Midterm: Critical Section

Partner: Alexander Straus, Dehao Tu

Word Count: 1013

Assigned Evaluating Project:  Critical Section(Greg Smith)

http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/index.php?project=88

 

An Evaluation of Critical Section

 

Critical Sections is both a tool for digital expression and a piece of digital scholarship. The project explores contemporary critical practice through the manipulation of architectural and cinematic ephemera and associated simulacra within a digital medium. Critical Sections focuses on melding iconic domestic spaces present in the cinema and architecture of Los Angeles, creating a space for users to create new narratives and explore alternative contexts through promiscuous substitution. The project’s creators, Greg J. Smith and Erik Loyer, state their aim to create a space where “signifiers can take any shape or size and cultural work can be accomplished by mashing up disparate sign systems… we attempt to translate acts of drawing and visual composition into navigational gestures which cumulatively map a geography that is both fictional and physical, while hinting at more fluid strategies at achieving hybridity in form and content.” This interdisciplinary work signifies a contribution to the humanities in its novel perspective of critical cultural analysis. This significance lies in the questions Critical Sections elicits:  

 

  • As non-residents of foreign places, can we understand structure beyond photography or architectural tourism?
  • How do we understand and manipulate symbolic icons and cultural zeitgeist?

 

These represent both traditional concerns for the humanities, symbolic icons, as well as issues that are now becoming more relevant in digitized culture, interacting with space at a distance.

This project is also significant in its contribution to previous humanities work, particularly that of Bernard Tschumi and his drawing project, The Manhattan Transcripts. Tschumi’s distinction between “books of architecture as opposed to books about architecture,” the first seeking to reveal the complex ideas design embodies as opposed to illustrating detailed images, is reconsidered and built-upon by Critical Sections. The methodologies Critical Sections employs make use of contemporary hypermedia and database technologies that reflect the growing nature of our contemporary digital culture. In addition to its scholarship and research, Critical Sections provides a meaningful tool in which the user can idiosyncratic and dynamic narratives of their own, becoming something more handcrafted and metaphorical than algorithmic and data driven.

The project interface designed and programmed by Greg Smith’s partner Erik Loyer is by all means a beautiful piece of minimalist art work. The interactive web content was maximized by the way Loyer arranging the trivial navigation buttons and bars to the sides of the page, leaving the central space for the audience. The choice of the full white background ensures the least amount of distraction when audience play with the “clusters”. These “clusters” are the main component of this project, which are very similar to tiles with each of them has a layer of drawing of an iconic architecture, a layer of animated image clipped (supposedly in .gif format) from the movie where the architecture was presented in. Though it was default that the drawing is overlaid on the image on each tile, the audience still can deselect the “mask” to see the full image. The audience, by manipulating the “clusters” and positioning them improvisationally, they are interactively creating a new space while establishing new links among architectures. Each of the “clusters” also have building/film info and commentary annotations which are essentially tags identifying the shared characteristics among the buildings, these tags, in this case, are typical impressions established either by historical or cinematical influence.

The links among movies and architectures are pre-established, but other then that, a user can drag his cursor and click wherever he wants to place “clusters”. He can also move them around, enlarge or downsize them freely after he placed them. By the time he fill the space with the “clusters”, a montage of drawings and images of architectures is thus created. Undoubtedly, Critical Section has one of the most interactive forms among other Digital Humanities projects.

One would be amazed that such a flawless project was created in 2008 and still runs smoothly and performs stably on different browsers such as Chrome, Safari and Firefox nowadays. The reason behind such compatibility is the standardization of XML in years recent to 2008, and the way Loyer neatly organized the programming codes in the back-end for continuous maintenance. In the front-end, Loyer adopted the Flash Player for visualization, which is a multimedia platform that is still being used massively to this day. Although the users have no authorities to change the pre-established links, or extend the existing architecture and movies database included in the project, the project gives sufficient perspectives of the relationships among architectures and movies to the general public and scholars alike.

Grey Smith as the director of this project, played a significant role in communicating with the designer and programmer Erik Loyer. If we divide any Digital Humanities projects into two parts, we will see the backbones of the project are always the scholarship and visualization. Scholarship, in this project, was led by Greg Smith who was a researcher in digital culture with a background of Architecture. In addition, Smith is also a designer which was a major advantage him leading the project since his knowledge in design helped him collaborate with Loyer effectively in visualization the project as Smith wrote in Project Credit page : “Erik was extremely intuitive in reading my desires for this project and consistently brought new ideas to the table from brainstorming the interface right through final revisions.”

As a piece of research and scholarship, Critical Sections is true to its message and intentional in everything it implements. It is simple in its minimalism and intuitive for a first time user to interact with. The project’s success lies in its ability to create an archival tool in which a user can both learn and express themselves. Although Critical Sections is impressive and a success for its time, there are some alternative features and potential improvements that could be implemented. Alternate sensory experiences can be utilized through the introduction of audio files into the archive. Temporal space can also be better represented, for example through time-lines or video files. Despite these possible areas of improvement, Critical Sections represents a sound piece of scholarship and an interesting tool for exploring digital humanities.

DH Midterm: Jill and Harris

 

0 – Not meeting any expectation 1 – Below Expectation 2 – Meet basic expectation 3 – Above expectation 4 – Excellent
Content displayed -Difficult to understand what the research question is

-Obvious and relevant information missing

-Research question is not clear

-Information is lacking in content

-Research question is present but lacks clarity

-Content is understandable but lacks clarity or has obvious flaws

-Research question is outlined clearly but not the first thing the user sees

-Content is appropriate but lacking certain material

-Research question clearly defined and present

-Content is relevant and complete

Presentation -No visualizations -Visuals are not of good quality

-Some scattered and unorganized visuals are present

-Decent framework of images and/or text, but lacks balance between visual and text -Adequate visuals are present -Visually captivating

-Simplistic and engaging, good balance of text and visuals

Visualization -Presentation lacked any interactive elements -Presentation is scattered and disorganized

-The interactive elements are not presented clearly

-Presentation is okay but could be better

-The interactive elements are present but not easy to navigate

-Presentation is acceptable with minimal mistakes

-The interactive elements are present but contain minimal problems

-The project possesses impressive interactive elements

-Writing clear with no mistakes

Accessibility -Hyperlinks are not present or nonfunctional

-Project is not navigable

-Hyperlinks are present but not easy to find and some are nonfunctional

-Project difficult to navigate

-Hyperlinks are present but not great quality

-Project is easy to navigate but complex

-Hyperlinks function

-Project is easy to navigate and simple

-Hyperlinks function well and are relevant

-Project is navigable and intuitive

Sustainability and Possibility of Growth -Does not have continuous funding

-Website is completely not working

– Have some funding

– Part of the website is not functioning

-Have small amount of funding

-Website is working but lack of up to date maintenance

-Have some continuous funding

-Website is working under maintenance but does not have a lot of traffic

-Have sufficient amount of continuous funding

-Website is constantly updated and maintained with high traffic

Academic Importance -Does not contribute to any academic field

-Never used by scholars or public

-Have a little contribution to a specific field of study

-Seldomly used by scholars and public

-Have some contribution to a certain field

-Sometimes used by scholars and public for a specific area of study

-Have some contribution to a variety of academic fields

-Often used by some scholars and public

-Have a huge contribution and importance to various field of study

-Always used by scholar and public studying different fields

Credibility -No citations at all in the project

-Obvious factual mistake

-Not all citations are present or are in improper form

-Some easily noticeable content flaws

-Citations are present but in a improper form

-A few content flaws and factual mistakes are minimal

-Citations are generally correct

-Content flaws are minimal

-Citations are well-presented

-No content flaws or factual mistakes

 

OVERALL SCORE: 23.5/28

 

Evaluation:

 

Content Displayed: 3/4

The Perseus Digital Library homepage has information regarding its most recent blog posts, release announcements, and popular texts. There is also a toolbar at the top of the page with different options the user can select. The tabs include, ‘Collections/Texts’, ‘Perseus Catalog’, ‘Research’, ‘Grants’, ‘Open Source’, ‘About’ and ‘Help’. The user has to select the ‘About’ tab in order to access a page that explains the research questions and purpose of the website. The content is not so much lacking certain material, because the material is available, but it is not immediately present to the user. Within the ‘About’ page, the user finds that the Perseus Digital Library exists to explore possibilities and challenges of digital collections. The research question is “what happens when libraries move online? We gave The Perseus Digital Library a 3 out of 4 because the research question was not immediately in front of the user as the project was accessed.

