What insights do you have about working in digital public humanities as a result of this experience? What new questions or ideas do you have as a result of this experience?
Much of the work of digital public humanities is invisible to the eye of the public. That may seem strange, given that the subject contains the word “public,” but it’s because all the work done is for the benefit of the public. Metadata makes it easier for both those working on the project to comprehend it, but it also allows people outside of the project to understand the data more easily by standardizing things. Even though I do not personally work with the public in this internship, all my work–in some form or another–will come before the public. They most likely won’t see the rows upon rows of data that I’ve entered into Excel, but they will see the conclusion of all that data. In a way, I’ve come to view digital public humanities as the sound engineering of public history. Whenever I’ve worked with audio/visual technology, it’s always apparent that nobody notices when the audio is working smoothly. However, when a mic is too quiet or there is too much feedback, it’s all anybody notices. Digital public humanities–at least the kind that I’m partaking in–is like that: it all goes unnoticed until you accidentally enter information into the wrong row or you forget how to standardize a certain categorization or spelling.
Given all this data I’m compiling, I now understand the appeal in crowdsourcing: work that would take years by a team of a dozen can be accomplished in a few months with hundreds of intrepid Internet users. At the same time, if there are questions about the quality of your work, it’s hard to ask an advisor on a crowdsourcing project–there rarely is one. It’s hard enough for me, a digital intern, to communicate all my ideas and questions in a single email; I almost always forget to mention something. So the limits of digital public humanities are mainly in effective, clear communication. However, sometimes the trade-off is necessary, even welcomed. Some crowdsourced projects don’t need a lot of oversight–in fact, the best ones need none at all. My main question is if digital public humanities can ever substitute completely for in-person communication and research. It’s not really a new question, and it’s a question that many people think that they have the answers to. But I’m still drawing my own conclusions on this one. I think digital public humanities is practical, but I do have to say that I am looking forward to meeting my boss in person in the coming weeks, as I work on an in-person project within the museum itself. I guess, despite my access online to centuries of data and words, it still can’t–at least for me–completely replace the wonder of touching an artifact or seeing someone’s gratitude on his or her face.