In the first week of this program I compared the work of making digital scholarship to the action of creating a flower arrangement. I said that with arrangements, there is a great deal of grunt work that goes in to making a beautiful finished product, and that grunt work is often unseen. It is the end product that matters and it is for others to enjoy. I think that in many ways this stands true. I have been thinking this week especially about the public facing aspect of the digital humanities. I think that this especially changes it essentially from traditional scholarship. I’ve discussed this before in meetings and sessions, but traditional scholarship is often about allowing the maker to form themselves as a person. A liberal arts education is meant to allow experimentation and failure so that we can grow in knowledge and wisdom. This goes away a bit with digital scholarship. When you have something that must be ready to be viewed by others, you have less room for error, you have less room for experimentation, and you have less room for growth. Now, that being said, when you practice digital scholarship in an undergraduate setting, the chance for failure is a little bit more possible. This was many of our first tries in the digital field. And because of this, the pressure was slightly less to produce something perfect. Therefore, we were able to grow. Maybe not as much as we do with traditional scholarship in terms of ideas, but certainly through learning specific tools.
I think that the essential way in which my idea of digital humanities has changed since the beginning of the program is that I underestimated how much people would appreciate the work that I put into my project. When I compared it to making flower arrangements, I was thinking that people would dismiss the work that went into it because they just wanted to see it as a whole and beautiful. But everyone that I showed it to remarked that it looked like I had put so much work into it. Because everything is there and transparent, people are really able to see how much effort it took to create.
I think that I would also add now that the digital humanities are always about teaching. Because it is public facing, because you have to assume that the people who are viewing your project have never encountered the subject matter before, you must explain everything. You must have a teaching element. If you are more interested in ideas and furthering a particular premise rather than teaching, then having a digital project is probably not something that will work for you.
All in all, the digital humanities is a rejection of traditional scholarship in order to bring information to the public rather than keeping it in academic spheres. It comes in many forms, on many subjects. But it always tries to be revolutionary in this way.
I cannot emphasize how drastic my perspective of digital humanities changed over the course of the program. The first sentence of my summer reflections is:
“Before our conversations on the definition of digital humanities, I thought DH was a collection of information given to a person and turned into several digital format. ”
In other reflections I expand on the importance of individualizing digital humanities projects to increase learning outcomes and improve digital literacy. However, as I sit and reflect on my experience in digital humanities, I can say that I understand the discourse on properly defining DH better than I understand DH myself. That isn’t to say that I do not have a definition for DH, but I am working on creating a clear definition to encompass the contradicting aspects of DH. Cordell addresses the issue of DH being defined as a singular thing by reaffirming that it multi-faceted and unique to institutional needs. From the undergraduate perspective of DH, programs like this one appear to hand pick individual research projects that relate to Gettysburg College or can benefit a specific community on campus – which is understandable. However, the DSSF program is formatted differently from UPenn and Swathmore; these institutions assign students with pre-existing DH assignments needed by a faculty member on campus. Here I see a relationship between DH in communities near by and the DH Cordell describes in his piece.
It appears that my understanding of digital humanities went from the two extremes – independent DH is better and more beneficial to assigned DH makes the most sense. It was one or the other. I am leaving the program with a literal definition of digital humanities, but I cannot say that I have a solid definition of the practice of DH and the community. Each institution tackles the concept differently according to their needs – small liberal art schools are focused on fostering creative independent researchers through supporting outstanding projects while larger schools focus on creating competitive environments for students to strengthen skills they are already good at.
Goals sent by the committee influenced my understanding of DH greatly because I experienced the program as an independent researcher where I had few limitations. This project was imagined and created by me. However, the Bryn Mawr conference changed my perception because students presented on projects assigned to them. I can understand the benefits of assigned projects; students’ concern shifts to creating the vision of someone else but their level of involvement is the same, but I can’t confidently say this since my DH experience was significantly different.
This program taught me about DH and the complexities, but the most important thing I leave the program with the ability to adjust definitions and be accepting of the fact that I will have to edit what I know. We subconsciously have this skill but the awareness adds another layer of growth students often lack.
I will admit it- at this point, I cannot think of many new ways to define DH. I should be thinking about it proactively and engaging with different communities to better critique my own definition. But this past week has been a whirlwind leading up to our final presentations, and I was unable to devote much time to thinking about the definitions of DH.
My understanding of DH is constantly shifting in small ways. While I retain a general understanding of DH, slight changes occur based on what I am reading and who I encounter. My experiences with DH last summer and this summer differ slightly due in large part to the cohort. I am around different people with different ideas. Our conversations focus on aspects of DH I might not have engaged with before, or frame them in a different way.
This expands to other communities outside of our program. No two DH programs are exactly alike. We had a few opportunities this summer to talk with other digital scholars about their programs. Each had different strengths and focuses. Our program is based around developing the projects of individual students. Other programs focus on applying digital methodology to preexisting work with the help of student specialists. Both are DH, but their implementation varies. If I were to define DH only by what I know now, I would alienate projects and programs I have not yet learned about. DH definitions are constantly expanding.
In short, I have a new definition for every experience I have with DH. The more people I talk to, the more ideas I encounter, and the more broad and refined my own definition becomes. I have a very broad definition of DH because that is what I think is needed. Having a definition that is specific may be easier to understand, but that specificity can be detrimental. It can limit the scope of what we consider DH. Limiting and excluding new and different ideas due to a narrow definition helps no one. Every time I think I have finally figured out DH, I encounter a new project that causes me to reconsider my definition and my place in DH.
Our definition of DH works for our college and the programs we have now. That may not hold true in the future. We should embrace that quality of DH and always be willing to rework our perceptions of DH to accommodate innovation.
While it is important to consider definitions of DH and its place in academia, we should not get tied up in our quest for the perfect definition. One day, that definition will change. That is the beauty of DH.