Digital Humanities

The Beauty of Annotations

Posted by Emily Crockett

In my mind, interactivity and annotations are at the core of using digital humanities to change the way one does scholarship. As someone who suffers from ADHD, interactivity, annotations, and frankly media outside just purely print is a Godsend. While I enjoy reading, and I can get very into some topics, a lot of print media is not quite engaging enough for my brain. As a child my favorite part of reading was when we were supposed to write on the text, when we were doing “active reading.” Still today as a Master’s student, after almost 7 years of higher education, I have finally determined the best way for me to ingest my readings- on an iPad. For a while I tried to print all of my readings out so I could do the same “active reading” I did as a sixth grader, but eventually you run out of printing money, you lose the pages, the pages get wet, you feel terrible about cutting down trees, you simply forget to print the reading out beforehand. So inevitably I would have to read on my laptop, while you can add text annotations and highlights in PDF viewers, it’s not engaging your brain in the same way. I’ve finally (again after almost 7 years of higher education) determined that the best way for me to read readings for class and retain a lot of what I read is for me to be able to draw on the page, to add emojis of my reactions, to circle and highlight, and ask questions in the margins. In experimenting with annotating images and videos this week, I’ve determined this “active reading” of an image or video is vital for my understanding.

I think we’ve all been on the couch at one point watching a movie or a TV show and been distracted by the steady stream of information that comes from our phone. As we’ve annotated videos this week, I’ve noticed that I’m much more engaged with a video if I know I’m waiting for that annotation. At the end of the movie Music and Lyrics with Drew Berrymore and Hugh Grant, they play an “old” music video that has a pop up annotations every so often with updates or behind the scenes information on the song, taken as a riff off of VH1 “Pop-Up Videos” such as this “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic

While the pop up sound can get mildly annoying, ultimately your brain is being stimulated with this extra information that is coming up, and it often helps you to understand what you’re seeing and retain it further. While the video I made below was silly, it was interesting to see how captions can be used to enhance a video (particularly when it involves animals)

Finally, in terms of annotating images, I believe thinglink works in a similar way to Tropy or my particular favorite NVivo. While it doesn’t have the same capabilities in terms or comparison of metadata or sections of images, it does allow the user to mark areas of an image that are important such that information is not lost. In the same way that old photographs that are annotated on the back with things like “Lola Lee and Richard Wedding, 10/8/1960 Colesville, MD”

These annotations preserve the memory of the physical photo, just as metadata can do the same for a digital image. For images that are not necessarily family photos but works of art as we’ve looked at, annotations allow an interesting way to preserve your research. Here, I’ve linked the ThingLink I made with 5 images of art pieces that I’m looking at for my Master’s thesis. The annotations allow me to ask questions of the image that I can think about and continue to ask myself as I go through the annotations, it allows you to link out to other research or media. Essentially it allows you to preserve the memory of your research thoughts. Rather than viewing an image, thinking that something is interesting and then writing it down but not remembering what it means the next time you look at it, or worse, not writing it down at all and forgetting everything you had thought.

Furthermore, it allows for students to actively engage with an image. In a previous post I mentioned a digital project of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights that essentially is a high res image that has been annotated. When I brought this project into my classroom this spring, it made my students actively engage with the image more so than me lecturing about it. At the end of the class, several mentioned that was the piece they remembered very well, because of that active engagement. Annotations and interactivity allow for stimulation in ways we haven’t been able to do before and allows the viewer to more fully absorb the media they’re consuming.

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3 thoughts on “The Beauty of Annotations

  1. Michelle

    Emily, I love the way you used Thinglink as a reflective tool for a researcher or a way to “actively read” images. I have been thinking of Thinglink as a way to disseminate research or a finished product, i.e. to have an image and link specific research points to parts of it that I want my readers/viewers to understand. I hadn’t thought about the potential of the tool for my own research process or to work through questions/comments. I agree that I also do best while “actively reading.” In art historical texts I often highlight or color in black and white images to help me apply the reading to the image. This type of strategy could also be done via Thinglink for my larger research projects that extend beyond one article that I printed out for a course. Thanks for opening up that option to me!

  2. Emily Hynes

    Your personal story was very helpful in prefacing your post! One of the benefits of these tools is that it helps engage readers in different ways, and your story perfectly exemplifies that! Your video example was also very cute and I loved your Music and Lyrics reference. It reminds me of audio commentary tracks for movies – I wonder if they fall under similar scopes as annotations? I like how you are using ThingLink here as a research tool – as way to hold your thoughts – as I had only really been engaging with it as an educational tool, I think that by appreciating the value of active engagement as a learning strategy that we can really find some purpose in using htese digital annotating tools. I’d love to hear more about why you like Tropy and NVivo! I’ve never used them before and would love to hear what your thoughts are when putting them in direct comparison with ThingLink! Thanks for a great post that brought some new perspectives and ideas!

    Emily Hynes

  3. Taylor Barrett

    Emily – I echo the comments before me in saying that your personal story was super useful in thinking about why annotations can be so valuable. I think we’ve talked a lot about how these tools can be useful to us as scholars, but we’ve spent a little less time considering how our digital scholarship is ingested and processed by our various audiences. At least I personally have not given it as much thought as I should. ‘So much of the draw to DAH for me has been about how I can change the tools I use for my scholarship. While digital annotation tools are certainly useful for scholars, they also fundamentally change the ways in which users engage with materials (as you pointed out). As we move forward, I think it will be useful to keep your post in mind so that I don’t forget that I am not just doing scholarship and research for me, but for an entire academic community that likely has various needs of which I am unaware. Thanks for the post and your thoughts!

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