Talking about a “workflow” (or a sequence of steps in the scholarly labor process) seems so banal, boring, and obvious. But, the thing is, how you routinely write and conduct research—and through what mechanisms—really matters, especially when you are frequently engaging digital materials. What’s more, we are arguably in a cultural moment where all of us are still learning how to produce knowledge in rapidly changing environments. There is an abundance of options or apps (some free, some not; some helpful, some a waste of time), and they are all aimed at particular audiences, under certain assumptions about how content is (or should be) created, used, stored, and circulated. To be sure, even the software we use is ideological in character.
So, for a humanities take on a scholarly workflow (whatever that ultimately means), we’ll look to William J. Turkel’s “A Workflow for Digital Research Using Off-the-Shelf Tools.”
Please read it carefully, and note that it consists of nine individual entries (e.g., “Make Local Copies of Everything” and “Measure and Refactor Constantly”), not just the index page labeled “how to.”
As you read, I recommend testing a few of the options Turkel recommends. Most of them are free and open-source, a few of them are addictive (or maybe that’s just me), and many of them are common in higher education (especially in the humanities).
If, when you are finished, you find that you are not interested in anything he suggests, then fine by me. This is not an exercise in bandwagon-hopping, digital humanities hipster-ism, or evangelizing for particular technologies. You are more than welcome to stick with what you are currently using and doing. All I ask is that you reflect on your decisions and spell them out.
For you to:
- Start (if you haven’t already) thinking deliberately about how you gather and compose media in digital environments,
- Articulate (if only in the ideal) what your everyday writing and research workflow will be for this seminar,
- Unpack the ways in which some technologies influence knowledge-production and under what assumptions about their consumers, and
- Gather a sense of how others in the field do work, and through what applications and techniques.
What You Should Include in Your Response (Length: 500 – 1000 words, text only, due in print during seminar on January 12th)
While I recommend covering all nine areas Turkel addresses, in writing please respond at least to the following:
- What web browser(s) will you be using, and how (if at all) are you customizing it/them? Why? (See Turkel, “Going Digital.”)
- What’s your backup strategy? How frequently do you (or will you) backup your work? (See Turkel, “Start with a Backup and Versioning Strategy.”)
- How will you routinely make local copies? How will you “clip” or save the ostensibly ephemeral web content you are engaging? (See Turkel,“Make Local Copies of Everything.”)
- What apps will you be using for writing? What’s the purpose of each? (See Turkel, “Write and Cluster Small Texts.”)
- More generally speaking, what do you think these steps suggest (if only tacitly) about your research and writing processes? What are you delegating to a computer, and what do you insist on doing manually?
To help you along, I’ve created a short video. It gives you a cursory sense of what, on a regular basis, I use for research and writing purposes. (Many things are of course missing, such as my use of an external hard drive as well as DEVONagent.) Also, here is a screenshot of the Google Chrome extensions I use. Take them or leave them. And again: during this seminar feel free to stick with what you feel is the best fit for your own style and habits.
Of note, for the next contribution to your log (i.e., Part II below), you’ll actually be walking us through the steps of your workflow (either through video or a combination of text and stills). Keep that next step in mind as you write this explanation.
Let me know what questions you have, or where you’d like me to elaborate.Part II: Workflow in Action
It is one thing to explain your workflow in writing, and it something else entirely to document it in action. Based on what you've already done, now it is time to do just that---using either a screencast or a combination of text and screenshots. (New to screencasting, but want to give it a whirl? Give Bohon's "Screencasting 101" a gander.)
And since you'll be sharing that documentation in Scalar, you might also find Mark Sample's "The Digital Humanities Is Not about Building, It's about Sharing" of interest.
Learning Outcomes for the Prompt
For you to:
- Mobilize the workflow you already articulated,
- Get some experience in documenting your research and writing processes,
- Communicate to others how you work with digital materials, and
- Publish your first bit of content in Scalar (based on what you learned during the January 12th workshop).
In your response, please:
- Give those of us in the seminar a concrete sense (e.g., by allowing us to see your screen) of how you move across: (a) browsing, (b) backing-up, (c) making local copies, and (d) writing,
- Create a narrative (in words or via a track of titles or vocals) across these steps in order to help us transition from one step to the next, and
- When necessary, explain or justify your decisions (e.g., why that app? what else did you try?).
Most importantly: have fun with this one. Test Scalar and see how you can express a workflow in various ways. And as you compose, consider how these steps will transfer to the study of literature in digital environments.
Author: Jentery Sayers
Word Count: 913
Original Prompt: "Workflow, Part I" and "Workflow, Part II"
Example student responses follow in this path.
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