DH 2002 Assignment 1

DH 2002 Assignment 1

At the beginning of the new semester in my second year studying Digital Humanities and IT, my lecturer for the Digital Tools and Methodologies II lecture laid out the course work to be covered over the duration of the second semester. Consequentially, there are two assignments which are required to be covered in their own blog posts. The following post shall deal specifically with the first assignment in this module.

The Process I undertook:

The assignment in question is fundamentally as follows: the student is required to take part in a community-engaged project with the intention of generating data for public consumption. To accomplish this, I visited the website “Zooniverse”.  “Zooniverse” is a platform where individuals or groups can submit a project to, with the purpose of attracting volunteers from the users of the “Zooniverse” website to partake in their project. So upon visiting “Zooniverse”, I accessed the websites “Projects” page. The “projects” page offers the user several ways in which to browse the numerous projects on the site.  The projects have also been categorised to their specific genre. Later I set up a “Zooniverse” account, with the intention of keeping a record of the work I had completed.

One of the recommendations that was outlined in the description of this assignment, was that it would be preferable to select a project which bears some relation to my minor Arts subject. As I my Arts minor is  English, I first selected the language genre, however much to my dismay I discovered that there were no current projects available for me to assist with in this genre. Continuing on from this I selected the genre connected with literature, in which I was given four possible projects to assist with. In spite of the possible choice given it was evident that only one of the projects had a direct link with literature, and this was the Project: Shakespeare’s World. The other projects in this genre were “Measuring the Anzacs”, “Science Gossip” and “Operation War Diary”. This seemed liked fortuitous luck for me as the module I had chosen to study under the English department was An Introduction to Shakespearian Drama. In addition to studying his plays, I am a genuine fan of his work. So it was here my work truly began.

The Shakespeare’s World project’s goal is to transcribe numerous documents and letters written by William Shakespeare’s contemporaries during the time of Shakespeare’s life. The website upon which the project is hosted, offers up numerous advantages for doing so, most prominently that of learning about Shakespeare’s life and to gain a greater understanding of the society at the time. The website also allows very quick use of the site, with the ability to begin transcribing with a click of a button, no login required. The site offers a quick tutorial on how to transcribe, stating that it is imperative to the project as a whole that when performing palaeography it is crucial to record the precise way in which the document was written, i.e. preserving spelling and grammatical errors. While somewhat jarring to begin with this is just one of the many struggles which come with transcribing handwritten documents with numerous writers, from the 16th and the 17th century.

As spelling had not been strictly regimented at the time, some words bear little resemblance to their modern day counterpart. Admittedly the project does offer a visual aid of how some writers wrote their letters, there appeared to be no agreed standard amongst the writers of the documents as it is often impossible to make out certain words.  In addition to this, often grammar is thrown out the window, making it difficult to fully grasp the context of the sentence. This is of course to be expected when dealing with such old documents, as they are written in what is classified as Middle English rather than Modern English. While the site claims that ability in palaeography can be achieved after a lot of practise, it would appear to me that in order for these documents to be reliably transcribed, individuals with an academic background in these fields would be more helpful over an anonymous user with little or no relevant academic background, from the Internet.

With interest in participating in other projects I returned to the Zooniverse site and visited a few other projects, namely: Measuring the Anzacs, Decoding the Civil War and Operation War Diary. Out of them all I found the project Operation War Diary the most fascinating. The documents to be transcribed in this one were official war diaries and orders written during the First World War by the English speaking soldiers.  The project allows the contributor to pick what Army Company/Divisions they would like to help transcribe the documents from. This project was very different to the Shakespeare’s World project, as the objective was to not transcribe the documents word for word but to tag the page with information. These tags included dates, locations, unit activity and named individuals amongst others.

The Implications of my work:

By contributing to these projects, I am helping to generate data, which can be later used to learn more about history. Hopefully, the contributions I’ve made will help those who wish to use the data parsed and created from these projects. At any rate it offers a second opinion to others who may come across the same documentation, which can either corroborate their own interpretation of the document, or offer a different possibility. As previously mentioned, the work done on the Shakespeare’s World project will hopefully offer historians a greater insight into life during the Victorian Age.  The Information collected for the Operation War Diary project will help to create a clearer picture of the events that occurred during one of the biggest wars in history.

What I have learned from the experience:

By completing this assignment I feel like I’ve learned how a crowd sourced project could be designed, as well as how crowd sourcing can be used effectively. Also, I have seen several different interfaces and have seen the pros and cons of each separate project. An example of a con would be from the Shakespeare’s World Project. When transcribing a document which another individual has already worked on, it is impossible for you to see what the other individual has already transcribed. You can see from what point to what point, however you cannot establish what was actually typed out by the transcriber. As the page has not yet been fully complete, a clear indication of what work has already been accomplished would be beneficial. Also there’s a possibility that given there is no requirement to create an account to work on this project, there could be incorrect, offensive or misleading translations typed out. A pro would be the clear tutorials set out as well as the clear message in regards to the goal of the project. The tutorials were extremely helpful, concise and to the point, teaching me how to use the tools. The clear objective of the project allowed me to remain focused on the relevant/important aspects of the documents.

How I feel I might be able to apply the techniques or material developed/digitised/transcribed in the crowdsourced initiative in my own work:

 

When it comes to English literature, authors often write numerous notes and drafts of their work. These notes are fascinating to those who are either admirers of their work or work in the same field. An example of an authors’ notes being used after their death are the several novels released after JRR Tolkien’s death based upon his unfinished work. Some of his notes became a complete story. An example of this is the novel ‘The Children of Húrin’ which was released thirty four years after Tolkien’s Death. I’m not saying that the intention would be to create a novel out of the data transcribed from a now dead writer, but the information that could be collected about their methodologies applied when it came to writing would be insightful. While I’m sure a lot of authors notes have already been digitised, I would be grateful to take part in such an endeavour.  I feel that if given the opportunity I would attempt to have my third year final project be based on a concept not unlike this.

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