Slow down. That’s the mantra I keep having to remind myself as I work on the digital history project, Latvian Baptists in America, 1890-1940. It’s good advice in general.
Recent readings in a course on digital public humanities at George Mason University have emphasized the thought and deliberation that should go into projects.1 The allure of the digital environment is in part the speed at which work can be done and presented to an audience, but this invites shallowness and a mentality that what has been accomplished is “good enough.” As I often tell my own students, the digital environment is addicting. For someone doing creative work, results can be viewed quickly: change one line of HTML code or tweak a Cascading Style Sheet and structure and presentation can be significantly altered.
It’s too tempting to jump headlong into a digital project, believing that one has the correct vision for how it should develop and what the end result should be. However, the hard work of thinking about an audience and what one is trying to communicate is not instantaneous. Getting that part right is what matters most.
The most successful digital history projects have invested plenty of time and resources into considering their purpose and audience. It’s no wonder, then, that the National Endowment for the Humanities in its Digital Projects for the Public program supports grants across three tiers: discovery, prototyping, and production.
At the same time, I have to confess to a certain degree of frustration with this approach. At times it seems too slow and that too much pondering can get in the way of actual work. Thus, I am eager to learn more about management of such projects, to understand how to successfully lead a team to both conceptualize and create a digital history exhibit.
1. See, for example, Richard Rabinowitz, “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition,” The Public Historian 35:3 (August 2013), 8-45.