Digital Humanities

leamirella's picture

I find the digital humanities fascinating. In fact, I had a revelation in class on Wednesday about creating an independent major in looking at the way in which the digital humanities are shaping the way we think, read and function daily. Or something to that effect. I then decided to look up what digital humanities actually meant. (I got a little bit ahead of myself, I know) In an essay by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, digital humanities is defined as:

"the digital humanities, also known as humanities computing, is a field of study, research, teaching and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities."

When I first read this, I thought, this is the liberal arts education plus computers. It covers such a vast amount of things that to attempt to study it within the boundaries of this class seems like an impossible task. But of course, that can't be helped.

What I'm really interested in, however, is the way that these computers, which we have created, are influencing us and shaping us. But this isn't new. Each piece of technology that we have invented, be it the printing press, bookbinding, scrolls, tablets etc. has made us read differently, think differently, interact differently. I remember for my ESem (with Professor K. Rowe) last semester when we read Plato's Phaedrus. Plato makes the claim that text doesn't encourage interaction and that it couldn't talk back. However, as text became more portable and easier to make marks on, his claim has been nullified. (Look at your readings and the different annotations that you may have on them. That's you interacting with them.) Though Plato may have thought that you couldn't interact with text at first, we managed to overcome this and learned how to make it work with us.

I feel that this same principle can be applied to computers. Professors and parents alike complain about the way that the internet is 'dangerous' and 'distracting'. While it is now, is is possible that we may adapt to this in our favour? While the internet maybe dangerous, there is the possibility that someone may invent a way to prevent this. Or better yet, we humans may find ways to be able to, i don't know, subconsciously refrain from browsing 'dangerous' websites.  If the problem is that its distracting, maybe the skill of not being distracted is something we will start learning at earlier ages? Or better yet, learn to use this distraction to our benefit? (I.E. instead of checking Facebook and email, we might be able to train ourselves to check out related websites instead.) If Hayles is right and we have naturally just started to hyper read thanks to the internet, maybe all of this will become 'natural' to us at some point.

The internet has also brought about issues of authorship. Hayles makes the argument that the internet is becoming more and more interaction-based and collaborative with the coming of web 2.0. Collaboration is great - information becomes easily available, people can work with others across the globe and gain different perspectives, the list goes on and on. However, it is difficult to find out who the 'true' author is. The question that arises from this is what will this imply for future scholarly work? Should we completely abandon the old system of academia and embrace new technology with open arms?


KR's picture

A "big tent" definition

Great posting, Mirella! It's wonderful to see your thoughts keep percolating after Bookmarks, in this characteristically skeptical, judicious way.

Here's a definition of Digital Humanities by Kathleen Fitzpatrick that I find easier to engage with than Kirschenbaum's (though I admire his work a lot). It's from her ProfHacker post:

She gives a "big tent" definition:

Digital humanities is: "a nexus of fields within which scholars *use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities*, or, as is more true of my own work, who *ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies.*"

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