 

Presentation: 2.5/4

The Perseus Digital Library project is one based on textual objects. There are not many visual graphics that need to be displayed. The project is text-heavy and daunting when a user opens the website. There is not much balance between the visuals and text. However, the framework for the text is very simple and manageable for all users, there is just quite a bit of it. That being said, we gave the project a 2.5 out of 4 because we think that it straddles a decent framework as well as adequate visual design.

 

Visualization: 4/4

As mentioned above, there is a lot of a text within the project. The text is clear, concise and does not have any writing mistakes. Additionally, when sifting through the collections and texts that the digital library contains, the tools are interactive and make the process of reading quicker and easier. For instance, imagine the user selects a certain book. There is a sidebar that allows the user to jump from Chapter 1 to Chapter 10 in one click. Furthermore, there is a tool at the top of the page that presents the book in a timeline fashion. The reader can see which chapter is the longest, allowing the user to skip from chapter to chapter with this feature in addition to the toolbar. Also, the user can automatically look for certain people, dates, or locations. One of the coolest visualizations is the map. This visualization pinpoints all of the locations discussed within the text using a google map. Due to all of these impressive interactive elements and clarity in the writing, we gave this project a 4 out of 4 for visualization.

 

Accessibility: 2/4

This is the weakest part of the Perseus Digital Library project. In regards to the hyperlinks, some links are broken. For example, under the funding tab, ‘The Dynamic Lexicon’ link is broken and does not work. Additionally, the project is easy to navigate but it is complex. It is complex due to the breadth of information that is on the website. We are not sure if there is a better way to organize the material, but in some cases, the user has to click through many links in order to finally get to where they want to be. In regards to the goal of the project, which is to increase the accessibility of Pre Modern texts, it does succeed in doing so. However, it is a complex website due to the vast information. Therefore, we gave this project a 2 out of 4 for accessibility.

 

Sustainability and Possibility of Growth: 4/4

The Perseus Digital Library is funded through various sources, which are all listed under the Grant page of the project. Different fundings from distinct sources go to a specific part of the project and are well-described in the project. Moreover, as we see the funding list, it only shows the active grants that support the research. The project first started in 1985 and it is still getting funded today. As a result, we are really optimistic that it will keep being funded in the future and the library collection will keep growing.  In the description, it lists the two major funding sources which offer 2.8 million and 2.5 million for the past two decades. These two huge amounts of continuous fundings is the main reason we give the section of sustainability a 4 out of 4. Also, in the front page of the project and in their own blog, the developers keep a good track of the updates of the materials in the project and different versions that have been launched. The constant updates and maintenance make sure that the project can last and be active for a long time.

 

Academic Importance: 4/4

The mission of The Perseus Digital Library is to make a full record of humanity, from various fields of studies. The whole collection consists of texts and documents from different time periods and different cultures. The concreteness of the collection and the amount of detailed descriptions in each catalog of the collection can be useful for a wide range of studies and research. Since the library is open to public, everyone can use it as a resource for research. Due to the large amount of data stored in the library, we believe that it is constantly used by scholars. As mentioned above, the website is being constantly updated, which is also an indicator for the amount of traffic that the project gets. Moreover, the project lists its current ongoing researches to let the public know about the work they are doing. For the above reasons, we give the project a 4 out of 4 for academic importance.

 

Credibility:4/4

Every document or text in this project is properly cited and well-presented. There is no visible mistake or flaw in either the design of the project or the content displayed. Every picture it used has been credited to the original photographer. One thing we think that makes this project a professional one is that it has a list of people who are evolved in the project and those in charge. Reading each of their introduction page and getting to know the team that is behind the project offer the user more information and will make this project more reliable. Moreover, there is a list of publications that are works of the staff and collaborators of the project. The amount of information that is being offered make us believe that the work presented to us is trustworthy.

 

~ Jill Fu & Harris Pollack

DH Midterm Persues Digital Library

 

0 – Not meeting any expectation 1 – Below Expectation 2 – Meet basic expectation 3 – Above expectation 4 – Excellent
Content displayed -Difficult to understand what the research question is

-Obvious and relevant information missing

-Research question is not clear

-Information is lacking in content

-Research question is present but lacks clarity

-Content is understandable but lacks clarity or has obvious flaws

-Research question is outlined clearly but not the first thing the user sees

-Content is appropriate but lacking certain material

-Research question clearly defined and present

-Content is relevant and complete

Presentation -No visualizations -Visuals are not of good quality

-Some scattered and unorganized visuals are present

-Decent framework of images and/or text, but lacks balance between visual and text -Adequate visuals are present -Visually captivating

-Simplistic and engaging, good balance of text and visuals

Visualization -Presentation lacked any interactive elements -Presentation is scattered and disorganized

-The interactive elements are not presented clearly

-Presentation is okay but could be better

-The interactive elements are present but not easy to navigate

-Presentation is acceptable with minimal mistakes

-The interactive elements are present but contain minimal problems

-The project possesses impressive interactive elements

-Writing clear with no mistakes

Accessibility -Hyperlinks are not present or nonfunctional

-Project is not navigable

-Hyperlinks are present but not easy to find and some are nonfunctional

-Project difficult to navigate

-Hyperlinks are present but not great quality

-Project is easy to navigate but complex

-Hyperlinks function

-Project is easy to navigate and simple

-Hyperlinks function well and are relevant

-Project is navigable and intuitive

Sustainability and Possibility of Growth -Does not have continuous funding

-Website is completely not working

– Have some funding

– Part of the website is not functioning

-Have small amount of funding

-Website is working but lack of up to date maintenance

-Have some continuous funding

-Website is working under maintenance but does not have a lot of traffic

-Have sufficient amount of continuous funding

-Website is constantly updated and maintained with high traffic

Academic Importance -Does not contribute to any academic field

-Never used by scholars or public

-Have a little contribution to a specific field of study

-Seldomly used by scholars and public

-Have some contribution to a certain field

-Sometimes used by scholars and public for a specific area of study

-Have some contribution to a variety of academic fields

-Often used by some scholars and public

-Have a huge contribution and importance to various field of study

-Always used by scholar and public studying different fields

Credibility -No citations at all in the project

-Obvious factual mistake

-Not all citations are present or are in improper form

-Some easily noticeable content flaws

-Citations are present but in a improper form

-A few content flaws and factual mistakes are minimal

-Citations are generally correct

-Content flaws are minimal

-Citations are well-presented

-No content flaws or factual mistakes

 

OVERALL SCORE: 23.5/28

 

Evaluation:

 

Content Displayed: 3/4

The Perseus Digital Library homepage has information regarding its most recent blog posts, release announcements, and popular texts. There is also a toolbar at the top of the page with different options the user can select. The tabs include, ‘Collections/Texts’, ‘Perseus Catalog’, ‘Research’, ‘Grants’, ‘Open Source’, ‘About’ and ‘Help’. The user has to select the ‘About’ tab in order to access a page that explains the research questions and purpose of the website. The content is not so much lacking certain material, because the material is available, but it is not immediately present to the user. Within the ‘About’ page, the user finds that the Perseus Digital Library exists to explore possibilities and challenges of digital collections. The research question is “what happens when libraries move online? We gave The Perseus Digital Library a 3 out of 4 because the research question was not immediately in front of the user as the project was accessed.

