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Day of DH: Build

2011 March 21
by Sheila

“What does a digital humanist do?”

The Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR) at the University of Alberta began asking the question in 2009 by asking individuals who identify themselves as doing digital humanities work to document one work day to create a “community publication” to show the variety of work and projects that practicing humanists engage in regularly.

Participants write about email triage, todo lists, project management, et al. A collection of blogs posts such as this is really useful for discovering what other folks are working on in different parts of the world, and can prove to be a valuable research tool in the future for researchers interested in analyzing early 21st-century scholarly work, work and labor patterns/practices of academics, and coffee-drinking habits of digital humanists.

Library of Congress photo, Flickr Commons

While this digital collecting and documenting project is very useful, I wonder if anyone has considered another Day of DH that is focused on building and creating rather than reflecting? As Steven Ramsay has argued, quite nicely, there is something different about the digital humanities and that something is about “building.” Building does not mean coding, but it could mean volunteering to testing out a new digital tool; contributing to documentation for a digital project; planning a map; analyzing some body of text. I do not see this proposal as an event that is in opposition to the current Day of DH, but as its complement.

This “Day of DH: Build” could be a day of collaborative project planning or a day of hack, but it would be different in that the participants specifically set aside time to work on a DH project–old or new. Participants set modest goals for the day, tweet their progress, and report on their accomplishments.

Can setting aside one day actually produce results or achieve real progress on a project? My thinking is influenced by participating in Twitter-based work sprints with friends, hearing about weekend“skunkworks” at NASM that produced their mobile website; and observing the work from the One Week, One Tool workshop. Sometimes setting aside one hour, one day, or one week to focus on one task, or a few tasks with a focused goal, and stating goals publicly can truly produce great results. Receiving a little peer support and pressure also seems to help.

Share your thoughts. Is this type of day unnecessary, since we build all of the time anyway? Does the corpus of THATCamps running throughout the world already serve this purpose in a more organized way? Or do we all need to figure out our own days to get things done, without documenting or sharing?

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