What Has it All Meant?

Over the last two months, I have spent most of these reflections analyzing digital humanities and the ways in which it continues to perpetuate the same privileges and problems as higher education as a whole. It seems fitting that find some sort of conclusion to that in my last reflection.

I have found myself confronted with the reality that I have been presented with a number of opportunities based on my ability to go to college. I am the first and only member of my family to graduate high school in the United States.  That is a privilege that I don’t think I really understood for a long time. But I was allowed to dream. I was allowed to dream of being whatever I wanted to be.

I got to spend this summer researching and practicing digital humanities. I didn’t have to worry about if this would help me get into law school, because I have always been taught to do what would make me feel happiest at the moment.

That is what I love about digital humanities. The openness of the internet allows for digital humanities to fuel passion projects. The internet allows people to find themselves in rabbit holes and want to learn more. It is a place for creating, learning, and just… being.

So here I am, 8 weeks later. And I feel as though I have finally understood what to do with all of that privilege: who as hard as I can to prove that I earned it.

Last thoughts on DH


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.

ILE Week 8 Reflection

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.

Seeking Definition: The Quest of Digital Humanities

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.

Week 7 Reflection

The idea of being paid to create knowledge rather than to research seems to be a bit idealistic, but I can see where the DSSF program is coming from. When I think of being paid to research as an undergraduate, I think of the task-oriented style of researching with a professor in the sciences. I think of my friend who is doing political science research and assists her professor in what he asks of her. I don’t think of what we are doing.

Perhaps this is because this is the most open-ended form of research I have ever done. But I do think that there is something to be said about the way I get to do research through DH. I didn’t have to start with a thesis because it isn’t a paper. I started with a topic and let the research take me where it did. I don’t exactly think that this means that I was paid to create knowledge. If anything, I think that means I was paid to create a DH project, which ended up creating knowledge.

Sometimes I don’t think that I am adding that much more to the wealth of global knowledge. But I do think that I am bringing some information that people outside of the Gettysburg community would not be readily aware of, and that makes me feel like I am serving some purpose.

Burdick writes that “[o]pen-source culture possesses a multitude of facets and definitions, comprising many of the attributes already discussed: collaborative authoring, multiple versioning, flexible attitudes toward intellectual property, peer contributions, access to multiple and multiplying communities, and overall patterns of distributed knowledge production, review, and use.” (Burdick 77) The idea that someone, somewhere may view my project and become inspired to create something of their own makes me happy.

Rather than creating the knowledge of reenacting in Gettysburg, I am more proud of creating the knowledge that I can do this… that anyone can do this. The ivory tower is such an established thing, that any chance to dismantle that system is worth it.

Anyone can create knowledge. With or without digital humanities, anyone can create knowledge. Everyone’s experiences, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs add worth and knowledge to the world. In some ways, even though digital humanities are relatively more “open,” they aren’t that much more open.

To view my project, you have to have internet access. Most people that want to view my project would have to understand English. They would most likely have to be aware of digital humanities. That is already such a small population.

However, digital humanities is the next step towards creating a more open concept of knowledge. Twenty years down the line, what we view as ‘open’ will be so different. More people will have access to knowledge. At least, I hope so.

Can anyone speak and publish?

When anyone can speak and publish, there is going to be a lot more work out there. Digital Humanities is a field in which, hypothetically, anyone who wants to is able to do research on their own, and put it out on the web for others to see. The article authored by Burdick et. all discusses this idea of what happens socially when the power of publishing does not belong to higher institutions. They posit this idealist picture of the world in which anyone who wants is able to contribute to the vast sea of knowledge in our society. Digital Humanities promises to take away the traditional modes whereby you must be in a University, and you must have grants etc., to be published. But I wonder if it’s really possible to get away from this.

This summer we were able to take this fellowship because we would be paid to do research. For many people, work without pay is not an option. And those who are paid to do research are people attached to universities. Furthermore, we went through extensive workshops in order to learn the digital tools that we used to create our projects. Would someone out from the confines of a university have this luxury? Of course, there are ways to research the tools and teach yourself, but it may be a little unrealistic to assume that someone would go to these lengths. The fact is, is that doing this research has been a privilege and one that has been afforded to me because I am a college student at an institution who cares about research.

I think when the authors write about the Digital Humanities opening up scholarship, it is more likely that this is the case for professors who don’t want to go through the process of publishing a paper on any given topic, or a student who wants to write a scholarly blog. But I don’t think that the DH has taken scholarship out of academics and institutions. Right now, it is difficult to have the time or the skillset without funding and teaching in order to create a digital project.

Ideally, someday there will be more of a chance for a digital project to be born without the help of a university or institution. Maybe someday technology will become so second nature that lack of experience will not hinder anyone. Then anyone will be able to create a digital project and put it out on the web for anyone to see. This reminds me of an idea that I write about in my project. The more stories we have from other people; the more chance we have to understand something other than ourselves. But sometimes, when there are so many stories, it becomes difficult for us to understand any cohesive narrative. We enjoy making categories and putting things into boxes. It will be a difficult task to recognize that boxes do not fit everything. If everyone has the ability to create and publish, then we will have a great deal of information that we attempt, probably unsuccessfully, to categorize. It will potentially challenge our entire view of humanity.

