Introduction to Digital Humanities

RELI/ENGL 39, Fall 2015, University of the Pacific

Defining the Digital Humanities

The question of whether or not there is an actual definition, which defines the digital humanities, seems daunting. As mentioned in Mark Sample’s article, the divide of those who build and those who study the digital humanities is a contributing factor as to why there is no set definition. Personally, if I was to create a definition for this term, it would be along the lines of “a new era in technology in which a human dependency is placed on technology.” This definition is supported by our class conversations on algorithms. For example, in The Matrix we saw the main character instantly download an algorithm code so he would be able to practice karate against his mentor. In a more practical setting, we live in an algorithmic culture in which we place blind trust in. A simple example of this is Netflix. The billion dollar company has its own system which provides movie and television suggestions based on the shows you watch. I am a fan of the NBC television show, Frasier. After watching the entire series, Netflix suggested I watch CheersThe Dick Van Dyke Show, and Everybody Loves Raymond. Originally following through on these suggestions I discovered that I am more of a fan of Everybody Loves Raymond than Cheers and The Dick Van Dyke Show. However, I placed blind trust in Netflix’s algorithm and “suffered” through several shows in order to come to the decision that maybe I shouldn’t be watching these television shows.

However, the digital humanities was defined by Mark Sample as something worth sharing – not building. Sample’s article started with comparing and contrasting the two points of views (which were previously mentioned). Afterwards, it went more into depth about how this field is produced and reproduced. Typically a person expands on the work of one person in order to further develop the algorithm and the field. As for Lisa Spiro article, “‘This is Why We Fight’: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities,” it is the job of scholars within the field of digital humanities to initiate critical dialogue on the sharing of ideas within the field of digital humanities. Ultimately this answers the questions “Why the Digital Humanities?”. If we do not take the ideas of other influential people and expand on them we will never be able to improve on the algorithmic culture we live in. As a result we will be stuck in situations where we are faced with boring Netflix reflections. But more importantly, we will not be able to improve on society as a whole.

Shane-Justin Nu’uhiwa

1 Comment

  1. I think you have a lot of really good examples on your post, and it makes it really interesting. However, I think your definition of “digital humanities” is a bit confused with that of “algorithmic culture”. Personally, I think that algorithmic culture is only one aspect of the digital humanities, and so your definition shouldn’t be so narrowed down.

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