Research Management

Last fall (when the world was still open), I attended Scout Calvert’s workshop “Crash Course in Research Data Management,” and I couldn’t believe how much I learned. I’d previously helped create rudimentary data management plans during my time as a project manager, but never something as in detail as was described in this workshop. At the time, I didn’t have my own project in mind, so I’m very excited to hear Calvert’s presentation today now that I will be able to apply it directly to my research.

I met with Kristen Mapes last week to discuss my tentative idea for a digital research project, and through this conversation I realized how far I had to go in terms of data curation/management before I could even begin to start thinking in terms of creating data visualizations–I felt like one of the humanists in Miriam Posner’s transcript of her talk “Humanities Data: A Necessary Contradiction“, and it didn’t occur to me that of course the data had to come before my manipulation of it. Therefore, I’m now scaling back my project idea for this class but I think in a very useful way; my goal is now to create a database on information regarding people involved in specific theatre spaces in Early Modern London (starting with Henslowe’s Diary) that can then be used to potentially build digital projects such as social networks.

Julia Flanders and Trevor Muñoz’s essay “An Introduction to Data Curation” was extremely helpful in refining my ideas as to how data would play a role in my humanities research. While I was familiar with the actual process of creating a sustainable data management plan, I hadn’t really thought through how humanists use data differently and how that might influence data curation. In particular, I am interested in further thinking through in which the interpretation of the data may be just as valuable as the data itself. Additionally, the idea that the conversations that occur and records of responsibility based on this interpretive layering and supplements the data in other ways. As my project seems to be shaping up as a kind of database, it is important that I consider these humanistic approaches to data in order to keep my project rooted in the literary historical framework I’m working within.

In his short essay “Defining Data for Humanists: Text, Artifact, Information or Evidence?,” Trevor Owens further explores the relevance of data to humanists by identifiying the varying ways data might operate and discussing how it might be of value. Not only does Owens identify data itself as potentially being texts, artifacts, or information, but he also examines the ways in which the use of the data can create new cultural objects. The emphasis of the questions one is asking as being as important as the data itself helps carry on the theme established in the Flanders and Muñoz essay, and I’m hoping to explore the ways in which I can represent the data I use humanistically to capture these other elements alongside the data itself.

I’d encountered the Library of Congress’s Recommended Format Specifications before, but after considering in relation to the rest of this week’s readings I’m seeing it in a new light. I thought it was interesting comparing the specifications for physical versions of an artifact to a similar format but in a digital version–there seems to be more flexibility in preserving the digital form of a work, particularly with the inclusion of both a “preferred” format option and an “acceptable” format option. Currently, I’m working on a digital archiving project with SIUE’s Lovejoy Library, and while we’ve been creating scans of archival materials to these standards it has been challenging due to the fact that they don’t physically exist in the preferred format. I’m interested in how that might be reflected in our data for this project. I wish I had known about Tropy earlier, as I’m processing large numbers of archival scans and trying to stick to a particular file naming and metadata scheme.

Overall, I really appreciated this week’s cursory look at data management, and I’m looking forward to exploring it further in Scout Calvert’s workshop during class and through next week’s reading assignments.

What is DH, at MSU and in the World?

This week, I explored the various ways DH manifests and how its history has shaped perceptions of the field.

In her essay for the first Debates in the Digital Humanities, Kathleen Fitzpatrick attempts to clarify what exactly is/are the Digital Humanities. She addresses the field’s evolution from the days of humanities computing and explores the tension between scholars who work in DH who view it as being about making things versus those who utilize DH to interpret things. While as a project manager for a digital humanities center, I tended to fall into the making field—I was constantly assisting with building websites and developing content; however, since I’ve started my career as a PhD student at MSU I’ve moved more into the realm of interpreting by exploring the ways in which DH methods might be used to improve affective atmospheres in online learning. Regardless of the ways scholars engage with DH, I agree that “The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another” (Fitzpatrick 15).

In the same edition, I read Rafael C. Alvarado’s blog post “The Digital Humanities Situation.” I was particularly intrigued by his argument that DH is “is a social category, not an ontological one” and therefore is nearly impossible to be define—and perhaps the way we define all disciplines in academia is inherently flawed. It seems that in many ways digital humanities is more about the tools and methods that are applied to disciplines rather than being its own. Rather, digital humanities is important as an avenue for allowing play and constantly finding ways to rework representations of things in a variety of ways to reveal new meaning.

Hockey’s essay “The History of Humanities Computing” provided interesting context for how DH has become what it is today by tracing the development of key projects, publications, tools, and conferences since 1949. In this article, Hockey argues that TEI is the single most important advances in the history of DH. Although I study literature and TEI is undoubtedly a major development, I agree with Sharon Leon’s argument in “Complicating a ‘Great Man’ Narrative of Digital History in the United States” that Hockey’s approach to documenting the history of humanities computing is preoccupied with textual focused projects and tools.

