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Dabbling in DH

April 8, 2014

How fitting that my first blog post should bloom during my first digital humanities workshop!

Today I had my first earnest conversation about digital humanities at UConn’s ‘Day of DH‘ (which happened to coincide with UConn’s historic double championship finals – this campus is slightly nutty at the moment!). It inspired me to learn about projects across disciplines and across digital media – there is so much more potential for academic creativity than I ever realized! Now I’m even more excited about developing my own project because, as I also learned today, “no DH, no interview” – in other words, in order to be competitive on the academic job market, I have to gain experience with DH. Luckily, I also find it very, very cool. What a fantastically creative environment UConn’s digital humanities scholars have built! (learn more about them here: UConn Scholars’ Collaborative)

I learned about some fantastic and inspiring projects: mapping and charting perceptions of urban greenery; charting access to emergency services; mapping medieval “otherworlds” and mythological monsters; phenomenology, and mapping textual transmission. So fascinating!

My own interests center on learning about digital geospatial tools, for three reasons. First, I am deeply interested in historical and cultural mapping.  The conclusion to my dissertation involves creating a map of medieval Dublins’ ‘landscape of death’ – the places where dying was governed by Dublin’s competing authorities.

I also want to explore how this medieval city (and its ghosts) coincides and interacts with the modern city of Dublin. This involves creating layered maps, pinpointing the locations of medieval buildings that may no longer exist, and imagining the landscape as it evolved over time. Fun stuff. Essentially, I want to visualize how medieval Dublin shaped the modern city.

Finally, I am keen to bring geospatial tools into the classroom, and develop methods for teaching history through digital mapping projects. What better way to prepare students for the new “no DH, no interview” kind of academic climate, if that’s where their heart takes them? And how much fun will it be to dabble with these toys with a classroom full of active imaginations and fresh ideas?

Long story short, this session inspired me to hit the ground running on my mapping project; it no longer makes sense to leave it all for the conclusion. I have to think now about the kinds of data I need to collect in order to build a meaningful map that both complements and expands my more traditional research project. As one of my new DH friends put it, “a map has to make an argument” in order to be meaningful to other historians. So true!

My colleague Brandon published his notes on our geospatial workshop; you can read them here. We also discussed the following tools and projects; I’ll post some of the most relevant ones under my links:

Help section for Google Maps Engine Lite
Neatline (plugin in for Omeka):
Digitized Medieval Manuscripts Map (built with Mapbox)
More about Mapbox
Europeana (archive portal) (CH Context – widget allows you to pull content from Europeana to your own sebsite):
Story maps (open account for free!):
(this last one I found particularly intriguing as a potential model for my own project. Apart from it being visually stunning, it sparked an idea about creating a medieval map that charts pre-Norman vs. post-Norman buildings and spaces in Dublin.)
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