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”).

4 thoughts on “Defining the Digital Humanities

  1. I truly agree with you. While I do feel that there are some things essential to DH–like as I wrote in my post, the creation of things–I think part of the beauty of DH is there really isn’t a hard and fast rule of what one must produce to belong. One could reinvent an e-reader in an effort to reexamine “book-ness,” create a story written using Google maps, “hack” a book to find a new method for story telling, or design a program to understand literature and still all be in the realm of DH. In a really fascinating way it allows an English major to walk the line between the English department and the sciences. One could look at code–1s and 0s which would usual belong to the engineering, math, or science field–as a language and storytelling medium all it’s own. The possibilities that arise from so broad a “definition,” if it can even be called so, for DH, are numerous and that makes it all the more inspiring.

    • Most definitely! Even having taken Technoromanticism and Book 2.0, I feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what DH could possibly be. I’m excited to learn more in this class, and find new and innovative ways to collaborate in order to create projects that can thrive outside of the academy!

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