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Beyond the lowest common denominator: designing effective digital resources

CollectionsDigital Humanities Australasia: Building, Mapping, Connecting (2012)
Title: Beyond the lowest common denominator: designing effective digital resources
Author(s): Vetch, Paul
Publisher: Australasian Association for Digital Humanities
Citation: Vetch, P. (March 2012). Beyond the lowest common denominator: designing effective digital resources. Presentation at the Digital Humanities Australasia 2012: Building, Mapping, Connecting [Conference]][aaDH2012]. Canberra, Australia: ANU
As the web has become the de facto medium of the Digital Humanities, we have seen enormous advances in the ‘functional ambition’ of the online resources that characterise the discipline. Increasingly, digital humanities outputs strive not simply to disseminate primary sources, but to supply a nexus of rich contextual materials and functionality: allowing the user to control editorial perspectives, digitally curate objects, and apply tools for real‐time analysis and visualisation. But, the web, as a medium, is a mutable sand; consider the variety of web browsers and platforms, in regular use today, and the rate at which they change. Web applications are increasingly provisional and ephemeral; the more use we make of exciting, current technology, the more fragile the outputs we produce. All that we can be sure will prevail, in time, are the primary sources (text, images) digitised and stored according to accepted standards. For all the creative work that goes into the delivery of digital editions and archives, it is a disappointing reality that simple democratised access to primary sources often remains the ‘lowest common denominator’ of the Digital Humanities. How do we progress the field, allowing our users to better understand the potential of ubiquitous technologies for display and interaction for their own areas of research? How do we ensure that the effort expended on building delivery environments for digital humanities research outputs will have a lasting impact across subject disciplines? The discussion will address issues of usability, user centred design, and functional design specific to the Digital Humanities, focusing on experimental work carried out across a number of projects at the Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London (in particular the online version of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson; the Gough Map; and the Online Chopin Variorum Edition).


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