 

Presentation: 2.5/4

The Perseus Digital Library project is one based on textual objects. There are not many visual graphics that need to be displayed. The project is text-heavy and daunting when a user opens the website. There is not much balance between the visuals and text. However, the framework for the text is very simple and manageable for all users, there is just quite a bit of it. That being said, we gave the project a 2.5 out of 4 because we think that it straddles a decent framework as well as adequate visual design.

 

Visualization: 4/4

As mentioned above, there is a lot of a text within the project. The text is clear, concise and does not have any writing mistakes. Additionally, when sifting through the collections and texts that the digital library contains, the tools are interactive and make the process of reading quicker and easier. For instance, imagine the user selects a certain book. There is a sidebar that allows the user to jump from Chapter 1 to Chapter 10 in one click. Furthermore, there is a tool at the top of the page that presents the book in a timeline fashion. The reader can see which chapter is the longest, allowing the user to skip from chapter to chapter with this feature in addition to the toolbar. Also, the user can automatically look for certain people, dates, or locations. One of the coolest visualizations is the map. This visualization pinpoints all of the locations discussed within the text using a google map. Due to all of these impressive interactive elements and clarity in the writing, we gave this project a 4 out of 4 for visualization.

 

Accessibility: 2/4

This is the weakest part of the Perseus Digital Library project. In regards to the hyperlinks, some links are broken. For example, under the funding tab, ‘The Dynamic Lexicon’ link is broken and does not work. Additionally, the project is easy to navigate but it is complex. It is complex due to the breadth of information that is on the website. We are not sure if there is a better way to organize the material, but in some cases, the user has to click through many links in order to finally get to where they want to be. In regards to the goal of the project, which is to increase the accessibility of Pre Modern texts, it does succeed in doing so. However, it is a complex website due to the vast information. Therefore, we gave this project a 2 out of 4 for accessibility.

 

Sustainability and Possibility of Growth: 4/4

The Perseus Digital Library is funded through various sources, which are all listed under the Grant page of the project. Different fundings from distinct sources go to a specific part of the project and are well-described in the project. Moreover, as we see the funding list, it only shows the active grants that support the research. The project first started in 1985 and it is still getting funded today. As a result, we are really optimistic that it will keep being funded in the future and the library collection will keep growing.  In the description, it lists the two major funding sources which offer 2.8 million and 2.5 million for the past two decades. These two huge amounts of continuous fundings is the main reason we give the section of sustainability a 4 out of 4. Also, in the front page of the project and in their own blog, the developers keep a good track of the updates of the materials in the project and different versions that have been launched. The constant updates and maintenance make sure that the project can last and be active for a long time.

 

Academic Importance: 4/4

The mission of The Perseus Digital Library is to make a full record of humanity, from various fields of studies. The whole collection consists of texts and documents from different time periods and different cultures. The concreteness of the collection and the amount of detailed descriptions in each catalog of the collection can be useful for a wide range of studies and research. Since the library is open to public, everyone can use it as a resource for research. Due to the large amount of data stored in the library, we believe that it is constantly used by scholars. As mentioned above, the website is being constantly updated, which is also an indicator for the amount of traffic that the project gets. Moreover, the project lists its current ongoing researches to let the public know about the work they are doing. For the above reasons, we give the project a 4 out of 4 for academic importance.

 

Credibility:4/4

Every document or text in this project is properly cited and well-presented. There is no visible mistake or flaw in either the design of the project or the content displayed. Every picture it used has been credited to the original photographer. One thing we think that makes this project a professional one is that it has a list of people who are evolved in the project and those in charge. Reading each of their introduction page and getting to know the team that is behind the project offer the user more information and will make this project more reliable. Moreover, there is a list of publications that are works of the staff and collaborators of the project. The amount of information that is being offered make us believe that the work presented to us is trustworthy.

 

~ Jill Fu & Harris Pollack

Midterm: Salem Witch Trials

Brett Mele & Georgia Miller

3/9/2017

Nieves

Digital Humanities Midterm

 

Evaluation of Salem Witch Trials Archive

The Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project is a collection and transcription of primary source documents that originated during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. This project improves upon the current records of the trials through the provision of new transcriptions which may uncover more about the past. This project will immortalize primary sources, records, books, and maps about the Salem Witch Trials. It ensures that the events of 1692 won’t be forgotten in the larger context of history. In addition, an important part of the scholarship is the process of making the Salem Witch Trials, not just the outcome of the archive or the transcriptions. Due to the importance of process in the transcription and collection of sources, there is an opportunity for growth after the process is completed. Many different archives, libraries, and historical societies participated in the archiving process which has resulted in multiple sources of funding and grants that will sustain the project.

The project pushes the state of knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials forward through the discovery of new information and the collection of past data. The redone transcriptions of court records contain corrections on the Salem Witchcraft Papers from 1977, the original transcriptions of the court records. In addition, the online collection contains multiple types of 17th Century documents, a collection of different historical maps, a list of notable actors in the trials, selected literary works, and holdings from various archives. The information surrounding the trials is well rounded and multi dimensional and has room for extension. In addition, the project appears to be well-funded which should ensure the sustainability the archive.

The goal of the project is to organize and compile relevant information on the Salem Witch Trials in a systematic fashion. The primary research question is: How do all of the maps, documents, and people surrounding the Salem Witch Trials fit together and how are they relevant to history? In addition, what does the historical context say about the events that occurred?

The design of the project is easy to navigate; however, the site is outdated and could use an upgrade. The interface appears to be from many years ago although the different categories of research topics are all color coded which is useful for the user. The ‘Project Mission’ and ‘Project Information’ sections all contain relevant information on the background and funding of the project. Within the ‘Documents & Transcription’ section, the original version and the new transcription, where necessary, are pictured. The ‘Historical Map’ section provides maps that allow the user to zoom for closer inspection. Most of the maps have keys as well as a small amount of text that explains what they are depicting. The ‘Archival Collections’ section provides scanned pictures of the manuscripts from various libraries. This is interesting, however, there are no translations so it is almost impossible to garner information from the large quantity of manuscripts. Lastly, there is a section on ‘Notable People’ to the trials which I find to be one of the most important. There is a small description as well as a full essay available. Overall, the project design is decently organized and easy to navigate if the user knows what they are looking for but it does not provide many different modes of navigation or a fun experience for the user.

For the front-end, the site looks like it uses basic HTML or some other web design program. The copyright date is 2002, and it does not look like any of the technology has been updated since then.On the back-end, the project employs a number of unique technologies, particularly to map the sites of the exact location of the witch trials. Benjamin Ray and his team of researchers used Global Information Systems (GIS) technology to digitally map the Salem area. Additionally, the project needs some sort of database to store all of the documents.

The front-end technology creates a working display for the archive and provides a means for navigation. For the back-end, the scholars use the technology to create the unique content for the archive. For example, the GIS mapping is used to create interactive maps based on originals that detail all the witch accusations in Salem at the time.

The project succeeds in increasing knowledge about the Salem Witch trials. It compiles numerous primary documents including maps, books, images and more. The project also succeeded in their transcription, as the primary documents are now available on a digital forum. Additionally, the interactivity of some of the maps is a successful feature of the project; it allows users to gain an overview of the topic without having to sift through all of the documents.

Despite some successes, the project has room for improvement. For an outside user, the information is not organized well enough to get substantial value. Some links lead to transcribed letters with little context, and some lead to messy original manuscripts. Overall, the project needs tying together. The broad categories on the homepage lead to a confusing array of documents in most cases. There needs to be more of a breakdown so the user gets a sense of the significance of each primary source.

