1B. Analysis of DH Projects

(JDrucker 9/2013)

All digital projects have certain structural features in common. Some are built on “platforms” using software that has either been designed specifically from within the digital humanities community (such as Omeka, the platform which you will use for your projects), or has been repurposed to serve (WordPress, Drupal), or has been custom-built. We talk about the “back end” and “front end” of digital projects, the workings under the hood (files on servers, in browsers, databases, search engines, processing programs, and networks) and the user experience. Because all display of digital information on screen is specified in HTML, hyper-text markup language, all digital projects have to produced HTML as their final format.

But what creates the user experience on the back end? How are digital projects structured to enable various kinds of functions and activities on the part of the user? All digital humanities projects are built of the same basic structural components, even though the degree of complexity that can be added into these components and their relations to each other and the user can expand exponentially.

The basic elements: a repository of files or digital assets, some kind of information architecture or structure, a suite of services, and a display for user experience. While this is deceptively simple and reductive, it is also useful as a way to think about the building of digital humanities projects. At their simplest, digital projects can consist of a set files (assets) stored in an information architecture such as a database or file system (structure) where they can be accessed (services) and called by a browser (use/display).

All of the complexity in digital humanities projects comes from the ways we can create structure (in the sense of introducing information into the basic data) in the assets, organize the information architecture or structure, in order to support complex services accessed through the display. All of this should be more clear as we move ahead into the analysis of examples. Although this diagram is quite simple (even simplistic) it shows the basic structure of all DH projects. Keep in mind that the server, network, and other systems requirements are not present here.

Exercise: What are the basic elements of a DH project?

1) Pelagios is a site that aggregates digital humanities projects into a single portal. The projects are each autonomous, to some degree, but they have a disciplinary connection. Look through the site and see how each of these is structured. http://pelagios-project.blogspot.com/

  • What is on this site? Go through the links/resources.
  • Go Through the Tabs
  • Skim the essays and technical discussion/very specific and focused, useful

2) What is the difference between a “website” and a digital humanities project? What dimensions does Pelagios have that distinguishes it?

3) Look these examples and describe the ways they work and make create a description of how you think they are structured using the basic description of components outlined above. As you go through this elaborate project, consider issues of community, scholarship, digital infrastructure, values embodied in the languages, practices, and organization of the component parts.

  • Arachne: 
How does Arachne work? What is behind it?
 Records, digital images, dbases, linked records/objects, look at partners, items, records.
  • British Museum: Follow the links? How is the navigation and does it work effectively for all tasks?
  • CLAROS: What is this? How does it work as an online collections/museums? Note the interface and search here.
  • Digital Memory Engineering: read the description and determine what do they do as an organization? How are they related to Pelagios?
FASTI: This is a portal for archaeological sites and data. Look at the records. Who creates these?
 Who is responsible for this information? How large a community 
is involved?
  • Google Ancient Places: They have built a map interface. Read through the technical
 discussion. What are the “humanities” questions raised by the project? How do they 
relate to the development of the technical infrastructure?
Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine: Search the site and analyze the interface. Where does site organization belong in the basic description of digital humanities projects and their component parts?
  • ISAW papers
: What is here? Who is the meant for? What is the community within which this project functions and how does it call a community into being?
  • JISC geo: who are they? What role do they play?
LUCERO: What is it? How does it relate to Pelagios? Other activity?
Meketre: Analyze the interface and figure out what the project is and how it is related to the others?
  • Nomisma: Why are coins so significant to the study of classical culture and how does this site present the information? What arguments are made by the presentation?
  • OCRE: Contains more numismatic information, can it be correlated to the Nomisma information?
  • Open Context: Why is this information on data publishing
  • ORACC: What is the significance of the fact that this project is located at the University of Pennsylvania? Is it related at all to the Cuneiform Digital Library housed at UCLA?
  • Papyri.Info: Examine links, locate partners, and describe challenges as well as changes you might make.
  • Perseus Digital Library
: Follow the links within any single classical text, such as the popular ones suggested and analyze the steps that would have been involved in creating this resource.
  • PLEIADES: What are the “vocabularies” at the bottom What is Section 508 and why is it there?
Ports Antiques: Go to the bottom and look at the tags
. Why are these here and where do they fit in the basic structure of the digital project?
  • Ptolemy machine: What terms don’t you understand here?
  • Regnum Francorum: How would you use this resource and how would you change it for a broader public?
  • SPQR: What is it? What is the European Aggregator?
  • SquinchPix: Use it
 and say what it is in the structure of basic components of a digital project.
  • Totenbuch: Where is it located institutionally?
  • URe museum: Can you find an object in this collection through 
CLAROS? What are the issues of interconnection among existing resources?


Sort these partners according to the type of site they are and make a list of different kinds of digital humanities projects by type (e.g. service, repository, publication etc.)

Why are these sites not included on Pelagios:


http://www.inscriptifact.com/ http://isaw.nyu.edu/ancient-world-image-bank


The basic structure of any digital humanities project is a combination of digital assets, a set of services (query, search, processing, analysis), and a display that supports the user experience. The purpose of this class is to move from the front-end experience to knowledge of the back end and to get under the hood and make a digital project start to finish.

Readings for 2A:

Foreword: Perspectives on Digital Humanities, Companion to Digital Humanities (online)


John Unsworth, “Knowledge Representation in Humanities Computing”

http://www.iath.virginia.edu/~jmu2m/KR/. (If this link does not work, use the link on the Companion site.)

Look at this and other sites on digital humanities project development and management:


Study Questions for 2A:

  1. How does John Unsworth’s description of Knowledge Representation add to the description of the basic elements of a digital humanities project?
  2. Recommend and describe documentation about digital project development that you found online that felt helpful to you at this stage of your thinking.
  3. Compare the DiRT site and the CUNY site as resources for someone new to DH.



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