Academic Technology, History, and Harvard Library team up to offer inaugural Digital Scholarship seminar

March 20, 2017
data visualization

On March 8, 9, and 10, 2017, HUIT Academic Technology offered its inaugural seminar on the Fundamentals of Digital Scholarship, a three-day interactive event dedicated to providing a hands-on introduction to technologies and technological approaches that are becoming more commonly used in both teaching and research. Planning for the seminar was coordinated by Academic Technology senior instructional technologist Brandon Bentley, and included representatives from the Department of History's digital history program, the Harvard Libraries, and Research Computing in the Arts and Humanities.

The event, held in Lamont Library B-30, took a process-based approach to digital scholarship, first addressing data structure and aquisition, then cleaning and manipulating, before concluding with analyzing, hosting, and displaying work.

Day one consisted of an overview of Data Structures, a primer on Getting Data (downloading, scraping, and other modes of data access), and Data Management strategies. Day two was the most technically in-depth, with hands-on data-cleaning tutorials of Microsoft Excel, Open Refine, and Python (using Jupyter notebooks). The third day addressed Exploratory Visualization for Analysis, Hostting and Displaying Your Work, and Library Repositories.

A survey of attendees, which included nineteen faculty, graduate students, and staff (including several postdocs and librarians), showed that the seminar was very well-received and provided a useful introduction to digital methods. 100% of respondents found the overall seminar, and each session within it, to be either "helpful" or "very helpful."

"All the sessions [were] very helpful," said one attendee. The seminar "gave me a more clear concept what [digital scholarship] is about – how researchers get data, clean data, and present data." Another noted that "there was a lot of material covered," while acknowledging that they "gained a better understanding of some terms (Pandas, Python, etc.) and processes" involved in digital scholarship. On the Python session, which was led by digital history facilitator Jeremy Guillette, an attendee said, "I see students who have experience with Python. Now I get what it does and why companies are so interested in the skill." Another, speaking of Bentley's Data Cleaning with Excel session, said, "I learned about Excel functions I have never had to use before – and even one that I wish I had known about!"

Other respondents pointed to learning about the application of tools and approaches to their own fields as benefits of attendance, as well as the hands-on exercises that accompanied some of the most technical sessions.

HUIT Academic Technology plans to offer a second iteration of this seminar in late Spring 2017.

See also: ATG News, DSSG News