in the summer of 2018, we asked the students who participated in this project to reflect on the process of engagement with DHSS. As novices to DHSS, these students shared what their experiences were like working with DHSS and the advice they’d pass on to professors and to students who were just beginning this work. See their responses below and use them as insight for bringing DHSS into your own practice.
Our students were:
- Wendy Alejandra Medina De Loera, PhD student and TA in Geography, York University
- Robyn Le Lacheur, upper-level undergraduate student in Political Science at Glendon College, York University
- Juan Pablo Pinto Mendoza, MA student in Anthropology, York University
- Denise Challenger, ABD in History, York University
The questions we asked them were:
- How would you define Digital Humanities and Social Sciences (DHSS)? How did this definition change over the course of the project?
- Before this project, had you ever considered the ways the digital can enhance the Humanities and/or Social Sciences?
- What was your experience engaging in a DHSS project?
- What were the DHSS project(s) you created?
- What were the challenges you may have had with your DHSS project?
- What were the successes of your DHSS project?
- Many DHSS scholars have written about how failure, collaboration, and iterative processes are staples of DHSS. How did these elements play out in your project?
- Many professors may be hesitant to bring DHSS into their classrooms because they may suspect that a DHSS project wouldn’t engage in the same work as traditional academic work, like an essay. How would you respond to this criticism of DHSS? Do you think you did less work or less complicated work with your project(s) than if you wrote an essay on the same topic?
- What was something you learned engaging in a DHSS project that is unique to DHSS?
- What advice would you give for undergraduate students who may be given a DHSS assignment that would produce a similar project to the project you did?
- Final thoughts?
Wendy: The DHSS is an academic area where the humanities and social sciences intersect with digital technologies to produce, use, and share social sciences knowledge in new ways and to encourage a more holistic development of skills. Over time, my perception about the incorporation of digital resources into the making of social sciences changed and became more complex. In the beginning, my understanding of the combination of social sciences and digital resources was limited to a view where the digital aspect was only a tool to be employed by the social sciences for them to be presented in new forms. Over the course of the project I came to see the DHSS as an academic area that enables the development of skills other than research and analysis; these include technological, communication, and teamwork skills as well.
Robyn: Prior to starting this project, I had never considered humanities nor social sciences to be aligned with the digital. What I considered to be aligned with the digital were the sources of information, such as journal articles, databases, and news sources, which held exclusive authority on the digital, while the academic side utilized those digital sources to conduct research. I never thought of traditional assignments of essays, reports, and exams taking a digital form, but after partaking in this project, I can see how the humanities and the social sciences need to move into the digital world to disseminate information, encourage discussion, and continue to succeed in the future.
Denise: When asked what is digital humanities, I often start with the caveat, “There is no one definition.” For me at its core, digital humanities involves a set of interdisciplinary and collaborative practices that use computing technology (software and hardware) to ask questions, reveal patterns and unearth meanings about human experiences, both past and present, that are often obscured by traditional humanistic methods
As for the second part of your question, completing the project has not changed my definition of DH. If anything, it reinforced that collaboration was not just a trendy term, but the essence of DH work. As an historian, who rarely engages in collaborations, doing so was a welcomed change. In fact, if I were to be “100% real”, in as much as I love doing historical research, at times its solitary nature can be both daunting and isolating. With this project, however, having had to interact with a curriculum specialist, archivists and computing platform experts on a routine basis was enlightening, stimulating and fun.
Juan Pablo: DHSS is the process of embracing and engaging with long existing digital practices and formats within more traditional humanities and social science projects and disciplines.
Over the course of this project I was able to see a variety of approaches to DHSS, both in my research about DHSS and through my colleagues’ work. This broadened my understanding of the different ways that projects can be made digital. In addition I learnt more about the process behind creating DHSS projects.
Wendy: I had teaching experience prior to my participation in this project. As course director and as online instructor in Mexico, I had considered how the employment of digital resources in the social sciences have the potential to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of students, but did not consider the improvement of the social sciences per se. Considering the existence of different learning styles I could see the benefits of incorporating digital technologies to my teaching strategies as they enabled me to meet the needs of a diversity of linguistic, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Based specifically on my experience as online instructor of high school social sciences courses, I also had considered the benefits of DHSS in terms of accessibility, the sense of giving people opportunities to access free education but also in the sense of sharing knowledge in different forms rather than just text.
