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Digital Humanities: Intro to DH planning and process

Step by Step

Planning a Digital Humanities Project

Digitizing documents is simply a way of making documents available digitally. Digitization refers to the process. Before your start the process of digitizing, you need do some planning. Every project is different. Take these questions with a grain of salt. Do take the time to write up a comprehensive narrative on as many of these points as the process will help you articulate and specify the project. This document is not intended to overwhelm you, instead it is intended to help you anticipate what other members of your DH team might ask you. 

Further Reading Development for the Digital Humanities

Providing the intellectual and strategic scaffolding to aid DH researchers successfully complete their research endeavors is the brainchild of Simon Appleford and Jennifer Guiliano, who collectively have over a decade working in digital humanities project development, management, and grant writing. DevDH (or develop DH) was built to respond to the growing demand for digital humanities training in that area but also as an online repository of training materials, lectures, exemplars, and links that offer best practices to beginner, intermediate, and advanced digital humanists. As a visitor to the site, you’ll have access to a number of presentations, guides, and examples that we’ve created or selected for their contribution to digital humanities as a discipline.

Getting Started in Digital Humanities

by Lisa Spiro

Step One: The Big Picture

Before you even touch any piece of technology, think about the Big Picture  

  • Is there a need for this information?
  • What is your purpose or objective?

Now start thinking about

  • Who is the intended audience? Size? Scope?
  • Has this project been done before in part or in whole?
  • How do you want the collection to be used? 
  • What is your time line? 
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want an interactive site or stagnant?
  • How will it be disseminated?
  • Will there be restrictions on access? Limited to certain users?
  • Will there be collaborators? Crowdsourcing?
  • Sustainability and maintainability

 Selection of Materials (content and otherwise)

  • What are the costs involved?
  • The type of material dictates the way it is digitized, if it can be digitized? For example, if it is a cassette tape, is it in good enough condition for it to be digitized? Can the spine be removed from the pages so it can be fed?
  • Uniqueness? Is the item so rare that it prohibits reasonable digitization?
  • Are these materials available elsewhere?
  • Is the material already in a digital collection elsewhere?
  • Again, think about copyright, permission
  • If it is a large collection, will your equipment be able to handle it? Will you need to replace machines at some point.
  • Think back to audience, material selection might change based on intended audience.

Identify Funding

  • Are you applying for a grant?
  • Have you taken assessment and sustainability or other requirements for the grant into consideration?

Identify your Team

  • Are you doing this alone? Are you bringing together many teams?
  • Are you bringing other people in from the University or from other institutions?
  • Are you using student employees? Is it meaningful work for them? Can they take something with them after they are done with the project?


  • The burden is on the user, you.
  • Very important for anything taken from outside sources.
  • Learn the guidelines, document your efforts – liability is real.
  • Establish ownership and rights to your documents and work.
  • WMU Legal Affairs and General Counsel point to this UT document, a crash course in copyright:
  • If collaborating, think through who has intellectual/financial gain. What are the terms and conditions for participants?
  • The Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University is a great resource.

Considering the Technological ASpects 

Metadata Planning

One of the most important aspects if the project has any digital content that is collection based or even if specific items need to be described. The better the information is, the better discovery will be. Use standards; be thorough in this resource intensive phase. Visit NISO for a great overview:


  • What resources are available to you?
  • What equipment do you need?  Will you be scanning documents? transferring audio files?
  • What equipment is available? What are the limits of the equipment?
  • Are there experts you need to hire?
  • Evaluate and specify any specific hardware required for the completion of the project. A thorough inventory of any and all items needed should be compiled


Quality Control, Sustainability, Assessment, and Standards

  • Image capturing?
  • Will it be backed up? How?
  • Who will maintain it?
  • Will it be archived?

Please see for more information.

Office of Assessment and Undergraduate Studies,

Office of the Provost: there is an assessment guru here. 

Stats Lab?  

Comp sci senior design class?

OVPR:  grants officers, HSIRB info 

Western Sound Studios (for recording and transferring/digitizing audio) associate with the School of Music?

OIT (Matt Tomzcak?) hosting questions, web services, server storage, etc... for software training (via OIT),

University Libraries

      UL Digitization Center

      List of grants:

      GIS services

      Links to UL databases for grants, Scival experts, scival grants,

Office of Faculty Development for Training (using technology in teaching, z.B.),

Upjohn Center for Geographic Change (GIS large scale scanning, etc...) HS

Career and Student Employment Services/Grad College for hiring grad/undergrad students

Digitization Center Services

Providing quality digitization and planning for access, research and preservation.

Waldo Library, # 0156 - 0157a
Phone: 269-387-4776
Fax: 269-387-5519

Digitization Team

1. Cecelia Moore
  • Specialized technologies and resources for increased access
  • Custom Digitization Projects for the University and Community
  • Project coordination bringing digitized items at WMU to the Internet
  • Quality digitization
    • Studio and lab facilities with more than 10 image capture systems
    • New technologies, standards, and best practices for preservation and access
    • Expertise in color management for optimum color quality
    • Text recognition (OCR)
    • Metadata created to current standards (as required)
  • Full service planning, imaging, and hosting
    • Full time project manager
    • CONTENTdm and LUNA image databases available for hosting
    • Training in digitization workflow and process issues available
    • Library focus on accessibility and usability
    • Digitization project estimates for grant proposals
    • Consulting
  • Custom Digitization Projects for
    • Community, university, business, private
    • Work is done on a fee-for-service basis

Digitization Capabilities

  • Image capture of almost any size flat original (up to 42” and ½” thick)
  • Film and transparencies up to 12.2” x 16.5”
  • Batch scanning of mounted slides
  • Text scans from books and sheets with OCR (optical character recognition)
  • High-speed scanning of individual single and double-sided pages
  • High quality digital photography and copy work up to 39 megapixels per image
  • Fragile manuscript and document handling with specialized cradles and holding devices
  • Specialized scanners for handling bound books and non-standard documents
  • Three-dimensional originals with color balanced lighting
  • QuickTimeVR creation with motion and zoom for 3D items
  • Archival color printing up to 44”
  • Microfiche and microfilm digitization
  • Color managed work flow
  • Online image database hosting
  • Problem-solving experience for unique originals
  • Custom services all available in-house

Types of Projects Completed:

  • Manuscripts
    • Grant from humanities organization to create a digitized collection of eight personal manuscripts
  • Books and journals
    • Out of print history book published online for classroom use
    • One of a kind book from a distant library for researcher
    • Rare books and journals preserved and made available to researchers world-wide
  • Art work and high resolution images
    • Visual arts library image collection made accessible online for teaching through ‘fair use' guidelines
    • High resolution images for an academic research publication
    •  Images from a large art collection made available to distant user
  • Photographs
    • Large local photography negative collection converted and published in digital format
    • Digitization of color slides
  • Documents
    • University documents organized in a repository for Higher Learning Commission
  • Maps
    • Enhanced accessibility of digitized maps
  • 3-D objects
    • Proof of concept for 3D objects used by a WMU department

Types of Customers and Collaborators:

  • Researchers at WMU and around the country
  • University departments at WMU
  • Midsize public libraries
  • Regional special interest groups 
  • Local governmental departments
  • Small public universities
  • Private colleges
  • Local, regional and state universities
  • Community groups and partners

Example of a document marked up

The first document is an example of a text prior to mark up.  it is a selection of works from Poe.  The second document is that same work marked up with XML. This is an exercise presented at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA (June 2012).