Debates in Digital Humanities

As we read more into Digital Humanities each week, we see how the field has evolved and the controversies that have followed.  This week’s readings predominantly dealt with the credibility of digital work and how to properly use Digital Humanities in academia.  One of the main questions poised in this week’s readings was do digital artifacts really exist without a real world source or artifact?  This question reminded me of when Facebook went public on the stock exchange.  Facebook initially ran into criticisms by economic experts because it lacked any physical product in the real world and would be hard to track its “real” worth on the market.  Economic experts thought this would scare investors away and Facebook would just be another failed digital start up trying to get on the stock exchange.  However just the opposite happened, stock holders and company founders became billionaires and millionaires in a matter of hours proving that the general public didn’t care if a company produced a physical product.  I can see a lot of carry-over from this scenario and Digital Humanities.  If a piece of Digital Humanities is not tied to any preexisting commentary or artifact does it make it less relevant?  I think the answer is no because if Facebook has proved anything the general public doesn’t care anymore if something has real world backing.  While the ivory tower of academia might scoff at this notion it doesn’t necessarily make Digital Humanities less relevant.

While facts will always be an important part of academia, this week’s experts gave us much to ponder on how Digital Humanities could be used in education.  The first theory we are given to ponder is the Thing Theory.  This theory presents that Digital Humanities is a prototype that theories can be built upon.  An easy way to think of this is Digital Humanities is the thesis of a paper, in which we research and build upon a topic.  Another way Digital Humanities is presented in the readings is in the form of a tool or instrument.  Like a telescope is used to see the universe, Digital Humanities is a lens to see the wider world of the study of humanities.  The final theory we are presented with is the digital as a theoretical model.  With this theory we are faced with the question can computing (coding, graphical interfaces) be a model in humanities.  This theory is much tougher than the rest to grasp because you need some background in how computers work.  The issues being most people in academia outside of computer programs lack the ability to read code and don’t know how computers truly operate and to try and decipher this code into something that fits into the guidelines that is Humanities is monumental task.  Personally I don’t think Digital Humanities has one specific way in which it can be described and used.  Like most things in humanities, Digital Humanities functions better as a combination of practices rather than a defined methodology.  With these combined practices we have the ability to observe multiple ideals and are not limited to one narrative.

4 thoughts on “Debates in Digital Humanities”

  1. David-
    The building block example of writing a paper, and starting out with research and developing a topic was a great example. Thank you for comparing DH to things that I can relate to and understand! It was very helpful to me.

  2. David, this is a well-written and helpful articulation of the readings this past week. Thank you! I too went with the “combination of practices” approach. Much like the humanities in general, DH resists a concise definition, which makes the issue of credibility quite the challenge. For once, though, I found myself to be un-ruffled by what seemed (before reading) like a frustrating venture. I really love how Ramsay and Rockwell say that this questioning is a challenge that those in DH should welcome. I like the idea of a productive conflict, and I think this issue of credibility is a brilliant example of such conflict. While I’m sure this is easy to say from the outside of the issue, I truly felt that, as I was reading each different perspective, I was experiencing something exciting. The deep introspection and careful justification (often fairly and surprisingly emotive) born of this issue really helped me understand the field more (although I am still working on my own definition) and understand those who comprise its core.

  3. David,

    This really helped to articulate and clarify the first round of readings. I liked what you said here:

    “Like most things in humanities, Digital Humanities functions better as a combination of practices rather than a defined methodology. With these combined practices we have the ability to observe multiple ideals and are not limited to one narrative.”

    The further I get in teaching and in my own education, the more I tend to conceptualize theories, tools, and practices as constellations, and that was the image you evoked for me here. It seems to me that at this point in DH’s life, DH is what we make of it.

  4. Thank you for your summary of the readings! I can particularly relate to your last part about the multiple viewpoints of the topic of digital humanities, and how DH isn’t necessarily a concrete methodology. One of my strong interests as I pursue my degree is the relevance of multidisciplinary study, particularly the increase in multidisciplinary writing courses and emphases. With the plethora of uses for writing, why would we limit the majority of written work to essay format – especially when nearly zero professions consistently utilize essays? I think DH is similar – it takes many methodologies and practical applications and combines them to explore how they feed off of each other, shedding a light on the growing intertextuality of our age.

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