Going Digital with HWL Visiting Faculty Fellow Meredith Goldsmith

Friday, August 5, 2016
The Humanities Writ Large Visiting Fellows program brings 2-5 faculty members from liberal arts colleges and HBCUs to Duke each year (for the last 6 years). Each fellow is assigned a mentor and works with others in the Duke community to innovate their research and teaching. We caught up with recently "graduated" fellow, Meredith Goldsmith to discuss her experience as a fellow and going from having little experience using technology to a digital mapping projects centered around Victorian Literature.
 
Q: What is your digital project?
 
A website called Mapping Literary Visions, which teaches faculty, students, and literary enthusiasts geospatial thinking through building maps based on their favorite literary works. The goals are twofold: to look at literature through a new(digital and geospatial) lens that allows users to ask new questions, and to reduce the barriers to humanists using GIS. In addition to interactive maps, the site includes tutorials, sample datasets, and a comparison matrix of GIS tools. The prototype project is an interactive map of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. 
 
It's geared as a broader collaborative project where my goal is that faculty and students would make their own maps, post them on line, etc. 
 
 
Q: Where did the idea for the project come from?
 
Truly, I knew I wanted to learn some DH tools and I'd done a lot of work on Wharton. Then I realized that despite all the great work done on women's regionalism, realists, and "local color" fiction of the late 19th/early 20th century, there was very little DH work on these writers yet. And despite these writers' interest in setting and place, there was no geospatial work. So I set to explore gender and geography via mapping, w Wharton as a starting point. 
 
 
Q: How did the project get started?
 
This is a long story--but through close reading of the text, metadata organization, then: mapping and lots of trial and error-- and finally dissemination via Wordpress. I had great one-on-one tutorials with my Duke colleagues and check-ins/guidance from the Edge staff. 
 
 
Q: How much experience did you have with technology prior to beginning the project?
 
Very little-- I had never used a Mac, I could manage a very rudimentary Wordpress site, and I could use PowerPoint. What I did last year was 0 to 60!
 
 
Q: What state is the project in now (what are your next steps on the project)?
Ursinus just sent a team, of which I was project director, to Iliads.org, where we got to fine-tune the web site, work through the tutorial, and explore other questions we could address via QGIS. One of our team members figured out how to map a completely fictional setting. Re larger next steps, I'm running a series of workshops for faculty in the fall, and should be able to teach a course by the spring. 
 
 
Q: What is the most important thing you learned working on a digital project?
 
Don't get discouraged. Stretching yourself is hard! And this is process-oriented work; I wouldn't worry if your questions/ yield seem different from those in your traditional work. Pay attention to *how* you're learning as well as what you're learning. 
 
 
Q: Any advice for someone looking to get started with a digital project?
 
The above, but also, don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. This really is like learning a different language. And that remember that your expertise is incredibly valuable and you don't have to be an expert in everything; you can rely on your team. We're not taught this kind of interdependence in the humanities. 
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