Digital Humanities Growing Pains

This has been a tough week for me and the Digital Humanities. We are all grappling seriously with what we want to do this year with Prism or with some other project entirely. This has led to some really amazing, but at times tense and frustrating, conversations amongst the group. Part of what is blocking me from being able to move forward is trying assess the use of Prism. Is it a pedagogical tool? is it a tool for researchers? is it a tool for entertainment? Who benefits from the production of these crowdsource interpretations?

In my mind there are some obvious benefits as a historian to having many sets of eyes on a particular primary source: meanings I may have missed become apparent or alternative readings emerge. But that is a fairly utilitarian goal for Prism, to benefit me as an academic. Additionally, the interdisciplinarity of our group forecloses that as a viable goal. What serves me as a historian doesn’t serve my colleagues in Music or Sociology.

If the goal is to use it as a pedagogical tool then we will certainly have to figure out how to set some controls on who can comment on a page to ensure only a class will comment. But even then, as a pedagogical tool, does this project really serve the “crowd.” I understand the goal is to harness the “interpretive energy” of groups of people, my concern is once that energy is harnessed what do we do with that information?

I get stuck in a cycle of being skeptical of “crowdsourcing” because it anonymizes and mechanizes human creativity but also at the same time finding great value in some of the projects for myself as an academic. However, this personal benefit feels self-serving and I worry it is not committed to a democratization of knowledge, which brings me back to the “crowd.”

I would love answers to any or all of these questions. These are just some of the things I’m pondering.

In other news…we ratified our charter today and you can look forward to reading it in the next few days!

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