My Approach to Digital Humanities

Digital humanities holds the promise of increasing the means by which scholars are able to analyze and present data. Though some sentiments about the significance of digital humanities might be overblown, there is no doubt that the more ways we have to analyze sources the better. Learning a variety of the tools that make up the rather nebulous universe of digital humanities is like learning a new language. It opens up new possibilities that were previously closed or necessitated the expertise of others. This frames digital humanities as a collection of skills rather than a means to a predetermined end. I have adopted this perspective in learning about the possibilities opened by digital humanities and working on a digital humanities project. I am hardly the first person to take these steps, but I hope that by explaining my thought process I can set a basis for future posts on digital humanities.

If there has been one guiding force in my approach to digital humanities, it is to learn skills and tools in the process of production. In a way, this is simply the application of critical thinking to how I create my scholarly work. Instead of doing things in what seems the de facto manner, I have sought to question if there is either a more efficient way or a way in which I could gain or improve my competency. The goal of efficiency was particularly significant in thinking about how to organize my research and writing (DH 1.0), while learning new skills has been more important in the production of digital humanities projects (DH 2.0). This may not be the easiest way to complete a project in the short run, but by doing things the hard way, I am looking to open up new opportunities for future projects. With this theoretical approach in mind, let me now discuss a few concrete principles of my digital humanities practices concerning text, applications, and producing digital humanities projects.

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Thinking about Workflow: DH 1.0

In the spring of 2011, I was in the middle of doing research for my dissertation. I had recently returned from my second extended trip to the archives in the Netherlands and Belgium and had accumulated a ton of notes. I knew that technology had drastically altered the possibilities for research, but the fundamentals of my own workflow were hardly different than they had been when I began undergrad in the early 2000s. Sure, I used the internet to watch Netflix, but the basic tools—centered on the Microsoft Office Suite—were essentially the same. One day, I gave in to the nagging feeling that I was not getting enough out of my computer, that there were better ways of doing things. I started to poke around the internet to see if I could find ways to improve my workflow. What started as a distraction soon turned into a months-long project on finding better tools for conducting research. I quickly realized that the actual process of getting work done, doing research and writing papers, is little discussed in graduate school. Early career graduate students are so busy reading, writing, and generally trying to keep up, that the process of how to do the work is easily pushed to the background. Since then, I have tried to think critically and systematically about my workflow and have often discussed this with others.

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