Starting a Digital Project

University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf2-03501, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Digital tools have assisted humanities scholars since the 1960s, making more research material available and offering new means of accessing and understanding research subjects. You may have a question you wish to explore using digital technologies. But if you are new to these tools and methods, it may be difficult to know where to begin. Humanities faculty can receive guidance and support at all stages of their projects from Digital Humanities Research Liaison Carmen Caswell and Digital Humanities Research Consultant Jeffrey Tharsen.

Like all humanities research, digital projects begin with a question. The project may aim to answer the question, or simply to explore; this question will determine what methods or tools will further the research. The Guides and Tools section of this website may provide some direction.

That humanities projects require research material and data is certainly obvious; however, for digital projects, it is not always sufficient to identify and determine the location of relevant material. In text analyses projects, text must be run through optical character recognition software; in digital exhibitions, images must be digitized and properly described; and other types of projects will face their own processing challenges before work can continue.

Many, thought not all, digital projects will be presented on the web in some form. Publishing may take the form of a fully interactive site, or be as straightforward as a blog post, and may also require the use of distinct web-publishing tools.

While many scholars rightfully focus their attention on the final, or current, presentation of their research, it is equally important to ensure that material is preserved and archived for future use. Thus, during planning, it is also necessary to provide for proper preservation and storage (for more information on best practices for longevity in your web-based projects, see our guide to planning web projects).

Many digital projects rely on the effort and expertise of more than one individual, and different institutions across the University can assist in providing or locating experience and resources for projects. Some projects will benefit from the web development, design, and hardware expertise in Humanities Computing. Other projects will require the high-performance computing power and resources of the Research Computing Center. Other University institutions (see our Support page) may offer additional guidance and consultation.

Costs associated with digital projects can include labor, software, computing resources, digitization, server space, and other resources.

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University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf2-03501, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library