The Beauty of Annotations

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 your 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 physical 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.