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 The project’s pioneer status, however, comes with a price: the site looks and feels very outdated.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

Crowdsourcing, Advantages and Disadvantages

By looking at the projects MapSwipe, MapGive, and TranscribeBentham, one can learn the benefits and drawbacks of developing and implementing a DH crowdsourced project. The major benefit is the ability to utilize many people’s services without having to compensate them. The tasks, especially for MapSwipe, are not too complicated and pretty simple to complete; hence, a user can get much done in a short amount of time. Another benefit of crowdsourced projects is the fact that mistakes in analyzing the information can be easily found because so many people are looking at the subject matter at any given time. Also, if a user is unable to read/view a piece of information, another user can help out with the interpretation. For instance, in the app MapSwipe, people can double-tap on a certain tile if they are unsure about its contents; this double-tap makes sure that the tile is viewed by other users so that its contents can be identified and verified. Also, in the on-line mapping project MapGive, tiles of maps must be verified and checked by other users before being accepted as ‘done.’

In some cases, however, the very same advantages can turn into disadvantages. The fact that people work on the project for free is advantageous for the project’s developers only as long as the information submitted by these people is correct. However, precisely because they are working for free, users might not do their best job, and developers may end up with a lot of poor-quality entries. Moreover, going through all these faulty submissions can be very arduous and time-costly. In addition, developers end up being completely depending on users’ willingness to collaborate, but what if not a lot of people want to participate in the project for free? In some of these cases, it might end up being easier for projects to hire experts who can perform a better and more efficient job.

Ian Nish, Isabella Bossa

Crowdsourcing Blog

Crowdsourcing is a method of digital humanities that uses public involvement to compute data or obtain information for a particular project. The work can be maintained by any of the public users and is reliant on the public’s participation.

The main benefit of crowdsourcing is that project developers can harness the power of the public to accomplish a task quicker. Tasks can be broken down into smaller components, so that one contributor can sufficiently accomplish the task in half the time. For example, the OpenStreetMap project divides maps into small pieces, so different users can map different areas. This tactic allows the project to be divided into smaller, but manageable pieces that do not require a large time commitment from the user. Another benefit of crowdsourcing is the varying areas of expertise amongst the contributors. People can collaborate to correct mistakes, add new data, or create revolutionary work that is only possible due to the presence of several different minds. Contributors tend to be drawn to projects that focus on areas they themselves are interested in, which allows the project to acquire high-quality employees free of charge. The capability of crowdsourcing to be done from anywhere via smartphones, thus making it easy for the contributors, makes the work more obtainable by the public. For example apps like, MapSwipe and Waze allow users to update maps from their smartphones. The ethical benefits of crowdsourcing are also hugely beneficial. Projects like, MapSwipe and MapGive that allow users to develop maps for developing nations by annotating satellite images, provides them with a sense of accomplishment knowing they are helping people in need. The ethical aspect can help draw contributors, who are interested in good will. There are plenty of benefits in using crowdsourcing as a means of developing project, but the main theme is that the ability to draw a wide spectrum of contributors, which enables the project to be completed sufficiently and in depth.
Using crowdsourcing for DH projects does have some drawbacks. The projects examined like, MapSwipe and the Bentham project, need a substantial amount of users in order to achieve the goals of the project. But it seems hard to actually entice users to participate in these projects. Without any tangible evidence of their work providing benefits, Mapswipe users might simply not want to waste their time with these applications. With the Bentham project, members need to dedicate a substantial amount of time to only make slight progress, so this might turn people away as well. Along the same lines, another issue with crowdsourcing these types of projects is retaining users and motivating them to continue to contribute. The Bentham website assigns a point system, but this does not yield any real rewards for members of the site. Similarly MapSwipe tracks users’ levels of progress, but does not offer any incentive for them to keep using the platform. With crowdsourcing, there is also a question of sacrificing quality in order to finish these projects. Something like MapSwipe makes things simple, but with the Bentham project and MapGive, anyone can edit or change anything. Unless someone consistently tracks changes and makes sure they are accurate, there is a risk of losing quality when relying on random members of the public.


