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Creating a DH Project: A Reflection

With the seemingly endless tools, theories and methodologies implicit in Digital Humanities the final assignment of my Introduction to Digital Humanities course to “Do a digital humanities project” was incredibly daunting. But after a little thought the path became obvious.

The Project

I knew that I wanted to doing something with archaeology. As I was thinking about the project, I was sitting in my dining room looking out the window into my backyard. Suddenly some neuron fired just the right way and my project emerged! I’d always wanted to excavate my back yard and this course gave me new, exciting tools to help me with research and publication. After I conceived the project, executing it was easy.

Preparing the Materials

Before I could fill the pages, I needed to do work in ArcGIS. Arc is a clunky, slow, and non-intuitive software that is, unfortunately, the CRM industry standard. I loved making the maps, because I felt I had a much deeper understanding of the landscape and the history of land use. The process of making the maps was agonizingly slow.

The other digital tool I used was TimelineJS. The creators really thought of everything! Most importantly, the coded a section to cite sources. In non-traditional publication platforms, I often struggle with citing correctly, but in a visually appealing way. TimelineJS built it right in. The only problem I encountered was embedding the timeline into my website which I’ll discuss below.

WordPress is an incredible service. The software makes building a website really easy. I did encounter a problem, however, when I tried to build the website from the Reclaim Hosting website. For whatever reason, everything is formatted differently. I used the “Gateway” theme and I could not remove a search bar with a note “Nothing Found” above it from the top of my homepage. I didn’t think that would be particularly welcoming. The Word Press.com Gateway theme, however, was really built to be a stand-alone website. The navigation was much better. The only draw back was that I could not embed my timeline without paying for premium membership. As a fix I posted a still of the timeline and made it a link to the functional timeline.

Most of my data came from warrantee deeds from the Town Office’s Land Record. I quickly learned that those documents only contained half the story. For deeds older than the 1950’s it was obvious that some of the deeds were bureaucratic formalities (such as the documents first making Frank and Vera Miller co-tenants and then owners on the same day). I also found that plotting each document on a timeline wasn’t particularly helpful. For example, Ike Goldstein borrowed money from many lenders and leased his land to a few relatives, but those details didn’t change the fact that the land’s shape remained constant and was used for farming. Further exploration of those smaller transactions would be interesting, but that’s more the work of a historian.

Making the Website

The goal of my project was to propose a Phase I archaeological survey, so the basis of my content derived from a grant proposal. I took all the sections- abstract, background, narrative, site description, project description and budget- and separated them into tabs on a website. The abstract was transformed into an about page, the background into a timeline, the narrative remained a narrative and the site description, project description and budget merged into the assessment pape.

The benefit of the website was that I could write semi-informally as I am intending this for both professional and public use. I often make a timeline to organize my thoughts, but with a website I could actually present that work. The website allowed me to play with my ideas in a way I found more freeing than a word document. Isolating the sections in tabs helped me think about units much better than a paper proposal.

“Public” Opinion

The feedback I received from my classmates was helpful. They helped me write my proposal in a way that made by purpose clear. When one of my reviewers asked what I happened to find, I thought, “That needs to be obvious.”

Keeping on schedule was not a problem. I loved working on this project. It made me feel like a “real” archaeologist! I’ve never designed a survey before, but it’s one of the most common types of archaeological investigation. I’m really excited (and nervous) to receive feedback from other archaeologists.

See for Yourself!