Because I have been so lucky to work with fantastic researchers/students here at Dartmouth and at CU Boulder to work on the Stainforth Library of Women’s Writing, Dartmouth’s Digital Humanities librarians asked me to present on experiential learning in DH. As a doctoral student, I was also paid to work on a professor’s DH projects that were underway: Laura Mandell’s Poetess Archive and The Letters of Robert Bloomfield. While I can talk at length about being project director for the Stainforth and setting up the infrastructure for experiential learning, details about the outcomes of experiential learning are best gleaned from our researchers, past and present, in their interviews below. Passages that I find useful for today’s event I highlight in blue.
Current Stainforth Researchers
Cayla Eagon (PhD Candidate in English, CU Boulder)
1. What does experiential learning on a DH project mean to you? Experiential learning on a DH project means gaining hands-on experience with technical tasks, transcription, editing, data entry, and research that I can apply to future DH projects, assignments for my students, and, potentially, alt-ac careers.
2. What did you learn experientially from the project’s topic regarding (for example): I’ve learned about several women writers that I had never heard of before. I also learned new things about writers I had heard of—for instance, before this project I had no idea that Elizabeth Acton wrote a cookbook!
- about Stainforth’s library (genre, format, date ranges, organization, his albums with portraits of women in them, etc): I’ve learned new things about publishing practices from the 18th and 19th centuries. For instance, I learned what [literary] annuals are. I also gained a much better understanding of how popular writings were reproduced in multiple editions, sometimes at a high frequency. Based on these multiple editions, I also learned who some of the most popular women writers were (and who they weren’t).
- about the manuscript we have been working on for so long (acquisitions and wants lists, 19c writing, organization, transcription, editing, unclear entires, complexities of entries, number of authors and titles, etc.) My transcribing skills have definitely improved. I’ve also learned how useful crowd-sourcing (especially Twitter) can be when working on transcription projects. I also learned that there will always be mistakes, so you should be comfortable double and triple checking your work and asking others to check your work too.
- anything else? I’ve learned how to better communicate with colleagues via electronic communication, and also how to be very clear and explicit in explaining dense data questions and problems.
3. What did you learn experientially about the nature of DH projects (for example): – DH project management, in particular A good leader is important! And a leader who is willing to jump in and do any task (no matter how small) and answer any question and provide detailed examples is really key to productivity. I can’t imagine doing this project without Kirstyn.
- DH project collaborative work between the library and departments? between the collaborating editors? btw the editorial team and the project director? btw the collaborators and the technical support of the institution? For Maria: between collaborators at different institutions? Effective and timely communication is extremely important! Communicating electronically can be difficult when you have to explain complex ideas. Organizing your thoughts and presenting them clearly is essential to effective communication. It’s also important to build rapport and have fun with your colleagues, even if you rarely or never see them face-to-face. Also, appreciate your colleagues—it makes everyone feel good. When your colleagues say “thank you” or “good job,” it makes the hard work worthwhile. Meeting in person really does make a difference in the kinds of productivity you can have.
- the challenges of interdisciplinary work It’s important to admit what you don’t know and ask help and equally important not to just assume that your colleagues know the same things you know. I find interdisciplinary work a great opportunity for learning new things.
- trouble shooting and the things that did not work Don’t get discouraged. Things will go wrong. Consider them learning experiences and move on.
4. What were you hoping to learn when you joined the project? I was hoping to learn more about the women writers in this catalog as well as what a DH project looks like and how it works. So far, I’ve learned these things and a lot more.
5. What did you leave the project wanting to do more of or learn more about? Honestly, I love transcribing manuscripts. I’d love to do more of this kind of work in the future. Also, I really like working with a team remotely. I think distance forces you to have make more effort in actively interacting with your co-workers, and, in my experience with this project, that effort has been fun and rewarding.
6. If you’re now working on other DH projects, are there skills or experiences from the Stainforth project that transfer to your other projects? I’m not working on another DH project right now, but I am confident that I will use many of the skills I described above on a DH project in the future.