  • Zach Kleinbaum & Brett Mele

Midterm: Technologies of History

Technologies of History

Ostensibly, the Technologies of History digital humanities project seems to be merely aimed at examining the different coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But before entering the actual project, there is an introductory piece by the editor and statements by the author and designer, giving guidance and insight into the formation of the project itself and helping to clarify a lot of questions about why their work is novel and important. The idea of a collective memory held by a nation is not a new concept, yet the integration of different visualizations works to explain and highlight the underlying motives and portrayals in media and how the history itself is always tainted by bias and human error and as the author, Steve Anderson, puts it, “reconfigures and undermines the possibility of a single, authoritative history.” Anderson is the founding director of the PhD program in Media Arts and Practice in the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has various publications on the topics of different media forums and historiography, affirming his wealth of knowledge on the given topic. His spearheading of this specific field and the prestige that comes with it, gives the project credibility. The main argument set out by the editor is “about the truth claims of media that is instantiated via media, both through the curated collection of media artifacts assembled here and through their formation into a new interactive experience.” Though the project seems overwhelming initially and perhaps unclear in what they are trying to get across, the existence of this introduction is able to aid user experience and direct attention to the different aspects they considered. This project is significant to humanities scholarship because the visualizations and flow of the project addresses perspectives and techniques unique to their goal. It gives perspective to history scholarship and how we ought to approach the biases and memory failures in media.

Before clicking on specific videos, there is a technology feature of randomized lines resembling static frequencies. This effect gets your attention and appeals to the goals of the project itself because it hinges on the ambiguity and lack of concrete specifics that can be derived from media. Though this is an interesting concept and relates to the project’s content, the sheer distractibility of this function in ways detracts from the experience. When you click on one of the videos, the main technology used is introduced. They employed Adobe AfterEffects’ motion tracking feature, which appears as a visual amplifier so when specific videos are clicked on, the feature is able to analyze the motion present in the video. This technique is able to focus the user’s attention on what is considered important in any given video. This technology is successful because it highlights the media trends in a coherent way. Additionally, text appears to give context and related videos are also suggested. This feature allows one to more easily navigate the website and go through the videos in the desired order of the creators. Overall, the specific technologies used were very well-connected to the idea of the project, but at points could be seen as overwhelming to the user at first.  The organization of the site is helpful, however, in guiding a user’s experience.  While challenging to grasp at first, the complexity of the site forces the user to engage with the material and develop a better understanding of the events and media surrounding the assassination of JFK.

Where the author of this project succeeds is in finding a novel method of representing information about a historic event.  His inclusion of wide variety of media from historical footage to video games, allows the user to gain a much deeper understanding, not necessarily of the event itself (though one can certainly learn a great deal about the assassination of JFK from this project), but about the impact on the nation’s collective consciousness. This project pushes forward the state of knowledge about the process of historical analysis.  The author does an excellent job of displaying text, images, videos, and 3d mapping in a way that allows users to form connections between different media sources.  This project pushes forward the state of knowledge in digital humanities and historical analysis through a novel method of visualizing information.

Accessibility/navigation:  The Technologies of History project is set up in a manner that directs the user’s experience on the site.  In order to access certain parts of the project, one must navigate through an introduction that walks the user through the purpose of the project.  By constructing the site in this way, the author makes navigating and understanding the project straight forward for the user.  The aesthetics of the site are unique and fascinating, making the site interactive and engaging.

Contribution/academic importance:  The academic importance of this site comes from the author’s unique methods of visualizing and analyzing historical media.  The arguments put forth by the author demonstrate the malleability and plasticity of “historical memory.”

Organization:  The site is well structured and organized.  This project is composed primarily of historical media, videos, and 3d mapping.  Related clips are grouped together and organized into different topics.  Text is used to provide background about topics of interest in the project, which helps to connect related clips together.

Extendibility/raising other questions: This project raises many questions about how a nation forms a collective narrative about our history through media and our interpretation of events.  There is room for the same methods employed by the author of this project to be used by others to explore any number of other historical events.  While the focus of Technologies in History is to examine the JFK assassination, it is not hard to imagine these same techniques being used for other important events of the past.

Overall, this project is both interesting in its content and design and contributes much to the integration of digital humanities into the domain of traditional written history. By highlighting different aspects of media attention in the assassination of JFK, we are able to more holistically analyse the effects of collective memory by media on historical events.


Anderson, Steve. “Technologies of History.” Designed by Erik Loyer (2008). http://vectors.usc.edu/issues/6/techhistory/#


Lucy Marr & Dylan Thies

Crowd Sourcing Lab

The major benefit of crowd sourcing in the projects we used was that it utilizes external, usually uncompensated, labor in order to expand the information presented on the site. The use of human labor provides a service that cannot normally be done through computational methods. This creates a community which is contributing to something that they find worth while. Best scenario for a crowd sourcing project would be something similar to Wikipedia, where the community driving the informational database flourishes and creates generally reliable pages of information. At the same time the creators of the project are benefiting through a free source of labor and a means of easier sustainability. Therefore, from a business standpoint it is an idea with a lot of potential, but this comes with a few assumptions.

