Digital Humanities Summer Institute 2019: Product Manager Reflections

4 min read

| By Maggie Waligora, Product Manager II |

I had the opportunity to attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria last month. If you’re not familiar with DHSI, it’s a two-week-long series of digital humanities (DH)-centric workshops that are organized and led by practitioners within the global DH community. The programming ranges from introductory foundational courses to more focused areas of interest. For example, this year’s course offerings ranged from Foundations Text Encoding Fundamentals and Their Applications to Retro Machines & Media to Ethical Data Visualization: Taming Treacherous Data.

This year I participated in the Making Choices About Your Data course led by Paige Morgan (University of Delaware) and Yvonne Lam (Chef Software). You can learn more about the course objectives by checking out the full description written by the instructors, linked here. Over the course of the week, we reviewed the fundamentals around the creation of data, data models, and controlled vocabularies and examined how we could apply these concepts to our own projects and areas of interest. We also discussed key questions that should be asked prior to creating, organizing, and publishing data. Once we had a grounding in these concepts, we started digging into platforms and tools that could help us organize, examine, and publish our data project.

What I found particularly engaging was the way the course was structured. As someone who closely follows comedy, I found parallels between the conversational nature of the class and an improv showcase. The instructors spoke to the key concepts outlined in the syllabus while saying “yes and” to all contributions from participants in the class along the way. As the conversations continued over the week, we learned more about each other’s scholarly projects, history, interests, and goals. What was really great about the course structure was the hands-on time. Each contribution to the discussion led to a more fulsome understanding of how we could apply the newly learned best practices to our own projects.

Over the course of the week, I managed to organize, parse, edit, and publish a small data set (about 5 files, including newspaper articles, YouTube video, biographies, and more) about whistleblower Martha Mitchell’s involvement in the breaking of the Watergate scandal using Timeline JS. Timeline JS is one of many open-source tools developed by Knight Lab at Northwestern University to support storytelling in an increasingly digital society. This tool enables users to plug data into a Google sheet and quickly visualize it on an interactive timeline. Keep in mind, this is by no means a polished or complete product, but simply a means to explore and learn a new skill. As a next step, I will continue to build upon and refine the timeline through the addition of more articles, media, and narrative text to further contextualize this historical narrative.

In addition to the courses, DHSI also hosts several engaging keynotes, colloquiums, lectures, and workshops over the two-week period, many of which I had the pleasure of sitting in on. As a result, I have expanded how I think about topics such as interoperability, accessibility, race, and feminism and their intersection with the courses and various events offered. All these topics were discussed in the Making Choices About Your Data course during the week.

As a recent Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) graduate with an interest in historical analysis and metadata capture, I found the programming, coursework, and instructors I encountered at DHSI to be enlightening and informative. I would 10/10 recommend!

For more information about the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, please check out their website here:

Learn more about Gale’s support for Digital Humanities at

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