Digital humanities (DH) appears to have a broad definition and a wide open field for study, for DH exists through various definitions, ideals, disciplines and principles. After class this last week, it really seems that as long as the project is online, and it has something centered around humanities, the project can technically fit into the category of DH. Lincoln Mullen, an assistant professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University, states on his blog post, that, “we’re all digital humanists now” (Lincoln Mullen). His reasoning includes the reality that scholars everywhere (in the English Department, History Department, etc.) use online resources — for reading an online document, researching through an online archive, using a blog to share comments and critiques on a new book or theory, etc. (etc. is going to be used a lot, because DH is so broad). Professors also use the internet constantly, with online resources, like Blackboard, where assignments can be released and uploaded online. Mullen says that while everyone is a digital humanists, there are varying degrees of that title, which include the knowledge of how to code, whether or not someone makes use of Zotero, omeka.net, text mining, and other internet-based resources.
Because of this diversity, DH is a field that has aided in its own accelerated growth, for it can be creatively molded to fit a plethora of projects authored and created by scholars of varying backgrounds and disciplines. This kind of broad networking assists in making the DH field more dominant in the ‘academy’, as ideas are able to spread and grow at a faster rate through a technologically advanced format. Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, a professor in the Department of English at the University of Maryland and the Associate Director of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), describes this interdisciplinary attribute of DH as the “core” of DH, and it “is more akin to a common methodical outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” (Matthew Kirschenbaum). Basically, multiple projects and essays can be edited and contributed by numerous scholars from varying fields — all practicing DH. This can be seen through the example that Matthew K. Gold, an associate professor of English and Digital Humanities at The Graduate Center, CUNY, gives.
The speed of discourse in DH is often noted with surprise by newcomers, especially at conferences, when Twitter feeds buzz with links to announcements, papers, prototypes, slides, white papers, photos, data visualizations, and collaborative documents. By the typical standards of the publishing industry, this text has seen a similarly rapid pace of development, going from first solicitation of essays to published book in less than a year (Matthew Gold).
The book was then peer-reviewed through a blogging/social media format. Peer reviewers received a password, where they were able to logon to a blog site, like WordPress, where they posted comments and suggestions in the margins of the text. This sounds like a brilliantly accurate and timesaving technique. Drafts no longer have to be sent via the post, which can take weeks to get to the desired destination. Then, instead of pen and paper, which take months to dialogue, DH projects give the opportunity for direct discourse to be completed within weeks. In Gold’s example, 568 comments were given to the 30 essays in a two week period.
Digital Humanities serves to not only create but also to preserve documents in disciplines, like English, History, Classics and many other disciplines within the humanities. Kirschenbaum gives the example of 32 extant quarto copies of Hamlet, which have been made available online through the United Kingdom’s Joint Information Systems Committee and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This kind of interdisciplinary collaboration, between the IT (Information Technology) discipline and the English discipline, enables something of old to become available as new, to an audience of online users. Also, as a side-note, English scholars are not the only ones who would be interested in an online version of Hamlet. Literary resources also intrigue History and Classics scholars (for research), as well just the general public, who wish for ways to challenge and grow its reading skills. “Digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed”(Kirschenbaum). Works-in-progress and even finished projects can be reviewed and critiqued in a public setting, through internet-based sites, like Blogs and Twitter.
Because DH can serve a multitude of people in a variety of disciplines it is vital that young people, even though they have grown up in an era of technology, still learn how to use and produce DH material. Megan O’Neil wrote an article, that the Chronicle of Higher Education posted, about Northwestern University’s 10-week course called “Managing Your Online Reputation”. The professors and creators of this class, Eszter Hargittai and her colleague Brayden King, know “the way that most students find jobs or connect with people is not by mailing out résumés, it is by people finding each other on social media,” says Mr. King (Megan O’Neil). The goal of the course “seeks to train students to build robust, productive online identities through which they can engage topics of interest, command audiences, and advance their careers” (Megan O’Neil). Instead of forcing the students to learn the hard way — through mistake after mistake, the Northwestern University professors have offered a way for the next generation of scholars and employers to learn how to use Internet-based resources in life-changing ways, such as landing internships and jobs through the publishing of work online (online journals, blogs and Twitter). Young people are like new members of the DH world, and it rests on the veteran scholars to assist in making the world of the internet grow in a positive and constructive way, by teaching the next generation of users and contributors.
