Jacquie Kasunic and Kate Sweetapple spent two weeks at CESTA. They sat in on two of our weekly meetings and held private sessions with most of the fellows to discuss the role of visual communication in the projects.
"They are great listeners." "And they were lovely."
It can be difficult to talk about a digital humanities project at any point, but particularly in the early stages when you are uncertain what you will find or which tools and resources you will use. Design practice often involves talking through a project with others from the very early stages. Externalizing the ideas by sharing them with others when they are still fairly shapeless is a way to refine the form. Humanities research, across disciplines, typically happens as a much more internal process. The first draft of an idea is written. Though the written form is itself an externalization of ideas, the thought process behind it is solitary. Kate and Jacquie encouraged the fellows to start where they are and dive right in to visualizing their data, before the data set is finished. This practice helps a researcher become familiar with the properties of the data, which provides fodder for thinking through the project as a whole.
"The neon light tube."
Laura Rogers noted that, while in her presentation to the cohort she talked about methods, with Kate and Jacquie she talked about objects. In Laura's case, the object is the archive. Within that, what is it? The documents? Or something more material. That's when they got to the neon light tube—a piece described in the archive. Turning her attention to the objects enlivened her thoughts about the material and spatial qualities of the archive. Her data modelling effort had become caught up in the more abstract terminology and taxonomies. Kate and Jacquie offered a fresh new look at the material.
Anja and Stephen also commented on how helpful they found a new way of thinking about their projects from a very different disciplinary perspective. Like Laura, Stephen has been consumed with generating his data -- statistical data in the case of his project. Kate and Jacquie exposed him to different modes of presenting texts and to think about multiple possible end points, rather than being too confined in his options at this early stage.
"Exposure to lighter weight tools."
Digital Humanities is often presented as very tool-driven, with the methods often defined by (or a least constrained by) the affordances of the tool. Kate and Jacquie suggested simple tools. They emphasized direct experimentation with the material without trying to take on tools that will distract you too much from an exploration of the content. David noted the thoughtfulness of their approach and the emphasis on visualization over digitization. Using lighter weight tools, we are less likely to become caught up in the method and focus more on the meaning.
Kate and Jacquie are frequent visitors to CESTA and collaborators with Keith Baker, Dan Edelstein, and Nicole Coleman on the Writing Rights project.