Enhancing Community through Open DH Website Design

1. Abstract

Our lightning talk offers solutions to some shortcomings in communication about DH projects and undertakings on university campuses, particularly through the development of institutional DH websites. By an “institutional DH website,” we mean a community website, hosted by a given university or institution, that is explicitly devoted to the advancement, support, and promotion of DH work collectively.[1] A number of previous attempts to establish institutional DH websites have failed,[2] and there is a growing need to understand how we can sustainably create and maintain such sites in a way that meets the diverse needs of DH scholars. To this end, we offer an alternative approach for creating such communal sites that is designed for specific communities. More than merely providing a definition of DH and a set of resources for those interested in the field, institutional DH websites can beneficially act as community hubs for DH practitioners by showcasing live projects and encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, an open development process can help scholars and DH staff who face long-standing DH challenges around methodological innovation, data reproducibility, reinvention of the wheel, and the balance of technical and humanistic priorities. In particular, we offer a user-focused development process for DH websites, which emphasizes the identification and enhancement of human networks and communities of practice. At the most basic level, user-focused design starts with a needs assessment of the website’s primary audience and is refined through attention to typical user needs and exemplary uses throughout the project’s lifecycle in order to maintain an active user community. This stands in contrast to the design of institutional DH sites as a means of cataloguing the services or offerings at a specific institution. At the structural level, user-focused design for institutional DH sites foregrounds open access and accessibility by thinking about these concerns throughout the design process (rather than as a last-minute add-on).[3]

The two speakers have designed institutional DH websites at the University of Virginia and Bucknell University,[4] each employing a different platform (Drupal and WordPress); nonetheless, both sites promote similar design philosophies. The talk will model how institutions can create similar sites designed for their own communities with an eye toward developing appropriate use cases and sustainability practices.

[1] For instance, see the website for Duke University’s Digital Humanities Initiative (https://digitalhumanities.duke.edu/) or Stanford’s DH website (https://digitalhumanities.stanford.edu/).

[2] See, for instance, the DiRT Directory (https://blogs.shu.edu/digitalhumanities/2018/04/25/dirt-directory/), Project Bamboo (https://www.projectbamboo.org/), and MIT’s Hyperstudio (http://hyperstudio.mit.edu/).

[3] For specific examples of what it means to design websites with open access and accessibility in mind, see principles developed by the Fair Open Access Alliance (https://www.fairopenaccess.org/the-fair-open-access-principles/) and the Web Accessibility Initiative (https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-principles/).

[4] See DH@UVA (https://dh.virginia.edu/) and DH@Bucknell (http://dhbucknell.scholar.bucknell.edu/).

Rennie Mapp (mapp@virginia.edu), U of Virginia, United States of America and Christian Howard-Sukhil (cfh008@bucknell.edu), Bucknell University

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