An excellent example of someone already using her DH knowledge in a way to assist those who are less knowledgeable about the Internet and DH opportunities is Miriam Posner, who coordinates and teaches in the Digital Humanities program at UCLA, and who serves on the executive committee of the “Association for Computers and the Humanities”. She posted a blog post back in 2013 called “How did they make that”. This post lists a variety of DH projects with the software, downloads and websites that helped to construct the projects. I highly recommend checking out Miriam Posner’s Blog, at miriamposner.com, for those interested in contributing to the online world of digital humanities. Her post has helped me to see that sometimes only one really great primary source is all it takes to create a DH project, and helpful tools, like maps, can be added to projects from resources like Google Maps, without feeling intimidated by the idea of having to create my own, unique mapping program. One specific DH project on Posner’s blog post stood out to me, both for its content and friendly user accessibility — “A Mapping Project: The Negro Travelers’ Green Book” http://library.sc.edu (the third example on Posner’s blog post – refer to the pictures and descriptions below this post on how to use the book’s site).
The University of South Carolina’s SC Digital Academy and the Digital Collections and African American Studies departments published a DH project to bring attention to the humiliating laws of the racially segregated American past. Connie Geer, the project’s main developer, and Matthew W. Shepherd, the map developer, created and made available to the public an online version of the primary source, The Negro Travelers’ Green Book (Green Book for short). This book is not only available to be read by a large online population, but the book is also laid out in an interactive, visual format, which helps the online user to see and experience the vast racial segregation of the American past. Shepherd’s map uses Google Maps to show where, throughout the United States, African Americans were allowed to go on holiday. The online user of the digital project has the ability to “search” a specific city and state for a list of lodging establishments, restaurants, activity centers and tourist hotspots that were safe for African Americans to use in 1956.
Through this interactive, digitized project, the contributors show just how segregated the United States was in 1956, which was shockingly not very long ago. The “Green Book’s” interactive map shows that the African American people, even on holiday, which is supposed to be a time of relaxation and freedom, still had to abide by the regulations of a racially segregated country. To find safety, they had to sleep in certain hotels, eat in particular restaurants and be entertained in select areas.
In the spring of 1956 a new version of the “Green Book” was published and distributed to African Americans for “convenience’s sake”. Inside the pages of the “Green Book” was a listing of lodging establishments, restaurants, activity centers and tourist hotspots that allowed African Americans to enter and use the facilities. The book was (and the memory still is) offensive and revolting to think that human beings were isolated in such heartless ways, based solely off the color of their skin.
One may wonder why this book is being brought up on my blog, for the book’s writing and publishing bring up a deplorable aspect of the history of the United States — racial segregation. While remembering historical events can quite often be sad and maddening, it is still important to recall the past to make sure the atrocious events are remembered as appalling and socially unjust. One of the aspects of studying in a field of humanities is the responsibility that is given to the humanist to share history’s events to the public, in an effort to make certain the events stay in the past. Digital humanists are able to exercise this responsibly in a blossoming new field — digital humanities.
Matthew Gold, “The Digital Humanities Moment,” Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2012. http:// dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/2
Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” Debates in the Digital Humanities, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/38
Lincoln Mullen, “Digital Humanities Is a Spectrum; or, We’re All Digital Humanists Now, 2010. http:// lincolnmullen.com/blog/digital-humanities-is-a-spectrum
Megan O’Neil, “Confronting the Myth of the ‘Digital Native’,” Chronicle of Higher Education, April 21, 2014. http://chronicle.com/article/Confronting-the-Myth-of-the/145949/
Miriam Posner, “How Did They Make That?,” August 29, 2013. Click through to all of the projects listed in this post. http://miriamposner.com/blog/how-did-they-make-that/