Researching in the Digital Humanities usually (lets face it: always) implies looking into a ton of online resources of all sorts: just some examples of the design of such resources include the use of mapping tools, data visualizations, text editing and processing tools, and database management systems, to name a few from the Digital Tools Index. Going through all these interesting sources with so many unique aspects to each project can quickly become overwhelming, especially if you are used to a “keep all tabs open” system and end up with tabs so small you can barely click on them (been there).
The next organizational system after the “overwhelming tabs” system comes the “copy-paste into word” system, which can also become overwhelming, and take up a lot of searching time, especially if it is not copied in with some sort of specified organization technique. I have had many research essays scrolling past the information and then quickly becoming confused by which source has which information … and then quickly ending up in the default tab system all over again. As much as I have tried to copy all of the information from both online and print sources in an organized fashion in proper MLA format to save time on my works cited page, it always ends with my essay/project taking much longer than it should because I am scrambling with a bunch of information that may or may not be conducive to my writing.
If you are like me in this aspect, then you may appreciate the online app Evernote.
Evernote allows users to ‘clip’ their online research links into the app itself and then write and even draw on the page that includes the clipping. My favourite feature is the one that allows for the creation of a notebook with a range of sources in one neat and organized format. It gets rid of the endless scroll, and cuts down on the need for multiple tabs (although you can still end up in tab land if you need to). Instead of seeing all your information on one long endless (slow) list as in a word processor, you can see your information in small squares all at once.
This tool greatly changes my research process, making it easier to enter information and even allows for more creativity, which for writing, is a great mindset to be in. The only thing I don’t like so much about the app is that it is not as organize-able as I would like. While it does have the option to make stacks of notebooks, which allows for the creation of multiple notebooks of research towards one project, I would like to see the ability to place specific notes within a notebook on their own ‘page’ so to speak. I can relax easier when I can see all of one type of thing in a well-organized list, and while I appreciate the option to make tags and view all sources under tags, it is still not quite the structure I like to work with. It would also be interesting to be able to print out the entire notebook’s contents all at once instead of only being able to print each note individually.
Browsing around, I found this link that has a number of online tools for helping researchers, well, research, and I may try some of them out to see if they are more what I am looking for. Especially of interest to me is Zotero which is built specifically for research rather than note-taking, the way Evernote is. It is nice to know there are so many different options out there towards research organization, note-taking, project collaboration, and list creation!
I used Evernote to put all of my DH project research in one place, and it has worked pretty well for that purpose as I can go through them and can easily find the projects that I want to go through again, but for an essay where I must write out quotes and things, Evernote is not my favourite method so far.
What are your thoughts on the Evernote app? Do you use it or another app to organize your research, notes, ideas, &c.?
I would be really interested to hear your research strategies as well, as I love hearing new ideas towards organization and approaches to essay/project work. I feel that it is too easy sometimes to get stuck in one way of doing something and not realize how difficult a certain approach may be until new ideas are shown.
The interesting DH projects I have been checking out this week are all available to view through my public Evernote folder, but I would like to highlight a couple of them here to discuss them more in detail.
The project is geared towards academics who are interested in the types of more academic exhibitions, but it addresses less academic public as well. I think that the fact that this project is about the presentation of information to anyone who is interested in the exhibitions is important as it truly displays the DH value of information as a publicly accessible to promote collaboration and idea generation. The resource is funded by a charity, and as such, this could pose a problem in terms of longevity, as the funds could be retracted. Other than this small insecurity, this resource has a wealth of exhibits to view, so it seems to be long-standing.
If there were one thing that I would critique the project on, it would be the ability to search for keywords to find exhibits of interest, as right now the project is only a long scrolling line of exhibitions. I think that with a search feature there would be an increase in traffic to the project as people would be able to search for things they are directly interested in instead of having to scroll endlessly in the hopes that there is something related to what they’d like to see. Otherwise this resource is well organized, with small pictorial cues to show the viewer what each exhibit does (i.e. it says which exhibits are digital or are only in person), and it has some very interesting exhibits (e.g. “Smelly Remedy”, a digital exhibition looking at what’s called womb fumigation in the 17th century print).
2. I will mention one more interesting DH project here in detail, and that is the Decima mapping project. This project has a GIS interactive map that details the landscape of Florence, Italy in the 16th century. The Digital Humanists behind this project have worked very hard to make the map as accurate as possible with hand-drawn images of buildings that accurately reflect their research of the social and physical landscape of Florence in the 1500s and early 1600s. Users can draw on the map, zoom in and out with different street views of the city, and can even compare consensus data from before, during, and after the Black Plague. There are even tools on the map allowing for the comparison of data from different areas of Florence. The University of Toronto and the SSHRC counsel support and maintain the project, and it is made for scholars and non-scholars alike. The map is a bit confusing to just jump into at first, but they have tutorials and information for those who are unsure how to use GIS mapping software. I think something that would enhance the project even more would be the ability to share and comment in a group setting on the map to create a more community-driven environment towards the research. One other slightly disappointing factor of this project is that in order to utilize SQL analysis features of the map is that one is required to have an ArcGIS account. I seriously recommend checking this project out as it is a well done virtual project that has thought of every detail in terms of it’s visualizations.
Researching these projects this week has made me question what the definition of a website versus a DH project is. What is the differentiation between a regular ol’ website versus that of a DH project? Both classifications involve the sharing of information on a digital platform, and both often involve communication between people. So what’s the difference?
In my mind, a website is a digital space that shares information on general topics, a fashion blog for example, or a digital platform such as Facebook, and a DH project is a digital space that has the key goal of sharing well-researched information in a creative and user-geared format. Some websites may involve sharing well-researched information pertaining to the Digital Humanities in their own right (such as this website), but the differentiation between the two is that one of them is geared towards the project itself, not a page that encompasses any information whenever it would like to. That is, the DH project is something that is built for researchers and all people interested based around an idea such as sharing the exhibits held at a library or outlining very specific research towards a person, place, or thing, &c., such as the Darwin Correspondence Project that that very specifically outlines all of Darwin’s letters and information gathered from those letters.
The DH project is a digital project that clearly defines the content displayed, and is more of a researching experience than it is a page on the internet constantly changing. While the project may change over time to adapt to the ever changing information and technologies available, the scope of the project stays the same and it is geared towards research and the display of historical or social information grounded in scholarship. For example, the Cambridge University Library Exhibition Project will always share information pertaining to their exhibits that have been well-researched, and has the goal of sharing that information with anyone with access to the internet. They will not change this aspect of the webpage, but they may use a different software to display this set information. A website on the other hand is not scholarly researched, and it changes its content constantly; its goal is anything but academic.
Thus, while a DH project is a website, a website is not a DH project, and while a DH project uses the same programs and aspects a website uses, a website does use these functions towards a focused, narrow research goal.
This is my definition of a DH project vs. a website, but what are your thoughts? Do you think that there is a difference between a website and a DH project, or do you view them as synonymous?