Digital Positivity and Optimism

To reiterate, I’m Nigel, and I like a lot of things, though Susie below quoted my Twitter bio: “I like really old things and really new things. Everything in between in just filler.” This is accurate enough, and evidences my decision to enroll in any if not just this particular digital humanities course (obviously, DH files under “really new things”). There is, of course, the new car smell that accompanies DH as an academic discipline, but more so than that, what is fascinating about it is watching the excitement it generates and the optimistic vision DH scholars have for their research and pedagogy, which I can only help but think of as a side effect of DH being so young.

You can get this sense of what I talk about from many of the articles we’ve been reading this week, with the uncertainty and cautiousness we can sometimes read in the writing, or the democratic feel of the comments sections, but two pieces thus far have really stood out to me: first, Liu’s article on reading and social computing resonates with me particularly because of how intent he comes across with justifying the new technologies DHers regularly utilize as both new, yet familiar to literary study, and how great that is for all of us. He writes:

“Above all, as a literature professor, I recognize that—viral YouTube videos aside—the vast preponderance of Web 2.0 is an up-close and personal experience of language. Much of that language, most of which is textual, may be demotically raw, even feral, but not all.”


“It is to follow the living language of human thought, hope, love, desire—and hate too—wherever it goes and wherever it has the capacity to be literary, even if the form, style, or grammar of such literariness does not always conform to canonical standards.”

Liu finds the Chaucerian and the Shakespearean in the writings of Facebook, Twitter, and other social tools and readily grasps them, despite their non-monograph form, as useful to educating his students in actual Shakespeare. While the canonical standards are set, and I have no issue with monographs and print culture as a whole, DH poses itself as far more open minded about the new forms writing can take. This is important to me because of my unashamed love of gaming and the desire to see it considered as a new medium worth academic study, just as film is now, as the novel was in the 17th and 18th centuries, and as first written texts were (which begs the question of whether or not the written humanities had to fight for viability among the oral humanities way back in the day). Liu, I think, recognizes the capability of new technologies to produce works comparable to those we traditionally study, the Romeo and Julietsand Canterbury Tales, and that these works’ status is neither reliant upon nor due to their form. Easily enough, I think, we can see the new mediums producing the quality we expect from our current literary pantheon (if we believe it is not already).

The next piece from our readings I believe evidences the hopefulness of the field is the collected Twitter conversation of Koh et al. From such a lengthy discussion of the field’s boundaries, but also it’s current gaps, I see the desire of DH’s practitioners to embody the democratic ideals they uphold in support of open access and community, but also in avoiding the pitfalls of other disciplines in limiting their involvement and stymieing its scope. I am not unfamiliar to the debate of gender, race, and class within DH. Martha Nell Smith (mentioned in the conversation) has been a proud and active supporter of bringing in cultural criticism into DH’s field of vision, preventing any sort of white-washing (and straight-washing and man-washing, I suppose too). This sort of concern, to me, speaks of the DHers’ genuine care for ethical, responsible, and relevant research and to work towards what Liu called “democratizing” the humanities with both cultural and digital means.

Of course, I don’t mean to gloss over or ignore some of the other, and maybe even bigger and serious aspects of DH, particularly the importance of actual “building” Stephen Ramsay discusses, which seems to me at least, the major hallmark of DH. This is important, and undoubtedly one of the most interesting aspects of DH, but I figured several people would key in on this characteristic and many of us were aware of it judging by the many variations of “will we be coding?” on our Post-It Note collection, but I wanted to take this first blog as a chance to identify one of the most fulfilling and smile-inducing aspects of the field, that adds a little bit of sweetness to DH and even in some ways supports the ideologies I have thus far observed. The sense of involvement, but also openness DHers have to their work , their theories, and the humanities is refreshing and inviting to those looking in, and perhaps lends itself to the discipline’s ever-increasing population and interest.

