DH Project Evaluation

The difference between a “website” and a digital humanities project arises from the fact that “website” is an extremely broad term, describing anything with a domain name displayed on the internet. A digital humanities project can often take the form of a website; but, it is more focused in its content and in its nature. DH projects collect data from the past and/or present to display an interactive array of content for the user. They preserve digital and/or physical collections of information in the form of lasting, elegantly-designed databases, from which any amateur or experienced digital humanist can access documents pertaining to the project’s research question. A research question is essential to the understanding of a project. Because it does not contain a mission statement or research question, a typical website may be interpreted in any which way; however, a digital humanities project/site with a research question makes it absolutely clear what it wants to accomplish.

Research Questions:

Walt Whitman Archive: How have the writings and how has the life of Walt Whitman influenced the world? Also, what do some of Walt Whitman’s original writings look like and how were they altered over time?

Roman Forum Project: How did the Roman Forum function in 400 A.D.?

Women Writers Project: How can we make the writings of pre-Victorian women available to the public?

Encyclopedia of Chicago: How can we document the rich history of the city of Chicago and make it accessible online?

Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives: What was life like in the Gulag and how did it influence those who lived there?

Mapping Gothic France: What were the stories associated with the building of Gothic architecture in France? Also, how did France form during the 12th and 13th centuries?

Digital Harlem: What did everyday life consist of in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood from 1915 to 1930?

Redlining Richmond: How did race affect the politics and the landscape of Richmond in the late 1930’s?

Documenting the American South: What are the defining historical events, works of literature, and traditions that make up the American South’s history?

Going to the Show: How did the experience of movies and moviegoing change from the introduction of projected motion pictures to the end of the silent film era?

Bracero History Archive: What was life like as a Mexican agricultural worker participating in the Bracero Program?

The September 11 Digital Archive: How can we preserve information related to the 9/11 attacks in order to establish a lasting record of the devastating event and to remember those who perished?

Unbinding the Atlas: How can we compare old maps of New York City to its current layout?

Black Gotham Archive: How can we create a deeper understanding of 19th-century black New York City? Also, how did African-American elites function in New York City in the 1800’s?

Deena Larson Archive: What were the first creative electronic writing works and how did the world of hypertext influence writers’ creative processes?

We chose to evaluate Digital Harlem, a user-friendly website which transposes Harlem from nearly a century ago onto current day Harlem. In addition to this feature, there is an interactive timeline which further allows for users to experience the changes that took place in Harlem from 1920 to 1930. All the visualization and interactive tools used to enhance the usefulness of this website can be evaluated using the steps provided by Todd Presner in his article, “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship”.

  1. Fundamentals for Initial Review: When first visiting the website http://digitalharlem.org/, you are greeted with an interactive map of New York City which appears to be a modern map sourced from Google Maps. Within this map, Harlem has a historic map of the area transposed on the modern map showing how the area looked a century ago in a more detailed form while surrounded by modern NYC. When looking at the menu bar at the top of the webpage one can go to the map, post on a blog about Harlem, and view the sources used to create the website.
  1. Crediting: As mentioned above there is an option on the top menu bar that is called “SOURCES” which will open a drop down box which lists where documents used for the website were taken from.
  1. Intellectual Rigor: This website can undoubtedly contribute to helping visualize the layout of Harlem from 1920 through 1930. This will aid in understanding the changes that may have occurred during this time period. It uses interactive elements in order to find an interesting point on the map of Harlem to look into and it allows for users to look for documents related to that point of interest and even spark conversations about said topic in the blog section.
  1. Crossing Research, Teaching, and Service: Many scholars are faced with questions which involve change over time and this website allows for users to look at this question over a one decade span. In addition to this it appears that one of the points of this website is to nurture thinking minds and allow them to come up with their own questions based on studying the map of Harlem, finding an intriguing point, and look into that idea. The site therefore provides a great system for research because one can start at the map, spot a change or point that they would like to study, and look through the collection of documentation regarding Harlem through other databases. Also as stated above, the website itself can be considered a problem due to the fact that it nurtures the creation of more and more questions due to its nature of dropping the user into an interactive map of Harlem, providing them with a legend to understand the annotations, and not providing them with any road map of how to look at the map. This leads to different interpretations, different research points, and different conversation seen in the blog portion of the website.
  1. Peer Review: “The February 2016 issue of the American Historical Review includes an extended review of Digital Harlem” (cited from: http://drstephenrobertson.com/article/reviewing-digital-history-digital-harlem-in-the-american-historical-review/) The website was reviewed in a credible journal by Joshua Sternfeild, and then later responded to by the individual writing in the article seen in the link, Dr. Stephen Robertson. This shows that this Digital Humanities source has been looked into by credible sources and has been proven to be a fairly well working Digital Humanities mapping project.
  1. Impact: This project has the ability to reach and impact regular everyday people that are interested in the subject which the primary function of the blog section of the website. In addition to this select group of people there are also the scholars that may use this website. These scholars may include historians, sociologists, architects, and many other different professionals. This large array of scholars that could potentially make use of this website opens up the potential for the blog section of the website to also be used for interdisciplinary collaboration.
  1. Approximating Equivalencies: This project cannot be compared to any book or written source of information that can be created. The interactive implications of this website along with the ability to keep switching to different forms of knowledge would be far less efficient in any type of book, if even possible. In addition to this, being able to find all of the documents on a topic as specific as Harlem from 1920-1930 would be extremely labor intensive and would take hours upon hours of searching through an archive. Therefore finding specific changes in Harlem during this decade would be much more difficult than simply looking at the timeline given on the website.
  1. Development Cycles, Sustainability, and Ethics:It appears that this website is very new and is in the early stages of its life. In the future there may be a wider range of dates covered and more events on the timeline integrated into the map. The website will therefore be getting updates in the future hopefully. This webpage also appears to be a source of knowledge which will not die and the updates which will most likely be coming will just extend the lifespan of this project. In addition to being used as a means of expanding knowledge and contributing to research, this website will have a long life purely because it will be used as a means of preserving the history of an extremely historic area, especially in African American culture.
  1. Experimentation and Risk-Taking: This is a very unique and specific project so the risk of creating a project like this could be that its content would be underappreciated and underused. This is not what you would want to happen to a project one embarks on and pours thousands of man hours of work and resources into.

Jacob Circelli and Ian Nish