Final Digital Scholarship Incubator Reflections: Abbie Levesque

This post is part of a series of final reflections from 2017 Digital Scholarship Incubator participants.

Abbie Levesque: As a qualitative researcher in rhetoric and composition, I have a distinct experience with the project building experience in digital humanities work. Ridolfo and Hart-Davidson have begun inquiring into the intersections of the field, both of which are interested in tool use, but have different investments therein. Computers and writing in the field of rhetoric is invested in use of tools for qualitative data analysis as well as the practices used when composing digitally. DH, I find, is invested in theories around data (a la Drucker’s work) and in project building as opposed to research projects. The building of a DH project has always been distinct for me from the building of my qualitative research projects. First and foremost, my DH work often but not always demanded situating myself in two fields – my “main field” as well as DH, as far as making critical interventions. Qualitative work, while still interdisciplinary, never required situating myself outside of Rhet/Comp, though I often did due to my own interests. For qualitative work, I had a different research environment, as well. I worked mostly on my own, with a mentor overseeing my work, presenting a fully formed thesis only at the end. With DH there is a “lab” type culture – there was no mentor, per se, but a series of work-in-progress talks were given, and feedback received outside of the advisor relationship, and from outside the project. Neither way was better or worse, since they both had their frustrations and chances for serendipity. I would say the process models of project building are distinct in DH from most other disciplines in the humanities.

Though I have had different experiences in my two research fields, I also want to point out where things were similar or where they meshed. XML encoding is a hop and a skip away from traditional qualitative coding – both fields could gain a lot from seeing the other’s practices of codebook and schema building, as well as their documentation practices. I think both fields also are beginning more and more to value inquiry into the tools and methods being used – that is, the methods are being rigorously examined to see if they are effectively working within the methodological framework of a project.

All this to say that I think one of the most valuable things about developing a digital project is learning a new process for building and situating research. DH has given me the tools to situate myself in a plurality of fields, and gave me a more open set of opportunities for doing research, which allowed my project room to grow in more interesting and innovative ways than it would have otherwise.