Robyn: I have definitely acknowledged how the digital can enhance a student’s experience in a classroom setting. Throughout the majority of my schooling experience (primary, secondary, and post-secondary), my teachers and professors used Moodle for teaching and study purposes. But I had never thought of how the digital could enhance a professor’s experience when marking student assignments. Additionally, having more digital resources that host the humanities and social sciences allows more information to be widely accessible for anyone wishing to access it.
Denise: Yes, as a Caribbeanist I think constantly about how digital practices can better assist in capturing the cultural experiences central to the region – those rooted in music, body, movement and oral traditions. I first began to think about DH, however, in terms of pedagogy. When I was the course director for a Caribbean history class, I attended a teacher training workshop. The facilitator demonstrated how one instructor used Second Life, a virtual reality platform, as a tool to teach eighteenth century art history. It blew my mind. I immediately began to think about the ways Second Life could be used to recreate a slave society, in terms of its material, social and legal conditions. I had always been uncomfortable with the tendency of some instructors to include ‘role play’ as a way to teach such a traumatic experience as slavery. A virtual format, I thought would allow students to think more deeply about how the system was designed on all levels to dehumanize the enslaved.
Juan Pablo: As an anthropologist and documentary media artist, I am deeply engaged with the digital in my academic and artistic practice. For me this has meant capturing and presenting my work in and with different digital formats and platforms. Prior to this project, I had not given much thought as to the importance of DHSS within academia more broadly. This project has challenged me to consider how DHSS can strengthen academic teaching and research, how it can be taught and adopted by those not familiar with DHSS, and what it means to deeply embrace DHSS, rather than incorporating tokenistic elements of the approach.
Wendy: I had a great experience engaging in my DHSS project!
The different stages in the project pushed me to learn new things and processes, to develop a diversity of skills, to work with my colleagues and to continuously be self-critical. The various aspects of the project also provided the opportunity to conduct varied tasks and I was always able to shift from one kind of task to another or combine them (from a more practical one to an intellectual one for example). My experience was also great in the sense that was productive of collaborative relationships with other research assistants but also with the coordinators of the project. In this sense, to share with others and rely on each other was stimulating since one not only feels in community but also realizes that everyone has ways of contributing and enriching other’s experiences, skills, and knowledge.
Robyn: My experience engaging in this DHSS project had been very challenging and extremely rewarding. Although, at the end, it was hard to conceptualize that what I had produced was worthy of a final assignment from an undergrad student. Despite the number of hours invested in this project, the final product did not feel as though it held the same weight as 10-12-page research paper. Rather than creating a product that was of equivalent weight to a final research project, I felt I had spent more time learning how to use the program, and the accompanying platforms and widgets, despite investing more time in a DHSS project that I would have in a traditional assignment. I also felt that I didn’t learn as much as I would have liked to within my subject. I typically choose essay topics on something that I would like to learn more about, and because I was confined to photographs as my primary source, I was restricted from exploring the topic from a more academic viewpoint.
However, the host of skills I acquired from this project are unparalleled. In a world that is rapidly moving online, the computer techniques I learned help me in ways that are beyond DHSS.
Denise: My experience was fantastic from beginning to end. Since we only had four months to meet all of our objectives, there was a steep learning curve. The challenge was made easier with strong support from the project coordinators, Samantha and Anna. The theoretical readings were useful, not so much in thinking about DH, but more so in introducing me to the wider debates about DH within archival communities.
Prior to this project, I had not thought much about the process of creating an archive, digital or otherwise. I had always envisioned archives as physical spaces that housed documents which subsequently privileged some voices over others. The layers of power archivists had in our access to knowledge were far more complex and went to greater depths than I had previously imagined. I certainly not an archivist in the professional sense, but I have deeper appreciation and respect for those engaged in archival practice.
