What is Digital Humanities?

After reading through Sarah’s and Dave’s posts, I am in agreement that the classification of what is and is not Digital Humanities is a major task in the field. As an undergraduate, I was both a History major and a Telecommunications major so I have some background in Digital Humanities. Despite this background, I did not have a large amount of interaction with DH and, more importantly, I was and am still unable to figure out what constitutes DH. In regard to Dave’s mention of vlogs and YouTube, there must be some line that separates meaningful contributions to the field of DH and the seemingly uninformative, useless videos. But at the same time, are these videos useless? Do they not give us an idea of the other side of the pendulum? Do we sometimes ignore “stupid” videos because they do not explicitly advance our understanding of DH, or are they simply another important part of the DH community in the sense of “all opinions matter”?

The articles did a pretty good job of explaining the definition of DH and the progression of how DH came to be named what it is. I appreciated the change from “Humanities computing” to “Digital Humanities” because I agree with Kirschenbaum that it “casts a wider net” by humanizing the community. I also agree with Fitzpatrick that the “Humanities computing” name emphasized the technology rather than the human “aspect” of the field. While computing and computers are important when it comes to the creation of digital things, it is the human aspect that makes it, well, human, which facilitates debates and creative interactions among scholars. Despite the articles clarifying the definition of DH, they further complicated the idea of what constitutes DH and demonstrated the battles going on in the community as to what should be considered a “member.” The Introduction discussed debate of “coding” vs. “building” as a prerequisite for being considered a member of the DH community and I found myself wondering, what constitutes “building” and, if there is a specific answer to that question, why does it matter? As with the YouTube reference I made, do some aspects of “building” not matter? Or, should we more adequately define “building” to be more inclusive?

The explanation of DH also helped me understand how it can benefit my career in the historical community. The incorporation of social media, like Twitter, can bring to life historical discussions and presentations that may be out of range for some scholars. As noted in one of the articles (I foolishly forgot to make a note of the author in my notes), a history conference was basically live-Tweeted by half of those in attendance. This allowed, and will allow if continued, for people all over the world to experience breakthroughs in the historical community. It allows information to spread even quicker than ever before, especially with Tweets that feature links that lead to “further reading.” Franco Moretti’s data mining, if I understood it correctly, had me drooling in regard to the time it could save researching. The exponential shrinkage of time dedicated to research would open up new possibilities for historical writing and discovery.

5 thoughts on “What is Digital Humanities?”

  1. Thanks for your post, Aaron. It builds (see what I did there? eh?) nicely off of both David’s and Sarah’s posts. I found myself asking the same exact questions as to the “useless” material out there on Youtube. Do Matt Bellassai’s “Whine About It” videos count because they represent our culture in some way? I decided that they didn’t, but then I wondered if that was some insidious elitist streak in me.

    As I read this week I felt like I was a kid again, making a sand castle. Each text I read helped me form my ideas of DH and pat down my definition, but each new text brought with it a wave that washed away the majority of my previous conception. I am currently re-reading with the intent of wrestling down some coherent thoughts that might form a better definition.

    1. I like your sandcastle analogy, Emily. I have been wrestling with the definition myself and found to be on shifting sand the further I got into the reading. It’s also been hard to explain the topic to my fiance when he asked about my classes this semester. I ended up giving up trying to explain it until I could get a better grasp on it myself. Good luck!

  2. Nice metaphor, Emily. But Emily and all, don’t get too discouraged. As you can see, there’s significant disagreement even among those steeped in the field (if that’s in fact what DH is) who have very differing conceptions of what it means, its boundaries, and who qualifies as doing it.

  3. I’m glad to hear there are others out there who were as “discouraged” as I. I thought I was having a seizure every time I would start a new section of the readings. Each definition would swirl around and in my head trying to make a connection or relationship with the other. There were some similarities that led me to believe there was an aha moment coming, but it never really came. It reminded me of my critical media class that continually led me to believe that each week was the answer and it wasn’t. So I’ve figured that all of this is relative to your own philosophies….. maybe. It is what you bring to the table and your research that clarifies the “definition” for you.

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