Derrida's Margins: Creating new insights

The Derrida’s Margins Digital Humanities project has recently entered into a very exciting and creative phase of its development, namely wireframing the different portions of its future home on the Internet.

Working closely with the Princeton CDH’s experienced team of graphic designers and web engineers, our team has been able to draw up a plan for our website’s initial iteration and its future growth. We have benefited from the CDH’s expertise at every step of our project’s development, but perhaps never more than on the (for us) highly unfamiliar terrain of designing a website inside and out.

Inside and out is not a term chosen at random, as indeed, website design includes both aspects.

Firstly, as we have learned, a website such as ours reposes upon an underlying relational database, in which discreet sets of data are made to interact with one another in specific ways. This might sound logical, but in fact, it was a very complicated thing for us to understand. This relational database in many ways “powers” the website, and makes it possible for it to “perform” interesting and novel tasks.

Secondly, the website would be nothing without its front-end user interface, which makes it possible for a user to access the data in a useful and user-friendly format, and also to search and compile that data in order to formulate new insights. The website must be easy to use, but must also have a flow that avoids overly-restricting the user while also guiding him or her in such way that makes the structure of our website intuitively accessible.

The most exciting thing to come out of this process of website conceptualization was our realization that thanks to the relational database, it would be possible to produce “insights” into Derrida’s library and annotation practices that we hadn’t imagined possible. While we had initially realized that it would be possible, for instance, to know which authors and works Derrida cited most often in a particular work, we hadn’t imagined that it might be possible to visually project the frequency or intensity of citations in particular portions of a specific work.

For instance, it will be possible for us to display a graph that provides a visualization of what parts of a specific work (e.g. Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams ) Derrida most heavily annotated, showing what parts of the father of psychoanalysis’ seminal work our philosopher was most intensely interested in. This is especially important as we are unable to provide online access to the full contents of most of the books contained in Derrida’s library, as those works are still under copyright.

This is an example of how sometimes the most creative solutions come out of a structured (not to say constrained) situation. We had to find creative ways of working around copyright restrictions in order to provide our users with interesting insights that are the embodiment of the added-value of a digital humanities’ approach. Without the copyright issue and having to learn how to conceive of a project in terms of a relational database, we perhaps wouldn’t have come up with such exciting and innovative insights for our users.

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