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Reviewing Digital Projects

Because of the nature of our project, we will be exploring resources and writings about Digital History.  What is Digital History?  Here a few definitions:

  • As a start, we might define digital history as anything (research method, journal article, monograph, blog, classroom exercise) that uses digital technologies in creating, enhancing, or distributing historical research and scholarship. –
  • Digital History might be understood broadly as an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the Internet network, and software systems. On one level, Digital History is an open arena of scholarly production and communication, encompassing the development of new course materials and scholarly data collection efforts. On another level, Digital History is a methodological approach framed by the hypertextual power of these technologies to make, define, query, and annotate associations in the human record of the past. To do Digital History, then, is to digitize the past certainly, but it is much more than that. It is to create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a major historical problem. This section contains essays that reflect on the process of creating works of digital historical scholarship, interviews with leading practitioners, and lectures by digital historians sharing their work with an audience. –
  • Digital history is the use of digital media and tools for historical practice, presentation, analysis, and research. It is a branch of the Digital Humanities and an outgrowth of Quantitative historyCliometrics, and History and Computing. Some of the previous work in digital history includes digital archives, CD-ROMs, online presentations, interactive maps, time-lines, audio files, and virtual worlds. More recent digital history projects focus on creativity, collaboration, and technical innovation, all of which are aspects of Web 2.0. Future work in digital history will likely include projects such as text miningDigital history is a rapidly changing field. New methods and formats are currently being developed. This means that 'digital history' is a difficult term to define. However, it is possible to identify general characteristics. Digital history represents a democratization of history in that anyone with access to the Internet can have their voice heard, including marginalized groups which were often excluded in the 'grand narratives' of nation and empire.[1] In contrast to earlier media formats, digital history texts tend to be non-linear and interactive, encouraging user participation and engagement.[2] Digital history is studied from various disciplinary perspectives and in relation to a range of interrelated themes and activities. The field includes discussion of: archives, libraries, and encyclopedias;[3] museums and virtual exhibits;[4] digital identity and biography;[5] digital games and virtual worlds;[6] online communities and social networks;[7] Web 2.0;[8] and e-research and cyber-infrastructure. – 

I recommend reading the first section, at least, of The Promise of Digital History, which expands upon the start of the definition quoted above. 

Resources for Doing Digital History


When researching guidelines or heuristics for evaluating digital projects, you more readily encounter guidelines for peer-review:

We will dedicate future seminar sessions to peer-review issues as part of our Digital Scholarship series, but we encourage you to take a look at these (quick reads) since our goal is to create a curated, scholarly digital archive.  Knowing the tenets and points of contention for external review will help us shape our approach and design of the History of the IU Libraries digital archive. 

Reviews in the Sense of Book Reviews

For our January 7, 2014 seminar and lab session, we will focus on evaluating digital projects more like traditional book reviews for "internal" purposes.  As we look for comparable digital archives and evaluate their content, discovery mechanisms, readability and so on, we will begin the design process for our own digital archive.  Examples of such reviews can range in depth and coverage, but here are a few to help us think through the review process:

Heuristics for Reviewing Digital Projects

The following guidelines, with some minor edits, were drafted for ENG L501 Digital Humanities course collaboratively developed and taught by Professor Joss Marsh, Adrianne Wadewitz, Angela Courtney, and Michelle Dalmau:  

  • What is the content of the site/resource?  What materials and kinds of materials does it cover?  How much content is covered?
  • Is the content clearly and logically presented to the user?  Can the user choose to have the content displayed in alternative formats?
  • What is the editorial model for the site/resource?  Is it a “curated” site—that is, one which provides scholarly, editorial, and contextualizing information?  How much such information does it provide?   Does it look to be a reliable scholarly resource—one you could cite with confidence?   Or is it more of a raw resource—simply a gathering-together of material?  
  • How intuitive is the navigation of the site/resource?  How easy to use?  Can you get around the site/resource easily--discover and to find things?  This is to say:  How good does the design, infrastructure, and building of the site/resource seem to be, from the user point of view?  
  • How well does the resource integrate with other resources (e.g. Zotero, Google Maps, etc.)?
  • How long does it take to learn to use the resource to a basic level?  Advanced?
  • How well-laid out and/or visually pleasing is the site?  Is the digital presentation of the materials the site/resource contains appropriate, helpful, necessary, compelling, revealing … ?
  • How helpful is the search mechanism?  How nimble is it—quick to retrieve information? 
  • How helpful is the instructional guide (if any)?
  • What level of functionality does the site/resource—that is, how many and what kind of things can it do or allow you to do?  For example:  Can you download images from the site/resource?  At what resolution?  Good enough for use in a classroom—i.e. projected?  Or good enough only for reference, for research purposes?  Can you download texts?  In what formats?  Can you search texts?  With some finesse?  (Do some trial searches, on subjects that interest you.  Be ingenious in playing with search terms: eg. magic lantern, magic lanthorn, laterna magica, stereopticon, phantasmagoria, lantern.)
  • Does the site/resource allow fancier operations?  For example, does it allow you, as a user, to annotate?  To create a virtual private exhibition?  To upload materials?  To give feedback?  To contribute editorial content?
  • Is the resource free or subscription?
  • Is the resource based on proprietary code or open source?
  • Was the site/resource built using institutional funds—say, from the British AHRC [Arts and Humanities Research Council] or the American NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities]?  Or is it a volunteer effort?  (Again, not a value judgment.  The mutual involvement of “academics” and “amateurs” in the digital humanities is a phenomenon to keep track of.  It is also important to realize how much and what kinds of sites/resources can be achieved without institutional funds, as well as to assess how well institutional funds are being used.)
  • For what purposes could you imagine yourself using this site/resource?
  • Are there any other aspects of this site/resource you feel worthy of mention? 

Example Digital Archives

Below are 2 examples of digital archives that resemble the one we intend to build in terms of themes, content types and scholarly contributions that we will discuss in some detail before commencing our lab session:

for fun if we have time:


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