Now that we are wrapping up the first section of the course and you have had a chance to get your hands into Scalar, in this blog post reflect on the affordances of the Scalar platform that will enable you to create a project that reflects some of the theories, methods and practices of DH that we have been discussing. This post will kick off your reflections on your use of the platform as a mechanism for iterative scholarship. Think of it more as a journal type post and one you will build upon as you dig into Scalar and your final project.
Scalar’s affordances make it useful for engaging with several of the concepts and conversations in DH which we have explored thus far in the semester:
Scalar is well suited to collaborative efforts. I have had the chance to work with Scalar on a shared book project, and it was very streamlined for that purpose–individual login information tied to a shared project is a simple yet effective way to handle collaboration from a design perspective. As far as credit is concerned, the system does a lot, just with its standard interface and design, to counter the idea of sole authorship. Scalar books seem to suggest that most projects will be collaborative by nature. Even just featuring collaboration options front-and-center in the menus will encourage people to see collaboration as a key part of the composing process for digital projects, instead of a lesser-used option. That said, I have also used Scalar for a project which I worked on alone, and it was still well suited to that purpose as well.
When it comes to equity and a shakeup of the humanities, a “humanization,” we might be able to have a meaningful discussion about what Scalar is and isn’t doing to achieve the goals suggested for DH by Gallon, Posner, and others. At its most basic, Scalar is well-made for digital projects but also fairly “professional” in its stock presentation, blending the feeling of a university or museum website with CMS elements. Some Scalar projects end up looking a good deal like a WordPress site. Of course, you have to start somewhere, but understanding the “default” look, settings, and format of Scalar projects will tell us a bit about its underlying assumptions and goals. To me, the platform seems to be aiming for a contemporary, polished look. It is a professional platform for scholarship. The problem with this is that it might start from a place of being too “safe,” if DH projects really want to counter ideas of what a digital scholarship project looks like. We might be able to claim, happily, that everyone can access something like Scalar and produce cool projects, but it will still take a good bit of doing to make a Scalar project look unique, as well. That’s why one of my first concerns will be to play with the aesthetics of my project.
Despite its sometimes blog-like appearance, Scalar’s interface is also a bit difficult to navigate for those who wish to “jump in” and begin working. I found that the system of importing media through the settings menu and then going back and forth with page editing to be a little outdated and counter intuitive when I began using the platform. I still don’t know what to think about it. It has the effect of clearly separating the aesthetic concerns of “book” mode from the…shall we say “archival”?…concerns of the media gallery and the “back end” of the project in the settings menu. It would be my preference to work with everything at once, but as it is, I jump back and forth between these two modes and this has an effect on my work. It pushes me into two stages of work, first importing and dealing with artifacts, then curating and writing about them. It isn’t all happening at once, and I am unsure of those effects on the composition process.