What is Digital Humanities?
Being an English teacher today requires an understanding of Digital Humanities. Naturally, the first article I read was, Matthew Kirschenbaum’s, What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? The study of English literature is so open ended when it comes to the discussion of literature, it can easily overlap into the study of humanities. It is logical that Digital Humanities would feel comfortable relating with English studies. Both the Common Core State Standards and the Michigan Merit Curriculum (I live in Michigan) require the use of technology regularly in the classroom. But, just the use of technology isn’t DH. Through my reading I found that, the study of English, more specifically Literature and composition, ties English to the realm of Digital Humanities. In any general English classroom, students type essays, research, read, and discuss, on a daily basis. This push for technology has moved many of these studies to be completed online. Not just for ease or experience with technology, but it’s beneficial for student engagement. The study of English, world languages, and history seem easily aligned with DH, what about math and science?
I found it interesting to read about how the study of Digital Humanities has developed over time. And, I had to find a way to relate it to the classroom because it helped me to better understand the topic. I shared my reading with my students and asked them how the study of DH effected them. The first connection was made to literature analysis. They brought up that because of the internet, blogs, and social media, they found it easier to find symbolism and themes within the literature read in class. They explained that websites like Tumblr, Sparknotes, and Twitter, gave them access to information about the characters, author, and theories that helped them to look deeper into the text. They also explained that having a conversation with someone on Tumblr about a theory was essentially equivalent to an electronic Socratic Circle. My students are starting conversations with people around the world about the same text. Also, my students love to tweet authors to beg for spoilers. How else can students (high school or us) utilize DH to better explore their understanding of literature and topics? Are there ways that teachers can better control their student’s communication, or is that unnecessary?
In The Humanities, Done Digitally by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, she really hit on how composition has changed with the growth of DH. My favorite thing she said was, “The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another.” Composition studies have changed immensely as DH has gained in popularity. I barely remember a time as a student where I didn’t research for ideas and writing techniques for something I was about to write about Yes, DH brought the typing of essays, research writing, and topic research, but it also brought more writing samples to the eyes of writers. Students asked to write an essay for a class now have the option to read works and opinions by others to help them better themselves as writers. Fitzpatrick also references changes to composition and the way students are writing. She references the bounds between critical and creative becoming arbitrary. She doesn’t explicitly say that it is in reference to composition but I feel it can be applied. I see that the longer I teach, the more the explanatory essay develops into a more descriptive and detailed essay, still giving fact but in an entertaining way. I do think that the accessibility of sample writings is pushing writers to challenge themselves. Is this sharing and borrowing of ideas beneficial to young writers? Is it blurring the lines of what is and isn’t plagiarism?
Finally, Tom Scheinfeldt’s statement about Digital Humanities being as nice as a golden retriever is reassuring. It makes me feel comfortable to send my students online to discuss their novels with the authors or kids from another country. They are safe to learn.
How else does DH align to curriculums, students learning, and engagement?