I’ve finally made time to cobble together the beginnings of a website blog thing. Why did I bother? Aren’t there enough of these website blog things? The short answer is, ” Yes, but.” A few observations:
A. Web content development isn’t exactly part of the traditional humanities scholar’s job description, but an increasing number of folks in my fields are sharing research and reflections on WordPress and Tumblr; distilling conference notes on Twitter; circulating academic news on Facebook; and facilitating working groups on Slack. And all of this in addition to using online resources to teach our students and complete our own research.
I’m not one to embrace the use of all digital tools and platforms without hesitation; like all means through which humans create and disseminate knowledge, digital media afford a specific set of possibilities for communication. They are not without limitations and politics. But the cultural stories that are the basis of the humanities are increasingly born digital or digitized: in creating, sharing, and critiquing online work, humanities scholars extend our horizons to encompass the twenty-first century’s cultural records.
B. Website development, even when it utilizes the tools, tutelage, and prefab themes of the WordPress universe, is surprisingly empowering for a novice like me. I’d love to develop the know-how to work with an open source platform or even build my website from scratch someday, but in the meantime, the WordPress content management system makes creating online content remarkably straightforward.
Having the ability to create my own website is not only empowering, it also informs my work. I think a lot about the politics of online environments–how the infrastructure of different platforms and tools shape the possibilities for knowledge production. As I use one of the most ubiquitous pre-fab platforms for online content creation, I think about how it forces me to structure what I want to express, and how I can express it. I think about accessibility and reach. I think about the multi-tiered system of website creation, in which the slickest, most visible material is created by teams of well-funded experts.
C. Having an online presence has become very important for young academics who wish to position themselves as digital humanities scholars–no matter of what stripe–and many feel that a website is essential to this presence. I have mixed feelings about this. As I have already noted, website creation and content development are not part of the traditional humanities job description. Just as significantly, even though websites are the most readily visible part of our society’s digital cultural records, the “DH” designation cannot be equated with humanities web design. Digital humanities scholars specialize in a variety of digital tools and methods: text encoding, database development, e-lit, game studies, cultural analytics… Be that as it may, online searchability amounts to online visibility. A professional website can showcase a novice DH scholar’s work and contribute to their public-facing reputation. And as one of the most erudite scholars in the digital humanities community once told me, “Reputation is everything in our field.”
D. Website development specifically benefits my research in that it presents a platform for developing my sense of how visual argumentation can function in digital environments. How do humans visually express knowledge? How do we engage with visual knowledge expressions? These questions relate to my research on Victorian print media in fascinating ways. More on that to come.