Writing and editing with GitHub issues


Over the past few months, I have been experimenting with open-source tools with new enthusiasm—inspired in part by the efforts of Melody Kramer on the Media Public project and historian W. Caleb McDaniel. In August, I successfully started using Jekyll to power a small website about the Baltimore’s Civil Rights Landmarks project I’m working on at Baltimore Heritage. Today, I took this experiment a bit farther. I started using using GitHub issues to manage the editorial process for a review of Confederate memory and monuments published as a working draft yesterday morning.

It can feel odd to use a tool like GitHub that is designed for collaboration when my research and writing is more often a solitary undertaking. I only have a few colleagues who have used GitHub and I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince any regular collaborators to give it a try. Honestly, I’m a bit intimidated myself! Other writers have been using GitHub for years but not without some challenges. Konrad M. Lawson noted the “The Limitations of GitHub for Writers” in a 2013 post for intriguing ProfHacker series on GitHub:

All of the guides to git and GitHub talk about the tasks of a programmer in terms of fixing bugs or adding new features. Git and GitHub serves these tasks well, with the world of branches and sporadic commits generally fitting well with the workflow of a programmer. Of course, as writers we also “fix bugs” when we edit our work, and “add features” when we create new content. But these metaphors are somewhat forced. Writing with a git repository and treating a commit like choosing “Save” from the File menu doesn’t quite feel right to me.

To get past this challenge in my own work, I’ve been looking at a couple of resources on using GitHub issues effectively:

There are also a number of different tools that promise to integrate GitHub issues and project management: Waffle, HuBoard, ZenHub, and Codetree (I’m trying ZenHub but I’m curious about Waffle). I’m hoping that GitHub issues can make the process of revising and improving this historic context easier for me to manage and easier for others to participate. Can I actually accomplish that goal? I’m hoping I’ll find out.