Lauren Gao’s: 5 Qualities of a Good DH Project


Time and time again, clean, organized, aesthetic design and visuals on turn up as key to  any Digital Humanities project we have done in class so far. For example, GIS mapping projects should not have all of its data sets appear simultaneously, and should give the viewer the option to toggle on/off individual data sets. In the case of Digital Archives, once again, choice of colors and images used on the home page can have a substantial impact on how the user may come to understand what the theme binds together the information in that particular archive.


This quality is what separates reliable DH projects and questionable ones. All the information used in any particular project should be traceable to their original source, whether it be primary or secondary, especially if the information used did not belong to the makers of the DH Project. On a Digital Archive, this would appear perhaps at the end of each object page or whenever a reference to information that was obtained outside the DH project itself.

User Friendly

Considering that every individual who makes or uses a DH project are not from computer science disciplines themselves, navigating these projects should feel “organic” or fairly easy to learn. Book Traces is one example of such, where the form to fill out the book submission is extremely easy to understand, and even provides an example on the side.

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On of the advantages of a DH project over physical paper representations of it, is that the user is able to interact with the project by manipulating when certain bits of data or information are shown at a time. The overlay feature of GIS mapping projects is one example of this, or clicking on a pin to reveal more information about that location is another. A not so good example of this would be the maps shown on the “Art in the Blood” fan project.


Last, but not least, DH projects allow for extensive amounts of collaboration with individuals who need not presently be there to do so. So as long as he or she may have access to the tools online needed to make the project, any person can continue on another’s work so as long the project is open to the public. Again, Book Traces is an elegant example of this as contributing to the project’s storehouse of 19th century Marginalia is quick, but thorough.

Qualities of a Good Digital Humanities Project

Through this course I have learned a great deal about what good qualities make up a Digital Humanities Project. The first quality which is important is being user-friendly. The Digital Humanities are significant because they aim to educate and reach out to a large group of people, and the way to do that is to make your project user-friendly. One project which fails in it’s user-friendliness is This project fails because it does not make the information on the site widely available to its users, it’s incredibly confusing and takes you down many different paths you weren’t necessarily looking for.

Another important quality of a Digital Humanities project is design, specifically choosing a theme and sticking with it. This is significant because it sets the mood and tone for the information your project is explaining, and it allows users to get a more in-depth feel for the information. One project which does this well is Songs of the Victorians. This project maintains a Victorian theme and style which allows the reader to get more involved within the information. It also sets the scene for the user that the information is explaining.

A third important quality of a good Digital Humanities project is having a collaborative effort. This is significant because it allows for an expansive amount of information to be collected by anyone to be compiled and used to study something. By having a collaborative effort you are able to reach out to more people and have a wide variety of individuals become involved within the project, whilst still collecting a great amount of academic information that one wouldn’t normally be able to collect.

A fourth significant quality of a good Digital Humanities project is having academic sources and credited information. By making your information and project academic, you give your project a higher amount of credibility. Furthermore, it allows for others to use your project as a source itself, giving students and other academia scholarly materials.

Lastly, a final quality of a good Digital Humanities project is interactivity. By having your project be interactive, you give users a fun way to learn new information. It helps users who are more hands-on learners an easier way to discover new information while also letting users have fun!

Qualities of a Good Digital Humanities Project

From taking this course, we sure have looked at a lot of different digital humanities projects! From looking at them at the surface to learning how some of them were made, a few very important aspects of some of my favorite examples exhibited the qualities of a good DH project!


An example of tags that can be used to locate this blog post on a search engine.
An example of tags that can be used to locate this blog post on a search engine.

A good DH project must be able to easily be found. This includes the project’s web address being something memorable or easy to search on Google so we can access the project right away if we need to. One way that scholars can make their projects more accessible would be to include an SEO-friendly (Search engine optimized) title as well as many relevant tags that will enable search engines to locate the right page.

User Friendly

As saucy as this may sound, a project must be easy on the eyes! In other words, working with fonts, color schemes and site layouts can really add to the professionalism and visual appeal to a project, thus making people more inclined to read/ view more of all of your hard work! If a website is really difficult to navigate, it can be very frustrating for users.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 8.29.26 AM is a good example of a not so good DH project. The web page isn’t attractive, there are not descriptions of nearly any of the maps that were included and we don’t know who made it (was it a Holmes lover? A scholar? What was the project’s purpose?). I suppose we may never know.

