Reflection on Digitizing the Wilcox Collection

As I finish the final project for my Digital Humanities seminar this term, I realize that the work on this particular assignment is far from over. For the final project of this seminar, I aimed to complete the online database for the Wilcox Collection on which I and another undergraduate have been working for nearly two years. It started a simple task of documenting these coins which had been collecting dust for decades and had never been studied (perhaps even seen) by scholars of either Numismatics or Classics. Having long been interested in Digital Humanities and with a background in Computer Science, this originally seemed like the perfect project for me. Alas, it turned out to be more daunting that I had originally anticipated.

At the beginning of the term, I had already figured out a few things regarding the website-to-be-constructed (why doesn’t English have future passive participles?). I knew that I wanted it to have a clean, modern design and a fully searchable back-end database. It didn’t hit me that these two things comprised an incredibly small part of what I would need to plan out for the site. I spent most of my time this semester actually figuring out what back-end would actually support the functionality we wanted for the site. I tried coding something myself, but quickly realized that task was too monstrously enormous for one person, let alone one inexperienced student, to handle. So I turned to investigating other options: WordPress, Omeka, CollectiveAccess, etc., but nothing worked how we had imagined.

It was then that I started remembering a site that a colleague had sent me when I began the project: Nomisma.org. Nomisma aims to provide field-wide standards for describing numismatic data with the hopeful result that these hoards of coins make their way into open linked-data repositories like Pelagios. What I didn’t find on this site when I first looked at it, was a link to something called Numishare, which was an open-source back-end software developed by Ethan Gruber at the American Numismatic Society. It is a piece of software directly aimed at helping collection-managers (curators, I suppose) digitize their collections and enable them to contribute to the aforementioned linked-data repositories.

The whole time I had been looking for other digital platforms which could help me accomplish my task, meanwhile the perfect piece of software was right under my nose. This realization was the most frustrating yet jubilant experience of the entire year. We are currently working to implement Numishare on our university’s servers and, although we are currently running into some roadblocks, the path ahead seems promising. My advice to anyone starting a DH project: make sure you investigate all options that you can find. Be thorough. Trial and error is this field’s bread and butter.

Due to these technological constraints, I was forced to leave the mock-up of the site as is and write up technical documentation on the entire process of this long project instead. I was a bit sad to downsize my project after realizing that the site would not be up and running by the end of the semester, but the result has been fruitful. Creating an artifact of the creation process for the project will aid in its longevity after I leave the university. Overall, this experience has been frustrating, fruitful, and engaging—and I probably wouldn’t change a thing about it.

 

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