Grounding

And into the world of HIST 697 I go! This week’s readings struck me as a solid foundation for all the work to come: the importance of design and the process of building/creating. White Space is Not Your Enemy is the most accessible and clearly written design book I’ve encountered; at this stage, I appreciate its step-by-step approach to laying out new projects immensely. Similarly, I think Stephen Ramsey’s emphasis on “building” rather than “programming” is encouraging for those of us who are keenly interested in participating in the digital humanities world, but don’t (yet) have much programming skill; it also allows for a flexibility in the kinds of projects created.

These readings also raised more questions than answers, questions that I fear will lead me down the rabbit hole for some time. The first is related to Elish and Trettien’s critique of the “virtual object” element to the Object of History site. Their observation that this function separated the object viewed from its historical context–by placing it in white space with no reference to scale or other information–stood out for me, because I had never considered white space in these terms. To me, it was always something that augmented a desired design effect, but not on the level where it could disassociate an object from its historical context. Context is fundamental to how history is crafted and understood, whether in print or digital formats. How serious a flaw is this disconnect for a casual viewer as opposed to a scholar?  In what ways can the historian/designer correct or compensate for this? What considerations should be made for objects like clothing or furniture as opposed to a photograph, which presents a context within the image expressed in addition to its state as a material object?

Another set of questions has to do with how, according to Consumer Reports WebWatch, credibility is often judged based on visual cues. Educational and scholarly websites are notoriously plain, simple, and even boring. A focus on content over form is likely the cause, but how does this affect impressions of credibility? Are there layouts or typefaces associated with scholarship, and are less-typical designs more or less likely to be easily accepted as credible? This seems to lead back to audience, since the experts and those evaluating more informational sites seemed to be less concerned with presentation than content. That being said, I think that digital humanists should continue to push design (as the readings suggest) since there is no good reason for scholarly sites to be less visually effective than others, just because there has been a tendency to privilege content over form.

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