Juan Pablo: This experience working on a DHSS project was both very challenging and rewarding. I enjoyed learning about DHSS practices within a team context, and having my colleagues and the project staff available to consult with, and support me in creating my project. Even though I have a strong background in digital media, I enjoyed being challenged to convert physical materials to digital objects, learn how to navigate a different platform and to create a digital archive and familiarizing myself with the procedures around creating metadata for the digital materials.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the experience was learning more about the subject and project I was assigned.
Wendy: I created two main DHSS projects: A digital archive from the David Wurfel fonds and the online exhibit titled “The making of a digital archive, by a non archivist.” Wurfel’s digital archive consists of 200 photographic slides selected from over 1,800 photographic slides and other materials such as articles and newspapers that comprise the physical David Wurfel fonds held at Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections in Scott Library, at York University. Wurfel’s digital archive has both preserved part of the material donated by David Wurfel to York University in early 2000s and has given people free access to his material. The online exhibit created presents an analysis of my own experience creating Wurfel’s digital archive. In my online exhibit I especially attempted to emphasize some of the challenges I went through when making Wurfel’s digital archive. (See the link about making digital archives with your students here)
Robyn: On Scalar, I used a timeline to put my photographs into chronological context, as well as maps to show global and local connections. I also transcribed an article originally published by the Toronto Telegram in 1964, provided a theoretical analysis of the photographs based on a theory by a scholar in refugee studies, and conducted an analysis of the language used by Telegram reporters and photographers during the Cold War (i.e., refugee vs. (im)migrant vs. war guest).
Denise: Using photos of the Caribana parade from 1970-1974, donated to the Harriet Tubman Institute by the family of mas leader Kenn Shah, I created an exhibit that showcased multiple stages of the historian’s craft. The exhibit modeled the process of singular document analysis to a structured, multiple document analysis and contextualization that appeared in the form of a photo essay. I did this work on the Scalar platform. In tracing the life of a photo from primary source to essay material, my exhibit was intended for both the general audience interested in Caribana history and for instructors interested in pedagogical approaches to teaching the Caribbean diaspora and culture in general.
Juan Pablo: The DHSS project I created was a digital exhibit entitled: “Popular Education in Revolutionary Times: Reflecting on Nicaragua’s Popular Education Program in the 1980s”. The materials for the archive were donated to CERLAC by Deborah Barnes.
The archive includes digitized materials depicting Nicaragua’s national campaign on popular and adult education during the Sandinista revolutionary government (Deborah’s photographs from her time in Nicaragua, as well as a book on the Nicaraguan Popular Education Campaign: “Caminemos”). I also interviewed Deborah and created several videos incorporating her reflections about the material and her time in Nicaragua, conducted an image analysis using the methodology presenting in Caminemos and digitized an essay written by Deborah on the subject.
Wendy: Two were the main challenges I had with my DHSS project.
First, I found challenging the process of making decisions regarding what material I should digitization and incorporate into the digital archive. This challenge was overcome through deep research and critical work about my positionality within the project; more specifically, understanding Wurfel as researcher and the material he donated.
The second challenge I had relates to my own lack of familiarity with new technologies, specifically using Scalar for creating my online exhibit. This second challenge was not insurmountable, of course, and it did not take long to become familiar with Scalar as digital resource and tool. The training and support I had from the coordinators of the project were essential to tackle this challenge.
Robyn: Many of the challenges I experienced were with the timeline the project was meant to follow, customizing Scalar to what I envisioned, and previewing each exhibit before I published my project. We were expected to digitize and upload every object we planned to use in our exhibits, establish metadata for each object, and then organize and curate our material in a way to support our end goals. Originally, the goal was to finish digitizing our material within two weeks, however, it took nearly two months for everyone, including myself, to scan, clean up, and upload all our images. Despite this being a pilot project, I still found it discouraging to start the project off in a way where I felt behind schedule; I also acknowledge this was something that was beyond anyone’s control, but nonetheless, still discouraging.
The next challenge pertain not to the project itself but are difficulties of the platform I used. Scalar is not an easy platform to customize. A user is very restricted to the templates Scalar offers, and cannot choose preferred fonts, or position photos easily. I disliked that I had to create a new version of each page on Scalar to preview any changes I made (no matter how minor they might have been). the result was that some of the pages of my exhibit had 20+ versions because I couldn’t view my changes prior to making them permanent!
