Skip to content

Blogging Homework – Day 4

Can it REALLY be only Day 4? Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon have done a remarkably amazingly fantastic job of putting together this seminar. I really CAN NOT fathom that it has been only four days; I have learned so much.

Which is also why there is no way I'm going to be reading How to Lie with Maps, a book about mapping as a resource and research platform written by Mark Monmonier (second edition even!). I want to. Oh, do I want to! But I reckon I have about an hour's worth of battery life left in this brain and I want to get some thoughts down and answer the questions for today.

The first issue we were asked to think and blog about tonight is this: "Consider how to incorporate different types of resources into your digital project for analysis."

First off, I need images. I learned how to use TinEye to find images (though it has yet to work for me; I have such weirdo images). I have been able to find several through searches on museum databases and through other web searching tools I've learned this "week" (as in four days). So, my site will need images.

I had originally thought I might need some kind of mapping. I still might. I will know more after tomorrow's discussion (and when I  eventually read  How to Lie with Maps).  I had originally thought to "plot" the images in Tuscany on a map. But the reading I *did* do tonight, by Richard Wright "What is Spatial Mapping" makes me wonder. I took two things from this reading that makes me stop and think:

1. Mapping is about moving through space. I am dealing with paintings and in many cases the provenance is etchy-sketchy (yes that is an industry term). If I am not even sure where the images came from, and mapping is about spaces, then maybe this is not the best tool for my project.

2. Wright ends his piece by saying : "Visualization and spatial history are not about producing illustrations or maps to communicate things that you have discovered by other means. It is a means of doing research; it generates questions that might otherwise go unasked." Do I really need a map to see the Byzantine influence in the panel paintings produced by Italian artists in the thirteenth century? Does a mapping tool communicate that influence and no other means can? Clearly that is not the case, since I have already identified some iconographic markers that demonstrate influence. So...I'm now rethinking the mapping issue. Hopefully tomorrow will shed light on what such a tool can - and can't or should not - do.

And this leads me to something I was thinking about earlier today when I was coming back on the bus: you should not let the tools - as totally freaking cool as they  are - guide the research. You still need to ask the disciplinary questions and then see if there are the tools that will answer them. So, is mapping a useful tool? I still think it might be. But just because I WANT to use a mapping tool (and I will learn how to do it tomorrow) does not mean that it is necessarily the best tool for my project. I think the use of the newest shiny toy just to use it might be at the core of why many scholars are skeptical or outright hostile to the idea of digital humanities research and publication. And the answer of "but it is up on the web and therefore digital and for the public" is not a good enough answer. It has to be solid scholarship - that is enhanced or actually created by the digital tools. Thus, I need to figure out what my project is really about and find the best tools to help it develop.We were also asked to think about our home institutions and how much support or lack thereof we will find there. I am REALLY lucky. I have a lot of support at my home institution in the form of tech people. I am very lucky in that I have great librarians with whom to partner, as well as Instructional Technologists (yes, I'm talking to you Steve Kerby!), as well as others who are very digitally inclined (like the Social Media Ninja, and he knows who he is). Yet, I do believe I might be The Only faculty member who will be attempting digital research. I think some are embracing digital tools for teaching (and one thing I LOVE LOVE about our group is that when we learn a tool, you hear a ripple around the room of, "oh, I could so use that in class!" The energy is really great). But I think I will be a Lone Wolf back at McDaniel when it comes to the research angle. But that is OK. I predict this group will stick together digitally for some time forward. And we have our awesome website and Twitter hashtag: #doingdah14. Could there be more money? Sure. Could it be helpful if there were more staff? Yeah. But I've got good people and enthusiasm. And that's carried me through on other projects before this one. Bring it on Day 5!!!

3 thoughts on “Blogging Homework – Day 4

  1. Matthew Lincoln

    Thanks so much for posting about your revelation that a geographic analysis would not actually contribute to your research! I find it interesting that the turning point seems to have come once you divorced the "tool" (a map! maybe even digital!) from the "method" (geography) and realized that you had a bit of a method mismatch. More scholars should be open about this, and it is great to see how this has inspired a kind of methodical reevaluation of what your core project is really about.

    I worry a lot (blog post) about the digital humanities' infatuation with tools over methods, especially at the introductory level (though this clearly doesn't apply everywhere - #doingdah14 seems wonderfully grounded!) Yet while I agree with you that a single tool (Google Fusion Tables, Voyant, Gephi, ArcGis) should not drive your research question, I would stress that a computationally-aided method (statistical analysis, text mining, network analysis, and geographic analysis - methods that those tools respectively implement on some level) can, does, and must drive research questions in ways just a rich and powerful as our vast array of "traditional" methodological approaches do, from technical analysis to social histories to gender theories and beyond.

    A traditional answer to this worry is that methods and questions interpenetrate, that they iteratively inform each other. I agree with the explicit meaning of this statement, though I suspect it still implies that one's research question still existed in some form before one had a semblance of how to formulate it e.g. knowledge of some kind of method. I've always doubted the existence of a priori research question, as if it is possible to ask a "pre-method" question (and here I think of Keith Moxey's 2001 Practice of Persuasion.)

    I didn't arrive at my research questions for my current project on Dutch print networks until well after I had decided to interpret the British Museum print collections as an index of a vast, dynamic network of social affiliations - an interpretation only possible through computer-aided network analysis. Only then was it attractive, or even sensible (in the archaic sense of the word) to ask to what extent the network was centralized vs. distributed, or trending towards closure vs. openness. Of course, while I will trot off as a happy warrior for digital methods-not-tools, I'm also glad to see scholars carefully evaluating these methods and deciding that they don't mesh with their current method/question dynamic. The challenge remains, I suppose, in constantly building intra-disciplinary bridges between these forms of scholarship.

  2. admin

    First off, thank you for commenting on my post. It made me feel like I have truly entered into the DH world, that someone would feel compelled to write such a substantive comment. Thank you.

    I have not ruled out mapping. I was just thinking about the fact that a newbie like me could get really wrapped up in a new tool (I get very enthusiastic about stuff and am off to the races!) and then find out it can't answer the questions that you wanted answered. I am very lucky in that Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan opened this seminar by noting that we need to be thinking about discipline while we also dive into digital humanities methods and tools. And I think we are learning a bit about the tools' methods, too - they come with a set of parameters and functions, and something Sharon said keeps ringing in my ears about knowing what the tool is written to do, because you can get frustrated if you use a tool (upload/input all that data) and then find that you want it to do something it was not written to do.

    So that was my caution. Just to make sure I a) have the data and b) the tool will do what I think I want it to do (or I at least understand what I can ask it to do) before embarking.

    I'm nearly finished with the reading for tomorrow and one of them stressed that digital tools were the ONLY way to learn what she wanted to know - (or maybe it was a he; clearly I need to review before 9 AM tomorrow). So, it was only with a DH tool that the analysis could be made. I guess I'm hoping to learn to strike a balance and think method on both the art history and DH side of the equation.

  3. Matthew Lincoln

    Oh goodness, do I EVER love to go jetting off half-baked with some new technology or resource - have fun with it! You never quite know what ought to go into your methodological smorgasbord... or what technologies you may end up needing for your next project.

    This may already be on your reading list, but Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell talk a lot about the tool/method issue here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *