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Jennifer Sano-Franchini

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September 9, 2011

Digital Humanities, Drupal, and the End of Phase I

September 9, 2011 | By | No Comments

In many ways, I think of my time in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative as an introduction to the digital humanities. Through the CHI fellowship I read a handful of texts about the digital humanities, explored digital archives, participated in Great Lakes THATCamp and THATCamp CHNM, and, of course, worked hands-on using technologies, and developing a digital project. I began learning the language of digital humanists and gained a sense of what people meant when they were talking about metadata, the semantic web, and linked data. I became acquainted with Digital Humanities Questions & Answers, and participated in a couple of conversations on the forum. (By the way, I definitely encourage incoming fellows to use this resource! It’s great not just for getting help on your own projects, but also for gaining a sense of what kinds of things people concerned with DH are thinking about and working on.) I also spent some time thinking about digital humanities as an area of scholarly inquiry, as well as what it means to do work in DH from the discipline of rhetoric and composition. While I can’t say that I have the answers quite yet, I’m excited to delve deeper into DH over my scholarly career.

For my Cultural Heritage Informatics project, I built DHShare: A Collaborative Bibliographic Repository using Drupal, an open source content management system. DHShare is a scholarly and pedagogical resource for sharing, organizing, and finding link sources pertinent to the digital humanities, and for discussing how these sources can be used in educational settings. At this stage of the site’s development, the sources included are more specifically related to intellectual property and copyright, including a collection of texts on the history of copyright, remix culture, plagiarism, fair use, filesharing and torrent communities, piracy, authorship/ownership, and copyright across cultures. Because the site is meant for educational contexts, these sources come in a range of forms, including academic books, articles, and journals, news articles, youtube videos and documentary films, organizational websites, and a graphic novel. The DHShare forums are available for instructors using the website to share and discuss teaching materials and for students to discuss the sources available on the site.

The process of making DHShare certainly involved a lot of trial and error, doing, redoing, and undoing after that. But mostly I found myself spending a great deal of time worrying about which tools I would use to create this website I had in my mind, mostly waffling between WordPress and Drupal. I spent a bunch of time talking with people about this dilemma, and quickly became daunted by the thought of using Drupal after several people told me how much they hated it (and a few minutes of using Drupal only validated that it’s kind of a p-in-the-a to use). Ultimately, though, while these conversations were truly valuable and helped me take a variety of factors into account, the only way I was able to decide between the two was by taking the time to mess around with each. So, my second piece of advice for incoming fellows is to do just that: learn from others, but also take the time to play with the tools available to you. Then jump right in with something you think will work well, and don’t be scared off if it seems difficult at first! Also, rely on documentation, forums, and search for video tutorials when trying to figure something out. There is absolutely no way I would have been able to use Drupal without doing these things. Frankly, I was a little surprised that I was able to make what I did and I look forward to continue improving the site.

Finally, I’m grateful for my time as a Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative Graduate Fellow and I consider it valuable to my scholarly and professional development, especially as it informs my interest in the relationship between technology and our lived experiences both within and outside the Academy. Many thanks to Ethan and the rest of the fellows for the fantastic learning experience!

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