Human Interest

Delving into a project based off of a personal interest is fantastic, but it also helps to choose a project on a topic that would appeal to a large array of people, such as students or scholars. If a project topic is too oddly specific to just one idea that not many people know about or not many people are effected by, I’m not so sure that it would necessarily be considered a good project. However, just because something is not commonly known does not mean that it will not interest people!

Collaborative Effort

The entire staff listing behind Locating London's Past. Very extensive team!
The entire staff listing behind Locating London’s Past. Very extensive team!

A successful DH project is most commonly supported by its various staff members behind it. For example, in Locating London’s Past, a staff of educators, design experts, planners and historians were all behind the same project – and this factor, in my eyes, is what made it so interesting and humbling at the same time! Although these people were generally from the same area, all of their paths crossed due to their expertise in one field that was then built upon by the next member and so on. As any student who has had the misfortune of being stuck in a less than productive group for a group project, I can only imagine that this collaborative effort, while very useful, also could have become a large source of stress because so many people were involved.

Well-Researched, Accurate Data

This last quality is probably the most important one from my condensed list. Everything that is included in a DH project must be true – this means checking, double checking and triple checking information and also retrieving it from reputable sources, whether it be from a scholarly study or an online database such as the Old Bailey Proceedings database. If information compiled within a DH project is incorrect, the entire project could be at stake and all of one’s hard work could be invalidated by the presence of incorrect information.

How can DH projects spark scholarly questions?

One of the most prominent of DH means that interests me the most is trends in data. If a DH project presents an issue such as a statistic involving crime, health, poverty etc., as a journalist I am very interested in the history behind the issues. What does this mean? Why is it important now? How were things different five years ago? Ten years ago? 

Through the digital means of DH, we are easily able to seek out answers to these questions at the click of a mouse. We are not only utilizing the technology that we have for information, but getting in-depth analysis of the data that has been retrieved by means of people all around the world with more advanced technologies in their possession than us. By discovering a DH project, we are not only learning about the specific topic but also the amazing tools that were used to put it together in the first place. By becoming more aware of these technologies, scholars can then inquire just how these means work, where they come from, how much they cost, what else they can be used for and also how they were utilized for a specific project.

The connection that DH creates between educational professionals, students and scholars is a very broad but intriguing relationship. Instead of spending hours in a library doing research on a topic, students are able to look into a DH project on the same topic that someone halfway across the world had put many years of hard work into. And the amazing thing about that relationship is that we, as students in a DH class, have the potential to spark inquiries and views from scholars from halfway around the world with our final projects as well! A thought that is very exciting and promising.

Qualities of a Good Digital Humanities Project

The qualities of a good digital humanities project include:

1. Usefulness

A good project is useful to scholars from varying disciplines, offering resources for more extensive study of a topic when viewed from different perspectives. The project can then allow conversation between subjects or disciplines. The Old Bailey Archive, for instance, is an excellent example of a resource made accessible to a larger audience that allows the visitor to view a large collection of reports from the court’s criminal trials. The information gained from the project could be useful for various academic disciplines, from a study in the historical contexts of specific crimes to the frequency of crime in certain areas of London. These multiple studies can be used either apart or in conjunction with one another to take full advantage of the information provided by the archive.

2. Collaboration

One of the things that makes digital humanities unique is the ability for its users to collaborate on projects and furthermore on the comprehension of those projects. Just as the project should allow for the conversation between disciplines, it should be able to spark conversation between scholars about the topics it covers. The creators should work together to produce a tool that offers a complexity that is lacking in small, single-disciplinary projects. Just a brief glance at the “Project” pages of some of these tools reveals an extensive list of contributors from different faculties and with varying areas (and levels) of expertise.

3. Design

The design of a project should be visually engaging and simple (to a degree). It should remain aesthetically pleasing without being gaudy, and the designer should refrain from making it too busy. The design should compliment the resources provided, rather than distracting from the information. The Ninteenth-Century Disability Cultures & Contexts archive has a clean, attractive design that does not take away from the project’s text. Less professional-seeming projects like word clouds run the risk of being aggressively tacky and prevent the viewer’s full focus from being on the text. (The default results from the Voyant tool still make me cringe.)

4. Accessibility

The tool should be easy for anyone – professional or student – to understand. This ties into the design, of course, but also to the specific presentation of information. If the language used is too technical, those who aren’t pretentious enough may not be able to comprehend what is being presented. As stated above, one of the most crucial aspects of digital humanities projects is the conversations they create between subjects and scholars. Just like any old conversation, communication can’t exist unless there are efforts made at mutual understanding.