Denise: Thanks to the team I worked with, I experienced very few challenges on the technical front. Mine were more conceptual. It took me a long time to figure out which photos to use since there are over one thousand in the collection. I decided to use chronology as my guide starting with the earliest pack I could find. It helped that we were limited to 200 photos. The other conceptual challenge I faced was coming to terms with the differences between a photo exhibit and the standard argumentative historical essays that I am more accustomed to producing. The idea that a project with less written text could be as analytical and critical as a written one was not instinctual to me. The volume of material in combination of the various readings also made it challenging to settle on the topic of “Children in Caribana.” I was so stimulated by new ideas about what is an archive, power structures within archives, the challenges of labeling documents/records and organizing them in an accessible fashion, and how questions of race, gender and non-binary identities fit in or not with the wider objectives of archivists that my topic seemed to change weekly.
Juan Pablo: One of the biggest challenges for my DHSS project was decided on the best format to present the archival materials. I wanted to select a format that would enable be to share the impressive collective of photographs collected, while also incorporating the author’s reflections on not just the context of the images, but the process of collecting them. In the end I felt this could best be achieved by mixing photo carousels, where viewers can take their time in viewing and appreciating the images, with videos, where the images are contextualized with the author’s reflections.
The second challenge was working with the digital platform itself. Learning how to work with the platform takes time and is mostly a process of trial and error. There were times I had to compromise the idea of what I wanted for a more practical solution, so as to better work within the limitations of the platform and the available time frame.
Wendy: I identify my DHSS project had successes in four main aspects.
First, my DHSS project enabled me to develop various skills. My project provided the opportunity to work on my reading, research, analytical, critical, and writing skills. I also could enhance both my communication skills by working in collaboration with my project team and my technological skills by working with scalar and undertaking the digitization activities the project involved.
Second, my DHSS project gave me the opportunity to use my creativity at all times.
Third, I acquired knowledge over the course of the project both in the operational aspect of it, but also in terms of content. This knowledge encompassed my exploration of David Wurfel’s trajectory as a researcher of Southeast Asia, his work, and the context within his research activities took place.
Fourth, my DHSS project showed me the possibilities of presenting research results in other ways -unconventional ones for the social sciences.
Robyn: I think the biggest success of my DHSS project was how much I learned. Not only did I learn a lot within my topic (WWII and post-war migration and displacement), but I also learned a lot about computers, academic integrity, and the future of humanities and the social sciences (as well as the liberal arts in general). After the many trial and errors of Scalar, once I felt like I had mastered the platform, became an expert on my topic and the digital, and then presenting my findings in front of the steering committee, the elation was unparalleled.
The myriad of new skills I acquired outweighs any of the challenges, or “failures,” I might have experienced, and I’m excited to see where DHSS heads within York University.
Denise: Although I had used Scalar for research, being able to think about how to use it as an exhibit was a tremendous accomplishment for me. Although, I most likely won’t, I feel that I could teach a Scalar course. I now have a robust understanding of Scalar paths and tags. I have also learned how to annotate images and videos.
Another success, as I mentioned before, was gaining a working knowledge of the archival process and finding out how much I love the profession even though I am a trained historian. At times, I joked to myself that I should pursue a career as an archivist and abandon the PhD. Finally, due to the community nature of the project, and the fact that Caribana is such a part of my life, I feel a great sense of satisfaction about making a contribution to public history. When I mentioned my project to a Trinidadian woman who is deeply involved in Caribana, she was pleased that York University funded a project that recognized her culture.
Juan Pablo: One of the successes of my DHSS project was to be able to work collaboratively with the author of the archival material, Deborah Barndt, and create a final project that she had input in and presented her material in a way captured her vision and passion on this subject.
I also think one of the successes was to be able to present the project in front of an audience and receive positive constructive criticism. After the project was shared, several individuals within the academic community reached out about the project, and I was able to take on their feedback in finalizing the online archive.