These assumptions can be viewed as the drawbacks of creating a crowd sourcing site. The main assumption being made in the creation of one of these projects is that people will stay interested in contributing to the community driven informational input. With websites such as MapGive and apps such as MapSwipe do not provide a tangible output to your input, making it seem not worth while for many users. Another issue that may be seen in these sources is the human error that must be accounted for in these mapping sites. It is accounted for through motoring the results of the submissions on MapGive, so this is not a completely community driven project. In the end a crowd sourcing website has a lot of upside, but it must be managed correctly in order to maintain a productive community.


-Seamus Glavin, Jacob Circelli




Write a “short” blog post discussing the benefits and drawbacks of developing a crowdsourced project.

A benefit to crowdsourcing projects is that they allow massive projects that would otherwise take a small group of people thousands of hours to complete or that otherwise would be impossible, to be accomplished by hundreds to thousands of individuals who all participate in collecting and/or transcribing information in a comparably much shorter time. Additionally, crowdsourcing on websites will increase with direct respect to the demand of the website’s information. Information is updated in real time which will help to ensure that the website remains relevant. Information may also come from a variety of sources which helps the website to become diverse and promote a connection to the community.

There are a wide array of drawbacks in relying on crowdsourcing to promote progress in mass projects. I will speak to three main underlying problems of crowdsourcing. First, the information supplied by the public may not be entirely accurate or, for that matter, may be completely inaccurate. Secondly, it is difficult to review the mass amounts of information supplied via crowdsourcing. Thirdly, there are no repercussions for sabotage on sites using crowdsourcing (e.g. a punishment for those who are not acting to promote progress in the site), therefore there is no way to inhibit the propagation of misinformation in society that is promoted from crowdsourcing sabatorors.  Ultimately, all three of these drawbacks lead to one simple but overwhelming problem: is crowdsourcing information accurate, and if it is not, how do we sift out the information that is blatantly false.   


Charles Feinberg

Michael Hoffman

Crowdsourcing Blog

In order for crowdsourcing project to be successful, it requires honest and productive collaboration amongst its users. Crowdsourcing offers the opportunity for people to freely update a project in order to theoretically improve the lives of those the project was created for. Therefore, one of the benefits of a crowdsourcing project is that multitudes of people are constantly contributing and updating a site. For instance, Mapswipe has its users help locate where people live in underdeveloped parts of the world, like Madagascar. This site allows for there to be cross-referencing between users because if users are given the same map and their “clicks” match up, it is more likely that people are in fact living in those respective locations. If there is a humanitarian crisis, rescue teams are able to know where the people in need are located. One of the drawbacks of crowdsourcing however, is the difficulty in incentivizing users to contribute to the site. It is incredibly difficult to get people to work for free. Also, the amount of people that have extra time to give to free work are only those people that are financially stable in the developed world. Mapswipe succeeds at incentivizing users because not only is the App designed like a game, but it also panders to the humane side of its users. In other words, users can feel good about “playing a game”, while also potentially saving people’s’ lives. One of the other drawbacks is the possibility that people will purposefully contribute false information. In a time where internet trolling is so popular, it is easy for people to undo much of the hard work that is accomplished on crowdsourcing projects.

Harris Pollack & Matt Golding

Midterm: Women Writers Project

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

This project exemplifies the importance of early writings that contributed to to the development of modern literature, but with a sole emphasis on contributions made by women. This type of site will always be imperative for as long as the fight for gender equality continues. Even after gender equality is achieved (hopefully), this digital humanities project will continue to be relevant because it highlights notable contributions to literature dating all the way back to the 16th century. Distinguished universities like Brown and Northeastern are continuing to show the importance of the humanities by funding projects like this.  This project also receives funding from the National Endowment of Humanities. The aforementioned universities continue to value the humanities not only because of their academic value, but also the value in what can be learned outside of the academic setting. This site also provides workshops in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) and other data seminars, which speak to the direction in which the humanities are going. With the rapid increase and constant change in technology, developing these tools are important for the future.

