Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students

Chapter 12: Connecting to Your Research

DH Tools and Tips for Conducting Research

What follows are some of the tools we find the most useful for managing and streamlining the research process. This section is content-agnostic, which is to say that any of the tools below will apply to any area of humanities research you like, not just DH. There are far more options for research-facilitating software than are listed here, but all of the ones we mention below are usable for those with no pre-existing technical skills and this list is designed to save you some time when it comes to researching the tools themselves. Where possible, we’ve chosen the simplest options with the quickest learning period so that you can get right down to research!

The most important point that will help with all of the tools below is to establish a consistent system for yourself so that all of your notes and/or images and/or references are stored in one digital location. This is very much a case where the best tools are the ones you will actually use. If you already have a consistent system for gathering, storing, and citing research materials and don’t find yourself searching and searching for an article you know you read somewhere, you might not need the tools below, but if like many of us you have dumped all of your research materials into various digital folders (perhaps even on a variety of computers), the tools below might help you get and stay organized.

There are a number of useful tools for facilitating research, most of which fall into the following broad categories:
  1. Reference management: designed for the collection, organization, and storage of citations. For this we recommend Zotero, which is a free reference manager that automatically senses citations in your web browser and allows you to save sources with the click of a single button. You can organize your citations into collections; automatically download full-text .pdfs attached to your citations; share collections with other researchers and/or students; and automatically generate properly formatted bibliographies in a variety of styles. There are tutorial screencasts available through Zotero’s own website to get you started, but this tool is as easy to use as the “Bookmarks” function on your web browser, and much more sophisticated in terms of the bibliographic detail it retains.
  2. Note Taking: Word processors do a perfectly good job of this, so you may not wish to change your existing note-taking system (in Microsoft Word or similar) if it’s working well for you. If, however, you find that your files end up in disarray and it’s difficult to find notes you’ve taken on an article or book you’ve been reading or in the archives, you may want a software solution that can help you manage your resources. Evernote is a straightforward tool that allows you to keep your notes organized into “Notebook” collections and to easily add images, web clippings, and even sound files to your text notes. There is an extension for your web browser called the “Web Clipper” that allows you to save screenshot extracts from your web browsing (particularly useful for digital archival material that you might want to save for later). All your notes are automatically searchable when they’re entered into Evernote. You can also share “Notebooks” and create to-do lists within the program. If you want, you can even combine note-taking on paper with easy digitization through Evernote’s specially designed paper notebooks. Another simple option for note-taking is to use Zotero for note-taking as well: there is a “Notes” section” attached to each reference that allows you to store your own notes on that text alongside the Bibliographic materials.
  3. Cloud Storage: Once you have gathered research materials, you want to make sure you don’t lose them! Evernote is automatically saved in the Cloud, as is Zotero, but you can also copy your libraries from these programs for an extra safe back up if you wish. Cloud storage offers a number of advantages, not least of which is automation: you can install Dropbox on your computer, save all your files there, and essentially forget about it, if you want, since it syncs automatically. If you’re in Canada and need to store personal data from research subjects, an alternative is Both of these are free for the first 5GB, and then there are various Neftlix-style subscription options. Your institution may also have a cloud storage facility for your use, so you may wish to check your options there before spending money on the premium versions of Dropbox or Sync.  
  4. Images and Image Management: For taking pictures of archival and other materials for your own research, all you need is a smartphone. See the ScannerPro tutorial for detail on this: though we contextualize that material as a classroom activity earlier in the volume, we both use the same app for our archival images. You will also likely want to make sure that you back up your images either on a Cloud service as mentioned above, or on an external hard drive, or both. If you are a serious photographer, you can also use the image file management features in Photoshop’s Lightroom just as well for research photos as for any other purpose (and these will do a good job of automatically saving the image metadata for you). This last option has a bit of a steeper learning curve, however, so we wouldn’t recommend it unless you already use it for other purposes. For details about consistent and preservation-friendly file naming protocols, refer to UBC's Data Management Guide. The whole guide is also useful for thinking about the preservation of your own images and research materials generally. 
  5. Collaboration and Project Management: If you do end up undertaking collaborative research either with your students or with other scholars, you will likely find that email threads quickly become overwhelming. In order to streamline the project management process, Basecamp is an excellent (although not free) option. It contains calendars, to-do lists, file and document sharing, and discussion boards that facilitate team-work. A new, free option for keeping all those messages out of your inbox is Slack, which organizes conversations into “Channels” and allows for real-time messaging as well as email-style correspondence.   
  6. Writing Up Your Research: When it comes to actually writing up your research, your use of a reference manager like Zotero will begin to really pay dividends. You can install a Zotero plugin for Microsoft Word that will allow you to automatically drag and drop properly-formatted citations into your work as you write. As anyone who has completed a full book manuscript or a dissertation in Microsoft Word will tell you, however, word processing programs are not always well-equipped to handle full-sized monograph manuscripts. You may instead wish to consider trying out Scrivener, which is a program designed specifically for the completion of full book-length works and has many more options for every stage of the writing process (including outline and brainstorming tools, full manuscript structure breakdowns, and annotation capabilities) beyond what a traditional word processor can offer.
  7. Freeing yourself from distraction: If you find yourself spending hours looking up new digital tools for note-taking rather than actually writing the essay or article you intended to write, you might wish to avail yourself of some focusing tools for the initial drafting stage. Unlike many digital applications which offer bells and whistles, these tend to strip your experience back to the bare essentials. If you want your computer to feel and act like a typewriter sometimes, without a thousand browser windows open or even a clock to remind you of how little time you have, you might try OmmWriter, which creates a serene full-screen writing environment which can (if you wish) provide calming backgrounds and white noise, or be stripped to a simple, silent grey screen. Although you will need to transport your writing elsewhere later in order to integrate citations and to format your work (copy and paste does the trick here), the distraction-free digital environment may be worth it if you have trouble concentrating with a lot of visual distraction. OmmWriter functions on a “Pay what you think is fair” model. Internet blocking softwares, for when DH really becomes too much, can also facilitate concentration. There are lots of these kinds of programs out there, but Cold Turkey is a free option.  

