In reading A SHORT GUIDE TO THE DIGITaL_HUMaNITIES by Anne Burdick, Johanna
Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp, the ideas I held towards modern scholarship from my years of study in English Literature became unrooted: how did I not know that Digital Humanities (DH) existed? Why had I never thought that such a large and socially provoking area of humanities was a definable area of scholarship, or even a study-able area of social interest?
The definition of DH in A SHORT GUIDE is “new modes of scholar-ship and institutional units for collaborative, trans-disciplinary, and computationally engaged research, teaching, and publication … it is defined by the opportunities and challenges that arise from the conjunction of the term digital with the term humanities ” (2). Due to it’s choice of complicated words and the lack of explanation it provides, I do not connect with this description of DH, especially as someone who has just ‘jumped in’ to the field. Delving further into the document, I got my bearings more around what the study of DH is; however, the definition of DH at The Open University is much more approachable: “Digital Humanities is the critical study of how digital technologies and methods intersect with humanities scholarship and scholarly communication. It investigates the use of digital tools and software for interpretation and analysis … [it] allows scholars to approach old problems with new means, or to ask new questions that could not have been asked with the traditional means of humanistic enquiry.” Thus, DH is the use of digital applications in humanities scholarship, and the influence that those applications have on the workings of society.
Turning this definition towards the operation of scholasticism in the humanities, particularly in the study of English (my specialization), I ask ‘what is Digital Humanities’? In my experience, DH functions to preserve and distribute historical documents (as in library databases such as archive.org, or this interesting website I found today that documents “the experience of reading in Britain, from 1450 to 1945,” with entries of readers’ reactions to the contemporary works of their time (a type of ‘old-fashioned’ version of DH perhaps?)). DH also functions as one of the main, if not only, forms of interaction between academics. That is, e-mail and other digital platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle have become the main form of communication between professors and students and between scholars, with some classes now being offered exclusively online, with no face to face interaction between instructor and student.
These uses of digital resources go against the classification of DH in A SHORT GUIDE, which states that “The mere use of digital tools for the purpose of humanistic research and communication does not qualify as Digital Humanities. Nor, … [is it] to be understood as the study of digital artifacts, new media, or contemporary culture in place of physical artifacts, old media, or historical culture.” Why doesn’t the use of digital resources in a humanities subject qualify as DH? If that is not a proper definition of DH is, then what is? Based on the many unique definitions seen in the thread “How Do You Define DH?”, the use of digital media and tools for research and communication is a definition that many people accept. Aaron Mauro from UVIC, for example, states that “If you are making or using digital tools to study, archive, or create ‘something’ in the humanities, you are a digital humanist!”
I would agree with Mauro, as the use of these databases and forms of communication act to form our current history, and are indeed the documentation of ideas and issues present in our society. These resources act as our ‘version’ of physical written words (‘antique’ society’s’ technology, which is interesting to think about), and as such allow for projects in DH to occur. These present forms of documentations seem to me to be the projects that DH scholars embark on, whether it is the creation of a database or the use of these online forms towards a project scope. Without them, scholars would not be able to embark on any digital forms of scholarship. Projects’ in A SHORT GUIDE are a type of scholarship that “requires design, management, negotiation, and collaboration. It is also scholarship that projects, in the sense of futurity, as something which is not yet” (4).
The biggest question I have coming away from the plethora of definitions and uses of the DH is why is there a separate field called the digital humanities? Why must we classify a distinguished ’DH’ scholarship, separating it from the other humanities? I understand that the projects are intensive and do require an intensive skillset, but if the goal is to have a project be collaborative, would not someone from Humanities be partner with someone from the tech world? Or alternatively learn coding and the like from another area of scholarship such as computer science, therefore leaving the “Digital Humanist” as someone in a field of study such as History or English who has partnered with a Computer scientist and/or website designer?
If the goal of DH is to share and collaborate, preserve knowledge and present information in a digital platform, then why does A SHORT GUIDE define and limit the world of DH? To me, DH is a branch of project creation that scholars now use to present and to communicate their knowledge and understanding digitally, and it’s scope does not need to be narrowed to a definitive definition with rules and “Do not’s”. I enjoy that we as a society have come so far to be able to explore and use technology to affect and share knowledge, but with that sharing, we should step away from limiting classifications.
What are your thoughts on the definition of DH? Do you agree with the current classification of DH, or do you question the validity of separating DH from the rest of the humanities into its own class?