During the first weekend of the term, the Digital Humanities communities at Carleton and St. Olaf got together for a retreat to share ideas, lessons, and news about the field. The event was an excellent opportunity to see what was going on in the Digital Humanities on the other side of the Cannon River.
We kicked off the retreat by breaking into small groups, each given a DH project to examine. After introducing ourselves and getting to know some other Olaf DH interns, we had some time to view and analyze our respective DH project websites. These sites ranged from the Willa Cather archive to a Civil War project collection created by a similar DH team at the University of Richmond. Each site had their own strengths and weaknesses in different respects, whether with content, layout arrangement, format, graphic design, or other factors affecting user accessibility. After discussing our opinions and potential improvements that could be made to the site, each group presented their analysis of their assigned project. In addition to being a fun ice-breaker, this exercise let us consider projects from a high-level perspective that can be difficult to achieve on your own projects.
During lunch, we discussed the relevance of DH in our growing world, and learned about the current status of DH at both schools. Us Carls shared some of the projects we were working on, while lamenting over our absence of a DH grant (that St. Olaf received). Since DH associates would regularly consult faculty members to assist them on their DH projects, we did a workshop helping us approach and conquer potential awkward situations. Some examples – how to approach a conversation when disagreements on design and usability arise? Or what to say when given limited information and unmanageable expectations? These situations come up more often than we expect, and we must be prepared to know how to effectively and respectfully deal with these matters.
We ended our retreat with an activity to re-design a DH project. Back in our groups, we examined another DH website and made specific suggestions for improvements for website usability, such as modifying specific navigation items and others. Overall, the retreat was an awesome way to get introduced and establish our connections to the DH community.