Wendy: Failure, collaboration, and repetition were constitutive parts of my DHSS project since they made my project possible. Failure was present in the initial stage of my learning process of each new task I started such as digitization, metadata, the creation of Wurfel’s digital archive, and the creation of my online exhibit with scalar. Collaboration with my project team and iterative processes enabled me to overcome failure and improve my techniques, strategies, and knowledge. At the end, both of them helped me to produce an outcome with which I am satisfied. Collaboration was key as it provided the space for exchanging ideas, posing questions, and getting support and guidance. A relevant aspect of collaboration was the training I received as part of the project.
Robyn: Every element mentioned are staples of DHSS, and are imperative to the learning and transitioning from the traditional to the digital. It is always easier to detail the negatives and the dislikes of anything—and the same can be said for Scalar and DHSS in place of traditional projects such as essays and presentations. But regardless of the difficulties and the failures, the entire process was well worth the challenges, and I’m leaving this project with an abundance of new skills. What really surprised me was the collaborative nature of this project. It is so easy to work and produce a final project on my own, but collaborating with a team composed of experts in their own fields, as well as other individuals navigating DHSS for the first time made it feel as though I wasn’t on my own, and the stress was meant to be shared. The iterative process was frustrating at times, having to redo and repeat the same processes over and over again was tedious and irritating; although, anything that is iterative, is. But without repetition, I don’t think the skills I’ve learned would have been embedded into knowledge as well as they have, which in turn, made it easier and a more natural process engaging with the digital.
Denise: Any ‘failures’ associated with my project were minimal. At one time was the metadata that I had inputted on the York University Digital Library platform (Islandora) failed to upload. It turns out that Islandora was updating the system or there was some other type of technical glitch. I collaborated with Anna, the archivist, to figure out a temporary solution to the problem which enabled me to proceed to upload my photos into Scalar with the appropriate metadata. In fact, the part where collaboration was essential was with the digitizing of the photos. Scanning 200 images took much longer than Samantha and Anna realized, and we had to rely heavily on the assistance of work study students to get scans uploaded. Collaboration was also helpful when introducing the group to Scalar and during our subsequent meetings about it. Having a team member dedicated to Scalar was useful when thinking about how to layout the project and for minor technical aspects. Stephanie, also assisted me in thinking about how best to annotate and create my paths and tags.
Juan Pablo: Throughout this project I was very appreciative of the support and feedback I received from my colleagues and the project staff. However, I felt the archival projects were more individual than collaborative in nature. We each took ownership of our projects, and while we provided advice or help, we didn’t do much collaborative work across the projects themselves. I think this stems from a difference in how the idea of “collaboration” is understood. In this case, I think the model was helpful in that as the primary author of the project I had to take responsibility and familiarize myself with all the different aspects of the project. On the other hand, on a more collaborative process, there would have been more teamwork in creating each element of the project, and this would have allowed for more voices and points of view to be captured within the projects.
The process of creating the archive was very iterative in nature. The individual videos went through many different edits, and the format of the online archive also evolved over the course of the project through trial and error. For example, I learnt that it was easier to upload all the content first, even if it didn’t look the way I wanted it to, and then experiment to figure out how I could optimize the presentation after. In this sense, it’s important to be able to embrace failure, and learn from initial failures so as to be able to develop a more refined outcome.
Wendy: The work, time, and energy put into my DHSS project can be comparable to the work that writing an essay involves. In the same way, like an essay, a DHSS project also demands to do research, to critically read, to analyze the information collected, to organize it, to engage with debates, to discuss ideas and so on. In this sense, I would respond a DHSS project does not differ much from traditional academic work in terms of the skills and work invested in it. Academic quality is not lost by incorporating digital technologies. Moreover, a DHSS project also enables learners to go beyond the mere development of intellectual capacities and academic knowledge to develop abilities such as the use of digital resources that contribute to a more holistic academic training, professional development, and personal preparation.
