What is DH?

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?


6 thoughts on “What is DH?”

  1. Kristen, thanks for the thoughtful post. Two particular observations caught my eye here.

    One is how students may now communicate with authors through social media. It’s a wonderful development, and I’m glad you pointed it out. That said, I wonder to what extent we would call that DH. For example, I could tweet a politician asking about a position, or a physicist asking about a particular experiment result. In other words, you’re talking about communication with humanities, but does that make it digital humanities? Or is there something qualitatively different about the interaction that makes this a new animal that’s different from the previously-mentioned ones.

    Also, something to be clarified. The post notes that “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.” There’s no question that students have much easier access to information — although, as someone who teaches history, I find that sometimes this also allows students to avoid going to that big building with all the books and old papers in it (in the old days, we used to call it a “library”!). In any case, do you mean that the explanatory essays do the same intellectual work, and in more detailed ways, or that they have exchanged analysis for description?

    1. I was referring to the way explanatory essays are becoming more detailed. I can see how they could also be used to replace information or researched facts. In my classroom, I am seeing that students are pushing themselves with informative essays. It is about stating the facts but also making it creative and entertaining.

  2. Kristen,

    It’s interesting that you mention plagiarism in your post. As a high school English teacher myself, plagiarism has always been kind of the elephant in the room. I haven’t been able to get my students to fully understand it, much less avoid it. I hadn’t really considered how DH would affect that idea. Would the lines start to get blurry?

    I’ve also been considering this plagiarism idea in light of something I have started with my students. I took a teaching grammar and writing class last semester and started using some of the ideas from one of the books, Image Grammar, Second Edition: Teaching Grammar as Part of the Writing Process by Harry Noden. Part of the book, and actually most of the books used in the course, began with imitating the work of other writers. For example, take a passage you like from a writer and change the topic and the words, but follow the sentence structure. I was under the impression that plagiarism was copying anything, including sentence structure, but I remember doing similar exercises when I was in school. Would that be considered plagiarism? And furthermore, would it be considered plagiarism if students only used imitation as a kind of warm-up and never intended to publish their results?

    1. Katie, I have the same exact feelings and frustrations with plagiarism. I find that book you discussed really does pose a unique question. I don’t know if there is a definite line for all situations about plagiarizing. If there is, someone needs to write a book!

  3. Kristen, thank you for your post. I think it echoes some sentiments I’ve had for some time in my master’s studies that the study and teaching of composition needs to have flexibility. Times change, people change, etc. – and we need to adapt ourselves to that fact. Digital humanities are not a replacement for traditional writing practices, but rather a supplement to what we already learn and know. I think embracing DH as a PART of those practices will not only let students have a multidisciplinary view of writing, but will also let them view writing study with an open mind, allowing them to adapt their writing to various situations and necessities. That would be invaluable!

  4. Kristen, I too drew a connection to the world of education and DH. Like your thoughts on students interacting with authors and other students who are engaging in texts, I was thinking about how much DH has shaped my classroom from accessing texts online, chatting with authors through Twitter, or blogging with students from neighboring schools. I also had never encountered a book on this particular open format and was very intrigued about how more texts in this fashion would be so beneficial for public schools!

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