Musings on Digital Scholarship & It’s Good to Be Back!

When I applied to work in Magill, I had really wanted a job at the circ desk. Instead, I landed in Laurie Allen’s office for an interview as a Digital Scholarship Assistant. When I told her I didn’t know any programming languages, she resigned to hire a CompSci major in the Spring and keep me around to do the dirty work. That was all of nine months ago. Since then, I’ve had quite a personal journey as my work in Digital Scholarship spilled over to many other areas of my life, like my academic interests, my hobbies, social circle, and to some extent, the lens of my perception. Digital Scholarship, an expansion of the digital humanities, honors open access, innovation and most fundamentally, for me, the conviction that the capital-T Truth that interests scholars relies on multiple narratives. These characteristics manifest themselves in the content of our projects and the forms through which we share them.

Now, in July 2012, I’ve returned to help Laurie Allen and co-conspirator Mike Zarafonetis create content for and design their new Digital Scholarship website to launch in the fall. Magill’s DS department has been conceived around “digital toolboxes” where each member of the DS team has a special niche. My niche is design. The content I’ve created for the website is intended to increase design literacy and awareness. So far, I’ve created a series of Photoshop tutorials based on an appointment I had with History major Rosalie Hooper’12 where I helped her edit an old map of Philadelphia from the David Rumsey Map Collection.

I’ve made a reading list for myself that includes Jan Tschichold’s The Form of the Book (1975), Lev Manovich’s Language of New Media (2001), and others, that relate the history of book design and how the practices developed related to book design can create a more readable Internet. I’m hoping to create a section of the website with straightforward and easily applicable guidelines to create very readable digital projects.  Many consider the web to be unreadable, which is an unfortunate but incorrigible impediment to the digitization of texts. While digital platforms have inherent problems  (low resolution, not being small enough to curl up in bed with…) that can only be resolved and are quickly being resolved with technological innovations, I believe the web has mostly been unreadable because those producing content have a poor understanding of web design. Fortunately, there is a lot of freely available literature on publishing well-designed website and my goal is to address the particular concerns of designing scholarly projects. Studying Tschichold’s rebuke against the typographic errors of his contemporaries, as vehement as it is, has significantly raised my expectations of what the web could be.