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ME.Digital Humanities Institute: Week 1: Jan. 22-29

The Maine Digital Humanities Institute provides training and resources to faculty, librarians, museum professionals and others interested in digital humanities.

Week 1 Activities and Assignments


Welcome to the 2018 ME.Digital Humanities Institute! For the next seven weeks, we will explore many digital humanities tools for telling stories, developing exhibits, and analyzing or visualizing data. We will also develop core computational skills that are necessary to use some of these tools and /or generally helpful to know in order to 'talk the talk' in using digital applications or developing digital projects.  Over these seven weeks, we will soak of up a lot information and at times it may feel overwhelming, especially in terms of how everything works together.  The goal is not mastery, but gaining vocabulary and understanding that helps you to define what you want to do in a project, what you can do yourself, and what kinds of technical assistance or other knowledge you might need to seek out. I'm also hoping that this Institute can serve as the foundation for a statewide digital humanities community that can lean on and learn from each other going forward.

It will be easiest to communicate through Slack and I will check it frequently for questions (especially as I have set up notifications to my phone), but if you are having trouble with Slack itself, feel free to email me at

Our "weeks" will begin on Tuesdays and end on the following Monday night. This is not school, so there are no late penalties, but you will get more out of the Institute if you can pace with the deadlines. Generally, you will probably be able to complete the activities in one uninterrupted afternoon or evening, or in two shorter sessions.

This week: Slack, Tools, Visual Studio Code install

1. Sign in to Slack, and introduce yourself in the channel labeled "Introductions".  Tell us about what you do, why you applied to the institute, and what kind of project you'd like to try to tackle.

Slack is pretty easy to use, but I expect small bumps as it is likely a new tool for many, so feel free to ask questions rather than struggle with how to use the platform. 

2. Take a walk on to over to the "Resources" tab of my "Go Local" web page ( and browse through tools described in the section titled "Digital tools for humanists."  Select one of the tools for a deeper dive, and dig into it, looking at some sample projects, what's possible, what looks daunting.  In the Week 1 Slack Channel, post a short review (200-250 words) about what you learned, including one or two interesting examples, so that the rest of us can learn from your dive. Who might find this tool useful and for what purpose? How might you use it? If there's a cost, how much it is? Try to spread the information around -- if you are interested in StoryMaps, but see that someone else has already reviewed it, select another tool to look at. There will likely be some repetition, and that's okay, but let's try to get all the tools covered. Also, if you know of a tool and it's not on the list, feel free to tell us about (and I will add it to the list).

Open Source Vs. Proprietary

One key concept this week is the idea of open source vs. proprietary tools. In academia, Digital Humanities people love open source tools because they are generally free (or at least offer a free version) and in continuous development. Anyone with access to a computer and the internet can use them, whether on an island in Maine, or a small provincial city in Cuba where there is barely any money or access to technology. Wordpress, for example, is an open source web platform tool that also operates as a private company. Anyone can help download the code and work at it, and there are 100s of free themes, plug-ins, and other tools, as well as premium tools and services that cost money. However, open source can also fall by the wayside if the tool doesn't 'catch on', and open source tools sometimes can be clunky or buggy, especially if a new element has recently been added, without being thoroughly debugged.

Note that open source doesn't mean unprotected or insecure or that it's never used for commercial purposes. Many companies develop or rely upon open source tools, and are helping to develop them as they use them. Websites that use open source code have to incorporate security features just as websites that rely on proprietary code do. The idea of "open" mostly means that everyone gets to help develop it, openly.

Proprietary tools, by contrast, are not publicly shared by companies. Adobe is an example of a company that is VERY proprietary about all of its tools (although they offer some free tools as well). Many proprietary companies like Arcgis/Esri (a GIS software company) offer  free versions of their tools both as a service and to expand the pool of potential customers. But as with open source tools, proprietary tools can fall by the wayside if they are not widely used, or if a company chooses to follow a different path (e.g. Adobe abandoned Flash, and Google recently stopped developing Google +).

3. Download Visual Studio Code here, and install on your computer according to the instructions (it's easy to do). VSC is a "text editor", and we will be using it in future lessons, including a little bit next week as we get into the Command Line.  Be in touch if you are having difficulties. I'd like to start Week 2 with everyone settled with the VSC installation.