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Travel Grant Reflection: Shelby Wilson-Powell

Integrating Archival Research into the DH Classroom – DH@Guelph 2017

My time at thInstrctor talking to four students.e DH@Guelph 2017 Summer Workshops was spent learning and collaborating on ideas with classmates. With the luxury of having only three other classmates and an instructor, the setting of the workshop allowed us to personalize our learning. This focus revolved around the balance between archival research in the post-secondary classroom with digital humanities (DH) based methods and platforms. My background is in Global Development and English Literature, while my classmates were teaching in the areas of Art History and Philosophy. The mix of disciplines allowed us to try a variety of platforms with context, which also made setting these platforms in the classroom much easier.

The workshop was not entirely what I expected, but I brought back pages and pages of notes with new and interesting ideas that will be helpful in my graduate program. During the first day, I thought my limited DH understanding was holding me back – a lot of platforms, programs, and various DH terms were mentioned that I had no familiarity with. However, as the workshop continued, there seemed to be less knowledge among other classmates, which allowed all of us to learn together at a relatively similar pace. As I already said, the workshop I was in was small which really suited my learning style, as that is what I am accustomed to in my Huron classes.

Huron writing utilities on desk.

I was the youngest in the class, offering a student-based perspective to the more teaching-based perspective of my fellow classmates. Being able to provide a student perspective was useful as I was able to share what students expect from a class, including structural items such as rubrics and details in a syllabus. Also, when discussing the platforms for DH methods, my classmates who were professors and teachers at American institutions wondered about software cost as they were aware that some students struggle financially, which I agreed with.  As a result, we all tried to get the most out of free trials and web-based applications rather than paid downloads. The debate over whether software should be included as a textbook cost was not concluded, but we all seemed to sway with the argument that humanities have never had high textbook costs so why should we start that through digitization?  So, we thought about the pros and cons of free platforms and trial periods.

Over the course of 4 days, we worked on the following:

  • transcription and encoding via Juxta Editions
  • text analysis via Voyant and data visualization via Google Fusion Tables
  • spatial analysis via David Rumsey Georeferencing and ArcGIS online storymap
  • temporal analysis via Timeline JS


Juxta Editions required data to work with, which I did not bring, but thankfully our instructor Diana Jakacki brought photos of 18th-century letters to transcribe. We found that Juxta Editions was a great tool to transcribe but it limits window size. Instead, we each tried different solutions, which I thought was easy, as Guelph provided us with a computer room. As we tried different platforms, we found these small hiccups and either found reasonable solutions or decided maybe it was a tool individual students may enjoy but are not worth incorporating into assignments. I thoroughly enjoyed this hands-on aspect of classroom and assignment. For example, using a platform such as Georeferencing, which allows a user to match points on historical maps onto a modern map, is a great way to see spatiality and the difference between time and location. But does it make for a good assignment? We did not discuss in much detail this platform as we all spent too much time enjoying its interface and user-ability, but the workshop has taught me what to look for to ensure DH methods are teachable and testable. So, in the context of Georeferencing, I would argue that it is a great tool to learn from and can be applied to theory or discussion, but the storymap in ArcGIS should be created into an assignment or presentation. For example, the storymap georeferenced on David Rumsey can be downloaded and used in ArcGIS which shows how accessible archives are these days.

Two desktop computersI was able to give a lot of input and the instructor said she was learning from us too. She complimented me on my preference for platform critique, which we integrated into the workshop. One thing I wished was to spend more time dissecting each of the online applications we used during the workshop. The process and analysis section of the workshop was truly eye-opening. Seeing how professors and teachers consider outlines for assignments and their reasoning behind not having a rubric was fascinating. As I continue through my post-secondary career, I think this workshop gave a nice introduction to teaching in the ever-growing technology based classroom. I am excited to see how I can use the platforms from the workshop in my schooling and I look forward to future DH@Guelph  Summer Workshops.


CURL Travel Grant Reflection |17 May 2017