This post is part of a series of final reflections from 2017 Digital Scholarship Incubator participants.
Anna Assogba: To me, a digital humanities project might be very similar to a non-digital humanities project, but the essential difference is the fact of being digital enhancing the project in some way, perhaps enabling a form of analysis, or presenting a mode of reading a text, or connecting various elements of a project that was not possible solely through print or analog form. I have found the process of designing a digital humanities project to be somewhat similar to the process of a librarian conducting a reference interview. Reference interviews are basically a short conversation, a dialogue of refinement, that the librarian uses to get at the heart of a person’s request for research help. Reference interviews help to strip away vague ideas and focus in on what exactly is needed. I see the design process acting in the same way, forcing the creators to define the project in manageable, realistic terms. I think I’m pretty good at conducting reference interviews, but I still had a difficult time designing my project and needed to pare down my project over and over. My mind often preferred to linger over tantalizing, amorphous possibilities rather than focus on concrete realities.
There was a kind of push and pull for me in designing this project – the push to refine my project through writing the proposal, and the pull to create and try things out without a clear idea of where I was going. I think there can be a danger in not thinking through the project enough so that the work you do is not really productive – you end up wasting your time. However, the other side of things is thinking too much without taking any steps towards exploring platforms, tools, processes, etc. In that case, if you do not test anything or make any prototypes, you may end up with a plan that is not realistic once you try to implement it.
I have pared down my original project idea of combining literary and historical primary documents of land enclosure together in one collection into an anthology of just the literary documents instead. There are a couple of reasons for this; the historical documents are more difficult to obtain, and I am more interested in the literary documents. What was of interest to me in creating a digital anthology of land enclosure literature was to have these works (mostly poems) in one place, to be able to read them in relationship to each other. However, I think the reader would probably gain most from the experience (and be better prepared to analyze the works) by also being able to know a bit about the author of each of the works as well – where they lived, what land around them was enclosed, at what stage in their life they encountered enclosure, etc. I plan to add these parts in, plus a short introduction to the anthology giving the reader a short introduction to enclosure.
English land enclosure is a highly studied topic, but it has mostly been studied from an economic and historic viewpoint. I am interested in studying the more literary historic side of enclosure. I am hoping that the creation of a digital anthology of land enclosure literature would make scholars more aware of land enclosure as a literary topic to be studied. I think the digital form of the anthology makes it easier to advertise the presence of the anthology and should make it more accessible to people (it would be freely available online rather than something that needs to be bought or ordered). I see a kind of poetic justice in this resource being made available publically and freely for people to use, since the literature produced around enclosure often laments the changes that occurred in how people were able to use the land after enclosure were more restrictive.