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

On the homepage of the Women Writers Project, viewers immediately learn about the site’s purpose, “Our goal is to bring texts by pre-Victorian women writers out of the archive and make them accessible to a wide audience of teachers, students, scholars, and the general reader. We support research on women’s writing, text encoding, and the role of electronic texts in teaching and scholarship.” The site achieves both of its goals because it archived nearly 400 texts spanning three centuries in the pre-Victorian era, all of which were written by women. Viewers can readily learn about the history and further development of literature while also subsequently learning about parts of women’s history. It also pushed forward the knowledge of coding and other crucial aspects of the digital humanities because as it was previously mentioned, the site offers seminars and workshops. Women Writers Project certainly succeeds at teaching its viewers about the technology behind the site and the texts it provides.

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

While the site is dedicated to the digitally archiving women’s writing between the 16th and 19th centuries, there is also an obvious emphasis on the use of text encoding and the presence of using electronic texts in the humanities. Therefore, it can be surmised that the Women Writers Project looks to answer two primary research questions, along with smaller questions that relate back to the two main points. The first question that is being answered is, “Why is it important the public has access to early women’s’ writings?” Some residual questions that pertain to this question are, “How have these texts affected more modern literature? Why is it important for this site to recognize only female writers?” The second essential question that is being answered is, “Why is it important to not only adapt to the growing popularity of digital humanities, but also learn how to encode text and properly utilize electronic texts?” Offshoot questions for this question are, “Why use pre-Victorian women’s writing to teach people TEI and other digital humanities tools? Is this type of scholarship becoming more universal?”

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

The Women Writers Project is simply designed but still maintains a sense of aesthetic appeal to the user. The easy navigation of the site allows users to not get overwhelmed by the substantial amount of accessible information. In other words, this site is filled with information between the hundreds of pre-Victorian texts and the information pertaining to encoding and other technological ideas. The layout properly separates all materials into respective categories that can be found in a banner across the top of the home page. Similar to the navigability, the interactivity of the Women Writers Project exemplifies the successful functionality of the site. Users are able to work with a timeline that allows them to isolate specific texts based on the date they selected. Furthermore, the website provides definitions, links, templates, and other resources for those who want to learn more about text encoding. The one complaint we had is the lack of visuals on the website. While it is understandable that this site is to teach its users about women’s texts and text encoding, it would be helpful and more enjoyable if there was a better balance between text and visuals.

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

The Women Writers Online collection used XML with documented Text Encoding Initiative extensions to build the database for encoding the transcriptions of women writers. The XML documents are easily extendible and have a clear coding structure. This allows easy implementations of a search panel, filters of different tags and  modifying the electronic texts. Since the nature of XML as a coding language does not require strict coding manners, the encoding can be easily maintained by several different programmers. This interface with a search pane, a results pane and a text pane provides users with the fluent experience of searching, filtering and reading at the same time.

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

Two main purposes of a project are to answer its research questions and to delivery the results efficiently. The Women Writers Project archived the texts by women writers between the 16th and 19th centuries electronically and made it easily accessible to users online. Compared with the information we can get from the whole site of the Women Writers Project, the Women Writers Online textbase is just a single page from the drop down menu of the homepage. The site has a easy and clear navigation and has also shown an emphasis on education purpose. Although using pure text to deliver the information may limit the degree of creativity, it seems to be the most efficient way for users to search for the resource they need. One subtle improvement could be that to let users personalize the color, background and size of borders of the text they read.

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

Julia Flanders is currently a professor of the practice in English and the director of Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern University.  The Women Writers Project matches her personal research interests on “data modeling, text scholarship, and humanities data curations” according to her page of Northeastern University library. This digital humanity project not just does the electronic encoding of a textbase, but also spreads the knowledge of new technology and expands to push forward the development of scholarly text encoding. Since the project is funded by university, it will certainly have an emphasis on educational purposes. Professor Julia Flanders also holds the workshops of learning TEI and other modern text encoding techniques. The education background of Digital Scholarship Group at Northeastern could also increase the credibility of the archives.

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

Contents: The Women Writers Project has clear research questions. Contents are closely related to the research questions and are reasonably catalogued with a navigation bar and drop-down lists. Citations and contact information are provided as links and at the footer location of the site.

Visualizations and Organizations: The main contents of the site are large amount of pure texts. The whole site is lack of using of images maybe because of the nature of the textbase project. However, it may provide users with better experiences if the project could make use of multimedia. Although the site covers a wide range of topics, the sections are clearly defined with individual navigation page. it does a good job on showing the connections between different topics on the site using relative article links and navigation pages. In general, the project is easily navigated, interactive and well-organized.

Accessibility and Extensibility: Technology used for text encoding is easy to maintain and extend. Provide users with a specific and clear guide about how to report an error in a text. The website is up-to-date and is still positively maintained and extended by the project directors.