Robyn: I would respond by saying that they’re correct: a DHSS project doesn’t engage in the same work as traditional academic work, but that doesn’t make a DHSS project any less academic. I don’t think I did less work or less complicated work than if I had done an essay on the same topic, but I engaged in different work. As an overall project, I definitely feel as though I didn’t produce as complete of a product as if I had done an essay (something I indicated earlier), but I feel as though the work was much more complicated than a traditional research paper. I had to learn a completely different software and interact with a media I wasn’t familiar with. With an essay, there is a set routine in conducting research, creating an outline, writing rough drafts, etc.; the same could not be said for this DHSS project.
Moving academic work into a digital realm is going to be an awkward and extremely uncomfortable process, especially for professors. Grading criteria has to change, expectations for students have to change, and most importantly, the mindset towards the digital has to change. Professors will have to adopt the perspective that essays can become digital and visual representations of the same information and undertaking this means there will be a lot of growing pains until it is considered successful.
Another response I would give professors, is for them to think of the expectations for an assignment, and how they differ depending on what year-level they’re teaching; the expectations for a fourth-year student would be much higher than for a first-year student. Those expectations are critical in grasping the conception of digital assignments. When selecting the photographs for my exhibit, I realized that as a fifth-year student, I was much more careful and conscientious of the photographs I chose than I would have been in my first year; the same considerations would have to be applied when marking digital assignments.
Denise: I think because my target audience was someone like my mother who is interested in Caribana and its history, but turned off from “academic speak”, I used more plain language than I would have in an essay. I did not locate my work within deeper theoretical debates, although the debates ultimately shaped how I crafted the exhibit. The language aside, the work involved from document scanning to exhibit presentation, was certainly on par with if not exceeding that of searching for primary and secondary sources required for a standard research essay. Also, in a standard research essay the format is known –introduction, middling paragraphs, and a conclusion. With an exhibit, much more thought is given to connectivity, layout and overall visual presentation.
Juan Pablo: DHSS allows for the same level of critical engagement and academic thought and research, however, this work is carried out across a different platform. Rather than being a drawback, this difference adds to the works potential. For example, with DHSS projects, various online digital platforms allow for a greater engagement with the visual aspects of a given subject. This is something that is often lost in traditional academic work. In fact, many researchers do observe, collect and analyze live processes that they capture using audio-visual materials, and yet these materials are left out of traditionally recognized publications that rely primarily on the written work. DHSS allows for a better integration of the written word with audio-visual data.
In this sense, DHSS projects might be more complicated because they involve mastering different procedures for capturing and presenting data. However, it is possible to narrow down the scope of the project to be one that is feasible to specific academic demands.
An interesting challenge that DHSS brings is how best to embrace collaborate work. While essays are often individual projects, DHSS projects tend to be stronger and more feasible when they are completed collectively. This requires careful consideration to how grading will be carried out, but this is true of any group work activity.
Wendy: What I found unique in my DHSS project is that it gives the opportunity to organize and present knowledge in multiple and interactive ways. This is relevant for all kinds of learners as DHSS projects can potentially provide them with the possibility to explore and engage with different learning styles and select the one that better suits their needs. I also found that because of the combination of traditional academic work (research, reading, writing, etc) and work with digital technologies in DHSS projects the tedium that students may develop over the course of a research can be more easily dissipated as these projects demand from them to engage in activities other than reading and writing. Undertaking both repetitive tasks (such as scanning) and creative activities (such as the production of an online exhibit) gives learners simultaneously the opportunity to have breaks from intellectual work and keep engaged in their projects.
Robyn: The visualization process of the digital was a major takeaway that I am not able to do with a traditional assignment. In the past, I print out a regional map, pin it to a bulletin board, and use pushpins to indicate relations that help me understand the regional context of the topic I’m engaging in. For exams, I take a large piece of paper to create a timeline to remember facts and theories in chronological order. With Scalar, I was able to use my research methods as an assignment, rather than just research. Although my project did not include audio-visual material, incorporating videos and audio clips becomes easier, and an assortment of new academic sources can be included as reference to research.
Another aspect unique to DHSS, was the new structure of a bibliography. Instead of a reference list cited in MLA, APA, or Chicago format, metadata was the new way material maintained academic integrity. Although metadata isn’t new to the digital in general, in terms of humanities and social sciences, it isn’t often used or thought of because it has been outside their realm of expertise.
