Philosophy and Humanities Computing, University of Alberta, Canada
English and Humanities Computing, University of Alberta, Canada
Humanities Computing, University of Alberta, Canada
Arts Resource Centre, University of Alberta, Canada
Arts Resource Centre, University of Alberta, Canada
McMaster University, Canada
On March 18th, 2009 over 90 people participated in a collaborative documentation project called A Day in the Life of Digital Humanities. The participants blogged what they did that day in the spirit of digital humanities as a form of autoethnography that could help answer the question, "just what do we do?"
In this paper we will:
The original idea for the project was to develop a communal response to questions asking exactly what it is that we do in the digital humanities. In 2006, "The State of Science & Technology in Canada" from the Council of Canadian Academies reported humanities computing as an emerging field of strength in Canada. Since then, there have been requests in various forms for an explanation of what the previously unnoticed field was.1
The form of the response was inspired by a lecture by Edward L. Ayers (currently now President of the University of Richmond) that we had heard about, titled "What Does a Professor Do All Day, Anyway?" Ayers was an early computing historian whose "The Valley of the Shadow" project was one of the two founding IATH projects. In that lecture, he reflected on how people, including his own young son, know little about what a professor does. As he put it,
"In the eyes of most folks, a professor either portentously and pompously lectures people from his narrow shaft of specialized knowledge, or is a bookworm – nose stuck in a dusty volume, oblivious to the world."2
The situation is even worse in the digital humanities, where not only do people not know what we do as academics, they also don't know what "humanities computing" or the "digital humanities" are. It's not even clear if practitioners agree with each other on these basic matters. Ayers's approach to answering this question was the simplest and most cohesive: simply to describe each part of his day, task by task. A Day in the Life of Digital Humanities scales this approach up to a participatory project. We hoped to address the questions about the nature of digital humanities academic work by reflecting as a community.
The Day of DH (as we call it) was thus conceived to provide one form of response to the definition of the field: not through speculation, but through observation. In this context we will also briefly demonstrate the WordPress setup and the wiki that was used to coordinate materials.3
As for all projects with human participants in Canadian academia, we first had to apply for ethics review. We presented the project not simply as a study of what the participants are doing, but as a collaborative publication. The paradigm therefore was that we were organizing a collective documentation project where the results would be a form of publication that would be returned to the community for further study. Some participants went so far as to run visualization tools on the RSS feed of all the entries as they were being posted, thus returning a feed of the posts live to participants, which allowed study to happen as the day proceeded.
One of the problems we encountered was cleaning up the data after the day. The cleaning up of the data involved four broad steps:
The Day in the Life of Digital Humanities is a modest example of a collaborative "crowdsourcing" project. It is not the first such project in the humanities. For instance, Suda On Line is an excellent example of how a "crowd" can participate in a larger project.5 Reflecting on the level of participation in the Day of DH, we believe that some of the strategies we adopted to encourage participation were successful:
What then have we learned about the digital humanities from the project? To some extent the project speaks for itself. The project doesn't provide a short answer to questions about what we do. Instead it provides a wealth of detail and reflections. Nonetheless we do have some conclusions based on readings of the entries:
Further observations we leave for you; after all, the point was to leave the community data stream to think about and with.
On March 18th, 2010 we plan to run the Second Day of Digital Humanities. This second project will try to address some of the limitations of the first:
There are a couple of different lenses that might be appropriate to the discussion of the Day of DH. First, it can be seen as an exercise by the participants and the larger community in building social capital. Bourdieu's work on social capital emphasizes both the actual and potential resources available to the individual through participation in a network.8 Coleman focuses on the potential benefits to the individual.9Putnam highlights the value of social capital to the community, equating community participation with civic virtue.10Individuals involved in the DDH have had an opportunity to increase, extend, or consolidate existing social capital through self-revelation within the framework of the day. The DH community in the larger sense has had a moment of opportunity for critical self-reflection.
The second possible lens deals primarily with that possibility for self-reflection. Much as every design can be read as a comment on the act of designing and the discipline of design, or every building as a contribution to the ongoing discussion of architecture, so DDH provides a moment of self-directed reflection on what it means to be a digital humanist in a world where other digital humanists are also active.
© 2010 Centre for Computing in the Humanities
Last Updated: 30-06-2010