Second entry on the Digital Humanities: Manifests We begin the class by contending with the idea of what Digital Humanities (Humanities Computing) really is and if it really correlates or is merely a novelty in the humanities discipline. The scholarship for this week included John Unsworth’s lecture on “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not?” Willard McCarty’s article further discussing what Humanities Computing is in an article entitled “Humanities Computing,” followed by an impassioned proclamation for the Digital Humanities in Todd Presner, Jeffrey Scnapp, Peter Lunenfield et al. “Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” (possibly soon to be 3.0.) Then Anne Burdick in her Short Guide to the Digital Humanities offered us a concise definition of the Digital Humanities. We concluded the week’s readings with two articles published in the Debates in the Digital Humanities (one by Matthew Kirschenbaum and a blog post by Rafael Alvarado) journal explaining its meteoric rise and how the Digital Humanities is an ambiguous field and has led to sectarian differences.
These articles were a crash course in three categories: defining and providing the history of the digital humanities, questioning what exactly is Digital Humanities and if this practice is necessary, and concluding with a resounding YES!! (As long as we continue to approach it with a childlike curiosity.) The issue with Digital Humanities that I found compelling is the question why is it necessary. Unsworth essentially states that it is a charlatan, that the Humanities Computing only works to manipulate a document, add search engines and text analysis in the beginning. The issue of creating charlatans asks the question why do we need charlatans when we can have the real thing?
McCarty attempts to answer this question by examining the history of Humanities Computing. He analyzes the very first attempt at it with a Jesuit man named Roberto Busa who wrote a “concordance of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas,” that has been recognized as foundational for leaving the cumbersome notecard system that had dominated before. Museologists and programmers saw the potential fusion of incorporating concordance with technology once computers became a viable option to store information and to find key words in documents. A community began to emerge who was excited by the prospect of Humanities Computing improving and expediting the research process through the ability to use search engines and hypertext in a particular corpus to find what is needed. That has occurred but what is next for Digital Humanities?
The next three articles attempt to answer this query and the answer seems clear: be a child. I don’t literally mean return to an adolescent state but be excited by this technology. How can text be manipulated to make it more engaging to both students and teachers? That is the only way that the Digital Humanities will succeed in becoming its own discipline. An excellent example that I recently learned about from one of my professors is the website Visualizing Emancipation which invites students to examine American slavery through examining topical maps, playing with them and adjusting them to learn about its impacts on American history.
Burdick emphasizes additionally explains the purpose of the Digital Humanities. Most importantly Digital Humanities is different from print because it allows a person to manipulate an image or text, whereas printed text is available in only one view. Digital Humanities does not seek to remove text but to complement it. An excellent example of text being complemented is found in Kirschenbaum’s article on Digital Humanities.
Kirschenbaum’s entry was the most interesting I thought because he included Digital Humanities tools into his presentation that created a more memorable experience. His article was so visually rich from the clean presentation to the ability to highlight and comment on different sentences that subjectively I felt more engaged and able to learn more from it. His argument for technology stems from the corpora idea and shows how it reached a new level at the 2009 MLA convention when people were encouraged to tweet during the presentation. It helped expose to people the idea that scholarly activity can be transmitted through social media and blogging. There is something enriching about the ability to manipulate and a presentation, to have a personal investment through tweeting and commenting on a lecture. It creates this fusion of lecture hall and discussion. Twitter and social media technology can be controlled in a learning environment, and it is something familiar now that over half a billion people use. It’s become a part of life that people feel safe with. It’s how information is disseminated now and education systems need to keep pace or else they may face oblivion.
The final article for this week’s reading introduced the idea of where do the sectarians fit into the Digital Humanities (if sectarian is even the right term) because this field is so young a canon has not been written yet. The prospects are exciting in having an opportunity to make an impact in a field that could prove to be very important for teaching the humanities. The future of Digital Humanities comes down to experimentation and codifying what works and what fails. A few of the authors from this week mentioned that experimentation is good because even the failures show what didn’t work and how it contributes to the knowledge of the Digital Humanities.
Overall, Digital Humanities are important because it is a new pedagogy. It is a means of disseminating information that students will be able to interact with and better learn from than in the traditional sense. Of equal importance, the Digital Humanities do not exist to challenge the established order of printed text, simply to complement. In these manifests the authors elucidate the importance of this field and how it will become a new way of teaching, disseminating, and learning for the present and who know what it will become in the very near future. But it should be pretty exciting.