"Building" in the Digital Humanities

· by admin

This week’s readings, specifically Stephen Ramsey’s article «Who’s In? Who’s Out?,» really got me thinking about (again) about how Digital History is defined and why (or if) coding is an important skill for any digital historian. There are a large number of tools available to allow historians to analyze sources and make arguments using technology, many that don’t require a significant amount of coding knowledge. Specifically, I’m thinking of something such as MALLET, which a number of us used for our final Clio I projects.

The definition of building seems loosely defined. Is it digital humanities if I «build» a website and throw some scholarship up there? And what constitues as «building»? Writing HTML and CSS from scratch? Using a platform such as Wordpress to tweak and change a pre-built theme to fit our needs? Creating an archive to house digital representations of sources? Is it building if I’m utilizing a technique developed by someone else and applying it to a new set of sources? Surely that should be considered digital humanities. I tend to think of digital humanities as both a presentation technique and a research methodology. However, the coding skills you need for these things can be vastly different and I think it’s possible to do digital history without advanced coding knowledge. It is possible to «build» without having to know advanced programming techniques. One could get by with just the basics.

Displaying and making scholarship available on the web is relatively easy now days with CMS platforms such as Wordpress, Joomla, or Drupal. However, CMS platforms are no replacement for knowing the basics and I think this is where a knowledge of design and coding comes into play. There are lots of examples of good and bad design but I think for those in the humanities, design matters even more due to the content of our sites. In order to keep visitors interested the design must fit the content and the structure must be organized and intuitive.

I think much of this is up for debate and there isn’t a consensus on what exactly a digital historian should be required to know. However, I think a basic knowledge of design is a fundamental prerequisite for any work in the digital humanities. Understanding how and why websites function and basic aesthetic principals is a foundation for not just digital historians but anyone living in 2014.

This week I commented on Jannelle Legg’s post.