5. Innovation

What truly allows scholars to ask new questions via digital humanities projects is the presentation of new perspectives on old topics. As information is continually published in innovating ways and unique resources are produced, the ability for people to gain alternative understandings of the subjects is increased. These understandings translate to new answers to questions – old or new – that were previously not considered, well, answerable. Hammerich’s article “Humanities Gone Spatial” suggests just a few questions that can be posed and sought to answer through the use of digital humanities, like “Would Robert E. Lee have been able to see Union forces on the far side of the battlefield when he ordered the notorious Pickett’s Charge?” These questions and answers can span many existing disciplines and may even create new ones. The field of digital humanities allows for the interpretation and analysis of information that was not possible in the past.

A good DH project

First and foremost I think it is important to actually keep up with the project if it is something like an archive and make sure everything works. For example for me was just not a good DH project at all, but aside from not being user friendly and not visually appealing it’s biggest problem is links not working. Clearly the owner does not check up on the links and keep up with the project entirely. It is not very useful because of this.


DHAdditionally, a project needs to be well researched. The Old Bailey Online project is great example of this. The project offers so much to user on the topics of old London. There are several tabs you can click on that lead you to even more tabs, like if you click “Historical Background” once you get to that section you get like 5 new tabs and those give way to even more options. The project is well researched and contains a lot on information.

old bailey old bailey 2

A good DH project has to be visually appealing. Whenever I see a project that is too busy, or the colors just don’t work I usually get off the website right away. That is how I feel about Although, the project is amazing and so cool the website is an eyesore for me. The background is too busy, I don’t like the colors used and all the photographs right on the front page is too much.

book traces

It also have to be user friendly. London Gallery Project was very user friendly but, it did not let you search which then it makes it not user friendly anymore. The rest of the website was easy to navigate and nice to use until it was time to search which was a problem.

london project

One last thing a could DH project needs is to be applicable to a variety of fields. You want the project to work for several topics so that a lot of people can utilize it.

DH projects lets scholars ask new questions because they can looks at things in ways they never have before. They can take an older project, topics or question and look at in a new light and ask the question in a different way. It also lets them ask new questions because they are able to work with a variety of people all over the world. They can ask questions over a lot of fields in ways not asked before because they have the resources like those we use in class. They can use the internet to work with others and look at things differently.

DeFranco_What makes a good DH Project

Five qualities of a good DH project:

1. Aesthetically pleasing design. This is the first thing people notice when coming to a DH project. If a site is not designed appropriately to the content and in a way that makes sense to present the information, people will move on to another source.
2. Links to outside information. This allows people to further their research on the topic that your DH project covers. Like most of the sites we used in class, DH websites are often a starting place for research. Sometimes they only show a certain correlation or something and in order to make sense of it or find examples you need to use a more broad search website like Google. So this is an obvious way to have scholars ask questions. You’re using the information from the DH site to create a new or furthered study.
3. User friendly. This is one of the most important aspects of a DH project. It must allow the information to be found, easily accessed and organized in a way that lets you find what you need in an efficient timely manner. I think Locating London is the best example of this.
Screen shot 2015-04-16 at 11.10.13 PM
4. Appeals to a wide audience. This is is important in order to get people to use your site. If it’s limited to one tiny topic, not many people will be interested in viewing the site and it won’t be a valuable resource to many people. My example of this is the London Gallery Project. The only people that would find this site informative would be people interested in the progression of art galleries and even then only one set of information is shown.Screen shot 2015-04-16 at 11.03.21 PM

5. Sources. It’s very important to site where you get your information form when creating a good DH project.

What makes a good DH project?

Digital Humanities is an exciting new field that allows people to make really interesting projects in the field of humanities.  The possibilities of what you can do are endless, which is why I loved doing several projects and learning a few things about different tools.  When you create a project however, I have learned these five important qualities a project should have in order to make it as best as it can be.

1) Your objective should be clear.

What is the purpose of this project? Before you even begin, you should be able to answer this question.  This is very important because you need to know what you are trying to achieve.  For my Google Ngrams project, my objective was to show the usage of “Evolution” and “Charles Darwin” during the Victorian Age, as well as demonstrate the different options that will affect your results when changing some of the options, and case-sensitivity.  This was the purpose of this project.

2) Your information should be accurate and relevant.

