Part of my meta-DH series documenting DH/DS infrastructure: the hows & whys of treating a project team, lab, department, or campus as itself a DH project.
Caveat: This post consists of notes taken during my former DH Librarian role at Purdue (2015-2017), rather than my latest thinking at Scholars’ Lab. I’ll be sharing that updated thinking here soon!
As a followup on my philosophy-focused mission statement post, this post lays out the scope of what DH we would do (and not do), and what long-term success might look like for the Purdue Libraries DH initiative.
What is DH? The digital humanities is a “big tent” of a field combining humanities research (cultural heritage, literature, history, the arts, ethics…) with the design, building, use, teaching, and theorizing of digital methods (e.g. text analysis) and forms (e.g. blog posts). My DH is also defined as a community sharing interests in methods and tools that cross disciplinary boundaries. This community values open access, diversity and inclusion both in researchers and in their areas of study, a more public humanities reaching diverse audiences, and research that is real-time, collaborative, iterative, and generative of further work beyond the initial researchers. DH’s emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, methodologies over content, and recognition that all academic fields deal with history of the field, ethics, subjective interpretation, design, and texts will help us further connect Purdue’s CLA and Libraries departments to the university pillar of STEM excellence as well as other campus communities.
What subset of DH should we support? I’d welcome suggestions for projects, goals, or values you think we should include in the DH initiative. Our ability to support specific ideas will depend on funding and hiring (both how many staff we can fund, and the expertise and interests of who we hire). I’ve prioritized projects we can achieve in 1-3 years, while also recording ideas we’d love to support in the future.
Scoping our DH. Even if we achieve strong funding, we’ll want to specialize and focus so that we can develop specific expertise, rather than offering shallow engagement across the broad board of DH. We’ll partner with other campus units to help them develop their own initiatives for DH support (e.g. departments must hire DH faculty if they are sincere about desiring DH scholarship and teaching). We’ll also work to connect anyone interested in an area we don’t support to resources and potential collaborators (e.g. by developing our directory of campus DHers and DH @ Purdue resource website).
Our DH Center would not be a service shop; our closest activities to service would be offering consultations at the beginning of projects, and pursuing DH research that also results in better support for further campus DH (e.g. improving collection metadata for use with specific DH tools). We will frame any DH Center roles as experts rather than staff, and enter into any collaborations with a clear sense of the discoveries and publications we intend to build on the experience.
We will try to do a few specific DH things very well, rather than be everything everyone desires of DH. We will publicly articulate this limited scope, while encouraging and advising others on campus in imagining and addressing areas outside our scope. We will also publicize and support other DH initiatives on campus, designing our DH Center as a hub rather than hoarder of campus DH.
Our initial main partners will be the ASC and Press/SPS, as these collaborations show the most immediate potential: experts ready to partner, past teaching experience and contacts, and realizable specific projects. Eventually, we hope to foster connections throughout the Libraries, and pursue diverse projects not bound to any one area of campus (e.g. working beyond the Libraries and CLA with departments such as CS and the Polytechnic Institute).
Strategic overlaps. I’ll define specific connections to the Libraries strategic plan and University mission after the next round of feedback on this proposal. As a preview, we take the Libraries’ valuing of diversity, inclusion, and access as core motivating ideals, and plan strong demonstrations in all three areas of the latest (2016-2019) strategic plan (particularly 1:3, 2, and 3:2-4). Several of the projects proposed below are currently up for discussion by the DSC.
We should shape what we want Purdue’s DH to be, with an emphasis on access, diversity, inclusion, public and student engagement, and making the humanities open through innovative modes of publication. We should prioritize work that mentors, trains, and supports under-supported campus constituents and/or public audiences; encourage and reward collaboration over solo and silo’ed scholarship; recognize all kinds of scholars as knowledge seekers worthy of support (including undergraduate and graduate students, adjuncts and continuing lecturers, staff); and acknowledge many kinds of knowledge-seeking and -sharing as research (including teaching, coding, infrastructure design, and metadata improvement).
Some of this work doesn’t have immediate payoffs. To quote a colleague, “metadata isn’t sexy”—most people don’t get excited about plans to create and improve metadata, think through workflows for making ASC collections ready for DH methodologies, or making and testing small changes to our publication repositories. But strong metadata and infrastructure are critical to strong DH projects: the things we can make and teach with clean, thorough, accurate metadata and content and well-designed hosting and publication platforms will have broad and immediate appeal.
Our DH Center would always interested in learning about digital humanities activity or curiosity on campus. To guard our time and focus, here are some things we wouldn’t tend to do:
Some examples of what success might look like: