Evaluation, rigor, and the future of the site

After a long discussion of Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy, and some great discussion of the figures forum, internet, and chat room (and thanks to Iris for presenting!) that ranged through the material and embodied overtones those word-concepts lend to our abstracted understandings of the internet, we got down to the business of making decisions about the final project. This post will restate those decisions, and outline our shared expectations for the future of the website.


One of the main points of conversation was how to evaluate digital work, especially as related to (though not necessarily compared to) traditional literary scholarship. In the world of the digital humanities, evaluation is still very much on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis; and it seems to me that the best way to establish clear criteria and expectations for digital work is to make those expectations ourselves, within the guidelines of humanistic rigor. In other words, learning and deploying technology in a sophisticated way is a challenging intellectual endeavor, and should count as such!


This discussion of rigor and evaluation will be ongoing, and I will do my best to record it as we make decisions, in the hope that some of the guidelines we establish will be useful going forward, both to the students in the class and (potentially) to a larger audience.


For our particular purposes, my requirements were brief:

  1. Content will be curated from the Explorations students write over the course of the semester.
    • Explorations will need to be edited, and duplicate entries condensed;
    • An explanatory preface will be generated
  2. There should be some sort of chronological element: I suggested timeline.js for its relative ease, but platform remains an open question.
    • This led to the related question: the figures we are working with have a clear usage history, as traced in the OED. But how much chronology are we actually talking about? Is this:
      • The entire history of the word, from its original etymons to the point it began to be deployed in regards to the digital world?
      • Every single figure I listed on the syllabus?
        • (this is the default for now, with the caveat that digital projects often throw up unexpected roadblocks, and we might have to adjust this expectation)
      • A relative chronology, with multiple timelines for each term?
  3. Other design elements are dependent on the people working on the design end
    • Documentation will be a crucial portion of design, including explaining what decisions were made and why.
      • This is both for class evaluation, and a part of digital best practices. Keeping good records means that when something goes wrong, you hopefully won’t have to dig as deep to find out where the break happened.

Originally, I had conceived of the work of the site being divided into two teams: content, and design.

Notes taken in class on Feb 6 2018

But after students had done a quick speed-dating-style discussion, it emerged that nearly everyone was interested in pursuing the design angle, many wanting to learn more about it through practice.


This was a very pleasant surprise, and led to a complete shift in my thinking. So now, rather than pursuing a more robust content side, we are going to keep the content circumscribed within the Explorations. (We’ll still need a preface and editing, but this will count more as a smaller portion of one person’s task, or possibly be divided among the class as part of their design work.) Instead, we will work through different design methods, different ways of disseminating information: following Mark Sample, we are going to focus on sharing our knowledge.


More concretely, we decided that there needs to be a page where all the figures are listed; those can then link (or bring up hovertext) to the explanations and discussions of the figures. Effectively, the explorations become the index and the way to navigate the site; they will link to a separate page featuring the more lengthy discussions. This is a way of getting at the priority for the site, which is streamlining the presentation of information.


This discussion was still very preliminary; we haven’t formed groups, or decided what the site will look like in its final form. But I’m very excited about this project, and I look forward to seeing what we make together!

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