I have a confession. I’ve attended DH conferences, worked as the ‘Digital Humanities Assistant’ on campus, and advocated for the development of DH resources here at Berkeley, but…I’m still working through what Digital Humanities actually means for me and my research.
The good thing is, this is exactly the purpose of the Berkeley Digital Humanities Working Group BDHWG (or #BDHWG for those following our updates on twitter, sorry for the long acronym) is a Townsend Center for Humanities working group started four years ago. Over the course of those years, we’ve held big events like the DH project fair, talks with Dan Cohen and Rob Nelson from DH institutes across the nation, co-organized HackFSM, and collaborated with regional DH groups and THATcamps.
These big events are a product of the immense diversity and creativity of our working group—a small to mid sized community of students, faculty, and staff interested in learning more about the digital humanities. In the spirit of ‘working groups’ we believe in the values of curiosity, collaboration, and diversity.
Campus resources can be both exciting and dizzying. As a new graduate student at UC Berkeley, I spent most of my first semester lost in a sea of academic resources, departments, research centers, and events. I realize now that many of my meaningful connections I made revolved around the burgeoning community of digital humanities here at UC Berkeley.
Last summer I started thinking about translating historical texts into ‘data’ and wrote a short blog post about it when I worked on the Cultural Heritage Informatics project. At that point, I pondered about the limitations of my recently minted Master’s thesis, where I analyzed tourism advertisements and travel stories to understand how individuals ‘mapped’ places with cultural, colonial, and personal significances.As a heavily theoretical cultural history project, I enjoyed the textual, literary, and tentativeness of such an endeavor. However, I could not answer many structural questions about the nature of Vietnamese tourism and genre of travel stories more broadly because of the qualitative nature of my project.
I wonder if others have had this experience in their own historical research? I myself am drawn to digital tools and more quantitative ways of thinking as a way of offering a broader perspective to my often very textual-based questions. With a deep yearning for more ‘concrete,’ quantitative data, I hope to create a digital history project within this line of thinking: translating historical text to data.
(This post was originally published on the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool blog here)
Last summer I had the chance to travel to the colonial archives in Aix-en-provence, France (Archives nationales d’outre mer or ANOM) to get a taste of ‘primary document archival research.’ Armed with a digital camera, a macbook, and a French dictionary, I bumbled around the archives, attempting to mirror the sense of confidence and purposefulness that other scholars seemed to have. After a month of 9-5’s at the archives (and evenings of pastis and concerts in Aix), what did I have to show for my dedicated data-collecting? Over 3,000 poorly labeled digital photos, an incomprehensible excel sheet of ‘important!’ records, and the overwhelming sense of gloom that I would never get through the endless number of primary documents needed to do my research.