Practicing, Building, Doing

Hi everyone. As my Twitter profile concisely states, I am a former HS English teacher (taught 10th and 11th graders for two years) and a current English MA student here at UMCP who’s planning to return to teaching once I graduate this May. As such, I had no real concentration when I entered the program, which is probably a good thing since our degree requirements are so broad. As Kathryn intimated below, I am not a heavily theoretical person, especially as my interests have always been in the realms of education first, then English. Yes, I was one of those teacher’s kids who rifled through classroom castaways for leftover stickers and unused nametags, bringing home dumpster-destined readers to use in my classroom of stuffed animals. More to the point, however, this translated to my undergraduate degree of Integrated Language Arts Education, with a minor in theatre, which meant I (gleefully) missed the more intense upper-level theory courses in the English program, courses upon which a lot of my graduate work probably would have built. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

At any rate, working with Kathryn in the two DH classes we have taken together here at Maryland has not only been really enjoyable but also helped me find an area of academia that I could tentatively occupy during my time here. In my undergraduate studies I took classes such as Technology in the Classroom and used a SmartBoard in one of my field experiences; in my own classroom I had a Promethean ActivBoard, which my school’s administration proudly pointed out to prospective parents and students. From my personal perspective, I see Digital Humanities as a realm of academia that will have a significant impact on secondary education in terms of pedagogy, assessment criteria, state standards, and possibly even content selection within curricula.

Although many of the readings this week have struck me as fairly theoretical (as the subject pretty much demands), I can see within the discussion of defining the boundaries of Digital Humanities an emphasis on practicality, or as Stephen Ramsey terms it, “building.” In his words,

As humanists, we are inclined to read maps (to pick one example) as texts… This is all very good. In fact, I would say it’s at the root of what it means to engage in humanistic inquiry… But making a map (with a gis system, say) is an entirely different experience. dh-ers insist — again and again — that this process of creation yields insights that are difficult to acquire otherwise.

Ramsey’s words put me in mind of my meeting with Kari Kraus a few weeks ago, when she put forth the idea of practice-based research for my thesis. Since I’m writing about The House of Her, an altered text Kathryn and I created last semester, my thesis falls within the category of practice-based research, which Linda Candy of Creativity and Cognition Studios defines as:

[A]n original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. Claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes which may include artefacts such as images, music, designs, models, digital media or other outcomes such as performances and exhibitions.

A type of research that usually occurs within the arts, I couldn’t help but notice the tendency of some dh-ers to lean more on the side of practice-based research in their attempts to define the discipline of Digital Humanities, or as Golumbia writes:

The new technology of the Internet has shifted the work of a rapidly growing number of scholars away from thinking big thoughts to forging new tools, methods, materials, techniques, and modes or work that will enable us to harness the still unwieldy, but obviously game-changing, information technologies now sitting on our desktops and in our pockets.

This emphasis on doing is one that rings true for the teacher side of me. Good teachers don’t just think up fun and challenging assignments, they work through them ahead of time for feasibility and clarity, producing models and detailed instructions for their students to follow. Even teaching itself is a craft – one learns by doing, and the longer one does, the better one is able to become. My résumé is full of words like “crafted,” “generated,” “coordinated,” and “facilitated,” to describe my teaching experiences. Acting on a hunch, I clicked on five random blog entries on the Day of DH site to see what sort of vocabulary they used to describe their DH pursuits. Here’s what I found:

Quinn Dombrowski – her posts are chock-full of active verbs such as sewing, making, sketching, and hammering (out details!).

Kathi Inman Berens – her blog included a post titled, “What I Build,” in which she describes the various projects that she has worked on; she says at one point, “it’s not the tool, it’s what users do with the tools you build.”

Alí Albarrán – he discusses the project his students are working on: “The participation of the students is important in this project, in the sense of creation of a wiki, the site and the entries have been formed and made it by the people who will use the site and then they (and the next generations) will use the glossary as a reference.”

William Allen – an art historian who describes how he prepares for his two courses, History of Photography and Survey of Art History II, in terms of image collecting – searching, locating, and pulling up appropriate images in a plethora of tabs for his classes. He describes completing these two class preps as “projects.”

Milena Radzikowska – she teaches a Visual Communication for Information Designers II class; she states that her students are “developing look-and-feel and visualization concepts for the Calgary Music Maps project: a web‐based participatory tool that enables our communities to describe and explore Calgary’s rich music ecosystem.”

I was pretty gratified to discover that all five self-identified dh-ers incorporated a creative/artistic/building element within their descriptions of their day-to-day scholarly pursuits. Despite how much flak Stephen Ramsay took for his initial comments, I still find myself agreeing with his belief that Digital Humanities is about building (and doing) things; after all, that’s what I find so compelling (and accessible) about the field.