Week Seven Reflective Essay

Among academic disciplines, DH stands out in its aim at inclusion of many communities of practice, with particular emphasis on communities outside of academia. Particularly in recent years, prominent practitioners of DH have been looks back at the discipline and trying to find ways to open it up further, but even they admit there is still quite a way to go. Moreover, while DH has been trying to open space for diversity, it has still largely remained within the confines of academia. While DH is not and need not be exclusive to academia, it tends to be used and explored in colleges and universities or by graduates of such institutions. This raises new questions about who gets a say in what constitutes DH but also what comprises it; if a majority of practitioners of DH projects — and especially those DH projects that get discussed in articles and forums — are from universities, have we moved very far from the dominance of the university press?

The authors of Digital_Humanities (significantly published through MIT press) are optimistic about DH’s ability to open explorations of knowledge to everyone and move beyond traditional expectations about information. At the same time, they claim that “the notion of the university as ivory tower no longer makes sense, if it ever did,” so perhaps their optimism comes from a particular view of the then-present state of information dissemination. Their argument about the “ivory tower” is that universities have been creating networks of thinkers since their inception, so they are, in that respect, inclusive. I argue that universities have been connecting thinkers of similar perspectives (with some notable exceptions, of course) because of their inextricable link to finance and class. Certain groups of people have the time, money, and other resources to send them to universities to develop their ideas, but those ideas are no more valuable than those of someone who has not been in the right circumstances for academia to be feasible. As a result, the network of ideas in academia is essentially (there are, of course, always exceptions) a closed web. DH has excellent goals for opening that web up to new ideas, but it cannot be ignored that DH was born in the ivory tower and tends to stay close to home.

I do not intend to be unnecessarily pessimist about knowledge creation in DH; I truly believe that, by its very nature, DH intends to make important changes in what scholars see as legitimate. I agree with the authors of Digital_Humanities when they write that “[t]he scope and scale of the Digital Humanities encompass a vast archipelago of specialized domains of expertise and conversation, but also open up the prospect of a conversation extending far beyond the walls of the ivory tower that connects universities to cultural institutions, libraries, museums, and community organizations.” I appreciate that this sentiment acknowledges that many DH practitioners are academics with a particular interest they want to share in new ways. I also think that emphasis on possibility (specifically in the word “prospect”) is an important way to phrase their hopes for DH as a discipline. DH is incredible in its potential, but it is only successful when its practitioners maintain view of their goal, rather than preemptively patting themselves on the back for creating a possibility. At its worst, DH is a group of academics who have congratulated themselves for their inclusivity even as they have created equally esoteric projects; at its best, DH is a varied group of practitioners who continue to reevaluate the discipline to make sure that knowledge from all areas can be legitimized, discussed, and displayed.

Authorship and Authority

The DSSF program uses many readings to generate discussion. My first year participating in this program, we were given exactly one physical book to consult- Digital_Humanities. For this week’s posts, the fellows were asked to consider the third chapter and respond to a question raised by the authors. One that particularly interested me asked, “What happens when anyone can speak and publish? What happens when knowledge credentialing is no longer controlled solely by institutions of higher learning?”

The book points out great examples of knowledge that were produced online despite not being associated with an institution, with Wikipedia being the prime example. Wikipedia is free and open, it is a collaboration of minds across the world. And it is incredibly accessible. If I need to remember something I learned in middle school, it is easier to do a quick search for the relevant Wikipedia page than to comb through my copious notes I saved from those days. Despite its collaborative and informative model, I was taught to never trust Wikipedia as a source. While it is fallible, that is no reason to disregard all that it has to offer. It can always be improved. One of the workshops last year had the fellows create Wikipedia accounts and edit pages they were knowledgeable about. I chose to expand and add sources to the Gettysburg College page, and it has been improved further in the year since. Wikipedia may not be controlled by a vetted institution, but it does have a community working to make it better.

The openness of Digital Humanities can be worrying to some. Association with institutions and the traditional paths of publications are trusted sources. But the decentralization of knowledge creation does not mean that there is no  accountability. Communities exist to check the knowledge that is created, and they are not too different from the traditional ones. A point brought up that I had not truly considered before writing this response was that “the notion of the university as an ivory tower no longer makes sense, if it ever did.” institutions of higher learning have always been communities of people. Knowledge credentialing now has larger communities of viewpoints and expertise to draw from.