Oops, I just remembered that during my Google Fusion Tables project I got a little off track (but that’s serves as a congratulatory for scrolling through all the photos) for posting a picture of a husky puppy, but the rest of the information is clear and accurate.  The information about the vehicles on this long list (wasn’t too tedious) are describing what they are and their performance in terms of sales, which has been sourced from reliable websites to ensure accuracy.  That way, it’ll make your project much more informative and it’ll make sense to the average reader who wants to learn a thing or two from it.

3) Design should be just right.

This is a little tricky, a boring design will make a project very uninteresting but if you go overboard with the colors and themes, than people will get distracted by the all the “shiny” bits and possibly not take the project seriously.  With my word cloud project, the key is to try to aim for that “sweet spot” where your project is just the right design so it can be clearly read and nice to look at.  The swan shaped word cloud from my word cloud project is in a cute swan shape and has several nice shades of blue to grab the reader’s attention, but is still in an easy to read font so the words are not hard to read.  Did that word cloud hit the sweet spot? I think so.

4) It should be user-friendly.

I think this is very important, you really don’t want to frustrate the user don’t you? Good, so don’t be the creator of this site.  Anyways back to the word cloud project, there were three sites that we were able to use to make the word clouds.  I have used Tagxedo and Wordle.  The one I didn’t use was Voyant.  Tagxedo wasn’t the most user friendly but had great options for making word clouds. Wordle was very simple to use but limiting and Voyant was nearly the same as Wordle, but the opposite with most options.  Basically, the user should not have to Google how to use ______ to use a project or software, in this day and age, most people should have this figured out.

5) Have fun!

No seriously, I mean it, is it really a bad thing if you don’t have fun while doing a project? Think about it, you’ll learn so much while doing your projects like I have with my Ngrams.  When I noticed some trends with my results, I was able to learn a lot about Charles Darwin and Evolution during the time period that I saw an increase in the usage of this word. Plus when Darwin’s Theory of Evolution started to gain traction, I noticed that its usage has increased a lot, and you can also see why this is the case. Plus with my Fusion Tables, I loved doing research of the best selling cars of 2014 and seeing what cars Americans want and also learning why this is the case.

So how does DH let scholars ask new questions? 

Many DH projects are shared freely and allow everyone to contribute.  People will learn a lot from these projects and they will therefore think and perhaps question what they know. Since people usually collaborate on these projects, they will bring new perspectives to the table and ask questions about things that some people wouldn’t have known if they haven’t seen history or information in that new perspective.

How to Create a Good Digital Humanities Project:

Over the course of the semester, we have learned many ways to make a successful Digital Humanities project. I’ve listed 5 of the most important ways below.

1. Good Design

One of the first things a good Digital Humanities project needs is a good design. Having a visually appealing website helps to attract more users and makes for a much better overall experience. It is important to think about choice of colors, fonts, sizes, and placement of your content so that is easy to find and use without being too distracting or difficult for the user. Having lots of photos also helps people who are visual learners to understand the information.

2. Easy to Navigate

Having a good design to your project helps for it to be more user-friendly. The information must be displayed and organized in a way that makes everything easy and simple for the user to find in order to get the most information and use out of it. Having a key that explains graphs and maps is a must because it helps users to fully grasp what they are looking at. Many of the sites we have seen in class have had easily accessible tabs on the side of the project that help you navigate through the site and find everything you need.

3. Interactivity

Having a website where users get to interact with the content is very important. It keeps them interested and more motivated to use it. For example, on the London Gallery Project, they included an interactive map where you could navigate and find art galleries that came around during the 19th century. By clicking different categories, you can press play on the timeline and see the art galleries come up on the map. It makes it more interesting to see the information and easier for users to understand.

Screen shot 2015-04-16 at 9.48.42 PM4. Be Collaborative

Sometimes a Digital Humanities project requires the help of the masses in order. For example, Book Traces is a site that collects submissions of pictures of 19th and early 20th century books that have marginalia pertaining to that time in them in order to learn more about the people and the culture of that time. Over 350 people from all around have submitted their pictures with books they found that contain marginalia. It makes it easier to obtain information for a project and it helps to obtain information that you may not have been able to get access to without the help of others.

