Monday, 7 January 2013

More Ramblings of a DH Novice

Does anybody know what Digital Humanities really is?
(Words highlighted in red are keywords within this piece.)

Looking at Digital Humanities from an outsider’s perspective is quite a daunting experience. There is a fundamental lack of a comprehensive, all inclusive definition for this movement, which cannot be ignored. The Digital Humanities novice faces a clear challenge in trying to navigate such a scholarly movement, without a proper road map for classification. Alan Liu supports this argument:
The Digital Humanities, clearly, are in a state of rapid expansion. But giving an account of that state of expansion without relying on anecdote is difficult. Empirical evidence of the field’s growth is uneven due to uncertainty about what exactly should be counted (programs, jobs, conferences, publications, projects, funding competitions, usages of the phrase ‘digital humanities’?) (The State of the Digital Humanities, 1).

The mapping of Digital Humanities is essential to its fruition as a contender for the ‘Humanities 2.0’. The first part of this process is to reach a level of agreement in terms of Defining DH. Perhaps this seems rather simplistic, but in actual fact it is quite a complicated wish for this discipline, as it contains so many different fields of thought, with conflicting approaches. The question remains as to how we can govern an interdisciplinary system, when there are different standards for the various different skill sets within this? This piece will examine the idea of whether the Humanities and I.T. can truly combine their scholarly ethics to create an answer to the waning influence of the Humanities in the Modern world.

Fusion is an interesting word to use when describing the Digital Humanities. It evokes both mechanical and artistic connotations, which in a sense is what DH is all about. In Digital Humanities we merge the digital with the artistic, literary, cultural, and scholarly world. This movement is about accessibility as opposed to exclusivity. It combines the traditions and skills of so many different areas within the arts, under the umbrella of I.T. Arguably, the Humanities have been looking for a new home for quite some time now, which they have found in the increasing manipulation of technology. The process by which this is occurring is one of skill sharing and co-operation. Perhaps this co-operation may seem slightly forced to begin with, but as time progresses it is hoped that it will become more fluid.  The rewards of the knowledge sharing economy are undeniable. It is how we use this ‘economy’ that will make the immediate difference in expanding the horizons of the arts.

There is always the fear that I.T. will overtake the Humanities as opposed to aiding its renewal. This fear requires dispelling through the further efforts of Digital Humanists to marry the two overarching fields. Unification is essential in ensuring the future of the Humanities. James O’ Sullivan has argued that:
 Digital humanities is more than the use of technology to display research findings in electronic form. Rather, it resides at the juncture between complex or novel uses of new media and traditional humanities research and artistic endeavour. It is concerned with the use of technology to reproblematise humanist questions, or oftentimes, the exploration of technology from humanist perspectives (What makes Digital Humanities, Digital?).
 It is important to mention some of the essential elements of this merge. For the text specialists there is TEI, the use of HTML and XML to digitise the body of text, and expand its parameters for interpretation. For the historians, the use of the database is a valuable way to interpret historical data for research. Graphic design is well catered for in this movement, for those artistically inclined. These are just a few brief examples of ‘new ways of doing things’ using technology. The visual element of data is now of equal import to the physical data, in analysing, interpreting and displaying research and development within this sector.

Virtual learning is fast becoming a central principle within DH. Digital Pedagogy absorbs traditional teaching methods and then transforms them in an online environment. Conceivably, this type of e-learning could revolutionise the way we teach and learn for the next generation. Arguably, if the humanities are to survive in this Modern, technology saturated era, the classroom or lecture hall, will have to move online. This is not to say that the physical act of teaching should be abolished. Rather, further digital learning facilities are needed to aid the rapid expansions in technologies which are impacting our education systems. Conceivably, this could be viewed as a lifeline for Humanities teaching and learning. It could also lead to further innovation within these fields and within pedagogy in general.

Page to stage is a concept which resonates within the Digital Humanities hymnbook. In this sense the humanities is moving from a closed book mentality to the stage of the world, through its usage of the internet as a central means for communication and publication. Jerome McGann has argued that we need to “reform the text through computer assistance to provide new insights” (A Companion to Digital Humanities, np). Limitation is something which could hinder the humanities cause. The internet provides the freedom which this sector has needed for quite some time in order to adapt to the ever changing needs of society. However the online world has rules too. It is not a completely free space by any means. The availability of information needs close regulation and strict observations of copyright laws. Credit has to be given where credit is due in order for success to be achievable. Perhaps what the humanities needs is a little help from its friends. Communities of practice provide new methods and new tools for analysis.

 There can only be further benefits to come from working with others to strengthen this movement. This can be determined as the quintessential core of the development of Digital Humanities. A solution was needed to the problem of the future of the Humanities. Although Humanities Computing has existed for decades before it was renamed in this vain, DH expands the parameters of possibilities which using digital aids for Humanities research can provide. It is encouraging innovative thinking and pure creativity in the use of technology to transform the Humanities.

Works Cited

Liu, Alan. "The State of the Digital Humanities: A Report and a Critique". Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11.1(2012): 1-34. Print. 
McGann, Jerome. A Companion to Digital Humanities. Ed. Susan Schriebman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. Web. 
O' Sullivan, James. What Makes Digital Humanities, Digital? Web. 

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