Finding Digital Humanities Tools in 2017

Here at the Scholarly Commons we want to make sure our patrons know what options are out there for conducting and presenting their research. The digital humanities are becoming increasingly accepted and expected. In fact, you can even play an online game about creating a digital humanities center at a university. After a year of exploring a variety of digital humanities tools, one theme has emerged throughout: taking advantage of the capabilities of new technology to truly revolutionize scholarly communications is actually a really hard thing to do.  Please don’t lose sight of this.

Finding digital humanities tools can be quite challenging. To start, many of your options will be open source tools that you need a server and IT skills to run ($500+ per machine or a cloud with slightly less or comparable cost on the long term). Even when they aren’t expensive be prepared to find yourself in the command line or having to write code, even when a tool is advertised as beginner-friendly.

Mukurtu Help Page Screen Shot

I think this has been taken down because even they aren’t kidding themselves anymore.

There is also the issue of maintenance. While free and open source projects are where young computer nerds go to make a name for themselves, not every project is going to have the paid staff or organized and dedicated community to keep the project maintained over the years. What’s more, many digital humanities tool-building projects are often initiatives from humanists who don’t know what’s possible or what they are doing, with wildly vacillating amounts of grant money available at any given time. This is exacerbated by rapid technological changes, or the fact that many projects were created without sustainability or digital preservation in mind from the get-go. And finally, for digital humanists, failure is not considered a rite of passage to the extent it is in Silicon Valley, which is part of why sometimes you find projects that no longer work still listed as viable resources.

Finding Digital Humanities Tools Part 1: DiRT and TAPoR

Yes, we have talked about DiRT here on Commons Knowledge. Although the Digital Research Tools directory is an extensive resource full of useful reviews, over time it has increasingly become a graveyard of failed digital humanities projects (and sometimes randomly switches to Spanish). DiRT directory itself  comes from Project Bamboo, “… a  humanities cyber- infrastructure  initiative  funded  by  the  Andrew  W.  Mellon Foundation between 2008 and 2012, in order to enhance arts and humanities research through the development of infrastructure and support for shared technology services” (Dombrowski, 2014).  If you are confused about what that means, it’s okay, a lot of people were too, which led to many problems.

TAPoR 3, Text Analysis Portal for Research is DiRT’s Canadian counterpart, which also contains reviews of a variety of digital humanities tools, despite keeping text analysis in the name. Like DiRT, outdated sources are listed.

Part 2: Data Journalism, digital versions of your favorite disciplines, digital pedagogy, and other related fields.

A lot of data journalism tools crossover with digital humanities; in fact, there are even joint Digital Humanities and Data Journalism conferences! You may have even noticed how The Knight Foundation is to data journalism what the Mellon Foundation is to digital humanities. However, Journalism Tools and the list version on Medium from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the Resources page from Data Driven Journalism, an initiative from the European Journalism Centre and partially funded by the Dutch government, are both good places to look for resources. As with DiRT and TAPoR, there are similar issues with staying up-to-date. Also data journalism resources tend to list more proprietary tools.

Also, be sure to check out resources for “digital” + [insert humanities/social science discipline], such as digital archeology and digital history.  And of course, another subset of digital humanities is digital pedagogy, which focuses on using technology to augment educational experiences of both  K-12 and university students. A lot of tools and techniques developed for digital pedagogy can also be used outside the classroom for research and presentation purposes. However, even digital science resources can have a lot of useful tools if you are willing to scroll past an occasional plasmid sharing platform. Just remember to be creative and try to think of other disciplines tackling similar issues to what you are trying to do in their research!

Part 3: There is a lot of out-of-date advice out there.

There are librarians who write overviews of digital humanities tools and don’t bother test to see if they still work or are still updated. I am very aware of how hard things are to use and how quickly things change, and I’m not at all talking about the people who couldn’t keep their websites and curated lists updated. Rather, I’m talking about, how the “Top Tools for Digital Humanities Research” in the January/February 2017  issue of “Computers in Libraries” mentions Sophie, an interactive eBook creator  (Herther, 2017). However, Sophie has not updated since 2011 and the link for the fully open source version goes to “Watch King Kong 2 for Free”.

Screenshot of announcement for 2010 Sophie workshop at Scholarly Commons

Looks like we all missed the Scholarly Commons Sophie workshop by only 7 years.

The fact that no one caught that error either shows either how slowly magazines edit, or that no one else bothered check. If no one seems to have created any projects with the software in the past three years it’s probably best to assume it’s no longer happening; though, the best route is to always check for yourself.

