Friday, 12 October 2012

Dabbling in Digital Humanities

This blog post will discuss the challenges which face us when we attempt to both define Digital Humanities, and dabble in this emerging field.
The inspiration for this stems from the first class of my MA in Digital Arts and Humanities, in which we discussed The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0, among other works.

Although this Manifesto of sorts was quite spliced together and lacking a central focus, it was interesting to observe the many different voices which can create such a work. There is an obvious element of resistance and controversy evident in the labeling and defining of the field of Digital Humanities. Even in this Manifesto, the meaning of 'DH' becomes quite skewed due to the reluctance of many aspects of its construction to properly define its mission. As a novice within this area, I find it quite strange that there is such a compelling resistance to explaining the nature of what Digital Humanities stands for and wishes to achieve.

In terms of its layout, the Manifesto appears to be quite archaic in its use of images scattered incoherently throughout the text. However, it does provide a fusion between visionary and textual elements, which is an area that Digital Humanities is heavily associated with. In this sense the piece stays true to the merging of worlds using digital means, however they could have put more effort into sourcing better images. It struck me as a very reflective piece of literature. Every time I read it I was reminded of the various Modernist and Postmodernist Manifesto's which emerged in the twentieth century. For example Ezra Pound's Imagism Manifesto,  A Few Dont's by an Imagiste, which strikes me as just as vague and incoherent as this piece. Pound describes the image as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time" (Manifesto, 356). His work assembles the same sort of definition without defining at the start of the Manifesto, which aids no one.

A piece within the Manifesto which I found 'perspective changing' was the arguments made about Wikipedia. The authors provides an interesting take on Wikipedia, which sees it advocated as "the most siginificant Web 2.0 creation to harness a mass audience in knowledge production and dissemination"(The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0, 6). This was quite a different take upon a database which throughout my time in University has been demonized. However, it highlighted the fact that Wikipedia is in fact an important community of reference, which is managed by everyone for everyone. Regardless of the fact that this site can oftentimes harbor factually inaccurate information, it is none the less a significant example of the power of contribution and co-ordination which Digital Humanities strives for.

Looking at some of the other pieces we discussed in class, I found Pedro Hernandez-Ramos's debates upon private and public spaces for blogging to be quite a beneficial analogy for the difficult task of extracting useful information from a mass of useless overtly personal blog spaces on the internet. "A complementary goal was to encourage students to see both blogs and discussion forums as valid and effective tools for professional development and lifelong learning" (Ramos, 3).  It is my opinion that the blog is lacking validation as an important arena for up to date research. Ramos's context makes clear that work that appears to be in a private spectrum, such as the blog, can be just as valuable for research purposes and other professional usage. This piece adds to the call for the validation of the blog as a legitimate tool for research, which can provide peer review and critique at a fast pace.

The article by Paula M. Krebs entitled Next TimeFail Better was something that I could really relate to as a former Masters student in the English literature faculty. Krebs's article addresses the taboo within the Humanities of the negative connotations of failure. This is very much frowned upon amongst peers, whereas in faculties such as Computer Science and Science in general, failure is a normal part of the process of learning. I think I will try to adopt Krebs's approach this year to some degree throughout this MA in Digital Arts and Humanities. This piece also discussed the notion of "workshopping as a pedagogy" which I thought fit quite aptly into the concept of the digital sphere (Krebs). Take for instance the comments which are attached to this piece. This in itself is a workshop, in which the 'Fail better' piece is assessed and new items are contributed by both strangers, and I'm sure, peers of Krebs. The internet can be shown from this piece to be opening up into its very own tool for teaching and learning within every field.

I'll end this piece with a quote from Jerome McGann, which argues that we need "to reform the text through computer assistance to provide new insights" (A Companion to Digital Humanities, np). This is what I strive to do as I begin to dabble in digital humanities. I hope that my knowledge of the space of the text, which I have gathered through my studies of English and History, can be transformed into new progressive models through the use of digital tools.I am particularly interested in the transformation of the solid archive of the library into a digital archive, which can be accessed all over the world, without the issue of trawling through limited archival catalogues contained within the physical library to gain limited resources for research. Rather, research needs to expand, by making information available in a direct and speedy manner.

So this video is slightly cheesy and quite brief, however kitkatkale makes some useful arguments as a fellow dabbler in digital humanities.

Works Cited

Caws, Mary Ann. Manifesto: A Century of Isms. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. Print. 

Schriebman, Susan, et al. A Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print. 


  1. I was struck by your comments with regard to Krebs' article itself being a workshop. It hadn't occured to me before and is a novel way to look at an online article. It is no longer a static piece and, in a way, takes the form of a classroom discussion. Apart from the content of the article, its online publication and inclusion of a comment section alone are a provocation for debate.

    1. Hi Roisin, thank you for your comment. I agree, the use of the article or the blog-post promotes and encourages active debate. Take for instance this conversation, it acts as a workshop in quite the same way. I like what you are saying about the classroom discussion, it is the virtual kind, which can be returned to at any time to contribute more, unlike its physical form.

    2. ...such as this second contribution!

      It definitely allows a lot more time to meditate on the readings and on the viewpoint of each person in our class. The blog posts, Twitter and forums are quite a breath of fresh air compared to solitary reflection in the library!

  2. Looking forward to following your journey through the landscape of the Digital Humanities.

    1. Thanks Anno, as I am looking forward to following you in your journey also!