The field of digital humanities is relatively new to me. My first introduction to it was in my historiography class while a graduate student at West Virginia University, Morgantown. The professor who taught the class had done a Post-doctoral fellowship at George Mason’s Center for History and New Media. He had introduced us to platforms such as Omeka, Zotero and the 9/11 digital archive. As I continued my graduate studies and began my dissertation research, I forgot entirely about digital humanities and did not consider its usefulness to my historical research.
As I was doing research for my book about a year ago, my interest in digital humanities was awakened as I encountered a specific problem. My research interest is in interventions undertaken by governments or institutions to bring about development in Africa. These interventions which began in the 1940s have continued to the present time. I realized that they were so many disparate schemes and projects scattered across Africa, south of the Sahara and this information is not very organized. I started thinking about ways in which I can bring all of these projects/ schemes together in a way that they could be more easily studied. In search of a solution, I found CartoDB, one of the tools used in Digital Humanities. Reading up on this tool and how digital scholars have used it and many other digital tools convinced me that digital humanities has an important place in my own historical research. As I sought ways of learning how to use these digital tools, one of my friends informed me about the George Mason Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities. I applied to the program and began in the Fall of 2015.
I have found the tools used by digital scholars to be supportive of my own historical research. I have found particularly useful CartoDB and Textmining. I am currently building a CartoDB project that focuses on development projects in Africa. I have also used Voyant to textmine Nigerian Annual Colonial Reports from 1897 to 1938. The corpus had over 1.4 million words and would have been very hard to do a close reading. By doing a distant reading of the documents, I was able to identify certain key things that I could do a close reading of. This is a useful tool for my research.
Digital history helps me visualize my work and also makes it more accessible to the general public. While I enjoy the academy and the scholarly debates that exists within it, I have been more interested in doing research that has an impact on public policy. I am interested in digital history and most especially public history because it can potentially make my work more accessible to non-scholars and helps me engage with the general public. Their engagement may help shape my own research and also shape public policy.
My goals are that I will continue to improve my understanding and use of these digital tools so that I can build projects that are very interactive and useful to the general public.