As the project director, Benjamin Ray assumes the responsibility for the outcome of the project. However, he employed a number of other scholars and many things had to work in his favor along the way. Under the project staff link, over 30 researchers were responsible for different aspects of the project, which includes those in charge of transcription, database design, GIS mapping and more. All of these pieces had to come together cohesively for the project to work. Additionally, Ray needed to acquire proper funding for the project to work, which it seems like he secured due to the support of a few different organizations, including the University of Virginia Scholar’s Lab. Despite the fact that it took such a collaborative effort to get the project off the ground, I would say the ultimate success or failure of the project falls on Ray, simply because he assumed the responsibility of overseeing the entire project, which should include making sure all the other researchers are doing adequate work.

From the rubric, the criteria that matter most in this project include: research question, maintenance and sustainability, navigation, presentation, academic importance, credibility, argument, accessibility and organization. Of these, the project does a below average job in navigation, presentation and organization. The site feels clunky, the presentation is not uniform throughout, and as the project needs to better organize its content. The project scores average for accessibility and maintenance, and scores above average on the other categories. It asks an interesting research question, and in its answering provides new information on the subject of the Witch Trials. All of the scholars involved in the project hold degrees from top institutions, and the project is well funded, so there is no questioning the credibility of the website. In sum, based on the created rubric, this project rates as above average, but not higher due to the key drawbacks previously discussed.

DH Midterm (Hess and Michael)

DH MIDTERM: The Homer Multitext

Describe and evaluate the significance of the scholarship for the humanities:

This project addresses the variance between different versions of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey and attributes them in a cultural and historical framework. Many scholars of classical studies refer to these two literary sources to develop a better understanding of ancient Greek societies. By providing multiple sources of the same stories, the website allows for researchers to evaluate the Homeric poems in more ways.

How does the project push forward (or fail to push forward) the state of knowledge of a discipline?

One of the tools that this project offers is a search ability to find lines in the Homeric poems from multiple sources. From this, users have access to multiple sources of the same lines of poetry and can further analyze the different perspectives offered by each source. This is a great feature because users can compare the sources precisely. This function falls short, because it fails to provide translations of the transcriptions from the primary source. This really limits this project’s potential to be applied to the discipline of classical studies. Adding a translation feature would allow the project to be utilized by researchers who speak languages other than the ones used in the source text.

Can you identify the project’s primary research question? What is it? A series of questions?

How are Homer’s texts changed over time with respect to various historical frameworks? How can the evolution and multiformity of Homer’s texts be understood in its many different historical contexts?

Describe and evaluate the project’s design and interface. Evaluate the interactivity and modes of navigation of the project.

A drawback of this project is the lack of description and lack of engagement with the users. For example, the manuscript browsers do not offer instructions on how to efficiently utilize its function. Offering a brief introduction/explanation of the search tools would improve this project’s utility to a wider range of users.

Navigation: The site’s navigation is simple. There are tabs along the top of the page that, when clicked on, bring up their respective pages which can be further navigated through utilizing hypertext within the reading and through “Next” and “Previous” options which help guide the user through a sequence of ordered pages.

Accessibility/Readability: While the site is free to access and is easily searchable, the information it presents cannot readily be used by a layperson. Images of manuscripts are written in ancient Greek with no translation provided.

What technologies does the project employ (both front-end and back-end) and how does the scholarship make use of these technologies?

The HMT depends on many code libraries as well as specific programs that address specific needs of the project. For example, Mandatory On-going Maintenance (MOM) is a project that validates and verifies editorial work for the HMT project. It assembles a single archive from project data in various XML and .csv files then uses the library to analyze the contents. The HMT virtual machine is available for use by editors to validate material. A front-end technology that this project employs is the MS browser which allows users to search for a specific line from Homer’s texts and the website will bring up multiple different versions so that similar passages can be readily compared.

Maintenance/ Sustainability: The HMT includes various manuscripts of different versions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, all of which the website claims are currently being edited. The site contains a link to a project blog that lists updates as well as discusses on-going research related to the HMT.

What do you consider to be the successes and failures of the project?

A notable success of the project is the simplicity of its navigation as well as the MS browser it provides as a tool. The browser allows any line from multiple variations of Homer’s texts to be searched and compared which helps users answer the website’s research questions. A failure of the project is its inability be efficiently utilized by a layperson. The archive includes thousands of images of text from multiple different versions of the Iliad and Odyssey that are all written in ancient Greek. While having images of the original manuscripts is ideal, no translation is readily provided, limiting the website to only be fully utilized by those who can read Greek.

The project fails to stay up to date with its visual layout. The content of the project is adequate, but the way it is presented could be improved. How the information is delivered is just as significant as the information itself when it comes to digital humanities projects. Many of the pages of this website simply presents text in a bland and minimal arrangement. The aesthetics of a website should keep up with modern day standards so that the impression is that the project is updated and maintained.

Consider the role of the project director (listed in parentheses). What influence does the project director have on the project’s success (or failure)?

The Homer Multitext project’s current director (Gregory Nagy) values the multi-generationality of the team working on the project, and because of this, students and professors whose level of study ranges from undergraduate to post baccalaureate help to shape dynamic models of research to teach at all levels of education.

Credibility/Funding: The Homer Multitext Project is funded by several prestigious organizations such as The National Science Foundation, The National Endowment of the Humanities, and The Mellon Foundation. Additionally, contributions are collected from multiple colleges and universities such as Washington University, Harvard University, and Gustavus Adolphus College.

Academic Contribution: While the site seeks to present the textual transmission of the Iliad and Odyssey in a historical framework, it leaves it up to the user to discover and engage themselves with Homeric tradition. It offers a library of images and texts of various versions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey told during different time periods to examine the changes of the text over time and places it within cultural and historical contexts.

Room for Growth/Extendibility/Raise other Questions?:

The extendibility of this website is very limited as most other versions of Homer’s works have been lost or destroyed over time. The archive has already collected images from the best quality sources that still have managed to exist today. However, one addition that could have educational value are videos of plays being performed with respect to each version. Additionally, translations should be provided in order for anyone to be able to utilize the website.

Michael Hoffman

Heson Oh

 

Willa Cather Archive

Jack and Jacob

Describe and evaluate the project’s design and interface. Evaluate the interactivity and modes of navigation of the project.  (plus: summary and inclusion of question regarding front-end/back end technology)

The functionality of the site is well polished and well designed, but some sections are more useful and intuitive than others.  The drop down menus are user friendly.  They are based on mouse clicks rather than a hover action (which would make them more intuitive for someone less familiar with computer mechanics, like an older audience).  This element of usability is also apparent from the large font size for ease of viewing.  

        The site’s search functionality leverages Google custom searches.  This means that the site can use Google’s sophisticated parsing tools for poorly constructed search queries as well as the extensive searching algorithms behind the custom search framework.  The results are presented cleanly (this is sometimes difficult with Google custom search).

        The books section is presented graphically with covers arranged in a grid on the page.  These are broken into the subsections: “novels,” “short fiction,” “poetry,” and “nonfiction.”  The presentation of the books is effective and the titles are very visible.  However, the presentation of the contents of the books leaves much to be desired.  The site does not utilize an embedded PDF display (think JSTOR) but instead displays the plain text of the books on the main page.  There are no page breaks, so that user must endlessly scroll through the same page to read the book.  This is an unfortunate feature of the site. The site also has indexed Cather’s early journalism and letters.

        The chronology section is useful as it combines a text based timeline and a geospatial representation of events.  The text-based portion is somewhat less difficult as it uses a vertical display of the timeline to display the events.  These are entirely text based.  However, the text includes hyperlinks to images, family trees, and Willa Cather’s works.  If someone moved sequentially through her life, they could view relevant information along the way.  The second component of the chronology section is powered by Google maps. This portion can display marks for significant events on a map.  This provides a geographic situation for events throughout her lifetime and is a useful visualization technique.

