Critical Reflection on #dhisathingnow

The stimulant for reflection is the collaboratively created digital artefact which can be found at, digitalhumanitiesisathingnow.wordpress.com. To address the question, ‘Is Digital Humanities a Discipline?’ through the creation of an artefact, a blog was created on WordPress.com along with a Google document for collaborative work, and agreed use of the Twitter hashtag #dhisathingnow.

The first brainstorming discussion was stimulating and dynamic, with many ideas and a shared excitement for the project. It was decided that the creation of a digital narrative through the use of a collaborative blog with links, discussions and the bringing together of relevant materials on the subject would best address the question. The group was, perhaps, slightly too ambitious initially, which caused frustration in terms of what should or shouldn’t be taken on. This frustration is rooted in differences of approach and style of working, combined with social constructs which can prevent assertiveness due to fear of causing bad feeling or being considered forceful and rude.

Awareness that different people consider different things to be of value, and therefore worth more of their time and effort is important for maintaining balance and objectivity when engaging in collaborative work. Differences in interpretation of the task, desired outcomes, communication styles or prior experience mean certain group members find some things more straightforward, more valuable or more relevant than others. Stepping back from the project, it is clear that an objective awareness of differences and of social and perceptive influence can make collaboration less challenging, because it becomes reflective during the process, making communication more concise and less laden with personal viewpoints. Personal viewpoints are, of course, valuable and important, but during collaboration they should be considered through the lens of the project and the process itself to maintain objectivity.

During the project, it became clear that the shared Google document was unnecessary and irrelevant; the discussion taking place on the blog would create the narrative and contribute to the artefact. From a technical perspective there were issues with WordPress; other blogs preventing group members from joining as themselves, which resulted in issues with authorship and attribution. These problems were eventually addressed by changing the display name, and requesting that all contributors sign their name to their contributions on the blog, although one member still does not appear on the list of contributors despite many attempts to rectify this issue. Technical issues with embedding the twitter #dhisathingnow feed that are still unresolved, alongside issues with WordPress.com which does not allow enough access and control of the back end, making personalisation and technical intervention difficult, have wasted time and proved a source of frustration.

There is a need for democracy but also for leadership and defined roles for a group project to be effective and truly collaborative. During this project there were issues with communication, contribution and lack of input. Stepping back from these issues and taking responsibility for the momentum of a project can be difficult, because it is natural to feel the burden of the work. Addressing these feelings by trying to be objective can help, along with attempting to understand that perhaps others feel lost, or not needed, or work better at the end of a project with time pressure pushing them to contribute. There are diverse factors including social, political and personal influences, power-dynamics, self-awareness and responsibility, all of which affect perceptions of roles within a group. These factors should be addressed early in the process in the hope that transparency and awareness can break down barriers of communication and lead to a more effective and productive project.

In conclusion, getting from the idea stage to the action stage can be a challenge which needs effective leadership and responsibility. People are more invested in a project if they connect with it personally, but that connection does not have to be with the subject matter. Shared interest and responsibility within a well-balanced, supportive and objective team can result in the process and the collaboration itself becoming the thing that is of value. From a personal perspective, actively discovering what other group members view the role of the leader to entail, and how their personal roles fit into that perception would be invaluable to future projects.

Specifically, assigning certain jobs to be done by specific dates, and being aware of different perceptions of responsibility and time-management would add layers to effective communication and action within the group. In terms of assertiveness and self-awareness, there is a need to drop personal concerns about how others perceive the role of leader within the group, and an acceptance and assimilation of the need for that role to be one of objective guidance, removed, as much as is possible, from subjectivity.

Reflecting on this project as a whole; group dynamics, personal styles of communication, leadership and social constructs inform so much of what we do. Actively highlighting and giving voice to those contributing factors at the beginning of a project with a view to continued awareness of their influence throughout can create a group space where reflection is ongoing and makes the process of collaboration much more self-aware and critical in itself.