Very much an “Introduction”

First, I’ll reintroduce myself — I’m Susie Compton, a first-year PhD student specializing in 19th century American literature, primarily the writers of the American Renaissance (with Emerson & Whitman tying for first place as my favorite American geniuses). I had a very traditional undergraduate experience majoring in English, since my department at Wash U offered lots of survey courses (“Shakespeare,” “Modernism,” “American Literature to 1865″) to fulfill requirements and, I would say, emphasized the canon over non-canonical works. I also was not forced or prompted to explore theory too much, so while I do feel that I have a good foundation in literature, my arrival to graduate school has very much been an exploration of what else is out there. As such, digital humanities is very new to me, and I will wholeheartedly embrace being the novice in the classroom.

I’m about halfway through the readings and I’m already excited. Clifford has already noted the emphasis on “doing” in digital humanities, which I also noted as an important element of the DH realm. It’s something I’ve mentally struggled with before, because I’m a fairly digital person who utilizes social media and technological tools, but how would I make these tools work for my academic side? (You’ll note that I chose to create a new Twitter handle, @academicsusie, to differentiate from the more everyday musings of @susiecompton — I don’t know why I feel this compartmentalization of digital identities is necessary, but I think it will help me focus my various “feeds”). Because I specialize in the 19th century, I’ve also struggled with bridging that gap between the 19th and 21st centuries. Nigel’s Twitter bio is wittily apt: “I like really old things and really new things. Everything in between in just filler.”

While perusing Day in DH blogs, I came across a link to The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age, where I read about case studies using the Walt Whitman archive, textual transmission, scholarly collaboration, etc. I’ve obviously always been aware that there are huge digital projects focusing on the 19th century out there (Martha Nell Smith is in our midst, after all) but to come across this collection of essays while exploring what is an unfamiliar world of DH, it helped to ground me in what I already know.

But enough personal narrative; my “introduction” to DH through our various readings has provided me with a few key ideas about “what DH is.”

It’s certain that there’s an overlap between these fields and that which has been called digital humanities—between scholars who use digital technologies in studying traditional humanities objects and those who use the methods of the contemporary humanities in studying digital objects—but clear differences lie between them. Those differences often produce significant tension, particularly between those who suggest that digital humanities should always be about making (whether making archives, tools, or new digital methods) and those who argue that it must expand to include interpreting. (Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “The Humanities, Done Digitally”)

I’ve already mentioned the theme of “doing,” or “making,” but I’m also interested in digital interpretation–what I would describe as using digital tools to interpret what is already available to us as a text. I think this area of digital humanities is where we welcome the DHers who can’t code or build archives, but they are fluent enough in DH “theory” (which I’ve yet to be able define) to capably use the tools others create. So DHers aren’t “every medievalist with a website,” but every scholar who can navigate the digital realm of humanities.

Jamie Bianco’s “This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One” helps in thinking about creation vs. criticism (or making vs. interpreting). He writes,

Tools don’t reflect upon their own making, use, or circulation or upon the constraints under which their constitution becomes legible, much less attractive to funding. They certainly cannot account for their circulations and relations, the discourses and epistemic constellations in which they resonate. They cannot take responsibility for the social relations they inflect or control. […] Tools may track and compile data around these questions, visualize and configure it through interactive interfaces and porous databases, but what then? What do we do with the data?

So, within DH, there are clearly tools, tool-makers, data, and interpreters. Tool-makers and interpreters can certainly overlap, but like I said, I don’t think they have to. And, like Bianco implies, a tool is useless if not examined. An archive is more than a resource, it offers potential for fresh interpretation — and more “doing.”

