At the beginning of the capstone, I wrestled with several queries. I felt lost and unsure about moving ahead with my project, Hobo Archive. I struggled with realigning the project’s relationship with its audiences. I used the majority of my capstone experience to communicate with my co-creators on rewriting and refining our project objectives. Even though we did not directly work on the site, the time allowed us to critically assess what must be done to sustain the project long-term. I ended up drafting many project narratives that both the Studio and my co-creators reviewed. I found this exercise useful for reflecting on what it means to place community at the center of digital scholarship. My co-creators and I shared our concerns with one another and proceeded with a renewed commitment toward the project. In the end, we’re in a better place because of these challenges.
I also began thinking long-term about the project. I ended the semester considering how the project continues to serve its intended community. I relied too much on the project’s digital methodologies and not enough on the historical arguments and interpretation that the community desired. This was largely due to miscommunication between me and my co-creators. I focused too much on the crowdsourced data collection component then on the project’s primary research investigations. My co-creators want Hobo Archive to be “the resource for the researcher and for the inquisitive mind to find everything written about hobo”. They argue that historical argument and interpretation is equally if not more important than the project’s digital methodologies. So, we defined the temporal boundaries of the project and we clarified the differences between the historical and contemporary definitions of the hoboing community. We also outlined what research questions and historical themes are worth pursuing and how the project’s digital components will facilitate this research.
Needless to say, I began the semester feeling very uneasy. However, the capstone experience allowed me the time and autonomy to work out my own issues with what it means to create community engaged digital scholarship. Here is the reality. Community partnerships can be messy and complex. Digital scholarship is inherently collaborative and rarely unfinished. When combined, community engaged digital scholarship is about shared ownership and meaningful human partnerships in more intimate and personalized systems of production. I believe this was the core of my capstone experience. Many thanks to the Digital Studio for supporting me throughout the turbulence this past year!