Week One Reflective Essay

So you ask, what does your DH look like? And that is a valid question. Digital Humanities is such a personalized look into scholarship, that it will look different from one person to the next. I am reminded of our conversation surrounding digitization, and if that counts as scholarship in and of itself. Well, is it? Maybe not, probably not. But I do think it is DH. Or, at least, it is a facilitator for Digital Humanities. Without it, many practitioners of DH could not do their jobs.

Our working definition of Digital Humanities is as follows:

“Digital Humanities encompasses any humanistic inquiry facilitated by digital technologies. Digital humanists use tools for mapping, data visualization, text analysis, online exhibits, digital collections, storytelling, and more to interpret, analyze, and present research across all disciplines to a broad audience. Digital Humanities work is characterized by collaborative approaches, public engagement, openness, and transparency. We value process and experimentation as well as scholarly outcomes.”

DH seems to be about equality. Digital Humanities┬áremove the labels of education and allow anyone, regardless of regular collegiate degrees, to take part in a global discussion about given topics that interest them. While expecting that that is a possibility with the current state of the world is a bit problematic, I do think that it is an honest and innocent attempt to make scholarship accessible. Conversely, the internet provides a forum for someone to truly escape the ‘canon.’ For example, when you walk into a library, yes, you can hope that the information residing on the shelves was chosen to represent the interests of the patrons, not the librarians. However, librarians will have to make executive choices surrounding which books are picked and which are not. On the internet, for the most part, these decisions do not need to be made. Every word, every article, every (hopefully-functional) website has equal right to be there.

The goals of openness and transparency aid in this attempt but more than that, allow readers to be able to add to the conversation. Openly presenting your sources and ways in which you displayed information makes it easier for audiences to continue the work. This promotes lifelong learning. When you write a scholarly text, the goal is to be published, and that’s it. Sure, some choose to continue and edit and publish new editions, but that’s not as common as it probably should be. With digital humanities, publishing a website does not have to be the end of the story.

It is so much easier to edit and republish on websites, encouraging ‘scholars’ (a term I use loosely here) to continue their work. And that’s a great thing. If a scholar is, for example, analyzing changes in leadership from the 1800s to the present, they have the ability to keep extending their work with every new change in leadership that comes and goes.

For me, I want to make sure that I create an open and safe space for other contributors to add to the conversation that I hope to facilitate with my research. While that may be a lofty goal, I do believe that it is possible.

One Reply to “Week One Reflective Essay”

  1. Great goals! And DH, when done well, certainly helps democratize the scholarly process by leveling hierarchies and eliminating boundaries. However, there are also lots of DH projects that are “led” by a faculty member, with an army of graduate students, librarians, IT people, etc. doing much of the actual work (sometimes invisibly, without credit or acknowledgement). That being said, a DH project should have a solid scholarly foundation and a vision, which faculty bring, so they are core members of the team. But the people making decisions about digitization, project management, design, etc. are needed to make it possible as well. We sometimes have this sort of warm fuzzy idea of DH as being this utopian concept, but it brings with it the challenges of privilege in higher education AND information technology.

    The web has certainly changed the nature of publishing, but it also changes the nature of the scholarly record. We may still have that book from the 19th century (and before) around today. We don’t have access to websites made 19 months ago sometimes. Think long and hard about the end of life and preservation of your project, or at the very least, how your scholarship lives beyond the tech.

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