All that I just stated is a best case scenario. Humans are, after all, fallible. The knowledge we put forth into the world may be flawed or outright incorrect. This has serious implications when knowledge can so quickly be shared. False information is made true in a sense when enough people believe it. The social aspect of this change is what interests me most and seems most relevant in our media landscape. As the book points out, social media and the communities it creates can be used to bring people together, educate audiences, and even start revolutions. Increased avenues of authorship have increased the authority of those who use them. These platforms can be used to create scholarship, and are not just for social interaction. Documentary series exist on YouTube, and Twitter is full of communities of scholars who interact with the public.

There is a danger that people lacking authority will gain authorship. These platforms make this easier to achieve, and has implications beyond the academic. Responsibility must be taken to hold people accountable. The communities surrounding institutions of learning took on this role in the past. Now, the wider communities must take this responsibility and think critically about the information being put out into the world. When anyone can publish and speak, anyone can contribute critiques or edits.

Yet Another Examination of DH

The topic of DH definitions and its place in scholarship has been an ongoing topic of conversation this summer. While it was discussed during the 2017 program, I did not consider it as much. I was focused on learning basic skills and creating a project.

This year, I have had more time to critically examine DH and my place in the community. These past two weeks have been especially enlightening. Last week’s blog posts dealt with the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) article “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives)”, which critiqued DH for changing humanities for the worse. While I could see the basis for their arguments, I could not agree with their critique that all DH had sold its soul to the Neoliberal market.

This week, we read articles that were more in line with my thinking. The articles “Am I a Digital Humanist?” and “Digital Humanities in Other Contexts” were written as responses to the LARB article. The authors of these articles, like me, had an issue with the reduction of DH to a single stereotype that was solidly in the hands of the Neoliberal market. DH is more expansive than that. It is also not separate from Humanities like the LARB article suggests, but a new iteration of the field.

The prompt for this week asked the fellows if we could imagine the “digital” being dropped from DH. After some thought, I realized I do. DH is an aspect of humanities. As technology becomes more ubiquitous, scholars will be able to use these forms of communication to reach their audience. Education can change form with the advent of new technology. Digital humanities may fully be a part of all humanities work one day.

DH is done in many contexts. It is not just for institutions funded by grants and donors, but by small groups working to make a difference by using new tools and pathways to reach an audience. DH is not easily defined, and it will only continue to grow and become more complex. Reducing it for the sake of an argument means that other examples of DH are cut from the narrative. One of my favorite quotes from this week’s articles asks, “Am I a digital humanist? The question feels less and less relevant, to be honest.” DH is wide and varied.

The DSSF program saw how other institutions implement DH programs at a DS conference at Bryn Mawr last week. Some are like ours, with students creating individual projects using open access tools. Others are collaborative, hiring students to create digital platforms for research that stretches back years. No program was exactly alike, but all were DH.  DH cannot be judged by the success or failures of a single program. The DH community is vast, its community is growing and changing as resources change.

No matter how people view DH, their reaction is bound to be strong. People fervently defend it, vehemently criticize it, and sometimes do both in the same breath. This is because it has the ability to grow and change. As long as DH is evolving, it will be critically examined in order to make it stronger.


ILE Reflection #6

Digital humanities continues to unfold itself during this process. I have collected many definitions and seen various projects which have have led me to a state of confusion. My experience at Bryn Mawr is a good example as to why I am 1.) confused and 2.) accepting the malleable definition of DH. The digital part of DH is clear and makes sense, but this week I began questioning the digital background of digital humanists – is a background in computer science essential to make your project more valuable? I had light banter with another student at the conference about this “requirement” – their response was vastly different than mine. They argued that it added a layer of complexity and individuality to the project than someone who used a “create your own website” tool. I spent several summers learning different languages (i.e. Python, C++, Java) and I expected to major in Computer Science because I grew fond of coding – I understand the sense of accomplishment, but I never thought of starting from nothing. Unfortunately, I am also aware of the annoyance and difficult time people have looking for a self-coded website. Gettysburg College offers a platform to store the students’ websites until they graduate unless they have different plans. This platform offers a customized link that is shareable and functions. Apart from offering a site to host our projects, we have are not forced to follow a website theme. We are allowed to customize any part of out website as long as we have basic HTML skills; if we don’t, Google really helps with our questions.

Before the program began, I was well aware of the research focused project that I would turn digitally. The committee/ librarian partners emphasized the importance of research, working collaboratively, fostering our creativity, raising our confidence, and learning new tools to use during the process – which are great values. They reflect the values of an opportunity offered to students that will greatly shape them, however, our values conflict with those at other institutions. We are focused on creating an environment where we control all aspects of our project – research, website, presentation. Fellow undergraduate digital humanist are not in the same position we are. This past conference I was able to see and understand what R.C. meant by the fact that we have a unique program and that others have assignments. These students have literal assignments – from the research aspect to the contribution to the digital aspect. The projects can be described as individually collaborative. Our focus on a well-rounded program tainted my perception of digital humanities -I wish all DH programs could be as open and complete as the Gettysburg/Bucknell model. The definition of DH varies from individual to individual – I remember how controversial the definition is – at week 7, I finally understand how abstract the definition will be.