Introduction to Digital Humanities

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

The Digital Humanities are…???

So…What are the Digital Humanities? After I had enrolled in this course I had trouble telling people that I was going to take a Digital Humanities course. I had trouble, because I really did not know how to describe the Digital Humanities. I thought that it was a branch of the Humanities relating to digital technology – how things like art and literature connect to technology. But after the first week of the course, I am not entirely sure. This post will be my way of “thinking aloud” and producing an answer to the question: what are the Digital Humanities?

I read the Sample and Spiro texts with the hope of finding a clear description of Digital Humanities, but I might be more confused than before, because it does not seem like Sample or Spiro know how to describe the Digital Humanities. The reason that they cannot give a clear definition to the Digital Humanities is because people are still debating to this day what the Digital Humanities are. There is division between Digital Humanists, to quote Sample: “One tension in the digital humanities that has received considerable attention is between those who build digital tools and media and those who study traditional humanities questions using digital tools and media.” Are the Digital Humanities about creating or studying? That is the question to answer.

I’m currently just a student taking a Digital Humanities course, so I could be wrong, but I believe that the Digital Humanities can be both about creating and studying. I could be wrong, but I am sure that the Humanities is made of artists who produce literature and works of art and scholars who study the literature and works of art. The Digital Humanities can be that too, especially if the Digital Humanities is seen a branch of the Humanities. In class, I’ve had to use Voyant, a digital tool, to dissect and examine dozens of documents, and in another class I’ve listened to Dr.S talk about the idea of putting a person’s mind into a machine and the idea of programming the mind itself. The Digital Humanities can be about creating and studying. I will conclude with a quote by Spiro: “I believe that articulating a set of values for a community should be done by the community.”

2 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting post, as I too had an issue describing what exactly a class focused on the digital humanities was to others. Prior to this class, I thought it may be like other humanities courses I have taken in previous semesters to satisfy my general education requirements. As it stands now, however, it appears that the digital humanities not as easily defined and placed into a pre-conceived category as I once thought it may be. In regards to how I see the digital humanities thus far, I too consider the digital humanities to be both about making and interpreting. In my blog post I used Voyant as an example as something that fell into both of these categories, as the program was made to interpret information. I think that as this class moves forward, the definition of what the digital humanities are will become clearer to all of us.

  2. I feel your confusion so hard, man. The digital humanities is like some kind of abstract concept that’s just really hard to define. I think the Spiro and Sample articles kind of cleared it up for me, though, like you pointed out. If you want the whole definition, you basically have to bring together both sides of the debate. I agree that it’s about both creating and studying, because those are parts of the “traditional” humanities field as well.

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