In the fall of 2021, our HASTAC cohort merged with another Emory digital scholarship initiative, the digital dissertation fellowship. Though our missions differ slightly (HASTAC is more concerned with public-facing scholarship while digital dissertation fellows are building a digital component to their dissertation) our goals are the same: integrating digital methods and tools into humanities research. In the fall we focused on the process of beginning a project. This was a particularly thoughtful and generative experience.
Much of humanistic work seems shrouded in mystery. We often keep the intricacies of the researching and writing process close to our chest. Why? Is it because discussing requesting files and taking pictures of materials isn’t exactly riveting conversation? Or is it because the actual process of researching and writing isn’t terribly unique to scholars? Yes, we hone specific questions to guide our research focus. Yes, part of graduate school is learning how to synthesize information to be able to make sense of the archival materials. But the process of asking a question, doing some research, and coming up with a conclusion? It’s something commonly done outside of academia.
This is why spending time with my cohort discussing process was so generative. I have a theory that grad students don’t really want to share the nitty-gritty of what our days look like because we don’t think they’re working enough. Without advisors or older students sharing their work process, we simply accept that we’re supposed to work all the time. Without a clear idea of what the job actually looks like in practice, the default is overcompensating and overworking. This is why pulling the curtain back and discussing the brass tacks of the job is important.
Across my cohort, people work different times of days on different tasks. One important thing we realized is that we all spend a chunk of the day on social media, websites not related to the research at hand, and window shopping. While I initially was ashamed of admitting this, I realized that this is rest. Without aimless restful scrolling, there is no focused research or writing.
We discussed the ideal setting for doing work, what motivates our projects, what makes a good project, and what could make projects stronger. Perhaps because our digital projects have concrete outcomes, it’s the perfect forum to discuss process. So often we see the result of an arduous process in the form of a dissertation or book. Very rarely do we discuss how that object came to be in a detailed way. Because we’re learning digital competencies together, it makes sense to spend time considering the various steps of the process. By talking through how we do our jobs, I feel a little less alone in my own process.