Advanced Topics in Research Methods, Methodologies, and Design: Field Study In Humanities Work
School of Information, University of Texas at Austin
In 2009, Christine Borgman asked “Where are the social studies of digital humanities?” More specifically, she inquired, “Why is no one following digital humanities scholars around to understand their practices, in the way that scientists have been studied for the last several decades?” Arguing that such research has significantly shaped scholarly infrastructure for the sciences as “a central component of cyberinfrastructure and eScience initiatives,” Borgman urged digital humanities to learn more about its own practices.
For this class, we will “follow around digital humanities scholars” from a range of backgrounds who function in a variety of roles within higher education, academic institutions. We will focus on “humanists” who are at work with the “digital” primarily because we are interested in the perspective of humanities scholars who find themselves working at the intersection of humanistic principles and the development of scholarly information infrastructures (defined by Borgman as “the technology, services, practices, and policy that support research in all disciplines”). While we understand that digital humanists do all kinds of work including administration, teaching, service, and writing (to name a few), this class will focus specifically on tasks and perspectives that are revealed in the process of project-based work. Digital humanities projects are often touted as the site of work that not only defines DH but also the site of work at which the development of information infrastructure has the most potential to be impacted by theoretical perspectives imbued in humanist critique and vice versa. Better articulating what kind of work infrastructure development entails is particularly illustrative for considering information work in digital humanities because it is a “research area where the interests of humanists, technology researchers, and others converge” (Borgman).
Specifically, this class will consider two essential topics in our findings: (1) the nature of the “information” work that “digital” humanists do; and (2) how we go about observing and studying such work to better understand ourselves. We will employ mixed methods approaches including topic modeling five years of “Day of DH” data as a glance into how DHers in general describe their work, interviewing approximately digital humanists on their daily DH practices and the values they attribute to these practices as well as observing “digital humanists at work.”
Johanna Drucker reminds us that “humanistic theory provides ways of thinking differently, otherwise, specific to the problems and precepts of interpretative knowing—partial, situated, enunciative, subjective, and performative” and that digital humanities is defined by its “emphasis on making, connecting, interpreting, and collaborating” (Drucker 2012). She notes that “[o]ur challenge is to take up these theoretical principles and engage them in the production of methods, ways of doing our work” (Drucker 2012). This class will teach students how to provide a snapshot of these ways and how to consider how and if these theories and methods are reflected in the quotidian practices of the digital humanist.
I owe many thanks to others for the formulation of this syllabus. First, it has been heavily influenced by Dr. Diane Bailey’s Spring 2013 class 391E Advanced Topics in Information Studies: Ethnography as well as by the many conversations concerning studies of work that have been facilitated by the Information Work Research Group (funded by IMLS) at UT Austin. Thanks also to Johanna Drucker and Alan Liu and whose advice and research have been fundamental to its inspiration and its development. Finally, thank you to Daniel Carter, Julia Flanders, Matt Burton, Trevor Munoz, and Elli Mylonas for their collegiality in thinking through some of these topics in the context of Digital Humanities.