Each week I am required to write a post for my EDUC 5105 class, so I thought I would take the time to reflect on an “Introduction to Digital Humanities Research” workshop I attended for my second post.
Held in McMaster University’s Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship, the workshop was designed to “introduce participants to the values, practices, and resources associated with Digital Humanities that can help McMaster researchers shape various types of digital projects such as knowledge sites, digital editions, digital storytelling, datamining, geographic mapping, 3D modelling, and more.” (1)
What struck me most about what I learned, was that there wasn’t a great deal of pedagogy apparently involved in the Digital Humanities. As an example, a number of websites we were shown as examples of digital humanities work contained visualizations of data sets. However, there never seemed to be a defining reason as to why a visualization was needed. Take the Geography of the Post website for example. (2) Here, post offices open in the years between 1881 – 1890 are charted on a map of the United States as it exists west of the 100th meridian. By zooming in to each dot, you can see what the name of the town/city is and what years the post-office operated. However, that’s pretty much it. It’s such a tiny slice of data, that I (and a few others in the workshop) questioned why the time was spent visualizing it whatsoever.
What was more frustrating is that if you go to their GitHub page (3), the data is generated from an Excel file (USPO_July2014_West100th.xlsx) that contains a wealth of other information. State, region, subregion, rarity of stamps, latitude and longitude, etc. are all available. This data is much more useful when presented in a raw data format, and yet, here is a website where coloured dots only give you a glimpse of available information.
If Digital Humanities wants to break free from its origins of data digitization and become something more, some serious thought needs to be had as towards whether it needs to be anything more than digitization. Just because you can visualize something doesn’t mean you need to.