Rafael Alvarado acknowledges that DHers have varying levels of “technical expertise,” opining that,

The digital humanities is what digital humanists do. What digital humanists do depends largely on academic discipline but also on level of technical expertise. [...] The task of the digital humanities, as a transcurricular practice, is to bring these practitioners into communication with each other and to cultivate a discourse that captures the shared praxis of bringing technologies of representation, computation, and communication to bear on the work of interpretation that defines the humanities. (Day of DH)

So perhaps we can all be DHers in our own ways (this, not surprisingly, coming from the novice with little to no “skills”) and the point of DH, as Alvarado says, is to put us into communication with one another, in order to more collaboratively interpret our areas of literary interest. Having made an effort to participate in DH on Twitter for approximately four days now, I can already see how rich this communication is (it’s kind of insane). Every ten seconds, it seems, there’s a new link to follow, a new blog post to read (not to mention the archived blogs you could retroactively explore), etc. I liked what Ernesto Priego wrote in his Day of DH blog post re: blogging:

In blogging, “yacking” is “hacking”. More importantly, “yacking” is “hacking” because it is meant to happen in a network: a blog, in my view, should not aspire to be the centre of anything, but to be a node in a larger constellation of nodes.

This type of thinking inspires me to believe that DH is one of the least self-centered realms of academia. In my mind, almost nothing is more self-indulgent or narcissistic as writing a blog, but it seems true that in the DH world, sharing and communicating negate the existence of a center (as Priego says) and instead formulate a “constellation of nodes.”

I’m not entirely sure that I’ve gotten too far in “defining” Digital Humanities for us here (I think I focused more on “What is a DHer”), but it’s certainly been a fruitful “introduction.” And, as I said, I’m only about halfway through our reading, so we’ll see what else is out there–and what everyone else has to say!

Building Relevance

Hullo, all!  Once again, my name is Clifford or Cliffie, as you prefer.  As I almost always have to explain I might as well start with it: I’m the ninth generation female Clifford in my family, it goes back over 200 years, and the name is a corruption of an old Gaelic female name “Glyfford” (or something there about) meaning “spirit/witch of the woods.”  That out of the way, I am a second-year master’s student interested in Victorian Literature, Horror, and–more recently–the digital humanities.  I, too, took Technoromanticism with Professor Fraistat and then Professor Kraus’ Book 2.0 and fell in love with the field.

During my undergraduate studies (at a liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere), I had a classics professor who described the campus humanities building as such:  “On the first floor there is the Classics and Archaeology Departments, forming the corner stone that supports everything else, essential to the stability of all other disciplines.  When you go up the stairs you have a choice, on the left, the sinister side–those of you studying languages will understand that–is the theology department.  On the right–the proper side, if you will–there is the philosophy department.  Finally–bloated, full of itself, and thoughts lost on airy nothings–the English department takes up the top two floors, barely allowing the structure of the building to contain their airy thoughts that no one–other than other English majors–care about.”  I was an archaeology major then, but I suspect my professor was more than a little horrified when at the end of my sophomore year I switched studies to join the English Department.  From then on I was “English major” and called upon to “decipher the meaning of Homer” rather than translate–not that I minded, I’m rubbish at ancient Greek.  However, the point of all this is that I don’t think his is an uncommon view of English majors or English departments.  There seems to be the idea that a degree in English isn’t useful, it doesn’t “do” anything, and–worst of all–nothing one writes about matters to anyone outside the field.  Science majors can improve or even save our lives with their studies, engineering students can design the world of tomorrow, but what does English and the humanities “do” for us?

Digital Humanities pushes back against this and that, I think, is essential to its definition.  As Kirschenbaum writes, “digital humanities, with a culture that values collaboration, openness, nonhierarchical relations, and agility might be an instrument for real resistance or reform” (“What is DH” 5).  He also states, “This [transformation] is manifested in the intensity of debates around openaccess publishing, where faculty members increasingly demand the right to retain ownership of their own scholarship—meaning, their own labor—and disseminate it freely to an audience apart from or parallel with more traditional structures of academic publishing, which in turn are perceived as outgrowths of dysfunctional and outmoded practices surrounding peer review, tenure, and promotion (“What is DH” 6).  Not only is DH about doing things–inventing, experimenting, investigating–to learn, but it is doing things to improve–in my opinion–even the way Universities and publishing work.  Thus, while DH is a method–actually a myriad methods inspired by or built upon the use of technology–to study literature, it produces and can “do” things that is truly exciting.  It refutes my professor’s accusation and removes us from the lofty and bloated classrooms.  DH produces things of genuine merit and use both to academia and outside of it–archives, web sites, twitter conversations, blogs, altered reality games, altered and “hacked” books, and far, far more.  To me, that is the most important definition of DH, as a method to investigate and create inside and outside of the classroom and to reinvent the world and the way in which we define “literature” and the “book.”  And so I have to agree with Ramsay, “Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things. [. . .] If you are not making anything, you are not…a digital humanist” (“On Building”).

