I don’t have a bunch of cool projects and demos to show you.
I have advice.
A little about my background. Last several years – working with scholars in GRI to build tools that would allow them to do scholarship digitally. Early workspace for a project that became…
…a publication. Digital Mellini….a digital critical facsimile with translations, commentary, essays. All the data from the workspace presented here for future scholars, students, and other.
The work on this project led the GRI to develop concept of Getty Scholars’ Workspace – digital environment for scholarly collaboration, with digital tools that help art historians work with various methodologies.
Before these scholarship projects, I worked on many, many online exhibitions with curators – Crosscurrents, the Pacific Standard Time exhibition at the Getty
…finding ways to present the primary materials, and interpretations for broad audiences.
My background is in art history - I am ABD. But have been part of a Digital Development team for over 10 years, at the Getty, I became a hybrid – someone who knew basics of digital development, coding, programming, project management, and who is also understands museums, curatorial practice, art history practice.
I usually talk to technology specialists, and other folks like myself about how best to work with curators, and scholars. But today the tables are turned as I speak to art historians about how to work with technology workflows, and digital practice
This is how I show technology folks what scholars do. It’s my rough model. Is it accurate?
At the Getty, I was focusing on the squiggly bit in the middle – and, in fact, many DH projects are about unveiling what happens there – sharing and working with the data, and having conversations and creating new knowledge in digital spaces.
The focus on these well-known end-products affects the shape of the work leading up to it in formative ways. Even though their specific forms may be unique, the general format of a book, journal article, an exhibition, is known. Their form has been tested over time – the path to these outcomes is clear.
When it comes to creating the end product, we bring in teams of exhibition creators, editors, book designers, publishers before this last phase.
The focus on these well-known end-products affects the shape of the work leading up to it in formative ways. Even though their specific forms may be unique, the general format of a book, journal article, an exhibition, is known. Their form has been tested over time – the path to these outcomes is clear. When it comes to creating the end product, we bring in teams of exhibition creators, editors, book designers, publishers before this last phase.
But what if you don’t know what that end product will look like? When the form of the final product is something new, it changes the whole process.
This is really about creating new products- it’s PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
When designing a new product, there are many unknowns. The process of goal setting, making decisions, managing resources, has to be managed carefully. [In many digital scholarship projects, the process of generating ideas, gathering data, formulating theories and making that work open is part of the project – often the final output is unknown.] ]
These are parallel and equal activities that need to work hand in hand, collabloratively. Roles and skills listed at the bottom of this slide aren’t typically in the repertoire of scholars – they aren’t trained for these things. (although this seems to be changing). For most projects like this, you probably can’t do this alone anyway, so you need some help. How do you find it? How do you work with these people? How do you speak their language? I could give you advice from my personal experience. But I decided to take the opportunity of this talk to cast a wider net and get some advice from technologists who work on these projects. I asked them to give YOU some advice! A lot of what I found out just confirmed my own experience. These two processes – scholarly inquiry, and technology product development – have different cultures, traditions, roles. They need to be aligned in some way to make a viable product.
I created a survey, posted to Twitter. As part of the survey I asked if respondents would be willing to have me interview them.
I wanted to interview people. My life was busy and I could have promoted more, to get more responses. But I couldn't’t realistically handle doing more interviews than I did – note, first lesson….TIME MANAGEMENT.
This is not a scientific study. It’s not necessarily representative of the field. But I did find that all of these people had the exact same experiences and advice on many fronts.
I considered an ‘art historian’ someone practicing as an art historian with a PhD, or a a current PhD student –– many others are ABD in a humanities discipline, or were art historians in past moments of their lives I considered a ‘technologist’ someone with a Computer Science degree, training and/or work experience in the tech industry as computer scientists.
All that experience with art history and museums is probably a reflection of the type of people I follow, and who follow me on Twitter.
ALL respondents talked about these three themes in one way or another, when asked what scholars struggle with. These are intertwined with one another…
The quotations here are not necessarily direct quotes from any one person – I took license here to summarize and coalesce. Question of audience will shape all aspects of the end product, from editorial to design to technology choices. Many I interviewed stated that thinking about audience is often not a part of the process at all.
For those I interviewed, this gets to the heart of what DH is, of what scholarship is – is it to advance the scholarship, or to make humanities more relevant? Or both? I won’t get into the definitions of DH – leave it at that.
Some mentioned something I have heard before - that the humanities are in trouble…
Be honest - At the Getty, when working on Digital Mellini, we wer frank about the fact that a key audience for the publication would be the institutions’ leaders and their friends.
EXAMPLE: Crystal Bridges Museum Digital Labels - Heather Marie Wells told me that curators had so much more research and information than could fit on a label. And the visitors were ASKING for more information. But research showed people didn’t read the labels. What to do? The digital labels were their solution.