Although I am not a historian and cannot speak to the role of women in digital history/public history projects, I feel that Leon’s description of how the work of women is overlooked in digital history is perhaps representative of wider issues in DH. In particular, the discussion of who gets grants and university buy-in was reflective of my experience as a project manager for a digital humanities center. Like Leon mentions, at this university staff members could not receive PI credit and in order for the administration to buy into some of our (female) core faculty’s grant projects we had to first write and complete a grant project for a male colleague. I feel that the mentioned “Collaborator’s Bill of Rights” is a particularly intriguing document, and it makes me curious about how to make universities subscribe to the outlined guidelines. When digital humanists are already constantly trying to justify and define their field for tenure/promotion/funding reasons, how do they convince administrators to fundamentally change their ways of thinking in regard to producing scholarship and sharing credit?

If anything, this week made me consider the ways in which DH—even though it has come so far—needs to continue to evolve in order to create a more equitable field. Following this week, I’m hoping to explore readings that more specifically speak to the history of and experience of BIPOC scholars in DH (off the top of my head, I’m thinking of revisiting the rest of Bodies of Information and and other Debates in the Digital Humanities essays such as Tara McPherson’s “Why Are the Digital Humanities so White?”). I feel the theme of this week merits a call to further action, so I end with a quote from Dr. Leon’s conclusion:

“All practitioners must work purposefully to recognize the contributions of the underrepresented—those whose work is masked by inequity. Then, all members of field must consciously revise our origin stories to be inclusive of these individuals and their influence” (358)

Research questions and methods matching

This week, I attempted to draft my research idea for this course by working through the chart modeled in the figure “An Interactive Model of Research Design” from Joseph A. Maxwell’s book Qualitative Research Design as feature in Trevor Owens’s essay “Where to Start? On Research Questions in the Digital Humanities.” As Owens highlights, I definitely will need to adapt my research question throughout the semester as I learn more about what I’m studying, and with my background as a project manager and grant writer, I will definitely need to learn to leave “fancy writing” behind as I attempt to develop this project.

When looking at this diagram, my impulse was to try and develop my research question since it is at the center. However, I worked down the list and began with the goals. These were easy enough to come up with, as I just adapted the guidelines I am currently using to steer the development of my reading list for my comprehensive exams. As such, my conceptual framework also drew from the body of texts I’ve been working from as part of this process. I will admit that I struggled a bit with these, as I am ultimately approaching this project from a literary studies background and I was trying to align more with the guidelines for historians that we read about in the other essays this week.

I feel that by explicitly stating my goals first, I was able to refine my research question more than I originally thought I would be able to at this stage. In the initial question I had in mind before I worked through this exercise, I didn’t have the terms “social networks” or “map”–those definitely came to me after I determined my goal was to attempt to visualize the elements of the affective atmospheres in Early Modern London’s theatre district. I know I will need to fine-tune this question even further as the semester goes, but as it currently exists it is at least seems to be a legitimate form of inquiry that could possibly result in a digital humanities project.

The section I struggled with most was methods. I can list the texts I will be consulting, but I need to explore my options of methodology further. On my second reading of the essays from this week, I attempted to apply the suggestions for historians (particularly from the Digital HIstory and Argument white paper) to my approach as a student of literature. I identified some theoretical frameworks and primary texts to consult, but it doesn’t yet seem like I’m thinking about the finer details of method. In Owens’s summary of Maxwell’s approach, he points out that “the way you will sample/explore [your sources], and the actual techinques you will use to analyze and interpret them” is just as important as the objects of study themselves. This is something I will need to more clearly define moving forward.

In contrast, the validy section was easiest to tackle–can I actually attempt to create some kind of visualization that captures something intangible like an affective atmosphere? In my mind, this looks like a kind of overlay of a network visualization of the relationships within the tight-knit theatre community of Early Modern London on top of a map of the district, but will this truly reveal anything? I believe it might work in terms of showing how the connections between certain places and people lead to the development affective atmospheres in modern cultural heritage theatre sites, and I’m hoping that by revising my methodology as I research will help solidify how this will work in practice.

Introduction: About me

Hello everyone! My name is Katie Knowles, and I am a PhD student in the English Department here at Michigan State University. I received a BA from Hanover College in English and Music. My master’s degree is from the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, and my dissertation was entitled “Symphonic Shakespeare: Representations of the Plays in Romantic Music.” From January 2017 to August 2019, I was the project manager for the IRIS Digital Humanities Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. My research interests include Early Modern drama, digital humanities, theatre as cultural heritage, and affective atmospheres. Right now, I’m examining the ways in which theatres act as cultural heritage sites that affectively influence performance. This semester, I’m hoping DH865 will help me refine my research question for developing a digital humanities project that may eventually evolve into a digital component of my dissertation project.