After signing up for this course to fulfill a major requirement, I went ahead and began researching the course. I had no idea what digital humanities were, and a quick search on wikipedia further confused me, proving my lack of knowledgeon the subject. Based on our discussions and resources in class, after this past week I can definitely confidently say that I am beginning to fully grasp the concept that encompasses this course. The name “Digital Humanities” is a vague definition, and holds many different applications. The topic seems almost too broad, and lacks a specific, clear- cut definition. The humanities are, or course, subjects dealing with the arts. I remember this from middle school because each quarter we had two humanities to chose from a list of fifteen or so, included band, orchestra, art, theatre, etc. Humanities also includes history, philosophy, literature, and language. It is the “digital” part that added the most confusion for me. After our class readings and resources, It is apparent that the “digital” simply means that we’re taking the medium, whether it be language, history, art, music, philosophy, or literature, and we are transferring the medium into a digital form in order to see it in a new light, and possibly discover something new about the medium. Now this is an incredibly broad definition that I hope to be able to make more concise by the time that this class ends. The possibilities for this topic are endless. Taking humanities and putting them into a digital format is becoming more and more relevant in this technologically advanced age. With such a relevant use and purpose, the digital humanities have incredible potential to expand. This class is going to be very relevant to my major and to today’s technologically advanced society.
As an engineering student, the humanities have never been something that I’ve given much thought to apart from the obligatory credit hours I had to fill. To me the open ended qualitative analysis that the humanities seemed to emphasize was something I could not understand, and therefore was of no interest to me.
The lack of real, tangible products also made it difficult to understand what the purpose of the field was as well. You could certainly say that I am a “humanities deaf” individual, and I would have no argument.
What is exciting about the digital humanities field is that most of these issues no longer apply. As computing is introduced and used to do the previously qualitative analyses that I did not understand, things become more clear. In order to create these digital tools, the rules of analysis must be clearly defined and become much less open ended. This is a major advancement in reaching the humanities deaf like me, as instead of scratching my head trying to figure out how somebody came up with their analysis I can see exactly what they told the computer to do. Another change is that instead of producing just books and articles on their findings, digital humanities professionals are creating tools that allow someone like me to perform my own analysis.
The downside of this is the potential to dumb down the humanities. To take subjectivity out of the humanities would be to remove the point entirely. The humanities is about exploring the depths of human feeling and expression, and a computer cannot be taught to measure this accurately no matter how well programmed. In all, I find the field somewhat exciting in its ability to make the humanities easier to understand and explore for more people. This will be a good thing as long as it does not take away the deep exploration of human feeling that makes the humanities important to our world.
Upon enrollment of the class, I Google-d extensively trying to find out exactly what “Digital Humanities” were—but I came up empty handed. The first class gave me an idea (something along the lines of “transferring texts to a digital medium”), but it wasn’t until the following readings and the class discussions in which I began to formulate what I have come to believe is “Digital Humanities.”
The phrase seems to say it for itself—something related to the humanities going digital. That means anything within the realm of the humanities—language, history, philosophy, literature, and the arts—is fair game. In its most basic form, it is still transferring such topics into a digital medium, but more so for the purpose of uncovering or gaining some new information or perspective on the subject being presented. In the case of the word clouds we tampered with in class, it is possible to view the most commonly used term in a lengthy text without having to actually sit there and read line by line. This gives a general idea of the literature which is, in and of itself, new knowledge—but it also is a quicker delivery of knowledge that would otherwise take painstaking amounts of time to accumulate. This quick delivery of knowledge was best exhibited in the first information visualization tools we used: the tracking of Jefferson’s letters, and the mapping of slaves inTexas. By laying the information out in such a visual manner, patterns can be used to quickly pick up on details that provide certain insight into the subject matter.
I think the possibilities for this field are endless. As noted in the critiques we have done in class over some of the existing platforms, it is apparent that there are always more functionalities that could be added (such as the integration of slave laws on the timeline in the Texas mapping, for example) in order to allow the user to take in the material easily and effectively. I know that there is already the technology to analyze brushstrokes on paintings (which is how they figured out certain paintings were completed with apprentices), but I am looking forward to how the other arts (music, dance, etc) will be digitally conveyed.
