The digital world is a fickled creature – a Kraken whose tentacles have seemingly stretched to impact almost every facet of our daily lives. The digital world offers entertainment, material goods, news, and scholarship. While it represents a potential springboard for the global democratization of ideas, the digital world also serves as a labyrinth with its walls constructed by consumerism. Increasing advancement in the interdisciplinary field of Digital Humanities has led to numerous academic debates surrounding the definition of Digital Humanities in an effort to understand the relationship between computation and humanities teaching, scholarship, and training. First, what place does computation have in the humanities? And second, how (and why) might scholars seek to domesticate the digital world that has for so long roamed untamed in the darkness?
The place of computation in the humanities has much to do with its value in an individual project. Many publications by scholars constructing a definition or manual to the Digital Humanities call for its deconstruction when approaching the field in order to understand its use in a specific project. Space, place, and time serve as key indicators as to Digital Humanities’ use “intellectually” and “institutionally” (McCarthy, 1232). Willard McCarthy’s article “Humanities Computing” emphasizes humanist scholars to consider “not whether it is appropriate [and useful in the classroom] but when” (McCarthy, 1227). Like all tools, Digital Humanities must serve a purposeful end whether in teaching or undergoing a scholarly project.
In addition, McCarthy points out that the interconnection of Digital Humanities within different disciplines and fields “may be used in refurbishing the humanities” to become more interdisciplinary-friendly (McCarthy, 1224). Digital Humanities serves the role as a ‘conversation-starter’ between different departments and academic perspectives. As a field, it seeks to unify rather than alienate.
The field of Digital Humanities remains a fusion of interconnected thought processes and skillsets, utilizing disparate practices to reach a wider audience through a new medium. As a democratizing tool for both educators and students, Digital Humanities increasingly narrows the gap between physical space and social environments. In “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0,” the role of universities in a twenty-first century world is described as centering on “shap[ing] natively digital models for the newly emergent public sphere of the present era” (Lunenfeld, et al., 2). Unlike print media, the Digital Humanities presents material via visuals, audio, video, and print, ultimately appealing to a more diverse audience with different learning styles. At the very least, the Digital Humanities is a “global and local” unifying system of knowledge and a collective opportunity to reanalyze data (Lunenfeld, et al., 2).
McCarthy and Rafael Alvarado in his blog post “The Digital Humanities Situation” attest that while there is no concrete definition of Digital Humanities or a unified sense of practice, the beauty of the emerging field lies in its constant evolution. By experimenting with its application, humanists acquire a new set of skills and a new medium in which to receive feedback on data and ideas. In his article “What Is Humanities Computing and What Is Not,” John Unsworth argued that the humanities “will require the rigor of computational methods” in order to meet the technological and professional demands of the twenty-first century (Unsworth). Therefore, computation, technological knowledge, and digital media developments cannot be viewed as independent of the humanities (Lunenfeld, et al., 13). While the range of skills remains dependent upon one’s individual academic goals, the Digital Humanities must be met with openness in terms of its effective application in the classroom and the conference halls.
With its many advantages and complications, the field of Digital Humanities designs to restore the vision of the digital world as one of academic conversation and interconnection. And not just a place to watch crazy cat videos…
References and Further Readings
Alvarado, Rafael. “The Digital Humanities Situation,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities. Edited by Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
Burdick, Anne, et al., “Short Guide to the Digital Humanities,” in Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.
Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities. Edited by Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
Lunenfeld, Peter, et al. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto Version 2.0.” (Accessed September 6, 2013).
McCarthy, Willard. “Humanities Computing,” in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2003.
Unsworth, John. “What Is Humanities Computing and What Is Not?” Lecture. University of Munich. 2002. (Accessed September 6, 2013).