        The site contains bibliographic sketches to briefly introduce the user to Willa Cather, an extensive image gallery, audio and a movie.  The image gallery is formed as more of a traditional database.  Rather than displaying the images like the book covers, this section uses pages, an advanced search option, and functionality to narrow a search.  This section contains more material.

        Finally, the site offers the user a “community” section that introduces a ListServ and other methods of staying connected and reaching out beyond the archive.  Overall, the site is well constructed.  The main page is simple, provides access to the major collections, and would likely be useable by a wide audience (potentially unfamiliar with navigating complicated webpages).

The project uses a text visualization and analysis tool called TokenX.  Unfortunately, the technology does not appear to work.  This is a potentially useful tool (adding metatextual analysis to the collection) but the results of the analysis are nowhere to be seen. The project makes use of a well structured front end html experience as well as the back end power of a database.  This backbone is most apparent when searching for images based on criteria and search fields as well as the advanced search option which leverages lexical parsing and exact phrases.  

 

Describe and evaluate the significance of the scholarship for the humanities.

This project allows anybody that has access to the internet to view documents created by Willa Cather for free. This is a very simple goal which can be seen across countless Digital Humanities projects, making its contributions to the humanities fairly pedestrian. This resource fits into the prototypical early DH project, which focuses on making literature and other information accessible to a greater public. This is yet another great addition to a variety of databases focused on iconic figures in history. It does not make any truly innovative additions to the field of humanities as it can be compared to many other archives such as the Walt Whitman archive. The Walt Whitman Archive is very similarly laid out and contains similar information, just pertaining to a different iconic writer.

How does the project push forward (or fail to push forward) the state of knowledge of a discipline?

Regarding the advancement of knowledge in the discipline, it does a great job. This project presents all information of Willa Cather in a single location, making comparisons between texts far less tedious and problematic. When considering old texts that may have limited availability it is impractical to study them, due to the difficulty of locating and interpreting the texts. Using databases and archives this becomes a problem of the past. Because of resources such as the Willa Cather archive, information availability is at a wider scale than ever before. The information presented through this archive advances the information through also providing a brief description of her life, pictures of Cather, and even video and audio of her. This projects ability to push advance the state of knowledge in the field stems from how it conveys the information presented on the website, but also to present and connect the information on the website in a organized and thought provoking way.

Can you identify the project’s primary research question? What is it? A series of questions?

It is explicitly stated by the creators of the Willa Cather Archive that the goal of creating this archive was to make the works and life of Willa Cather to the public without any prejudice. This includes listings of her pieces of writing, the history of her life, and actual documents posted on the website. In addition to this they also look to present the knowledge in a thought provoking manner that is not possible without the works of digital humanities.

What do you consider to be the successes and failures of the project?

The successes of this project include the clean user interface, and the overall quality of the presentation of the information. It is a great looking website, with a straightforward interface that most individuals would be able to navigate with ease. The one minor gripe with the website would be the search engine used. Advanced search options come as a default in nearly all archives and databases and the Willa Cather Archive does not process that. This would be useful for filtering by date, genre, and other aspects of pieces of writing that are already included in the archive. These mechanics are available when sorting the list of writing pieces but not when searching through the archive. This addition would be fantastic and it will add to the usability of the website.  

 

Consider the role of the project director (listed in parentheses). What influence does the project director have on the project’s success (or failure)?

Andrew Jewel headed the project team for the project.  He designed and edited the site, while employing the skills of a plethora of engineers and professors.  His background is in English literature and he worked alongside members of the staff with experience in the Digital Humanities as a discipline.  The success and endurance of the project is a testament to his leadership.  In this case, his most important contribution was leading a diverse and well-qualified team.

 

Consider using your rubric and applying whatever form of evaluation from that assignment that might work best with the project you are examining.

For the most part, our answers to the above questions encompass our evaluation.  Interface, usability, and material are of unparalleled importance and we found that the archive met those basic criteria.  Like any project, the archive shows relative strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it functions as a source of information and knows its audience well. Our evaluation was a litmus test; if we visited the site, could we find the information about the writer and her work that we sought?  This evaluation was a function of usability, expansiveness, and the analysis of a tool designed to be versatile.

 

Midterm: Digital Himalaya

To evaluate the quality of the Digital Himalaya (www.digitalhimalaya.com) project created by Alan Macfarlane and Mark Turin, we will break down the projects essential qualities into two broad categories each containing five subgroups. The two general categories are project design and the project’s capacity for engagement of the research question: What is the ethnographic make-up of the Himalayan region? The design section will be divided into the five following subgroups: information presentation, site navigation, information accessibility, interactivity, and aesthetics.  The engagement of research question section will be divided into: site maintenance/ sustainability, contribution to the field of interest, credibility, effectiveness of information in addressing the research question, and presence of bias. All subgroups will be ranked on a 1-5 scale (1: very bad, 2: bad, 3: neutral, 4: good, 5: very good) denoting the project’s effectiveness in each subgroup. Once each subgroup has been ranked, the category will be given an evaluative score composed of the average score across the subgroups. At the end of the project evaluation, we provide a site score, the average score between the Design and Engagement of Question score, denoting the general effectiveness of the Digital Himalaya project.

While other evaluators may see fit to appraise these subgroups differently (these evaluators would thereby determine an averaging of the subgroups as an oversimplification of the general categories’ effectiveness), we have decided to weigh each subgroup as equally important to the Digital Himalaya project’s success as each subgroup makes up an essential component to a high-calibre Digital Humanities’ project. The essential nature and uniqueness of the subgroups requires us to weigh each as equally important aspects of either design or engagement of the question and subsequently diffuse interpersonal subgroup appraisal differences.

 

Design

Information Presentation: The information on Digital Himalaya’s website is presented plainly under different categories including ‘Maps,’ ‘Films,’ ‘Journals,’ and ‘Music.’ By clicking on one of the links to a category on the homepage, the resources of that kind are presented in an alphabetical list. The names of the resources are linked to either another page on the project’s website or another website altogether depending on the file in question. From here, one can view the file and/or download it. The issue with the alphabetical sorting comes into play when there is an abundance of resources for that category. For instance, by clicking on the ‘Journal’ category, one is presented with a list of around 50 journals related to the Himalayan region. It would be okay if a user knew for which journal he or she was looking; however, if one does not know these Himalayan journals, then the act of reading through them to find some specific information becomes overtly tedious and simply a waste of time.  I would suggest either tacking on a descriptive sentence next to each resource or redoing the way in which the information is organized to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. Perhaps by condensing some resources into subcategories. Other than the organization of categories, the project’s presentation of information is simple and easy-to-understand, but nothing to get excited about. Grade: 3

Site Navigation: Navigating this site is incredibly easy. The site provides hyperlinks with labels that lead users to anything within the project’s domain. All one has to do to navigate between pages is click on the aforementioned links. The site also provides links to the project’s collaborators at the top of the homepage, making it simple to find information about the funding universities and view other projects related to Digital Himalaya. Grade: 5

Information Accessibility: On the project’s homepage, links are found under two columns: ‘Collections’ and ‘About the Project.’ The links under ‘Collections’ provide users with access to maps, music, journals, films, and other archives related to the Himalayan region. The links under ‘About the Project’ provide information related to the inception of Digital Himalaya as well as names of team members and news about the project. This website makes it incredibly easy for Himalaya-enthusiasts to access all the information the project has to offer as all of it is linked to the homepage. By clicking on one of the links under ‘Collections,’ one is presented with a wide array of examples related to the specific topic. For example, when one clicks on the link ‘Journals,’ the site displays a large number of titles of journals, magazines, and publications of Himalayan studies. By clicking on a title, one is directed to the relevant page to download the scanned copy free of charge. Similarly, when one clicks on ‘Maps’ or ‘Films,’ maps and films related to the Himalayan region are displayed and made available for download. In terms of information related to the project itself, the link ‘Project team’ under ‘About the Project’ lists every single member of the project’s team and advisory board as well as the project’s trustees. The link ‘Support’ lists every organization and individual that provided financial and institutional support for the Digital Himalaya Project. In terms of information accessibility, this project is successful as it provides easy-to-find links to all of its resources, which are plainly laid out for pain-free access. Grade: 5

