Blog, DH Fellowship

Fall 2017 in the Research Division

For my second year of the fellowship, I am working in the Research Division, mainly on Digital Humanities Now and PressForward. Fall semester was a busy one for PressForward—we released PressForward 5.0, and we have been preparing an overhaul of the website. Helping out with all of that work has made this an exciting time to be in the division.

One of my main duties has been serving as Site Manager of Digital Humanities Now. I format the posts selected by the Editor-in-Chief, manage email, and run DHNow’s Twitter account. This year, we wanted to do a better job of reminding people to sign up to be editors-at-large, to use the bookmarklet, to submit feeds, etc., so I’ve been coming up with creative tweets, using more hashtags, and trying to come up with other ways to drive participation. Because I had never used Twitter until I started using it for DHNow, it’s been a great opportunity to learn more about using social media to build engagement. I was also tasked with writing the end-of-the-year blog post, which was another lesson in writing for the DHNow community.

Choosing content for DHNow continues to be one of my favorite things about the fellowship. Over the summer, I had the chance to be full-time site manager and Editor-in-Chief (see this post on my personal blog for more on that experience). This semester, I served a few rotations as Editor-in-Chief. During one of my weeks, I got to work with Amanda Regan and Joshua Catalano to do something a little out of the ordinary. The response on Twitter to a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled “The Digital-Humanities Bust,” was overwhelming, but there hadn’t been any blog-length posts like those we usually post on DHNow. The shift toward Twitter and away from the blog format has sparked a number of discussions about how DHNow can meet the conversations where they’re happening, and this felt like the right time to try to capture that. We experimented with a few different methods, but you can see the final result here.

My other big project for the semester was to move the PressForward documentation to GitBook and bring it up to date. Although GitBook makes it easy to format everything with their editing tools, I ended up needing to use Markdown to do everything I wanted with the layout and formatting. I’ve used Markdown a few times before, but it was nice to have another refresher and to finally feel proficient. I spent a lot of time improving the documentation, too—clarifying language, adding useful instructions, making everything consistent. Even though I didn’t have to create the documentation from scratch, I wanted to make sure it was as helpful as possible, so it was a great chance to get a sense of what drafting original documentation would entail. It also allowed me to gain an even deeper understanding of PressForward and all of its functions. I think the completed documentation looks great, and it’s certainly an improvement over the old, outdated documentation.

The final important task of the semester was helping out with testing to make sure that all of the new functions in PressForward 5.0 were working and that none of the basic features were breaking. Testing really intimidated me at first. I needed to install PressForward using the command line, I needed to be methodical and document everything, and I needed to use GitHub to read, comment on, and create issues. All of these things made me feel like I was going to mess something up, but once I got the hang of things, I realized there was nothing to fear. I’m a very detail-oriented person, and I love the pseudo-detective work that goes into figuring out that a function works when you do things this way but not when you do things that way. A lot of problems came up during testing, including some that I found. It was exciting to play a role in spotting those issues, and it was even more exciting when the developer fixed them. There were a few times when we thought we might not get PressForward 5.0 out before the end of the semester, but with all the time and hard work that the team put into it, we managed to release it just in time. You can download the new version here.

There was a lot of other work that went into getting the PressForward website ready for a relaunch. Because that’s not out yet, I’d rather wait to share all of that when it’s actually visible to the world. With the new website, more testing for future releases, and other tasks that need to be completed before PressForward’s grant ends, the spring semester is bound to be as interesting and instructive as the fall.

Originally posted on the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s Digital History Fellows blog.