Defining the Digital Humanities

As I’ve said in class, my name is Kathryn. I am a second-year master’s student, and I am planning on graduating this Spring. I am interested in early Gothic literature, but have felt really drawn to the Digital Humanities since I took Technoromanticism. Besides being an amazing class, I was particularly pleased with the way #technoro was very collaborative. We did group presentations and a group project—even the final project was allowed to be collaborative if you wanted, which I did. It was no longer about what I could do as a single individual person, but rather what I could bring to the table to actively influence how a project was shaped and delivered. Working with Charity was an incredibly gratifying experience, and we ended up balancing each other out rather nicely. Any crazy theoretical ideas that I had, Charity brought me back down to earth and said, “OK, but how can we do this practically?” and vice versa and together we would figure it out. It was brilliant and rewarding and allowed us to create our altered text House of Her in our second DH class, Book 2.0, a project that neither of us could have done individually. So, when we saw this class was being offered, it was really a no-brainer to take an intro to DH course so we could learn more about the fascinating world of DH.

OK, now I feel like I am really stepping out into uncharted territory here since nobody else has blogged yet, but let’s just see how this goes. I suppose one of the things about the Digital Humanities that has been jumping out at me during our readings has been this idea of “naming.” The Digital Humanities seems so mysterious and amorphous. I’m getting the vibe that this has the tendency to make some people (particularly those on the outside of the field) nervous. They think “we need to pin this thing down—demarcate its boundaries—find out exactly what is and is not the Digital Humanities. You can’t just be a field that bleeds into other fields; we need boundaries, because that’s how we make sense of the world.” But from where I’m standing (or sitting rather), that’s the beauty of the Digital Humanities.  According to Kirschenbaum, the Digital Humanities is “more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” (“What is DH”). He also mentions that the Digital Humanities is “a social undertaking” (What is DH”). So, DH seems to be really more about methodology and its participants rather than concerned with being a field created under one common manifesto that says DH is A, B, and C. As Bianco points out in her article, “This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One,” “digital and computational practitioners must move away from the practices and logic of unifying standards and instrumentality, as well as rationalizing and consolidating genres—for genres, like academic disciplines, are not immanent. They are produced through labored containment and through a logic of similitude against difference.” The push to define the Digital Humanities has the negative effect of limiting the field to a predetermined set of tools and texts. Now, this does not mean that there aren’t numerous things that DH is not. However, relinquishing the concern for a static definition of the Digital Humanities as an academic field does allow for many more possibilities for what DH is and what it can be. As Kirschenbaum states, participating in the Digital Humanities is not about using a predetermined set of tools and texts that are irrevocably wedded to the field, but rather it seems to be more about adopting the “methodological outlook” of DHers and collaborating with others in order to effect meaningful changes in the way we engage technology, reading, and composition both in and outside of the academy (“What is DH”).


Greetings! Welcome to the course site for Matthew Kirschenbaum‘s ENGL 668K: Introduction to Digital Humanities (Spring 2013) at the University of Maryland. If you’re ready to start looking around, I suggest you first read the Introduction to get a sense of what the course is about. You’ll also want to know about Requirements and Policies. (This course will be different in some key respects from others you may have taken as part of your graduate work.) It’s very important that you get a hold of some books sooner rather than later, or at least learn how to find the open access editions of them online. Crucially, you’ll want to know my sense of the Outcomes and Expectations for the class. And don’t forget to have a look at how to contact me.

The next thing to do is to take a look at the pages for the first two class Meetings, January 23 and 30. All of the meetings will follow a set structure, which you can read about here (this will give you a clear sense of how the class is intended to work on a week to week basis).

This site is still very much a work in progress. The Readings, Exercises, and other materials for the classes after the first two are still to be added. While the Introduction gives you a sense of what’s ahead, it’s likely that the particulars of the subsequent modules will only get roughed in as the semester progresses. Likewise, the Resources section will evolve over time. Please keep checking back often; in the meantime, there should be plenty here to get you started. I look forward to seeing you Wednesday evening in Tawes 3132!