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

 

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