Long term solutions:

Save your work in other formats for long term storage. Take your data management and digital preservation seriously. We have resources that can help you find the best options for saving your research.

If you are serious about digital humanities you should really consider learning to code. We have a lot of resources for teaching yourself these skills here at the Scholarly Commons, as well as a wide range of workshops during the school year. As far as coding languages, HTML/CSS, Javascript, Python are probably the most widely-used tools in the digital humanities, and the most helpful. Depending on how much time you put into this, learning to code can help you troubleshoot and customize your tools, as well as allow you contribute to and help maintain the open source projects that you care about.

Works Cited:

100 tools for investigative journalists. (2016). Retrieved May 18, 2017, from https://medium.com/@Journalism2ls/75-tools-for-investigative-journalists-7df8b151db35

Center for Digital Scholarship Portal Mukurtu CMS.  (2017). Support. Retrieved May 11, 2017 from http://support.mukurtu.org/?b_id=633

DiRT Directory. (2015). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from http://dirtdirectory.org/

Digital tools for researchers. (2012, November 18). Retrieved May 31, 2017, from http://connectedresearchers.com/online-tools-for-researchers/

Dombrowski, Q. (2014). What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo? Literary and Linguistic Computing. https://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqu026

Herther, N.K. (2017). Top Tools for Digital Humanities Research. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jan17/Herther–Top-Tools-for-Digital-Humanities-Research.shtml

Journalism Tools. (2016). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from http://journalismtools.io/

Lord, G., Nieves, A.D., and Simons, J. (2015). dhQuest. http://dhquest.com/

Resources Data Driven Journalism. (2017). Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://datadrivenjournalism.net/resources
TAPoR 3. (2015). Retrieved May 18, 2017 from http://tapor.ca/home

Visel, D. (2010). Upcoming Sophie Workshops. Retrieved May 18, 2017, from http://sophie2.org/trac/blog/upcomingsophieworkshops

Scholarly Smackdown: StoryMap JS vs. Story Maps

In today’s very spatial Scholarly Smackdown post we are covering two popular mapping visualization products, Story Maps and StoryMap JS.Yes they both have “story” and “map” in the name and they both let you create interactive multimedia maps without needing a server. However, they are different products!

StoryMap JS

StoryMap JS, from the Knight Lab at Northwestern, is a simple tool for creating interactive maps and timelines for journalists and historians with limited technical experience.

One  example of a project on StoryMap JS is “Hockey, hip-hop, and other Green Line highlights” by Andy Sturdevant for the Minneapolis Post, which connects the stops of the Green Line train to historical and cultural sites of St. Paul and Minneapolis Minnesota.

StoryMap JS uses Google products and map software from OpenStreetMap.

Using the StoryMap JS editor, you create slides with uploaded or linked media within their template. You then search the map and select a location and the slide will connect with the selected point. You can embed your finished map into your website, but Google-based links can deteriorate over time! So save copies of all your files!

More advanced users will enjoy the Gigapixel mode which allows users to create exhibits around an uploaded image or a historic map.

Story Maps

Story maps is a custom map-based exhibit tool based on ArcGIS online.

My favorite example of a project on Story Maps is The Great New Zealand Road Trip by Andrew Douglas-Clifford, which makes me want to drop everything and go to New Zealand (and learn to drive). But honestly, I can spend all day looking at the different examples in the Story Maps Gallery.

Story Maps offers a greater number of ways to display stories than StoryMap JS, especially in the paid version. The paid version even includes a crowdsourced Story Map where you can incorporate content from respondents, such as their 2016 GIS Day Events map.

With a free non-commercial public ArcGIS Online account you can create a variety of types of maps. Although it does not appear there is to overlay a historical map, there is a comparison tool which could be used to show changes over time. In the free edition of this software you have to use images hosted elsewhere, such as in Google Photos. Story Maps are created through their wizard where you add links to photos/videos, followed by information about these objects, and then search and add the location. It is very easy to use and almost as easy as StoryMap JS. However, since this is a proprietary software there are limits to what you can do with the free account and perhaps worries about pricing and accessing materials at a later date.

Overall, can’t really say there’s a clear winner. If you need to tell a story with a map, both software do a fine job, StoryMap JS is in my totally unscientific opinion slightly easier to use, but we have workshops for Story Maps here at Scholarly Commons!  Either way you will be fine even with limited technical or map making experience.

If you are interested in learning more about data visualization, ArcGIS Story Maps, or geopatial data in general, check out these upcoming workshops here at Scholarly Commons, or contact our GIS expert, James Whitacre!