Related to who it is for, is why. Share data – as in sciences, there is a trend in DH to show your research so readers can verify your methods – Mike Toth pointed this out as a trad In science publishing Share data – raw data is becoming a commodity in itself – communities of scholars, museums, artists, scientists are emerging to leverage the data for yet to be seen purposes Raise awareness – audiences can access more now than ever before – Heather Marie Wells talked to me about her family in rural Arkansas, who can reach so much more cultural heritage online than she ever could when she was growing up. Pedagogy – Beth Harris made the point that it’s also about re-thinking what teaching and learning look like. –
EXAMPLE: Alice McMichael – came back from trips to Cappadocia with tons of photos. Not a lot of photos were available to the public, also hard to find - for scholars and laymen - because of so many different names. Created Platform for sharing images on a topic. Other examples – linked data projects, open images from museums – there are many shared spaces you can contribute to
- Fail early, not with the final product
EXAMPLE: Digital Mellini – we did usability testing with early wireframes. The testing revealed some fundamental assumptions we were making, and led us to completely restructure an area of the site, and re-align the information architecture of the site.
ALL noted that scholars have a hard time with collaboration – there is also awareness, to be fair, that they are trained to work alone, and the phd and tenure systems work against collaborative models.
ALL interviewees noted that scholars have a hard time with collaboration – there is also awareness, to be fair, that they are trained to work alone, and the phd and tenure systems work against collaborative models. Everyone wanted to be brought in early as possible Goals triage –Ben Brumfield’s term - this looks like you walking the technologist through your thought process, your scholarly process – that squiggly bit. They need to see the materials, understand exactly what data you are dealing with. They will want actual numbers – Example from Paul Marty of a museum that thought it knew how many objects were in the collection – after an inventory, realized it was tens of thousands more than they thought. . Heather Marie explained that she will ask you WHy, Why Why…. Grants – 3 people mentioned this. More than one interviewee mentioned grant applications written that promised features and timelines before consulting a technology partner to discuss feasibility. Also useful to get feedback from the grant. Mike Toth – “You can get into deep trouble even before you begin.”
Many technologists also have PhDs in other fields, design expertise, and are also experts in technology. Check your ego at the door and let them work WITH you to come up with the best solution.
Tina - There is a stereotype that technologists only know code. A lot of people in technology have non-traditional backgrounds now.
Paul – “Scholars don’t approach the technical side of these projects the way they approach a scholarly problem. You’d never write about a topic without a full literature review. But they often don’t do their research on the technical aspects”
You don’t know what you don’t know. Xkcd from Wayne Graham > http://xkcd.com/1425/
Even those who are doing these projects alone, really aren’t they have community of advisors at the very least Roles are not necessarily individuals – more than one role can be played by one person. Connected to skills, but you don’t have to do it all - ROLES can include >Content expert, Designer, Programmer, Database administrator, Web developer, Editor, PROJECT MANAGER Timelines are important – be realistic because everyone is counting on you! – It’s not that you can never be late - constant communication can help keep everyone on the same page. Communities – you will find collaborators there. Not always in obvious places – example from Ben of a 19th century ladies’ journal being like a ornithologist field journal. Mike – spectral imaging from NASA spacecraft applied to visual art
Examples Steph’s example of how different people worked together and it was faster Mellini example – we all knew various aspects Meeting frequently Get on same page Ben’s example of how things from different disciplines may have a similar format – women’s travel diaries similar to ornitholgist field notes – he can borrow that approach and tech as a model… Example from Paul of a digitization project where the person running it didn’t know about standards and wasted a lot of time and money
This was a big one – and in many ways a good project manager can help with the Audience and Collaboration issues!
I have no sexy graphic for this – it’s just work. ALL respondants brought up the critical role of a project manager. Many noted that it’s a role whose value is greatly under-valued > “The project manager is the first person let go when the budget gets cut.” – Mike Toth
On being on the same page – also speaking same p.m. language
It’s about timelines and calendars, and resources. Making sure all features are possible. Negotiating between what is possible and not, what is doable within timeframe and budget.
MANY said how important it is to “get everyone on the same page” – even if there are only 2 of you!
Example: Scope creep example from Wayne(?) , and longevity not thought about
When I was p.m. on Mellini it was practically a full time job. Keeping entire team on schedule; anticipates when deadlines will slip and adjusts schedules.
Don’t get married to one idea was another refrain from the interviewees – this is about how these projects can change. You need to be open to changing tactics, and project managment can help the team shift gracefully. You need time for trial and error.
Summary – these are three big things everyone talked about.
More advice….10 pieces of advice – QUICKLY! You will see some repeats here….
Don’t treat the technology as a service - collaborate! Understand that some technologists also have a agenda – look for it and see if you can collaborate.
