DH and Knowledge Design

Digital Humanities is about experimentation. DHers are pioneers. By means of creating and discovering new ideas and facilitating new kinds of research questions, DHers create tools and develop new methods to perpetuate scholarly conversation as well as keep the humanities relevant. In addition to creating tools like many of the ones we’ve encountered, DHers are also designers. As the dissemination of knowledge takes new digital form in our currently evolving communication ecosystem, DHers design and present materials in ways that printed text did not so easily allow. Jeffrey Schnapp, the director of metaLAB at Harvard University, succinctly points out the following:

When you move from a universe where the rules with respect to a scholarly essay or monograph have been fully codified, to a universe of experimentation in which the rules have yet to be written, characterized by shifting toolkits and skillsets, in which genres of scholarship are undergoing constant redefinition, you become by necessity a knowledge designer. (Shaw 2012)

In expressing our scholarship digitally, we are also in command of how to present it in innovative ways. And, others have taken notice of DH’s designs, it seems. For instance, Jerome McGann, co-founder of NINES, from University of Virginia, has worked with Gale Cengage on their Nineteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database. Since McGann works with Gale, I don’t find it a coincidence that they have included text analysis tools such as their term clusters and term frequencies, which look like some of the tools we have used in our DH training.

Perhaps as we create scholarship in digital form and with various new tools, we as librarians and DHers may also want to consider how to effectively present knowledge in ways that make sense for new publishing models, whether it’s in the form of an online journal or a website with pedagogically motivated visualizations in databases. Furthermore, it seems important to ask, how might what we produce and how we choose to disseminate it to enhance academic study? Ultimately, the answers will develop from our experiments with new modes of research and expression, as well as reflection on and innovation in how we communicate in the digital world.

[On a related note, check out Peter Katz recent post “There is no outside the medium: Interface essentialism and the death of print (and the digital)“]