Contribution and Academic importance: The Women Writers Project does an excellent job on showing the contributions by women writers to the general readers and pushing forward the education of modern text encoding techniques.
Ramsay, Stephen. “Databases.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.


Chenchen Zhao & Matt Golding

Midterm: Virtual Paul’s Cross Project

Ursula Castiblanco and Alexander Cadet

DH Evaluation of Virtual Paul’s Cross Project

Significance of the scholarship for the humanities:

The virtual project traces the social interaction and experience at the St. Paul’s Cathedral. The project’s extensive detail covers the events, worship, and the people that interacted with the Cathedral over time. Although this project is informative, it does not improve the viewers knowledge in the humanities. The project is a historical page that uses technology to further improve the visualization of the viewer but lacks the connection to how it benefits humanities scholars.

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

The producers of this project made an attempt to merge technology and religion but were unsuccessful in improving and pushing knowledge of religion forward. One main issue with this project is that it targets such a small audience; 1. religion is less popular than ever 2. One must have a reason for researching St. Paul’s Cathedral in early modern London. The project fails to educate and promote knowledge because it is also tailored toward experts in the field of religion who are already educated on St. Paul’s Cathedral and experts in religion.

Can you identify the project’s primary research question?

How did people use the cathedral over time? How did people use certain spaces in and around the cathedral? Who were the people that came to the service and provide the service? What happened at these events? What was the environment around St. Paul’s Cathedral? How can the sermon at the cathedral be recreated using digital and technological techniques?

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

The project/ website is mainly hypertext. The website is text, images, and links. Thus, there is minimal interactivity. The project could have been stronger if there was a 3D model interface that the user could interact with.

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

The project was built by various computer-based visualization models. The project does not disclose specifics software but it is evident they used 3D modeling, video-editing, scanning, and mapping software.

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

The visualizations, in general, are detailed and clear. The technology used to create the models helped develop a clear and concise image in the head of the viewer. However, the production team failed when they uploaded too many visuals that all looked the same. The videos are often too long and many don’t have any sound/text and are difficult to get through because of the slow pace.

With that said, the videos that do have sound are well done. There are eight different locations that one can choose to hear the sermon from with four choices of numbers of people in attendance. The sermon is well simulated with dogs barking in the background, horses trotting past, and other real-life distractions. The test of audibility page is a success.

One general failure of the project is the lack of significance to the general public. This page will never have significant popularity because it does not appeal to enough of the population. It is interesting to experts performing fieldwork of this kind, but those numbers are slim.

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 Virtual Paul’s Cross Project is the result of a great deal of work by an exceptionally talented, dedicated, creative, and hard-working group of people.” In other terms, though John Wall is the director, the majority of the project was developed by a team. Therefore, it was the team’s collective influence that made this project uninteresting. The project and the team could have made the a virtual world that was accessible to the public instead of screenshots. Overall, the project is narrowly focused and can be considered unappealing to the non-expert. John Wall and the team could have made this project more inclusive. More specifically, the project poses very few new questions, implications, or interest to relate current questions in religion to this project.

Rubric Points:

  1. Maintenance / sustainability: The website is not transparent on whether the website is being updated. Though the project seems complete, there are no date tags that show maintenance.
  2. Navigation: This page is generally easy to navigate. There are main tabs that include detailed information within. The page comes up on Google as one of the top 3 searches.
  3. Value/contribution/academic importance: There is little academic importance to the general population today, as well as scholars of today. The information presented seems legitimate and is very in depth, but does not contribute to any education issues that are being addressed today. It does, however, provide an understanding for digitalization of the past, which can be important in other scenarios such as crime scene investigation such as the digitization of the Trayvon Martin shooting or Auschwitz.
  4. Credibility/ Funding: Though the project is funded by various institutions, a DH Award winner, and backed by the NC State Library, there is evident room for assumption by the developers. For example there is no record of crowd size, their response, the weather, the sounds, and etc. Therefore, the assumptions made by the production team could lead to inaccuracies
  5. Does it raise other questions/ potential growth: This project could be more useful if it were to study more cathedrals to compare and contrast the differences in sermen techniques and how societies and religion are different in early modern culture and different countries.
  6. Organization: This project is well organized. It is focused around one sermon in London. The project has an overview with some background information, a description of the churchyard, the preacher, sermon, occasion, and the acoustics.
  7. Interactivity: There are some interactive aspect of the project such as the test of audibility.