Don’t dictate the technology - you don’t know what you don’t know. Know that functional and technical requirements are different Don’t get too married to one idea
Almost all of the people I talked to used the analogy of language when I asked them whether scholars need to know the CS, or how to code. The answer was you need to understand basic concepts, but not be fluent. You need a framework to help you understand what is possible.
Know what you do know. DO a check of what skills you are bringing to the table. Discuss these with your collaborators.
Below are all actual quotes from people I interviewed. I know your work is intricately intertwined with your ego – so this is hard. But you have to know that ultimately, true collaboration will result in the best end product because you are leveraging the expertise of the team.
Embrace “not knowing” Be sensitive to ideas that are not your own. Be patient. Remember the technologists are experts too.
Understand that technology takes time. Be honest about your own deadlines – turning things on late will push everyone back. Be responsive - understand that the techie is asking you Why questions in order to help you. It’s a PROCESS.
Heather Marie’s insight about being a translator who understands both sides of the team. Knows why and can explain why a technology feature may be taking so long to develop. Also understands when curators/scholars can’t ‘just decide’ on the content; sometimes there is a mourning process they have to go through to let go of points they wanted to make and realize it doesn’t fit within the larger arguments/themes.
A few mentioned that the best projects are the ones where the leader of the institution, or chair of the department is on board and understands the potential. Money and resources flow with this kind of support, making the entire project easier. It also helps ensure the project won’t get abandoned when roadblocks appear – and they always do.
Think about what is your minimum viable product. Then build from there.
few projects can be done alone; even so ,you’ll need help and advice Be open to what and where you will find it- Twitter, online tutorials, webinars, unconferences Look outside your field for models and collaborators Share your data and your work
Let’s look back at the process. How are w looking at this differently now? What insights do we have?
You’re going to get the technologists involved at the beginning….
…understand that it’s not a linear process; there will be iteration, it will be messy…
…and you will have a project manager!
Thank you to the real people behind this presentation!
Digital Art History: From Practice to Publication
Digital Art History
from Practice to Publication
Associate Director, Digital Content
The Hammer Museum
14 filled out the survey
10 interviewed (2 didn’t fill out survey)
• I am a: [check boxes for different skills]
• My role in DH projects has been: [check boxes]
• Here are some projects I have worked on that may be
good models for the field:
• I like to work with scholars because:
• Working with scholars is challenging because:
• When scholars approach me about a project, it's helpful to
have the following information:
• If I were to give one piece of advice to scholars about
working with technologists on DH projects, it would be:
• How do you define Digital Humanities?
• Why is Digital Humanities important?
• Tell me about some projects you have worked on.
• How do you typically come to work on these projects?
What is your role?
• What do scholars struggle with?
• Do scholars need to understand the technology? Do they
need to code?
• Why do you work on these projects?
14 filled out the survey
10 interviewed (2 didn’t fill out survey)
3 art historians
10 have worked on art history projects
7 work in or have worked for museums
4 work in museums
8 affiliated with a university
3 are freelance
4 work in museums
8 affiliated with a university
(at least 4 work in DH center)
3 are freelance
• 3 common themes
• 10 pieces of advice
“Scholarship for other scholars…is that what it
is? Are we missing a big opportunity [to reach a
Who is it for?
• Be honest
• Is it other scholars?
• Is it students? General public?
Why are you doing it?
• Share the data to demonstrate validity of
• Provide data and materials to larger
community for use.
• Reach a wider public.
Testing with your users
• Ensures you achieve your goals
• Be open to failure and changing tactics
• Adds to timeline but helps ensure a successful
“Scholars struggle with understanding
what is possible…they have a hard time
determining what may be a simple
solution from a difficult one.”
Bring Technologists in as early as possible
• Formative phase – it starts with
• Technologists can help with ‘goals triage’
• Include them in grant application
Technologists are experts too!
• Let technologist suggest the solution –
you don’t know what you don’t know
• Be open to suggestions, and new
solutions to meet your goals.
• Don’t drop the project on a technologist
and walk away
Think TEAM - understand various roles
• You probably can’t do it all
• Be self-aware of your own skills, and the
role you will play
• Be realistic about timelines
• Find your community
“Scholars struggle with planning and
time….they underestimate complexity,
time, and resources.”
Project manager’s role is to “live in the future”
• Anticipate problems
• Thinks about longevity of project
• Watches time and dependencies, enforces
• Gets everyone on the same page
Guides the process, provides structure
• Facilitates collaboration and
• Translates between technologists and
• Can help you design the minimal viable
product, and plan for staged releases of
Keeps energy up when initial
Tina Shah, Art Institute of Chicago
Ben Brumfield, independent software developer
Paul Marty, Florida State University
A. L. McMichael, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Javier de la Rosa, University of Western Ontario
Heather Marie Wells, Crystal Bridges Museum
Beth Harris, Khan Academy and Smarthistory
Mike Toth, independent technology consultant
Steph Grimes, J. Paul Getty Trust
Wayne Graham, University of Virginia