Interactivity: Digital Himalaya does not provide many opportunities to interact with the project’s website. The project appears to focus more on displaying the information rather than allowing users to interact with it. The only instance in which the project allows people to somewhat interact with the information is with the 2001 Nepal census data. This activity allows one to choose a district of Nepal and a class, which includes economic activity, literacy, marital status, religion, population, and school status, and view the census data yielded from that combination. The only other way to interact with the information from this project is to download it and view it on your desktop. The project members should work on improving the interactivity of the website, since some of the sections, especially maps, should contain graphics/activities that involve users. This update would greatly improve the project’s overall success in conveying information to the public. Grade: 2

General Aesthetics: The site’s aesthetics are unprovocative. Clearly, little effort was put into this aspect of the project. Successful DH project sites should convey a level of sophistication via their design. However, this site is quite bland as the site proprietors chose to portray an arbitrary white-viridian green color scheme rather than a color scheme that could contain some connection to the project topic (e.g. Himalayan flag color scheme or Tibetan prayer flag color scheme). Along this line, the site lacks an aesthetic that would capture the interest of an individual that sprung upon the site during an internet excursion. Aesthetics play a vital role in capturing the interest of an individual by touching their artistic fancy. Overall, the general aesthetics of Digital Himalaya is very poor. Grade: 1

Design Score: 3.2

 

Engagement of Research Question

Maintenance/Site Sustainability: This project has been extremely successful at updating its website to fit current standards of online webpages. As noted in the ‘Technologies’ link from the homepage, the site was first coded in simple HTML with compressed QuickTime files embedded in the different pages of the site. Then in 2004, the site was re-coded in PHP and partly redesigned. In 2009, the site was then completely changed to fit the house style of the University of Cambridge and be compliant with other standards such as XHTML. The only problem here is that the project’s site has not been updated since that 2009 renovation, meaning that there have not been any changes in its layout for almost 8 years. This drawback makes one question whether the site will be sustainable in the coming years. Grade: 4   

Academic Contribution to Field of Interest: The Digital Himalaya project provides compiles a significant amount of unique ethnographic data directed toward a more complete understanding of cultural and ethical dynamics in the Himalayan region. Where the project excels is in the wide array of mediums it uses to promote a large information sector within the website providing a well-rounded understanding of cultural, geographical, natural and political characteristics of the region from a historic perspective. However, the project lacks contemporary publications resulting in the absence of an immediate temporal presence. For instance, the census provide on the project site is from 2001; this is outdated by a decade-and-a-half. On the site, there are very few documents published within the last 10 years. Ultimately, the project highly contributes to the study of Himalayan culture in an historical ethnographic vein, however, it lacks a contemporary power that is needed to give site visitors a prevalent understanding of modern Himalayan culture.   Grade: 3  

Credibility: The credibility of the Digital Himalaya project is undisputable. Affiliated with a number of impressive institutions and organizations, the sponsorship of the site highlights its credibility. Furthermore, the Digital Himalaya project makes nice use of primary sources including a 2001 census, film collections, photographs, maps, manuscripts, and more, all of which are extensively cited. The credibility of the project is without a doubt a strong point of the project. Grade: 5

Effectiveness of Information in Addressing the Research Question: The information on Digital Himalaya’s website addresses every aspect of the project’s research question. In short, the project’s goal is to collect, store, and distribute multimedia resources from the Himalayan region. The website not only contains an abundance of information from the Himalayan region; but, that information also comes in several different mediums such as film, music, and literature. This amount of information is impressive, but at the same time not overwhelming, making it perfect for encapsulating everything the region has to offer without scaring away online visitors. The collection and storage parts of the research question are fulfilled, as well as the distribution part since the webpage allows one to download most of the material. If the material is not available for download, the project provides links to view and/or listen to it on its website. The project’s only flaw in addressing its research question arises from the fact that most of its resources appear to be more than a decade old at this point in time. In order to be completely successful in collecting, storing, and distributing resources related to the Himalayan region, at least some of the project’s information should be recent. Grade: 4

Presence of Bias: The Digital Himalaya project site does a great job of limiting bias by providing a parity of foreign (non-Himalayan based e.g. non-Himalayan expert interviews) and native (Himalayan based e.g. primary photographs/film) primary sources. These sources are both qualitative and quantitative in nature; providing a distributive ethnocentric form of documentation. Furthermore, the dearth of information allows one to gain a well-rounded perception of the cultural uniqueness between different tribal/social groups within the Himalayas. In providing this wide variety of documentation from a plethora of sources, the site is able to give the site visitor the leighway to generate their own individualized view of Himalayan cultural diversity without the site promoting its own agenda. Grade: 5

Engagement of Research Question Score: 4.2
Overall Digital Himalaya Site Score: 3.7

 

Charles Feinberg and Ian Nish

 

Mid Term Assignment: VoS

Zach Kleinbaum, Electra  Washburn

Digital Humanities

Midterm Writing Assignment

3/8/17


http://vos.ucsb.edu

 

Describe and evaluate the significance of the scholarship for the humanities?

 

Voice of the Shuttle is a database dedicated to the humanities.  VoS consists of extensive research in the form of weblinks on twenty-eight disciplines of the humanities.  Within these twenty-eight categories, there are hundreds of links that direct the user towards research and scholarly articles related to these categories.  The topics range from traditional humanities such as Anthropology, Art History, and History to more obscure humanitarian disciplines such as Cyberculture, Minority Studies, and Technology of Writing.  The fact that there is such a broad scope of disciplines is one aspect that allows the website to significantly contribute to humanities scholarship.  Additionally, the detailed organization of links creates a serious and comprehensive database on the humanities.  Overall, the volume and range of information that this database consists of makes it an extremely relevant source of scholarship for the humanities.  

 

How does the project push forward (or fail to push forward) the state of knowledge of a discipline?

 

Voice of the Shuttle certainly pushes the state of humanity’s knowledge forward.  The volume of material on the the various subjects is one obvious way in which the database contributes to the knowledge of various disciplines within the humanities.  Before opening any of the links on a certain disciple, one can gather a great deal of information by simply looking at the organizations and titles of the links that lead to the actual articles.  For example, under the category of “Photography” on the homepage of the database, one can immediately recognize some of the major Photography Museums by looking at the titles listed under “Galleries and Museums.”  Additionally, one can tell that one of the most important photographers is Ansel Adams, for most of the links under “Photography” fall under the category “Ansel Adams.” Therefore, by simply glancing at this database, one would learn more about these humanitarian disciplines.  Once one wants to explore these topics in greater depth, the organization of the website makes it extremely easy for the user to do so.  One critique of the way in which this project pushes the state of knowledge of the disciplines forward, is that is does not include any original research.  Additionally, the fact that some links do not work is a way that the project fails to push forward the state of knowledge.  Nevertheless, one cannot deny that the access and volume to hundreds of other websites ultimately makes the project successful in pushing the knowledge of the discipline forward.  

 

Can you identify the project’s primary research question? What is it? A series of questions?

 

There is not necessarily a clear question that this project aims to answer.  The project is more of a resource that provides links to more information on various fields of the humanities than a unified set of pages that aims to answer a question or questions on a single topic.  I would say that access to information, specifically primary and secondary sources, is the primary purpose of this project; however, one overarching question that the distribution of these links could lead to is, “How does one gain a deeper knowledge of the humanities?”

