Researcher as Bricoleur: Contextualizing humanists’ digital workflows

Smiljana Antonijevic, Ellysa Stern Cahoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


This paper presents findings from a set of contextual inquiry sessions completed in 2016 as part of the four year Digital Scholarly Workflow project (2012-2016) conducted at the Pennsylvania State University and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Studying humanists’ workflows through contextual inquiry enabled us to gain valuable empirical insights into digital scholarship from the perspective of individual scholars. This small-scale observational study (N=8) supplemented findings from our larger scale (N=196) and medium scale (N=23) studies previously completed in the project, allowing us to develop deeper qualitative understanding of how humanists’ research practices change in the encounter with digital technologies. Through close contextual analysis of information-based research activities we illustrate how humanists build rich personal collections of digital sources, which become important information resources in their work. We also examine how adoption of digital tools transforms the established methods of managing primary and secondary sources, bringing hastier digital workflows to traditionally more methodical work. Finally, we show that efficiency cannot be qualified as a neutral or inherent characteristic of digital tools, independent of scholars’ practices, since scholars’ interaction with digital artifacts determines what constitutes efficiency of a tool in the context of a scholar’s workflow. We conclude that in humanists’ workflows digital and analog tools and resources do not necessarily replace one another or vie for the dominant position. They rather supplement each other in an interconnected, hybrid workflow that comes to our respondents as an organic manifestation of their work, and as an illustration of the bricolage character of humanists’ digital workflows.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalDigital Humanities Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Library and Information Sciences

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