On project management in the Digital Humanities

The NYC Digital Humanities Week event that I will be reflecting on was entitled “DH Project Management”, a talk organized by Jesse Merandy and Kimon Keramidas. I chose this talk more generally because of the projects we are all embarking on this academic semester, but also because of the specific questions I had regarding the specificity of the project my partner and I are embarking on. We are doing a collaborative text analysis, a digital methodology that I have been having trouble conceiving of having a group dynamic. What will project management look like in this context?

The speakers started by going over three basic paradigms with which digital humanists usually approach their projects. The first do are mutually exclusive, but the third will fall into one of the first two categories. The first two are that of original collection and existing collection and are related to the kind of data to be used for the project. For a project with an existing collection, there is a pre-existing data set, so it is a question of data aggregation more than data collection. However, plan still needs to be set up for a data repository for the project. The repository must be compatible with the incoming data. The tool selection also has to be compatible with existing data structures.

For a project with an original collection of data, there is no pre-existing data set, and thus it must be gathered. The question that must be first thought through is what needs to be gathered and how will it be gathered? The same rules apply for the repository, but in this kind of project, there is more of a dialectic between tool data. As with the pre-existing set, the tool selection must be compatible with the data, but the tool can also drive the data collection. This is the kind of project that my team will be working on this semester.

The third paradigm is a team-based project. This was the most important portion of the talk for me, given, as I said, that we are working on group projects this semester, but especially because the elements of team work that were stressed were very much at odds with the way I was planning on approaching my own project. The speakers emphasized that organization should be the number one priority of team-based digital humanities work. There must be clear project goals derived from the project proposal/description, and a plan must be built around this that his focussed and communicated with all members of the team. Scheduling is more complex and crucial for groups than for individual projects, which have the liberty to be more fluid with less moving parts and thus less variables. This upset the expectation that I had of my two-person team project being loosely organized, working at whatever pace felt right, having an amorphous work plan that would evolve as it went. The speakers made it clear that this kind of orientation was surefire way to not get what we want accomplished. The project goals must be as clear as possible so the tasks can be made as discrete as possible so as to make sure that we are staying on track. This will also allow a team to build in space for failure, course correction, and other constraints of working on a project.

I am indebted to these speakers for this insight, as well to the opportunity to do this group-oriented work in the first place. The collaborative spirit of digital humanities is one of the elements that drew me to the field in the first place. As one of the speakers said, despite the challenges (or maybe because of the challenges) that come with collaborative work, what it offers is the chance for a work that is more of the sum of its parts. I am grateful to be able to surrender this idea that I had which led to the creation of a project proposal, and allow this project to be individuated in a way which is social and goes beyond what I would be capable of alone.