 

Describe and evaluate the project’s design and interface. Evaluate the interactivity and modes of navigation of the project.

 

The design and interface of this project seems rather outdated.  The aesthetic of the project is reminiscent of websites from when it was first created in 1994.  Additionally, the color scheme of the project is bland and there is no aspect that the user’s eye is drawn to.  The layout of the project, with a short description of what it is on the homepage and the list of humanitarian disciplines that the project provides information on on the left, is extremely simple.  Additionally, there is a lack of visuals throughout this project, which makes it less interesting for the viewer.  In terms of the interface, there is no advanced form of interactivity.  The only forms of interactivity are the ability to click on the links that lead to websites or articles, and occasionally small boxes next to categories that one can click on to get to “subcategories.”  The modes of navigation of this project are simply clicking links.  I think that this project would greatly benefit from updating its design and interface; however the information is presented in an extremely clear manner that is easy to navigate, which is arguably the most important feature of a DH project.  

 

What technologies does the project employ (both frontend and backend) and how does the scholarship make use of these technologies?

 

Front end technologies are those that create the user interface of a digital humanities project and are critical when judging usability and interactivity. An accessible and comprehendible interface allows for a project to convey its argument more effectively to the user. The VoS front end technology is archaic, muddled, and confusing. The design is a simple one made using HTML, but fails to provide the user with any direction in their use of the database. The main page lists the different categories of content and each one takes the user to a page of hyperlinks with related source materials, however the user must navigate through several links to find something of interest. Overall, the front end of VoS can be approved. One possible improvement is to enhance the descriptions of the hyperlinks, so users know what kind of source they are choosing.

Back end technology consists of servers and databases responsible for the management of data. The back end technology used by VoS consists of a SQL Server database, ASP, and VB code that allows for a dynamic website. The programming allows for the databases category pages to be generated spontaneously. The back end technology used allows the database to easily add new links and information, because the website is pulling the information from the database. This allows the database to effectively manage the addition of new resources.

 

What do you consider to be the successes and failures of the project?

 

I consider the Voice of the Shuttle to be a largely outdated project in the digital humanities. The age of the database shows in its archaic user interface and the lack of properly functioning links. The functionality of the user guide is essentially obsolete as only half of the links work. However, if I was judging the project when it was first created I believe my opinion would differ. But, the functionality of the site is overcome by a basic google search, VoS even suggests on its home page that users should use Google’s feature, “Glossary” as an alternative to its own services.

With disregard to the current flaws, VoS was one of the first databases to provide a centralized collection of humanity’s resources allowing technology to become a humanities tool of research. The database links to primary sources, secondary sources, and other databases that all aid in humanities research. The ability for users to contribute new links allows for a collection of a wide range of resources. However, the site fails to provide a centralized argument and does not point the user in any direction making it difficult to navigate for new users with no particular subject of interest. I could see how the design could lead some users to endless hours of clicking in a quest for a desirable resource or document. But, I do believe the site is a valuable tool for humanities researchers vying for information on a particular topic.

 

Consider the role of the project director (listed in parentheses). What influence does the project director have on the project’s success (or failure)?

 

The project director of the Voice of the Shuttle is Alan Liu, who is a member of UC Santa Barbara’s english department. Liu specializes in cultural studies and created VoS as part of his Digital Humanities research, initially creating the project as a means to connect literature and technology. Like any project director, Liu has played an essential role in creating VoS and maintaining the project since its inception in 1994. Liu’s expertise in the humanities allows him to properly review all the data sources, and users can confide in his ability to judge these sources due to his credibility as a professor. However, Liu has not necessarily made the site easy for others to use. If Liu were able to fix the user guide on his site he has the potential to attract more users, and in turn more contributors. Liu’s role in providing credible information helps support the project, however his neglect towards functionality detracts from its usability.

 

Consider using your rubric and applying whatever form of evaluation from that assignment that might work best with the project you are examining.

 

My personal rubric tends to judge a project in the digital humanities based on the following categories: accessibility, manipulability, credibility, and the user experience. I would only give VoS positive reviews in terms of manipulability and credibility. I find that Alan Liu and his team at UC Santa Barbara provide the project with an accomplished and knowledgeable team of content reviewers. The ability for user’s to suggest new sites coupled with the backend software, which allows for dynamically created web pages, ensures that new data can constantly be added. However, these features can also harm the site as over collection of resources has resulted in many broken links. With regards to accessibility, the site contains no direction and is merely a collection of information. If the user is new to the site  they will have difficulty using the database, thus making the user experience subpar. The usability could potentially be improved with a properly functioning user guide, but at the moment many of those links are broken. Overall the failure to manage broken links has hurt the VoS, but pending a major cleanup the site maintains the ability to attract digital humanities researchers and contribute to the field.

Midterm Assignment – Nick Chkonia Isabella Bossa Seamus Glavin

The Valley of the Shadow Project

The Valley of the Shadow project depicts the daily life of two American communities – one in the north (Franklin County, Pennsylvania) and one in the south (Augusta County, Virginia) – before, during and after the Civil War. The project was developed by the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, and dates all the way back to 1991, although the webpage itself went online in 1993.

The Valley of the Shadow project digitized a great number of sources and data to shed light into the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants of Franklin and Augusta from the time of John Brown’s raid (1859) through the era of Reconstruction (1865-1877). The primary research question is, as stated on the project’s webpage, to tell the forgotten stories of life during the Civil War era by giving voice to hundreds of individual people.

The project has had an immense significance for the humanities, and particularly, for the digital humanities. Not only has it received numerous endowments, grants, and awards, but it is also considered a pioneer in the early digital history. It is important to keep in mind that webpages did not exist until August 1991. The Valley of Shadow is then quite a long-lived project, and very few webpages can claim to have such a long history behind them. Its role as a pioneer in the areas of history and digital humanities opened the path for new projects and influenced and gave credibility to the digital history field. It is not in vain that Reviews in American History called the project a “milestone in American historiography.” The project’s pioneer status, however, comes with a price: the site looks and feels very outdated. In fact, the webpage seems to have been last updated in 2007 – exactly a decade ago. This lack of modern features and user-friendliness might dissuade users from exploring the incredible and unique resources the site offers.

In terms of information and sources, the Valley of the Shadow did an outstanding job. It allows users to study the Civil War, the events leading to it, and its aftermath, from a completely new perspective. The majority of times, history focuses on the big events, but ignores the impacts of these events on individual, average lives. This project, on the other hand, contains thousands of digitized primary source materials that enable users to get immersed into the daily life of Augusta and Franklin Counties’ inhabitants, and to have a palpable sense of how they lived, what they thought, and how the war affected their lives. Moreover, the statistics, maps, diaries, newspapers, official records, letters, and many other primary sources, show the immense differences that already existed between the north and the south, and can be used to study and analyze the causes and aftermath of the war at a micro-level.

The design of this project, although arguably impressive for its time, is laughably bad when compared to the sleek, minimalistic style of Web 2.0. The website does not seem to take full advantage of the visual medium and seems to fail with the visual analogy of a “digital library.” We can find written letters and diary records in the digital library presented as plain text. Clicking on any section, such as images, does not lead directly to those images but to hyperlinks to those images, with some descriptive text provided underneath. This is counterproductive as the entire point of having images is to present them, being a great detriment to the overall user experience.

Navigation can be described as nothing but unintuitive. The presence of a tutorial section for how to navigate the site and use its search engine is indicative of the site’s poor visual design, as the design of the user interface should provide all the answers for users. Although the site does have a metadata search option, its design is aesthetically unappealing, detracting from the overall user experience. Again, this can be justified when put into the context of its publication and hey-day, but remains as a point of critique from the modern view-point.

Nonetheless, the site is very accessible. The link to the project as well as its wikipedia page are the first two results of a Google search for “the Valley of the Shadow”. There are no restrictions on the viewing and use of the materials in this project, as the site itself gives credit to other projects that have used the information stored in their digital library.

