Readings in DH, October 2014

Dombrowski, Q. (2014). What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo? Literary and Linguistic Computing, 29(3), 326–339. doi:10.1093/llc/fqu026

This paper deals with the demise of Project Bamboo (PB), outlining some of the factors that ultimately contributed to its end.

PB was founded with the idealistic aim of addressing one of the problems in humanities scholarship, particularly in projects of a digital nature: that the majority of time is spent on the development of technology, and “not on the scholarship”. (As an aside, I am convinced that thinking about the technology that is used in a humanities project is also a way into scholarship, one that can potentially offer new insights that might never have been apparent otherwise.) PB was specifically created as a means of avoiding a never-ending reinvention of the wheel (Dombrowski 2014, 327). Yet, even from the outset, this is precisely the criticism that was levelled at the project (see Terras 2008 for an example).

From the outset, PB had a problem with communication (too much technical jargon). While this problem is hardly limited to PB, it did mean that, from the start, the project wrestled with problems of alienation. This was compounded when scholarly work flows were presented in spreadsheet formats that were seen as reductive.

Other problems included a lack of specific aims, and targets against which progress could be measured. This, compounded with a lack of continuity in relations with funders, economic cut-backs and an ongoing problem with communication with the “outside” world (the PB wiki was complex and off-putting, and website updates were sporadic) and the absence of a shared vision, meant that PB eventually folded.

This outline of the problems that PB both faced and perpetuated throughout its working life is honest. Some of the problems included:

  • Communication 1 (frequent use of technical jargon and representation of scholarly work in a manner that was seen as mechanistic)
  • Communication 2 (a wiki that was complex and difficult to navigate, a website that was not regularly updated)
  • Discontinuity in relationships with funders
  • No shared vision
  • No well-defined aims
  • No milestones to measure process

This is a demonstration of the fact that even generously funded projects are doomed to decline if they ignore the fundamentals of good project management (goals, milestones and communication).

 

 


References

Terras, M. (2008). Melissa Terras’ Blog: Bambooozle. Retrieved from http://melissaterras.blogspot.ie/2008/05/bambooozle.html