Tools and Reviewing Digital Projects in Philosophy

Digital Tools and Reviewing Digital Projects in Philosophy

This week in DH865 we discussed various approaches to digital project review within our areas of study. Additionally we were asked to find digital tools that might contribute to and foster digital work in our focus areas. Admittedly I have a pessimistic view of philosophy’s relationship to the digital, but hey, good philosophers are supposed to be critical, right? Philosophy as a discipline has been historically resistant to change and keeps the gates to entering the discipline quite guarded. While certainly traditional methods of reading and writing are still great forms of philosophical engagement, I think that this digital age offers unique opportunities to the field that ought to be considered and incorporated. Unless one is studying metaphilosophy, philosophy always needs another subject about which to philosophize. These subjects can be interacted with and presented in various forms and fashions. For example, philosophy of art or aesthetics must involve art, which can be digitally rendered and can bring new perspectives and experiences to viewers in ways that a paper could not. Unsurprisingly, there are not many digital projects and tools out there specifically by or for philosophers. However, I would argue that with some creativity and willingness, philosophy could make use of some of the incredible tools that already exist and bring the discipline out from behind the gates into the deeply intersectional, interdisciplinary world of the 21st century.

For the projects already pushing into the digital, interdisciplinary spaces of philosophy, serious challenges arise for review! I found the individuality of each type of philosophy project difficult to review with standardized guidelines because depending upon of what the philosophy is will influence what aspects should be considered. Philosophy of art/aesthetics might need some review criteria specific to art and visualization whereas metaphysics may require quantifiable data analysis and proper scientific citations alongside the philosophical aspects. As a more creative Continental type of philosopher, I found myself more inclined to consider creativity and design, which I suspect is a different emphasis from my analytical philosopher counterparts who would more deeply consider word choice and argumentation style. All in the all the process was a useful time of disciplinary reflection and a healthy reminder that this process is challenging.

Digital Tools:

Project Vox

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Center for Digital Philosophy

Public Philosophy Journal

Mapping & Tools: Neatline,StoryMap, Google Maps, TimelineJS

Text and Data Analysis & Visualization Tools: Voyant, Palladio, RAWGraphs

StoryTelling Tools: Scalar, Documentary technologies (Final Cut Pro), Unity


Digital Projects in Philosophy Review Rubric:

  • Argument: Is the argument for this project clear and effective? How is this argument supported by the medium(s) through which it is presented? Is this argument contributing to the field and engaging with philosophical discourse on this subject, considering other voices and perspectives in this subject area, assuming such discourse exists, though it may not? Similarly, does the project adequately support its claims through other evidence and proper citations?

 

  • Creativity/Ingenuity: How is this project contributing something new to the philosophical discourse on this subject, assuming such discourse already exists, though it may not? Does the project consider possible objections? Are the digital or technological components of the project integral? In other words, is this an example of a truly digital humanities (in philosophy) project, or is this a humanities/philosophy project simply made digital?

 

  • Methodology: What tools did this project utilize? Are the technological aspects of the project informing the non-technological aspects of the project and vice versa to creatively craft an interdisciplinary final product? Is the technology enhancing the overarching message in a clear and effective manner? What sources did this project require? Does the project properly address all labor contributors? Did the process of creating this project call for human subjects and if so were the proper guidelines respected (media release, copyright, etc.)?

 

  • Audience, Design, User Experience & Accessibility: Who is the target audience for this project (ex. students, colleagues, broader communities, nonprofit organizations etc.)? Is this project a pedagogical tool? Does the project address issues of accessibility both in considering who the target audience is in terms of language use and design, as well as general accessibility issues of font size, color choice, and translation? Does the project use inclusive language? Is the project making assumptions about the universality of certain experiences? Is the project easy enough to navigate, use, and understand? If the target audience is likely to view the project on a phone, is the project mobile-friendly?

 

  • Sustainability Considerations: Has the project creator(s) considered sustainability of the project? If so, what are the intended plans for maintenance both in terms of technologies and content?

Reviewing “Project Vox”:

Project Vox is a feminist philosophy project dedicated to expanding the notion of the philosophical canon in the early modern period by highlighting the lives, works, and key contributions of women who were and are too often ignored. The project is a digital archive of information about several significant women during this time and their works, a digital image gallery of texts and paintings to broaden typical approaches to philosophy, and syllabi examples for courses that intentionally incorporate women philosophers. While the project involves multiple focuses and sub-projects the main aim of Project Vox is to cultivate feminist engagement with modern philosophy for students, faculty, and historians. In essence the project is rewriting the traditional canon and historical understandings of idea development and transmission during the 1600s-1800s in Europe. The project began in 2014 with a group of faculty and staff at Duke University collaborating and eventually launching the official website in March 2015. Now several years later the project has received recognition in major outlets like The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and Times Higher Education Supplement. Additionally, Project Vox has sponsorship from the Andrew C. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities (1).

Project Vox uses multiple tools and methodologies to reach its intended aims. The hub for Project Vox is a WordPress site containing the extensive biographies and descriptions of philosophical ideas of Mary Astell, Lady Masham, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, and Émilie Du Châtelet. Additionally the site hosts an embedded timeline created with Timeline JS through Knightlab, which traces the history of key figures, men and women, and their works during the modern period. A photo gallery of significant locations, portraits, texts, and paintings constitutes another facet of Project Vox’s attempt to broaden typical engagement with philosophy as a predominantly text-based discipline, as well as foster best practices for students. “We aim to help students become savvy consumers of digital images. In disciplines such as philosophy, which has largely ignored visual culture, the digital presentation of images—including everything from photographs of portraits to digital facsimiles of books—is rarely held to the standard used for the interpretation of literary works.” (2) To address these concerns, Project Vox has a rigorous review and research process for new contributions to the site, be that images, translations, texts, or syllabi. This process is clearly spelled out and explained on the “Methods” page of the site.

The pedagogical focus of Project Vox deliberately encourages faculty and graduate student viewership, though the site is rich with resources about the modern philosophy period that is useful for undergraduate students as well. What is especially excellent about this project is that it embodies the principles it seeks to instill for its viewers; in other words, Project Vox clearly demonstrates best practices of proper citations, media usage and copyrights, and clear recognition of labor contributions. The technological aspects are clean and all facets appear to be in working order. The site is somewhat mobile-friendly but certain features do not work, i.e., the interactive timeline. The design is clean and straightforward, though the font size is on the small side and could perhaps benefit from being slightly enlarged to assist viewing.

Overall the aims of Project Vox appear to be largely successful and with a project team, advisory board, academic partners, and large sponsorship, the sustainability of growth of the project seems promising. As this project grows, I would encourage contributors and project team members to consider other countries’ contributions to aspects of modern philosophy, as the focus for Project Vox is currently quite Western European-centric. Doing so would not only bring to light more women and their contributions to modern philosophy, but also it would be a deliberate decentering of the Western canon and an inclusion of the voices and ideas of people of color from around the world. Seeking out the thought of Indigenous philosophies, East Asian philosophies, and Latin American philosophies, among many, would enhance Project Vox’s feminist endeavor to expand the canon and would challenge the Western-centric tendencies of philosophy education.

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