For the past month, I have been reviewing the Maker Lab website, mostly reading blogs, and offering feedback from my non-DH-expert perspective. Even though we share our lab work with each other regularly, this is the first time I have had a chance to survey all of the Maker Lab projects at once and reflect on the amazing research that happens here.
Trying to offer helpful feedback, I focused mainly on questions of audience and readership. Most of my comments were simply requests for writers to define terms and clarify acronyms. And the whole time, I was questioning the validity of my questions and qualifying all of my comments. So, for example, my feedback reads generally like this: “Do you think your reader will know what RDF is? Would it be helpful to define?” Or, “This is embarrassing, but I don’t exactly know what metadata is. Would it be helpful to explain this, or is it simply too basic?” Self-conscious at confessing my lexical deficiencies, I had to acknowledge that other readers might also be in the dark, so to speak, when it comes to DH terms and concepts. And let me tell you, a Google search of some of these terms, RDF for example, may do more to confuse than illuminate.
Esoteric DH-language seems to act as something of a barrier to those outside the field. I often feel alienated by some acronym or other, and for me, language has become a divide that separates the work I am doing from digital scholarship in the humanities. So, on the one hand, maybe it is helpful, even necessary, to continually define what propels your research. But, when does it become irrelevant or even annoying to DH scholars who may be interested in what is happening in the Maker Lab, but don’t want to have to wade through endless descriptions of processes that are well known in the field? Would I, for example, want to have someone outside of my discipline ask me to continually clarify my language, especially in regards to concepts that I could expect everyone in my field to be familiar with? Would this be helpful or relevant? Ultimately, I think it’s a matter that requires a little work on both ends. If I want to know what is happening in the digital humanities, maybe I need to do something to find out (like read Maker Lab blogs)! That said, I don’t think it hurts a writer to have to describe the tools and research terms she works with, or a reader to come across a new definition of a familiar concept: if anything, it might even lead to a more nuanced understanding of digital tools and digital language.