Analyzing DH Projects

Today we are going to dive into what Burdick et al. call “The Basic Unit” of Digital Humanities, the project. We will examine the various component parts and learn how to analyze them effectively.

One of the most common reactions to seeing finished DH projects is “That’s really awesome but I could never do something like that,” or “I wouldn’t know how to even start making something like that!”

Miriam Posner’s fantastic post “How Did They Make That?” and accompanying video offers two very useful frames for figuring out what digital projects are doing and how they were made:

  1. A DH Project Field Guide that gives a taxonomy of the standard types of projects out there, including
    • Exhibit
    • Digital Edition
    • Map
    • Timeline
    • Data Visualization
    • Text Analysis
    • 3D Imaging
    • Multimedia Narrative
  2. A tripartite anatomy of DH Projects that breaks them down into their three component parts
    • Sources (raw research materials)
    • Processed (analysis, digitization, remediation of those sources)
    • Presented (publication on the web)
Johanna Drucker/Miriam Posner’s basic anatomy of DH projects

Guest Presentation on a DH Project

The best way to learn is through examples, and we are very fortunate today to have a guest speaker to talk us through her own collaborative DH projects. Beth Fischer (Postdoctoral Fellow for Digital Humanities, Williams College Art Museum) will give us a presentation on her digital conservation and publication efforts through the WCMA digital project at the Williams College Museum of Art. She will address how the museum’s digital efforts interact with student learning in a liberal arts college environment, and give us a hands on demonstration of how computational imaging techniques like photogrammetry and RTI can create new opportunities with objects like this Assyrian cuneiform block.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A where we can ask her directly about the sources, processes and presentation modes of her work.


Your task for next time is to dig deeper into the nature of DH projects and write a detailed response to one project as a blog post.

When you don’t have access to the project team in person, you need to dig deeper to figure out the who, what, where, why and how of a DH project. As you explore a project’s website, try to find the following pieces of information, to help you decide which you want to write about.

  • What is the goal of the project?
  • Which academic fields (i.e history) do you see the project in conversation with?
  • Does the site make an argument? If so, what?
  • What are the components? (i.e essay, interactive map, etc)
  • Which methods are used?
  • Who is the target audience? (i.e. specialists? a broader public?)
  • What kinds of data are being used? Is the data available for broader use? Would you want it to be?
  • Is the project open source/ open access?
  • Who made the website? What are their relationships to the project/institution?

With credit to Lauren Tilton’s Intro DH course for this list of questions

Then, having watched and discussed Miriam Posner’s video on the components of a DH project, explore one of the sites below and write a post trying to reverse engineer one of these DH projects.

Make sure your post does the following:

  • Introduces and links to the project you explored.
  • Contains at least one image of the project that links directly to it
    • If you don’t know how, follow these instructions to take a screenshot on a Mac/on a PC.).
  • Breaks down the black box of your digital project by indentifying its
    • Sources (assets)
    • Processes (services)
    • Presentation (display)
  • Identifies a new question you have that arose from breaking the project down
  • Answers at least two of the questions above

You may need to poke around the About or FAQ sections of the page to figure out this information, but see how far you can get.

As you write, remember that blog writing is a different beast that lies somewhere between formal academic writing and casual social media or email style.  Try for a tone that is scholarly and informed but neither too stiff nor too sloppy.  It can be a tough balance to strike, but think of your intended audience and try to find a voice that works for you.


Carleton College’s own web services group has a lot of good resources for how to write for the web effectively.

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