How do we write a DH Thesis or a DH MRE? In this issue of the Irregular, I want to give some tips for getting your thesis or mre project off the ground. This video is me talking through the elements below and looking at some past MA DH work. It’s about 14 minutes long. I’m no Kubrick. (Say, who is the worst filmmaker of all time, anyway?)
First things first though. Do you have to get Official DH Program Seal of Approval on your proposal? Well, the original documents that founded the program state:
Appendix 1, DH QA Report, 2012: Students writing a thesis or major research paper must focus on a Digital Humanities topic. The proposed topic must be approved by the student’s home unit and by the Digital Humanities Management Committee.
In practice, the DH program doesn’t seek to assert DH approval over theses & MRPs. We aim to collaborate with students and advisors to bring out the DH aspects of the work in meaningful ways.
So, just to be clear, as a general process:
The student develops the proposal with their advisor. The student dials the DH Coordinator into the project for advice. The DH Coordinator will help the student and the student’s advisor to bring out the DH aspects, as required/requested.
So no, the DH Committee doesn’t pass judgement on your proposal: acceptance of your proposal is up to your department. BUT dial me into your thinking as you develop your proposal so that I can help you make sure that you’ve got the DH aspects covered.
Advisors I am happy to be part of thesis committees, be an external reader on MREs, or help find suitable individuals as needs arise. Remember, there are many faculty with DH interests who might also be interested to help in these capacities.
A good question! Here’s a simple rule of thumb:
If it interrogates the digital from a humanities perspective: yes
If it interrogates the humanities from a digital perspective: yes
The best work always has both of these elements in dialogue with each other. If that reflexive element is not present, then the work is likely not DH.
Let’s consider a possible example:
The thesis explores patterns of incarceration in a historical database of court records. It concludes that there is an association between gender and type of crime, over time.
This thesis could be DH if the student uses this quantitative work to think through how the database itself is an instrument of surveillance; how the act of quantification of law breaking itself helps define when laws are broken and who and what constitutes criminality. It could be DH also if the student reflects on their own decisions about what ‘counts’ and the effect this has on the patterns they ultimately are able to see.
But remember: if those elements (or similar) are absent, then the DH dimension to this work is missing.
Pembroke Soundscapes by Rob Blades
Songs of the Ottawa by Cristina Wood
The Discursive Enactment of Edward Snowden by Alessandro Marcon
We often say in the DH big tent, “Building is a way of Knowing” (and it can be helpful to think about the resistance in the materials). Many DH projects/thesis often build something: an immersive simulation; a database; a critical edition; a work of sonification; an interactive map. If you go this route, the thing should have a discussion somewhere in it - call it ‘paradata’ or ‘colophon’ or ‘Discussion of how this was built’ - and draw from your process notes to explain the technical issues that are of note for humanists. This might not be information that appears in your thesis or reflexive paper itself (talk with your advisor!), but it is critical for someone coming to your work cold to understand the importance of what you have done, and how to read your work.
On the other hand, you do not necessarily have to build something for it to be DH. While much DH is public facing web based work, much isn’t. Critical and reflexive tool use on a body of evidence is DH (while uncritical ain’t). A network analytic approach to a body of data can be DH, and doesn’t require anything public facing. Similarly, something that uses text analysis to support a strand of a larger argument can be DH. Just know that something public-facing doesn’t always have to be part of DH work.
Which brings me to some thoughts on the scope and scale of your project.
“Dear Advisor X, I am thinking about exploring (A) in the context of (B) for my thesis/mre; I’ve cc’d Dr. Y who is the DH Program Coordinator to get their perspective on the DH aspects of my work”
Remember that each department has its own process for helping students work out their MRE or thesis projects; take full advantage of those processes. Again, look up previous student work in your department that was DH; it helps to have precedents. And again, dial me into your thinking early on.
And finally, talk to people about your work, your ideas. Being one of the few ‘official’ dh people in your department’s cohort of MA students can sometimes feel a bit alienating. But everyone is going through the same process; keep talking to your peers in your cohort, and in your department. Connect with your peers in the DH program, at Carleton, or elsewhere. Hash it out. Remember that there is a DHCU Discord space you can access.
And remember, If something digital doesn’t come in 30 minutes, it won’t come in 3 hours. Take a break, seek help. It is not a weakness, a failing, to ask for help. I will GLADLY look at anything, help troubleshoot, or brainstorm.
The University of Alberta’s Digital Humanities Students’ Association’s annual conference Discomfort will be held from March 15th to 17th from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM each day over gather.town
This year’s theme is about exploring the lure or repulsion of uncertainty, pain, and unease in technology, communication and the academy. Presenters will be able to showcase projects that impart the ways in which society avoids sitting in discomfort and uncertainty and ways that discomfort is used to further ideologies, impart understanding, and even create art.
Our keynote speakers are Lindsay Nixon, Amanda Leduc, and Debbie Beaver, and we have a wonderful array of undergraduate and graduate students presenting their research from all areas of Digital Humanities studies including Gaming, Gender and Tech, and Pop Culture just to name a few!
Our schedule of events will be up shortly, to see it please visit our website.
Everyone is welcome to attend! Registration is required for this event. Register through this link.
Here at Carleton, the Department of History’s Underhill Graduate Colloquium is happening March 12-13,
In devising our theme, we reflected on the chaos and heaviness of the past year and wanted to highlight something a bit lighter in these times. Our theme, “Inspiration” aims to emphasize the ways in which historical scholarship engages with the past in uplifting ways, whether it is a spark from the topic, a piece of research material we love, the communities in which we work, interact, practice, or communicate with, or otherwise.
More information should be appearing on the Underhill website shortly.
The Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria is online and free this year. Yes, free! Check out what’s on offer: https://dhsi.org/.
…can we be thinking of summer already?…
Remember to vote for our fantastic Carleton nominees in this year’s DH Awards!
Voting remains open until 2021-03-07, and you can vote for your selections at this form.