Last Reflection — Supreme Court Project

As the digital humanities program comes to an end, a lot of questions I had about my project in the beginning still remain unanswered. I thought I had realistic views for what I would be able to do within a six week time span, but even those proved too vast. Besides that, I wasn’t able to draw any concrete conclusions from my topic modeling analysis. In a big way, I’m left with more questions now than when the program began (What would happen if I increased the sample size? Limited certain variables? What else is there to know about the Supreme Court using the topic modeling approach?).

But I think that is the nature of research: more research leads to more questions leads to more research—the cycle continues. It’s something that I’ve learned throughout my education that’s only been reinforced by this program.

I think, though, that the digital humanities program really enhanced my research skills and ability to narrow down a topic. Within a short period of time, I was able to familiarize myself with the ideas and well-respected authors in an academic community. Now, when researching other topics for class and my future employer, I will be able to use these skills to have a full understanding of whatever I am working on.

Narrowing my topic was painful, but necessary. After realizing the amount of research I would have to do just to do a narrowed version of the project I originally envisioned, I was already stressed. But more importantly, narrowing an idea to something that one will be able to do quality and sufficient research on is essential to learn. In order to do a project right, one has to do justice to the scholarly research that came before, and that would be much, much more difficult with a larger scope. It is imperative to understand these limits and judge time frames realistically when approaching problems so one can plan ahead and realize the work he or she must do.

I do still wish that the digital humanities program was a few weeks longer. Doing a project in five weeks (with the sixth week for presentations) is stressful and can feel rushed. With more time, I would have been able to perfect my web scraper and get a larger sample size of Supreme Court cases. And, if the group were to meet and get feedback from the other librarians earlier in the process, our research would have been more focused and our expectations for our project would change sooner rather than later.

A lot of the work in digital humanities involves learning how to approach topics with the right tools. Although I don’t think my thoughts on the digital humanities have drastically changed over the course of this program—perhaps because I was exposed to some of these projects and this community before the summer—I have a greater respect for the intellectual challenge of picking the right tools to present one’s data. In many cases, the way in which someone presents an argument can be an argument in itself. Digital tools have enabled scholars to express their ideas in new ways, and those decisions that academics make when presenting their projects should also be viewed as academic challenges.

When I think about the skills I will carry with me after this program (besides tangible ones like knowing Python and WordPress), the one that stands out the most is the confidence to do a substantial amount of research alone and independently work on my own ideas. More than ever, I feel that I know how to approach a topic, what questions to ask about it and how to find out new information. I think this skill is invaluable practically, in the work force, or for just being able to ask the right questions in everyday life.

And I can now use this skill to answer the leftover questions I have about my project. With more time, I can work independently to see what would happen if I had a larger sample size or limited the cases by issue. Going forth, I hope to add more to my project and continue to question and research in other areas of my life.

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