Dr. Michael Harris (Lecturer, CU Boulder Libraries; PhD in Music, CU Boulder)
3. What did you learn experientially about the nature of DH projects: So much! Starting with “What the f$^) is digital humanities (I was a complete novice), to how to manage a project. And now, as an LIS student, I have put these skills to work with group projects plus seeing how my studies can benefit Stainforth and inform my own future projects that I want to take on. The collaboration of DH and Libraries are going to be key going forward as we redefine the very nature of what the humanities and libraries do! Making our research and collections and the research from them accessible is going to be a key promotional tool in our era of bottom line budgeting (as sad as that is).
4. What were you hoping to learn when you joined the project? I had no preconceived notions of learning anything. Which made it all the more wonderful when I did learn so much!
5. What did you leave the project wanting to do more of or learn more about? (Correction: you never really left, you just got busier with library school.) How to collect and manage data and metadata and how to build databases. The former of which I also learned about this semester in library school, the latter of which I will be learning this summer.
6. If you’re now working on other DH projects, are there skills or experiences from the Stainforth project that transfer to your other projects? There is a project that I am looking to start working on soon that might be a LIS school project, or just my own thing (though I hope to gain institutional support down the line if it grows large enough). It started as an idea and I hope it to become that project of mine that will be a calling card in the library world and job market. While I won’t go into detail here on the specifics, it is a project that when I mention it to colleagues in the field it deals with, they are all very excited about the prospects for it, and how I am approaching it is greatly informed by Stainforth. By the careful planning of what data I want to collect, how to encode/tag it, to what I want to be able to do with said data. Not to mention how to work with a team. I am grateful for the experiences of the Stainforth project has given me, as I seem them as exceptionally valuable to my future career.
Kyle Bickoff (PhD Candidate in English, U Maryland [College Park]; MA, CU Boulder)
Deven Parker (PhD Candidate in English, CU Boulder)
- women writers: It may sound naive, but the Stainforth Project taught me to reconsider the incorrect notion that men dominated the 17th-19th century publishing world. I’m increasingly frustrated by the narrow canon of “women’s writing” that sometimes appear on college syllabi, and the notion that women constituted a homogenous minority group in the literary world. The sheer range and quantity of women’s publications in Stainforth’s catalogue challenged my assumptions about this supposed minority category.
- Stainforth’s library (genre, format, date ranges, organization, his albums with portraits of women in them, etc): Regarding this topic, I learned simply that there is no standard way to organize an archive of information. It’s incorrect to assume that all archives are organized equally. Also that the organization of the archive is always determined by the organizer(s)’ goal of what kind of knowledge he or she wants to produce.
- the manuscript we have been working on for so long (acquisitions and wants lists, 19c writing, organization, transcription, editing, unclear entires, complexities of entries, number of authors and titles, etc.): That even in Stainforth’s pre-digital c19th time, there were still ways to organize information according to coherent, systematic methods, like the one Stainforth developed. Once I learned to decipher his “code” (i.e., various shorthand and symbols), I felt like I’d learned a new language.
- project management in general: Adapt and change as you encounter problems. These collaborative moments are the best part of the experience.
- the digital humanities, in general: Collaboration rules. Thank god we finally have a field in the humanities that embraces and accepts it.
- DH project collaborative work: Librarians and graduate students need to collaborate more often! Librarians have an amazing set of esoteric skills that we rarely teach in PhD programs these days. They’re also wonderful people.
- anything else: I learned a lot about the limits and challenges of personal time management. I think that if departments want graduate students to be involved in collaborative DH projects like Stainforth, teaching loads and other labor must be adjusted accordingly. I simply couldn’t balance the demands of being a first time graduate instructor (teaching a 2-2) and keep up with my Stainforth work. I had to reluctantly withdraw from the latter. It’s important to remember that DH work constitutes real labor, not some kind of extracurricular hobby (as my specific department seemed to think).
Maria Semmens (MA Candidate, MALS, Dartmouth)
1. What does experiential learning on a DH project mean to you? Most simply, I view it as learning by doing. It’s easy to sit in a classroom and learn techniques that allow you to corral data so that it’s easily digestible, but it doesn’t always translate when faced with said data. I think that I was lucky to have hands-on training with this particular DH project because I really did learn through praxis.