More observations on getting started with Digital Humanities

On the train home after a good day in Philly. The afternoon sessions focused a good deal on project management. David and I both agreed that in some respects it was a session that could have been presented at any kind of meeting whatsoever and didn’t seem particularly geared toward digital humanities issues. However, I do think that it is germane to humanists simply because it goes back to the whole issue of working collaboratively. I think we are more or less trained to work alone with a very few exceptions in our humanities disciplines; indeed, we glorify, support, and materially reward working alone as I suggested in my last post on THATCamp Philly. So I think it is helpful for humanists to think through very basic things like what it takes to plan a project, what it takes to run a meeting, what it takes to break a project down in to workable parts, what it takes to keep people running on schedule, what it takes to make people actually collaborate instead of setting off on their own (and instead of just providing them with information or telling them what to do–i.e. holding non-collaborative meetings). These are all issues that do not come naturally to humanists, and in many respects I think I am only figuring them out now after 7 years as a department chair and three years as a dean. These skills are essential if digital humanities requires collaborative work in order to function at any kind of high level.

Among the very simple gains from the day was an introduction to the possibilities of Google Docs. This comes as no surprise to the rest of the world, I’m sure, but I really have not moved out of the structured environs of a office software suite and/or a learning management system. IN my very brief exposure, google docs made these methods of doing work seems really quite clunky and inconvenient, though I haven’t actually tried to work with Google docs at this point. I really want to figure out a way of conducting some of my basic work in this environment, with shared documents in the cloud. We need to be having upside down meetings in some respect–where a lot of stuff gets done in virtual or distanced environments so that face to face meetings can be used for other kinds of high level issues. I’m not sure where to begin, but I want to experiment a little more personally and then see if there’s any way of incorporating it in to some of the meetings I’m responsible for as a dean.

David and I both agreed that we were terribly out of our league when it came to understanding some of the basic language and references to what was going on. We are both disappointed that we won’t be able to come back tomorrow since we both intuited in some sense that it would be better to gain this knowledge by actually plunging in and trying to make sense of what people are doing on actual projects, rather than trying to fill in all the background before we ever get started. If I’m right that this is a great deal about gaining facility in a language, I think both David and I arrived at the conclusion that it would be better to somehow learn by immersion rather than believing that we should learn all the grammatical rules. In that sense, maybe there is no right place to start, and we just have to have a practical goal. Where would we like to get in the landscape and start walking there. We’ll figure out what we need as we go along.

A couple of final notes:

I am getting too old to get up at 4:00 after going to bed at 11:30.

Trying to keep up with Facebook while also listening to a lecture does not work, no matter what my students say.


One thought on “More observations on getting started with Digital Humanities

  1. Pingback: More thoughts on THATCamp Philly | Messiah College Digital Humanities

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