The website is constructed in HTML and uses javascripting. For the layman, this means that the website is made so that users can navigate through it and see its visual components. On the back-end, the website still has access to a server storing all of its data, as us users can still access  and navigate through it on the Internet. But ultimately, the main flaw of the site lies in the fact that it has not been updated for a decade. Aside from its outdated design, this is noticeable in the lack of compatibility with modern software.

Clicking the animated theater map while running an up-to-date version of the Chrome web browser downloads an html file containing lines of machine code; code that is literally meant for machines to “read”. These animated theater maps were no doubt very impressive for their time, potentially providing a major locus for user interaction, however, because we could not experience these maps, we are forced to say that the site does not have any direct user interactivity, beyond allowing users access to a library of data they can freely download and use.  However, compared to other projects, such as the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, the Valley Project has no options for users to directly upload files that could be of use to the digital library.

Being one of the first digital humanities project to be put on the World Wide Web, The Valley of the Shadow project has pioneered many successful qualities that influence the field today. Entering the archive, the user is met with three interactive diagrams formatted to enhance the project’s goal of comparing a county in the north to one in the south before, during, and after the civil war. The project is labeled as an “archive database”, and rightly so.  The site contains an immense amount of primary information from 1859 to 1870.  The information ranges from local statistics to church and tax records to letters and diaries to maps, with everything in between.  The information is connected well through extensive cataloging, which allows the multiple search functions embedded in a few of the website’s many tabs to work efficient and fast.  However, the project has a few shortcomings as well. While the search engines embedded into the website work like a well oiled machine, it can take up to ten clicks from the title page to find them.  The archive is almost so vast and well categorized that it begins to disinterest the user trying to sift through the various links in order to get to the actual primary content.  Also, while the site only has a small percentage broken features, the overall design could use some work, but there will be more on that later.

Edward Ayers, the project’s director, decided he wanted to have an in-depth look at the north and south before, during, and after the civil war. While he had the original idea and may have been a great manager, much of the groundbreaking work attributed to this project is a result of others who worked on the project with him.  Ayers and his team constructs their idea of comparing the two counties well, but leaves the argument up to the user to create.  This does not necessarily mean the argument is weak.  The user just needs to do more work to create and support it.  The only piece of bias is their decision to choose Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

While the project does not have a step-by-step process of how the site was created, as a whole it is transparent like tap water.  Although it takes three clicks to find the about page, it clearly displays who worked on the project and when.  The page also gives a fairly in-depth overview of who helped the project by giving them space, funding, and even tech support.

 

Seamus Glavin

Nick Chkonia

Isabella Bossa

Midterm: Digital Harlem

Digital Harlem (Shane White): http://digitalharlem.org/

General Analysis: A Descriptive Review of the Digital Harlem Project

To begin, the Digital Harlem project asks a series of questions. What was the everyday life like for a black New Yorker? How do specific events from 1915-1930 Harlem relate to each other spatially and time-wise? That emphasis on daily life in the time period of the Harlem Renaissance demonstrates their argument that the daily lives of the members of the Harlem community, while in some ways very different from ours, was in as many others quite similar. Through that argument, they further humanize the people of Harlem by connecting the events of our lives to those of our own then subtly overlaying them with a spatial model. That model uniquely portrays that connection, which pushes the academic body of information about Harlem forward.
Within the model, their chosen visualizations displayed present information in a spatial manner force users to create connections and patterns between events; this presentation of information feels more telling than simply reading the information off of an archive. The interactivity, namely, the user’s ability to search for people, places, and events and overlay the results on the map allows the user to discover surprising connections and therefore make unexpected conclusions about life in Harlem. Furthermore, upon arriving on the webpage, users are presented with a “Welcome” pop-up box briefly explaining the purpose of the project. The project also displays its content in pop-up boxes, when the user clicks on the people, places, or events to learn about them. Because of the pop-up boxes the primary page never disappears, which makes navigating the project intuitive. Thus, the user organizes the pop-up boxes to personally maintain order when searching through the project, which makes the project interactive.
That interactivity helps to immerse the user in Harlem through the front-end technology used in the project. In particular, its design allows the users to choose the information that the map shows and further makes the user choose the degree of depth of the display. A user could display icons indicating locations in which burglaries happened from 1915-1930, or they could instead find information on a particular burglary. Again, the interactivity allows the user to personalize their display. On the back-end, the map refers to a database of events, people, and places in Harlem. Those people and places all arrived from research done by the developers from periodicals and other primary documents cited by the developers. Citations provide justification for all claims made within the project allowing for easy use of the project in alternative settings.
This manipulability of the project supports the perspective Shane White’s colleague and team as a whole as stated in the title of Robertson’s, a co-creator of the Digital Harlem project, article [1] on the topic: “The Digital Harlem project is a research tool.” The project succeeds as a research tool, but because of that success, the project acts as a means to perform other research and therefore loses some of the self reflection necessary for a Digital Humanities project. A project as a means ignores the focus on process over product, which again contradicts some of the basic necessities of a digital humanities project. Within the project, they chose to portray particular information, but without emphasis on reflection, they do not justify that display. Instead the user must justify that portrayal in any application, the project’s greatest failure.

Usability: Navigation, Accessibility, Design, and Interactivity

This category allows us to evaluate the project in terms of the user’s interaction with it. In that way, this category represents front-end interaction. How intuitive and pleasing is navigating the project? Navigating the Digital Harlem project is impressively easy. We located every node that we had interest in quickly and easily found any extra information on that node. While we did not find the google maps design particularly pleasing, we found it was a natural extension of the familiar service. They could add more features such as edges between the nodes, but all projects inevitably can. Overall, we give them a solid 8/10. They formed their argument with their display but did nothing surprising enough to warrant citing their style.

Persuasion: Research Question, Academic Value, Credibility, Biases, and Originality

Persuasion addresses the likelihood that we would use the information they provided us with in an argument of our own. Much like how usability represented the front-end, persuasion somewhat represents the back-end but less so. Persuasion accounts for all information going into the project before display and then the interpretation after display. How persuasive is their argument based on where their information came from and how they used it? They cite all of the sources that they use and received funding from multiple groups for their project, so they had academic support to create credibility. We trusted their information, which drove us to explore the specifics of some of their cases of thievery, manslaughter, and church going. However, as addressed above, the project lacks both self reflection and a focus on process. We may access the information but the reasoning behind the display is left as an exercise for the reader. Because of that choice, we can only give persuasion a 7/10. We still find their information well justified, but it takes our own interpretation to find biases within the information.

Personal Significance: Accounting for Personal Biases

In any review, we must account for personal bias. This point reigns especially true for criticism in academia in fields other than our own. For math majors, the history of Harlem feels somewhat distant, but we thoroughly appreciated and connected with their argument. Although, we also defined their argument, so we may simply support our interpretation already encumbered by confirmation bias. Regardless, the mapping of a disadvantaged group’s home and graphical display of their daily lives interested us. We always like to learn about disadvantaged groups, but people often discuss groups at a distance. Even within this analysis, we mainly refer to robberies and murders without acknowledging the actual daily lives of the people. The other information formed a more human realm for Harlem. We would even like to see mappings of our own areas to watch how the mappings would represent our daily lives. Overall, we give it a 9/10 for personal significance, which may suggest an inflation of our other scores.

Our overall score averages usability and persuasion and adds one tenth of personal significance, so our overall score is 8.4/11. Usability and persuasion are of equal importance, but personal significance inevitably comes into play. Our scoring system reflects that relationship.

[1] Stephen Robertson; Digital Mapping as a Research Tool: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915–1930. Am Hist Rev 2016; 121 (1): 156-166. doi: 10.1093/ahr/121.1.156

Alex Black and Jean Beecher