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Final Digital Scholarship Incubator Reflections: Anna Assogba

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 There are a couple of reasons for this; the historical documents are more difficult to obtain, and I am more interested in the literary documents.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.

Vincent Perrone, Robin Eggs. Used under a CC-BY-NC license.

Digital Scholarship Incubator Reflections: Anna Assogba

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

Anna Assogba: As I started this reflection, I knew various types of digital scholarship methods that I wanted to apply to my project, and I knew the subject that I wanted to work with, but I didn’t really have an overall idea of what that combination would look like. As I continued reflecting, I realized that I think I want to create a digital anthology around land enclosure in England. To me, this type of project makes sense because I know I want to bring together a bunch of different literary texts (probably mostly poems/ballads) and historical primary documents (enclosure awards, Parliamentary acts or other governmental documents, broadsides, etc.) and find some way of relating them to each other. Creating a timeline of the documents and mapping the physical locations of their origins are two ways I can relate them to each other, and I think that having the timeline and map in digital form is beneficial because it allows for direct linkage between items. I am also interested in annotation possibilities for the texts themselves, calling out the references to land enclosure, and more possibilities for direct connections to other documents, than would be possible in print form. Another thing I would like to do is see what it is like to clean up OCR’d text, and I think that could come in handy possibly with historical documents that are not already available in digital form. The only skill that I have identified as wanting to learn but am not sure how to incorporate into the anthology is that of using OpenRefine to examine metadata for land enclosure-related items in library catalogs. I entered this project wanting to learn specific skills and tools which is why I identified OpenRefine specifically, but I think I also want to remain open to the possibility that other tools or methods may be more beneficial to my project and so consider alternatives to my current plan.

A great deal of the reason I am doing this project is to be able to have experience doing this type of work and to explore possibilities. For instance, I don’t necessarily know if the process of mapping will be helpful at all, so I’m kind of proposing it as an experimental thing, to explore whether it helps me discover new patterns/connections, etc. I am not sure how effective the mapping will be because I doubt that I’m going to be able to be comprehensive about the data. I think patterns are probably most likely and most useful with large datasets, and I just don’t know if I’ll get enough data points to be able to make any useful connections. But I’m interested to see, and I feel as though it’s not the kind of thing I can’t really know unless I just try it.

If I were not doing this topic, I think I would be interested in doing some kind of library-related project, such as exploring aspects of a library collection, but that’s only because I want to relate it more to my job, not because I necessarily find that more interesting than land enclosure. I would like to try to incorporate some aspect of library collections by maybe exploring how items related to land enclosure are described (in library catalog records), or seeing how different library collections compare? This idea is very vague, though, so I kind of feel like I need some advice on this. I’m also maybe interested in exploring the vocabulary around enclosure and related concepts (industrial revolution, commons, open-field systems). I became interested in this while exploring LCSH for land enclosure (Inclosures — Great Britain).

I don’t anticipate encountering too many copyright issues because most/all of the documents I will be working with should be from the 1800s or older, and I anticipate some of them will be government documents, but this is an area I do need to investigate, as I’m working with creative literary pieces as well.

I think the subject of land enclosure goes well beyond England, but because I am most familiar with it in that geographic context and because I don’t want to give myself too large of a project to tackle, I don’t want to consider it beyond those bounds for the moment.