Reading Eileen Gardiner and Ronald G. Musto’s book, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars, two thoughts came to me, specifically when readings chapter eight and nine. First, I realized that my introduction to Digital Humanities was not at university, but from a self-created project in 2007 that, at the time, I would have never identified as a Digital Humanities project. On one hand, I thought of the project as a fun hobby, which digital projects more certainly can be, but that does not make them any less of a digital project because they are a hobby. But I did not understand what Digital Humanities was back then. The other thought I had while reading, also relating to that project (and a more recent project) was how the challenges that Gardiner and Musto discuss about digital projects, were very much a part of that early 2007 project and what ultimately caused the project to end. For this post, I am going to use my 2007 project as a means to discuss the challenges that digital projects face, as read in The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars.
At the time, I considered the website “just a website,” but in retrospect, it was a (very simple) online archive for the actress. It was a digital project that disseminated biographical information on a classic movie actress, provided digital media, and utilized social media that was relevant at the time to network and connect with others interested in this person, their work, and classic film. The website lasted roughly two years, sustained almost solely by myself financially (with a few donations along the way) and in the creation of content, through collaboration with others, and through the research and reading I did to provide the information. But as I said, the website was only active for two years before falling into the Internet’s abyss and eventually disappearing completely.
What were the reasons for the end of the project? As examined in The Digital Humanities, digital projects face a great number of challenges centered on sustainability, discoverability, time, funding, and copyright. Thinking back, my project faced all of those issues and eventually disappeared because of them. When I started the project, I had plenty of time to devote to the project and its development, I (to an extent) figured out how to promote the website and making it discoverable by others interested in the subject, had the ability to self-pay for the project, and (in a small way) understood copyright. However, as time went on, those things became more difficult and the ability to spend time on the project decreased. As the project was considered a hobby as opposed to a project relating to school or a career, I could no longer support the site.
While I never regret creating the project and enjoyed my time working on it, despite the short life it had, I think what Gardiner and Musto discuss so well is how when creating such a digital project, questions and thought about the sustainability of the possible project need to be considered. That is not to say such questions (and possible answers) should deter someone from creating a project they have in mind, but questions such as what are the short and long term goals are important. Again, that is not to say these questions and answers should deter a project, but if a long term goal is to maintain the longevity of the site, you may want to ask if that is even possible in the long term and if not, what then is the goal.
More than ten years after the end of my 2007 project, I have the goal of creating some sort of online archive or other Digital Humanities project centered on my research. Though I have several ideas, I must ask myself the important questions of sustainability, time, and possibly funding. Will this be something I can maintain? Will it be possible for me to create with my skill set? If not, is there an ability to collaborate? Will this project cost anything financially and if so, is that something I can do on my own or will I eventually need to find funding? These are only some of the questions that need to be considered. As stated in the book, “the preservation of digital projects is a crucial concern and will continue to become increasingly problematic as early projects disappear through lack of funding, institutional support and individual resources” (Gardiner & Musto, 30).
Gardiner, Eileen and Ronald G. Musto. The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars. Cambridge University Press, 2015.