If you would like to read more about digital research tools or to see some more detailed workflows and more sophisticated tool options, you can check out Bill Turkel’s excellent workflow, Columbia’s tutorial on digital research workflow for Mac, or follow some of the links in this digital research methods round-up by Shane Landrum. Daniel Wessel’s Organizing Creativity (ebook downloadable for free) is also a good and very detailed resource for those who want to dive deeper into this subject.

Digital Humanities Journals

DHQ (Digital Humanities Quarterly) is the peer-reviewed journal of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). An open-access publication, it publishes full-length articles, short opinion pieces, book and tool reviews, and interactive media experiments. Articles are added on a rolling basis, so check frequently.

DLS (Digital Literary Studies) is a new peer-reviewed, open-access journal. Focusing on literature broadly understood (traditional as well as electronic literature and media), it accepts long- and short-form pieces, as well as reviews of digital tools or projects.

Digital Studies / Le champ numérique publishes refereed articles and reviews, but it is well-known for its special clusters, organized around a particular topic and headed by an introductory editorial statement. Articles are added on a rolling basis, so check frequently.

JITP (Journal of Interactive Pedagogy) is a unique, open-access publication, supported by the City University of New York system. It solicits a wide variety of articles, opinion pieces, reviews, and sample teaching materials, in addition to special editions organized around a particular topic.

JDH (Journal of Digital Humanities) is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal sponsored by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It does not accept unsolicited publications, but rather self-selects content through Digital Humanities Now. If you want your material to be considered, you can fill out a form so that your content gets on their radar.

JoDML (Journal of Digital and Media Literacy) is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal that welcomes traditional and non-traditional academic work. Most recent and upcoming issues are guest-edited (and therefore not part of an open call for submissions), but this situation is regarded as temporary.

Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy is sometimes seen as chiefly a journal for the field of rhetoric, but its coverage of pedagogy has ensured a regular crop of scholarship that can be considered digital humanities (or DH-inflected) work, particularly in digital pedagogy. It is open-access and peer reviewed, and has been published since 1996.

Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Language, Literature, Composition, and Culture, published out of Duke University Press, is not DH-specific but is very DH-friendly. It focuses on work related to language and literature disciplines. Their “From the Classroom” section may be of particular interest, as it features case studies that will share not only ideas but real-life tales of successes and failures.

For more journals, refer to Dennis Tenen and Alex Gil's wonderful round-up on GitHub.

Does Digital Scholarship Count?

In Chapter 12, we refer to Jason Mittell's blog post and to Shawna’s series of blog posts, “Evaluating the Scholarship of…,” which presents strategies for articulating the scholarly value of various DH activities, including a post on pedagogy, one on encoding, and another on Twitter. For further information about evaluating digital scholarship, check this wonderful bibliography hosted by the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative or this comprehensive overview by Kristine M. Bartanen. Also, in Digital_Humanities -- a provocatively structured book, written by Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Pressner, and Jeffrey Schnapp, which can be downloaded for free here -- there is also an excellent section, “Provocations,” that addresses the value of digital scholarship. Pressner has also published a well-regarded white paper about evaluating digital scholarship, aimed at administrators. Laura Mandell’s article in the Journal of Digital Humanities is also a great overview. Finally, make sure to check if your own institution or department has published a statement regarding digital work (for example, check out the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s institution-wide guidelines here or the guidelines created by the University of Maine’s New Media department).

The American Historical Association has called for “an expanded definition of historical scholarship” since its 1993 publication of its recommendations for “Redefining Digital Scholarship.” Its Guidelines for the Evaluation of Digital Scholarship in History, which represent the gold standard for this genre of discipline-specific DH guidelines, have been recently updated. The American Association for History and Computing, an AHA affiliate, has also created “Suggested Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Media Activities in Tenure, Review, and Promotion: An AAHC Document.”

The Modern Language Association has produced the MLA Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Humanities and Digital Media, which are regularly updated by the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. The MLA also produces guidelines for the responsibilities of individual departments and a statement on electronic publication. All three of these documents can be used to strengthen your case for your digital work counting. You may also want to consult this forum on evaluating digital scholarship in a 2011 publication of the MLA’s Profession.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication has also recently updated its guidelines, the CCCC Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology. You may also find useful its Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (whether your teach a writing course online or simply use digital tools in a class that involves writing) and its Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments. Because the latter document also provides general guidelines for teachers to ensure that all students can take advantage of digital technologies used in the classroom, you can also use it as a checklist to ensure the accessibility and inclusivity of your course design.

Other discipline-specific evaluation documents include Guidelines for the Evaluation of Digital Scholarship in Art and Architectural History, the American Comparative Literature Association’s Paradigm Shift in Comparative Humanities: Digital Humanities, Pedagogy with New Media Technology, and Publishing Scholarship Online, and the Society for Classical Studies’ Revised Research Statement. Other scholarly associations have not yet produced official guidelines, but there are some related documents or committees for various fields, including the Linguistic Society of America’s Resolution Recognizing the Scholarly Merit of Language Documentation, TESOL’s Video and Digital Media Interest Section, the American Philosophical Association’s Newsletter on Philosophy and Computers, and The Society for Professional Journalism’s SPJ Digital community. If you are a member of an organization or department that wants to develop new guidelines, Geoffrey Rockwell’s introductory guide can help you get started.

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