Ambiguity and disagreement surrounds digital humanities – it’s hardly a decisive new approach to humanities studies. Mostly “digital humanities” seems to function as a buzzword for addressing inevitable change in the humanities alongside the rapid expansion of digital technologies. In the massively collaborative world of the Internet – wikis, blogs, discussion boards – the traditional hierarchical university model is increasingly inefficient and irrelevant. The growing influence of digital humanities can be seen as academia’s recognition that new digital mediums can’t be disregarded forever – and that new digital technologies are too culturally relevant and powerful to be simply ignored by humanities-related disciplines.
Digital humanities is defined most easily as the intersection between the digital and the humanities – a definition that encompasses an enormous range of potential applications, from considering new approaches and methods for creating and disseminating humanities-related works, to harnessing modern computer power to manipulate texts and relevant data. The most fundamental but perhaps most important and enduring current application is the digital preservation of traditional-medium works.
The broadly scoped, hazily defined nature of digital humanities is inherent. The field is temporary – its purpose is to jump-start the inevitable assimilation of the modern, technologically sophisticated world into the study and creation of the humanities. Criticism of digital humanities projects by knowledgeable technologists sometimes targets the considerable enthusiasm of un-tech-savvy scholars over projects lacking technologically sound foundations. I find this sort of criticism misplaced. As the humanities strive for relevancy in our digital world, they must embrace the digital. Digital humanities projects showcase this understanding, and need widespread scholarly enthusiasm much more than deeply sophisticated underlying technologies.
It seems as though the topic digital humanities is still a developing term, which holds various definitions, but still remaining a bit vague. The easiest definition for me to grasp digital humanities was from Chris Forster’s blog post, where he divides the topic into four rings along with Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s definition.
Fitzpatrick defines the subject as being a nexus of fields where scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities. From what I understand this pretty much sounds like digital humanities is utilizing the new technological creations to advance in current studies. Many of the examples shown in class involved translating some type of data, whether text or numbers, into a visualization. Looking at Patricia Cohen’s article, she describes researchers digitally mapping the Civil War battles to understand what role topography played in victory and how they used large numbers of scientific texts and books to track where concepts first originated and how they spread. Visual Eyes is another tool that was used in class that transformed certain events to an interactive visualization, where it tried to have the users have a better understanding of what the events were about.
As it is said, a picture is worth a hundred words, which highlights how visualization of humanities topics helps researchers advance even much further. It seems inevitable for studies of humanities to avoid the computing technology. To some extent, all kinds of studies utilize the computing modes in some kind of way. The computing technology, once you learn it, saves time and makes life more convenient. For example, T-Square, though it isn’t the perfect system, it allows professors and students to partially interact by allowing to post assignments or notes, and even communicate through a blog form such as the Wiki. Since Digital Humanities is growing in such quick pace, the subject should not only be seen separate as Digital and Humanities, but also as a single word, since it is beginning to evolve as its own subject.
Attempting to define digital humanities is akin to defining humanities itself; which is no easy or even completely possible task. The humanities are ever changing and evolving, but we do see an overlying structure to their studies. Essentially we are looking at the analysis of the human condition. This broad umbrella covers such evolving concepts as music, language, art, religion, technology, and much more. Since these concepts are constantly changing, evolving, and dying so are the humanities themselves.So now that we see how broadly defined the humanities are, we can better understand how digital humanities expand on the concepts of humanities. In its loosest sense we can think of digital humanities as the application of digital technology to the classical humanities. We can use tools like computers to not only represent/visualize the concepts of humanities, but to further explore the concepts.
For example, humanities that were strictly analog up to a few years ago like music, painting, and photography have now found a new place in the digital world. Tape recording and records have been replaced by hard drives and mp3s. Oil paintings must now compete with digital airbrushing/photoshop. Film negatives and darkrooms have been supplanted by the SD card. So not only are these humanities changing in the way they are created, but also the way they are being consumed and analyzed.
