keeps the project interesting and engaging, and, if done right, can help further immerse users in the information contained within.

locatinglondon
Locating London is beautifully designed, with consistent color themes and imagery that, together, enhance the experience of scrolling through the black and white maps of London the site contains.

4. Scholarly

Digital Humanities projects should aim to be as scholarly as possible, providing relevant, consistent, accurate information that can be effectively used for research purposes.

booth
The Charles Booth Online Archive is quite scholarly, allowing users to see the demographics of specific locations in Victorian London, as studied by Charles Booth, as well as search the specific records used to generate this data.

5. Collaborative

It’s quite useful for a Digital Humanities project to be collaborative. Some projects allow users from around the world to contribute, while others are simply open to be updated over time by the researchers involved, never quite being “finished.”

How do Digital Humanities Projects Allow Scholars to Ask New Questions?

Digital Humanities allows scholars to ask new questions by making connections between topics and types of data that were never before so easily comparable. For example, a GIS mapping project can provide comparative, multi-era overlays of the same area, showing differences over time in some specific category, and it is able to do this all in the same space, in an interactive way. Digital Humanities makes the easy effortless, the possible easy, the difficult possible, and, in some cases, the impossible a reality.

Lauren Gao’s: 5 Qualities of a Good DH Project

Design

Time and time again, clean, organized, aesthetic design and visuals on turn up as key to  any Digital Humanities project we have done in class so far. For example, GIS mapping projects should not have all of its data sets appear simultaneously, and should give the viewer the option to toggle on/off individual data sets. In the case of Digital Archives, once again, choice of colors and images used on the home page can have a substantial impact on how the user may come to understand what the theme binds together the information in that particular archive.

Scholarly

This quality is what separates reliable DH projects and questionable ones. All the information used in any particular project should be traceable to their original source, whether it be primary or secondary, especially if the information used did not belong to the makers of the DH Project. On a Digital Archive, this would appear perhaps at the end of each object page or whenever a reference to information that was obtained outside the DH project itself.

User Friendly

Considering that every individual who makes or uses a DH project are not from computer science disciplines themselves, navigating these projects should feel “organic” or fairly easy to learn. Book Traces is one example of such, where the form to fill out the book submission is extremely easy to understand, and even provides an example on the side.

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Interactive

On of the advantages of a DH project over physical paper representations of it, is that the user is able to interact with the project by manipulating when certain bits of data or information are shown at a time. The overlay feature of GIS mapping projects is one example of this, or clicking on a pin to reveal more information about that location is another. A not so good example of this would be the maps shown on the “Art in the Blood” fan project.

Collaborative

Last, but not least, DH projects allow for extensive amounts of collaboration with individuals who need not presently be there to do so. So as long as he or she may have access to the tools online needed to make the project, any person can continue on another’s work so as long the project is open to the public. Again, Book Traces is an elegant example of this as contributing to the project’s storehouse of 19th century Marginalia is quick, but thorough.