Denise: The main thing I learned is that interdisciplinarity and collaboration are truly practiced in DHSS projects. This project was a mix of higher theoretical learning and granular almost mundane but equally important scanning. Moreover, working on the project pushed my creative limits and took me outside my comfort zone. At times just a comment, suggestion and knowing I had a team to work with got me thorough a difficult patch. I truly lived the motto, “two heads are better than one.” The level of sharing knowledge, time, intellect and skills truly expresses itself in the DH projects in a way I have yet to experience in traditional historical works.
Juan Pablo: As a media artist, I was trained on working with the digital and have learned to embrace it, yet as an academic I sometimes have difficulties to integrate the digital/visual into my work practice. DHSS provided a perfect framework of integrating the two, and through this project I learnt specific methods of how this can be achieved.
Wendy: I would advise them to spend time working on either a mind map or a project outline that will enable them to organize their ideas regarding what they are interested in presenting in their DHSS project. The visual organization of their ideas will make easier for them to design their project. I would advise them that a key component of their planning will be the identification of a main idea or a thesis statement that will shape their DHSS project. I would advise them to do all this prior to the search of information and the accumulation of this information, and always in constant consultation with their professors and TAs. Finally, I would also advise them to tackle tasks separately in order to avoid feeling overwhelmed but also to achieve more without investing time at the extent that will wear them down and make them feel frustrated with the progress of their work.
Robyn: I have mentored first-year political science students for two years and I always tell them the same thing: you may find you love political science or you may find that you hate it, but you’ll always have an opinion about it. DHSS is similar in this respect. There are parts that you’ll love about DHSS and parts of it that you’ll hate, but the most important aspect to DHSS is that you have to acknowledge that it’s a different platform, and it comes with different expectations and different requirements. Take your time learning the different widgets and tools your platform uses, and understand them before you upload media and content. If this is your first time using DHSS, it will take longer to learn the necessary digital skills than uploading media and creating content, because most likely you’ll know how to upload media because of social media platforms like Facebook, and you’ll know how to create content from previous academic assignments. And lastly, allow yourself to “fail”, and allow yourself to ask for help—this is a learning curve for everyone.
Denise: I would advise the undergraduates to spend a lot of time getting to know the photos. By that I mean give adequate time for scanning all of the photos and analyzing them. It is vital to be familiar with your content. At first, my envelope of photos seemed to be about the same thing, “the Caribana parade.” But it was only after doing the deep data analysis did I realize how different these similarly themed photos truly were from one another. With a firm grasp of the primary source material it will be much easier to generate an exhibit question and to curate an answer.
Juan Pablo: Look for inspiration from existing projects.
Reach out to others in your networks and online for help troubleshooting
Look for university resources on DHSS
It’s helpful to start with an outline for the project that you can always come back to if things start to feel disorganized.
Start early. With DHSS there’s no room for procrastination. Each step can take longer than you expect.
Be willing to experiment. Your initial idea is probably not going to be the same as the final project. Don’t get discouraged if it looks rough at first. You can refine the presentation, layout and content with trial and error over the course of the project.
Robyn: I love writing essays, doing research, and writing draft after draft after draft. What I’m really surprised about is how much I liked using the digital for a topic that I adore. I don’t necessarily think I would use the digital platform for my own assignments because I really do love writing essays, but because I would like to be a professor one day, I can see myself asking students to submit a DHSS assignment.
Throughout this project, I learned so many new digital skills, and before this, I never felt confident in my knowledge or using computers to their full potential, but now I feel as though I have cracked the surface and I am capable of learning so much more.
I owe a huge thank you to the incredible team I was given the opportunity to work with. I couldn’t have accomplished what I did without their support.
Denise: I love history, but enjoy doing digital history even more. Working on this project allowed me to engage with more facets of my personality and intellect thant writing a traditional paper ever has done. The impact is immediate and I love that. It is only through DH that I simultaneously bring my organizational, analytical, computing, writing, visualization and creative tools in the context of collaboration and sharing to a project. It was a fantastic, non-competitive and soul enriching journey for me. Hey…I might even switch over to library sciences now!