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

Collaborative Annotation Tools

With these tools, there will be no need for your colleagues to hover over your shoulder while you annotate!

With these tools, there will be no need for your colleagues to hover over your shoulder while you annotate! (via pexels.com.)

Collaboration in the digital world can be awkward and confusing, especially when it comes to talking about sources. Emails with questions get lost or forgotten and Google Docs comments can be accidentally resolved before their time. Further, finding the right tool for you and your colleagues to communicate can be time-consuming, especially when deadlines loom. To help you get started in finding a tool that works for you, we have compiled a list of four free collaborative annotation tools that may help you get started!

  • A.nnotate
    • A.nnotate is probably the most straightforward of these platforms. You invite colleagues to an online document through an emailed link. From there, you and your colleagues write annotations that you can reply to and tag. Further, A.nnotate automatically creates an index listing the text selected in each document, along with comments and tags, allowing users to read what their colleagues are saying without necessarily having to scroll through specific documents. Users can also choose to receive email notifications when a change is made to a collaborative document.
  • DocumentCloud
    • Initially created for journalists, DocumentCloud is a great tool for annotating and finding primary source materials. Your annotations can be either public or private, and each has a unique URL that you can either share, or keep to yourself. DocumentCloud is open source, and already holds over one million public documents that you can use for your research or reporting. Because it is set up for journalists, DocumentCloud has a wide online reach, meaning that your primary sources and thoughts can be made available to the public at large.
  • eLaborate
    • Aimed towards academic scholars, eLaborate allows users to scan manuscripts or printed books, create annotations for them, edit them, and publish them online. Similarly to DocumentCloud, its primary purpose is to annotate primary documents, and to store them. Unlike DocumentCloud, eLaborate focuses on the digitization and preservation of these online documents, and creating a space where scholars can share them with one another. To see eLaborate in action, you can look at the Rembrandt Documents Project, which uses eLaborate as its platform.
  • NB
    • Created with teaching in mind, NB is a multi-dimensional platform that allows you to highlight text and make notes in a collaborative setting. However, the best part of NB comes from its additional capabilities. For example, you can create a question regarding a certain part of the text, which your colleagues can answer. Further, if members of your group mark certain spots with question marks, the program notes it, and allows you to focus on confusing aspects of the document. While it was created as a teaching tool, these capabilities can be easily transferred to academic research.

Have you used an annotation tool that you love? Let us know in the comments! Still looking for the perfect collaborative annotation tool, or have some cash to spend on some software? Check out DiRT Directory’s list of annotation tools.

If you have further questions about collaborative annotation tools, or any other technological tools that may aid you in your online research process, feel free to email us or stop by the Scholarly Commons, open 9am-6pm on weekdays.

Spotlight on DiRT Directory: Digital Research Tools

The DiRT logo.

As a researcher, it can sometimes be frustrating knowing that someone out there has created a useful tool that will help you with what you’re working on, but being unable to find it. Google searches prove fruitless, and your network of friends don’t necessarily know what you’re talking about. In that moment of panic and frustration, you may just need to get a little DiRT-y.

DiRT Directory: Digital Research Tools is a directory of research tools for scholarly use. Using TaDiRAH (the Taxonomy of Digital Research Activities in the Humanities), DiRT breaks down the stages of a research project, and groups tools that are relevant to each stage: Capture, Creation, Enrichment, Analysis, Interpretation, Storage, and Dissemination. Users can either search for tools using these categories — broken down into subcategories whose specificity helps to narrow down the many tools found in the DiRT Directory — through a search box or by tag. Personally, I feel that searching through the TaDiRAH categories allows you to find relevant tools, but also allows you to explore options that you may not have previously thought of as being available, making it the most fruitful way to browse tools.

One nice aspect of DiRT is its search platform. After you choose your category, you have the option to search within the category for these criteria: Platform, Cost, Exclude, License, and Research Objects, as well as sort order. For researchers concerned with cost, this tool is especially useful, as you can limit your search to what is in your budget.

After you complete your search, you are offered a list of different tools. Tools range from well-known sources, like Google Docs, to things you have probably never heard of before. Each source includes a description, outlining what kind of tool it is — online, software, etc. — what its capabilities are, and in many cases, a note on its past or future development. Each entry also includes a link to the tool’s website, their license, and the date of DiRT’s most recent update on the source information.

An example tool entry on DiRT for Scrivener writing software.

An example tool entry on DiRT for Scrivener writing software on the search page.

Finally, each tool has its own page that you can access from the search function. This page holds a wealth of information, including an expanded description that outlines the nitty gritty aspects of the tool — from platforms to cost bracket to tags. It also includes screenshots of the tool in action, a list of recent edits to the page, and a comments section. However, not all tools have the same level of detail in their pages.

capture2

Scrivener’s page, which includes a description, screenshots, a list of contributors, and a comments section.

While the selection presented on DiRT can be almost overwhelming, digging through DiRT can help you find the perfect tools for your project.

If you still can’t find what you want in DiRT Directory, or need some guidance in what to search for in the first place, stop by the Scholarly Commons, located in Main Library Room 306, open from 9am-6pm on weekdays. Or, email us! We are always happy to help you with your research needs.