Week One Reflective Essay

In a lot of ways, Digital Humanities (DH) is exactly what it sounds like in that it combines the content areas and goals of humanities — scholarship about the unique things that make us human — with digital methods and mediums. Coming into the program, I assumed that was all there was to it; however, the readings, sessions, and discussions over the past week have helped me understand that DH is more complex than that. Initially I conceived of digital projects — or at the very least digital projects that would be manageable for a beginner like me — as a digitized version of a traditional project. Our very first discussion about DH indicated that not only was that not the case, but that DH is largely opposed to such projects on a philosophical level. The philosophy of DH, whether explicitly or implicitly stated, emphasizes innovation and creativity within the scope of scholarship. Merely digitizing an otherwise traditional project does not raise new questions or challenge prevailing ideas of what constitutes an academic work. Instead, DH projects try and trailblaze new avenues.

The innovative aspect of DH means there is more risk for failure, but the Musselman DH committee has encouraged me to think of failures in a positive way. Not only are failures a natural result of trying new things, they are also excellent teachers; after you fail in one way, you can learn about how to proceed in other ways and also to apply the same lessons in future situations. Lisa Spiro writes in one essay about DH as a discipline (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/13) that “experimentation” is a key aspect of DH. Experimentation is the union of failure and innovation where the former yields the latter.

Many of the innovations in DH have been in making academia more accessible. The major thing that drew me to DH was its emphasis on openness — indeed, both Lisa Spiro and Dr. Amanda Visconti (http://literaturegeek.com/2016/07/21/dlf-digital-humanities-what-why-how) recognized that accessibility and openness are characteristic of DH. At the most explicit level, traditional humanities projects tend to be locked behind monetary access gates, whereas DH projects are usually more democratic by being freely available for those who can access the internet. Moreover — and less explicitly — the audience of traditional humanities projects are college-educated academics who are immersed in a particular subject area. DH projects tend to be more oriented to a less informed but no less interested public. The language of DH projects tends to be less esoteric and is an invitation rather than a barrier. I was delighted to read the term “passionate amateur” in a few of our readings this week because I think it accurately points to those who benefit the most from DH. Practitioners and users alike can be “passionate amateurs” in DH and neither will be left out.

My project, while firmly rooted in academia, aims to show all of these unique sides of DH — creativity, experimentation, and accessibility — by allowing the users’ freedom to navigate through the site to bring them to new (and hopefully exciting) revelations.

One Reply to “Week One Reflective Essay”

  1. In many ways, I am still a “passionate amateur” in DH, as both a person who interacts with DH projects and builds DH projects. Experimentation is how I get through things … I don’t have any formal training in coding or development, so I rely on curiosity (and just plain old brute force sometimes (edit code, upload, refresh, repeat)) to get me through a project build.

    Emphasizing innovation and creativity that is made possible through technology is one of the greatest things about DH to me. Building and making are creative exercises, and require certain literacies just as much as writing an essay or short story. Sometimes that building is of an open website that anyone can navigate, but sometimes that is using digital tools and assets for text analysis, data visualization, mapping, etc., drawing conclusions, and then publishing those results in a more traditional academic format. DH takes on a lot of forms in its final output!

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