Annotated print map of East Africa and its coast showing a giant lake in the interior, geographical features, trading routes.

One More Voice

Lost Voices from the British Empire's Archives

Project Design

General approach  top

One More Voice makes an important critical contribution by engaging with literary and historical scholarship in a manner that shifts critical debate in new directions. The project also models a way of encouraging new scholarship while bringing it to other practitioners and the public at a time when funding options may suddenly be curtailed and normal publishing practices disrupted. Our project’s design both animates and informs this critical contribution through the application of minimal computing, a low-tech form of digital humanities development that has gained considerable traction among practitioners in recent years. A fundamental element of minimal computing lies in its emphasis on creating digital projects that rely on reduced resource use, as in the early case of the Periodical Poetry Index (2010-present) and as later elaborated in work by Alex Gil, Jentry Sayers, Roopika Risam and Susan Edwards, and others.

By building on such work, we have been able to engineer a site development method that is self-empowering and replicable, that allows for contributions from scholars with a range of technical competencies, and that results in online scholarship that can be consulted from a wide variety of devices and by individuals with varying degrees of bandwidth (for instance, the site is fully mobile enabled and optimized; the use of semantic HTML, ARIA attributes, and descriptive ALT text opens the site to users with assistive devices). The approach is cost effective as it prioritizes the reuse of existing digital materials and tools, thereby enabling us to work quickly (relatively speaking), while making it possible to develop as much of the site “in-house” as possible. Additionally, minimal computing has allowed us to create a project that is easy to maintain and sustain long-term because of its simplified file structure and small digital footprint (the entire site is less than 75 MB). Finally, our site development method underscores the long-term value of relevant prior work because the method shows that such work can be extended into new contexts, not all of them anticipated by the original creators.

Agile publication strategy  top

In this minimalist spirit, we have also turned to an agile publication strategy. One More Voice does not have a project team, but rather has been conceived of as a way of integrating the work of a series of contributors. As a result, our publication strategy focuses on the production of high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship, but prioritizes the creation of short-form critical interventions, a term inspired by Matt Gold and Lauren Klein's use of “provocations” as a way of characterizing the short essays published through the Debates in the Digital Humanities book series. The emphasis on such interventions extends our minimal computing approach to the realm of critical argument, but also opens a practical, reduced-commitment way for individuals to contribute to our site and stay active professionally at a time when many are distracted by the Coronavirus pandemic or working under challenging conditions, and when access to the kinds of archival sources often required for longer-form scholarship has been curtailed.

In terms of actual site development, we have built the One More Voice site through a combination of basic steps and strategic choices:

  • Our site consists of a few basic file types, among them HTML, CSS, JS, XSL, XML, PDF, PNG, and JPEG. This limited array of file types has enabled us to minimize our digital footprint , while mainly sticking to formats that often serve as universal standards for data preservation.
  • The foundational HTML and CSS site files have been appropriated from Adrian S. Wisnicki’s Fieldwork of Empire minimal computing website (2019), a site Wisnicki expressly built to serve as a prototype for the present site.
  • By positioning One More Voice as a descendant or “imprint” site of Livingstone Online, we have made it possible to draw on the latter's primary materials as needed.
  • We have used open online repositories like the HaithiTrust and Internet Archive to supplement the materials available from Livingstone Online.
  • We have streamlined the existing Livingstone Online coding guidelines to create the coding guidelines for the One More Voice site.
  • Hosting on GitHub has eliminated publication costs while also exposing our underlying site files and allowing them to be used separately from the site if needed.
  • Using DownNotifier and UptimeRobot allows us to monitor the site for free and ensure that it stays online.

Conclusion  top

The One More Voice site thus forgoes a variety of digital bells and whistles and instead relies on the strengths of simplified web development and reuse of previously developed and refined digital resources. Doing so has allowed us to start up quickly (a single individual built the entire site via a high-powered, month-long code sprint in May 2020), work at a manageable scale, and produce quality scholarship, even if its scope at present remains limited. Beginning the project in this way also means that we have a solid foundation that can be scaled up in the future should we wish to take our project in more complex directions.