Screen shot 2015-04-16 at 10.01.24 PM5. Have Context/Citations For All Data

It is very important to have proper citation for all of your information if it is not your own. You should try to keep much of the information your own, but if you use someone else’s it must be properly cited to save you from trouble with plagiarism. Having proper context for all of your information is a must as well. If you have a picture or graph without stating what it is or why it’s in your project, it will make users confused and not sure as to why it’s there, which would probably turn them off from the project. For example, on the Art In The Blood website, most of the information is very hard to grasp, but the maps and pictures they show have little or no context to them, so you don’t know why they correlate to each other or why they’re there.

Screen shot 2015-04-16 at 10.23.23 PMDigital Humanities projects allow scholars to ask new questions because they introduce people to new topics and information that they may have never been introduced to before. Many of the sites we’ve looked at in class are very specific, so seeing something might spark someone’s interest and allow them to do research on that topic and solve new questions. Digital Humanities brings together information in a way that’s relevant to our time and the technology we use, and helps to open our minds to questions we haven’t thought of before.

Some Qualities to Create a Good Digital Humanities Project

There are many qualities that one needs to consider having when one decides to create a good Digital Humanities project.  Here are five qualities that we have discussed this semester in class:

1.)  It has to be scholarly

In order to create a good Digital Humanities project, it must be scholarly.  This means that the project has to cite where the data is coming from in order to make their project credible and legitimate.  In order to make it scholarly, one must also post a list of all the individuals that collaborated together in order to make the project.  A Digital Humanities project that has included this quality is the “Old Bailey’s” digital archive.  On their archive, they included on the home page a link called, “The Project” which takes you to all the sources that they compiled to create the archive and also a list of the project staff.  Here is a link to their “About This Project” page.

2.) A walkthrough of how to use it

In order to develop a good Digital Humanities project, one must have a walkthrough of how to use their project.  This would be very helpful because not everyone will know how the website works and by having a walkthrough of the project, you can show them useful tools in order to make your project seem even more interesting and useful.  A video walkthrough would be ideal so that the viewer can actually visually see how the project functions.  One of the Digital Humanities project that has included this quality is the “Locating London’s Past” mapping project.  On their home page, they placed a link to a video walkthrough of how to use and navigate through their project.  Here is the video walkthrough link.  What is really great about this particular website is that they decided to post not just one video, but rather multiple videos in order to differentiate what topics they are presenting in each so that it is not just one very long video.

3.) It has to be focused 

In order to produce a great Digital Humanities project it also important to keep it focused on a central theme or subject.  This is so essential in a project because this is what makes the project organized.  If the project is not focused on a particular theme or subject, then the viewers will be confused when navigating the website because they will not be sure of what the project is trying to convey or how each of the subjects that the project presents relate to one another.  Therefore, it is crucial that the information that is included in your project must somehow all correlate with one another.  One of the Digital Humanities project that demonstrates this quality is the “Old Bailey’s” digital archive.  In this archive, the project team describes exactly what information they are going to present in the archive, which is located on the home page.  On the home page, they have described Old Bailey’s as, “A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.”

4.) User-friendly

In order to create a good Digital Humanities project it is also wise for it to be user-friendly.  This is important because if it is not user-friendly, then it will be difficult for the users to navigate on the website.  One of the Digital Humanities project that is very user-friendly is “Locating London’s Past”  because the map has a zoom in and out function and you can also go to the street view when you place the little orange figure on the map.  The creators used google maps in order to have these functions.  It is also user-friendly because everything is clearly labeled.  For example, if you want to find data, then there is a red tab that says “Data.”

5.) Nice design

A great Digital Humanities project should be created with a nice and clean design.  It should not by any means be cluttered.  This quality is also necessary because if you have a nice design, it will attract people’s attention and it will make the project even more visually appealing.  “Locating London’s Past” has a nice design because they chose very nice colors and the colors that they chose are interesting because it is red, white, and blue which are the colors of the British flag.  That is a very brilliant idea because it correlates with the subject of the project, which takes place in London, England.  At the top of the website, there is a man that is dressed in an outfit from the 1700s which also makes sense because the map that they use is from 1746.  Designs like this make the website even more interesting because it makes it even more realistic.

How does Digital Humanities let scholars ask new questions?

Digital Humanities projects, like the ones that I mentioned above, let scholars ask new questions because scholars are the viewing the data in a completely different way, which allows them to find patterns between the different data, which is more difficult and timely to compile from written documents.  In addition, because of technology, everything is brought online for everyone to view whenever anyone wants to.  Therefore, we can compare information without leaving our own home and by comparing the data we can create trends and see how the data correlates.    Scholars can ask new questions about history and whether history could have changed based on mapping projects that they have conceived.