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!!!

Source: Blogging Homework – Day 4