Today we learned about project development from Jennifer Guiliano, Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Guiliano’s concept of project management hinges on communication. If you have a great project but can’t communicate about it, it won’t be successful. Every good project has a good question, problem, or provocation; an analytical activity; an audience; and concrete products.

What’s a project?
  • a sequence of related activities
  • derived from a question, issue, or problem
  • that requires the development of resources
  • and requires an audience and/or other participants
  • and results in a product

(NB: a dissertation is a project!)


Guiliano asked us “What is your question, problem, or provocation?” and helped us to explain and clarify our research topics (“How would you explain that to an 11 year old?”). She also urges us to be as explicit and succinct as possible because grant and job applications frequently limit the number of characters you can use in your submission.

Interdisciplinary Work

What kind of difficulties do you envision as you work in an interdisciplinary space? Imagine future questions/criticism from scholars in other disciplines, fields, or areas of specialization. Your answers to this question should be included in your research outputs (dissertation, book, articles, presentations, etc.). This will make your work stronger and less open to critique from scholars outside your specialized research area.


Key at the outset of a project is to identify the significance of your project and communicate that clearly to multiple audiences. Answer these questions: How does your project contribute to a particular discipline or field? How does it contribute to the humanities more generally? What is the impact of your research? Why and how is your research innovative? Guiliano also recommends communicating your research topic to the larger scholarly community early on in order to tell people about what you’re working on and possibly discover other scholars working in related areas.


Guiliano says that failure is an option in the digital humanities. You learn so much from failure; it helps you and other scholars know what to work on next or what just simply doesn’t work.


Lay out your objectives in order to have conversations with other project members (stakeholders, dissertation advisors, collaborators, etc.). Ask yourself: “What constitutes success for my project?” You may have individual objectives and group objectives, and that’s OK as long as they’re not in opposition to each other.

Working with Data

How do you get data? Go to for federal government data including census data; to analyze content on JSTOR, visit Jstor Data for Research; use ARTstor for image data (if your institution subscribes — NYU does). Plus, remember that your librarian can help you find and acquire data, including from licensed resources. Guiliano suggests that you keep two copies of your data: an original/archival form plus a working copy. You need to be able to go back to the original. Other tips:

  • work in non-proprietary file types (e.g., .txt not Word; .jpg or .tif)
  • keep a list of where you got your data, contact info, and license or rights issues about reuse and publication
  • don’t keep copies only on your local machine – keep data and work in progress somewhere else. Keep multiple backups: in the cloud, on external hard drive, and email copies to a friend for safe keeping just in case.
Sharing the Products of your Research

Make the most of your scholarship by sharing what you’ve done and getting credit for it on your CV. For example: blog posts, press releases, twitter/social media, websites, apps, books, articles (peer-reviewed vs. non), presentations,  lessons and guides, etc. You can present all the activities around a research project on your CV as a “portfolio” of activity. This is especially important for early-career professionals. Then track the results of your products: set up a google search and a google scholar search to discover citations; track engagement via comments & visits to blog posts. Some tools: Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet TAGS v6; (for announcements); Google Analytics. Hootsuite is also helpful, but costs $$.

Make sure your products match the kind of scholar you want to be and how you want to be seen. This is a way to announce your expertise to the world; it’s easier to get a job if people already know your name and your work. Think about timing: talk about your work in the weeks leading up to a conference in your field; think about the academic calendar and whether or not people will be paying attention.

Branding can make a statement about your work, who it will impact, and how  you want to be perceived as a scholar. Guiliano even suggests we consider job titles; here’s a blog post she write a few years ago on the difference between being called a “project manager” and a “project developer”: Don’t Call Me.

Why Collaborate and How?

To share expertise. A team may consist of roles such as: a subject researcher, public humanities specialist, computational researcher, information specialist, project manager. A common staffing model:

  • Project Director (intellectual & strategic leadership)
  • Associate Director (development & outreach)
  • lead programmer (technical vision & day-to-day supervision)
  • programmers (hackers, coders)
  • systems administrator
  • graphic designer (logos, brochures, etc.)
  • website designer (CMS installs, custom sites, etc.)
  • curriculum specialist
  • etc.

When assembling a team thank about what kinds of things do you need done that you don’t know how to do yourself.

Where do team members come from? Your department, college and campus IT staff, library, , even other universities or other fields entirely.

How can you get potential collaborators to say ‘yes’? Find out what motivates them and what kind of research projects they’re interested in. Barter: your skills for theirs. Buy them a donut.


We wrapped up by talking about the value of work, giving and getting credit, and how not to be taken advantage of by creating agreements up front about roles, responsibilities, and credit. Guiliano is particularly concerned about the undervalued (and typically unpaid) work of people who have less power or are already underrepresented in the field. She is speaking tomorrow (1pm Bobst Library) on a related topic: Humanities Infrastructure versus the Digital Humanities: Confronting the Legacies of Intellectual Property, Resources, and Labor in the Academy.

Final References

For oh so much more on digital humanities, project development, data, teamwork, syllabi, grant writing,  etc., see DevDH.

To learn more about DH, consider attending HILT: Humanities Intensive Learning & Teaching.

This workshop was part of the spring 2015 Polonsky Foundation Graduate Student Workshops in Digital Humanities: Tools and Methods. Visit the NYU Libraries Digital Scholarship Services website and blog to learn about our services. To contact us, fill out our appointment request form or email us at We look forward to helping you with your digital projects.