Analysis of these concepts is also changing in the digital world. Forums and blog posts have superseded traditional face to face discussion. Simply scrolling through the hundreds of comments on the YouTube page of a popular video will show a complex (ofter inflammatory) discussion from a surprisingly diverse group of people.
These online “analyses” can cause somewhat of a pitfall to traditional academic discussion. The ability to anonymously comment on any post can be an incredibly powerful double-edged sword. We can at the same time see uninhibited and honest (and often extremely insightful) ideas put forth, but also see destructive and negative responses as well.
Digital Humanities is a field of study that focuses upon how modern electronic media, such as computers and the Internet, affect our ability to create, disperse, discuss, understand, organize, and analyze the humanities data, especially written works such as novels, articles, historical documents, and research papers. The dawn of computational devices revolutionized the relationship between humans and humanities to a degree unseen since the invention of the printing press. The printing press and modern computational devices both brought about similar advancements in the accessibility, ease of circulation, and affordability of knowledge and written works. This introduces the positive points of digital humanities. Digital humanities allow for dynamic information access; people can access an unfathomable store of knowledge from nearly any location, so long as they have access to the Internet. Information can be easily searched for and discovered through the use of search engines and relevant information can be readily associated through the use of hyperlinks. Digital media also allow for easier comprehension of large sets of data than analog media because information can be formed into interactive data visualizations. A major draw to digital humanities seems to be information visualization. On the one hand, this is a worthwhile area of study because information visualization can greatly expand the usefulness and robustness of some media, such as graphs, maps, and data tables. This can be seen in the Visualeyes applications that we examined in class last week. Historical maps can be superimposed over Google Maps data while also giving the user tables of statistical data relevant to the maps. Whereas information visualization is useful in instances where the source data is numerical/visual in some manner, it is less useful for purely text-based media. On Tuesday the class examined several data visualizations using IBM’s Many Eyes. The screenshot below is taken from a Many Eyes Phrase Net visualization of Patrick Svensson’s article, “The Landscape of Digital Humanities”. The visualization shows frequently appearing words that are separated by spaces in the article. The information displayed allows for a viewer to get a gist of what an article is about, but it is nearly useless when it comes to actually learning anything from the article. The word tree, tag cloud, and word cloud generator visualizations also provided little meaningful insight about the significance of the article.
It is easier to begin by identifying where the digital humanities can fail. So much of the assigned reading has already mentioned where digital humanities have triumphed; TEI and the data visualization tools provided by IBM’s Many Eyes we used in class are just some examples of what this interesting field has to offer. I think it is clear that with all that technology has to offer, there is a definite need for digital humanities but perhaps there is a greater need for people to realize its importance and start creating and using DH tools.
This is the first pitfall. Because the humanities have been kept relatively separate from computing (outside of this subject) in the past, I think many older people who work in the humanities are intimidated and hesitant to use new technologies. This problem is already being solved however with the advent of digital humanities as an area of study in academia and universities.
Because of the collaborative nature of digital humanities, another immediate pitfall to note is in the same setbacks that occur in any strategy that requires mass collaboration and communication. The Bayeux Tapestry can be used as an example of how communication can fail digital humanities. One medieval expert (say from Canada) may identify a scene in the tapestry that he believes to illustrate a particular event. He shares this assumption with his cross-Atlantic colleagues, one of whom vehemently disagrees and points out that the scene actually illustrates a different but very similarly looking event. The argument goes back and forth, and without a more experienced, medieval tapestry historian, the debate comes to a standstill.
Another pitfall continues off this hypothetical situation. With the provision of so many different voices in so many new communication channels, minor opinions are greatly overshadowed by those of the major rule, especially in discussion boards. For instance, suppose the second medieval expert was in fact correct, but the first medieval expert had picked up enough ground and followers and believers to spread across the digital medieval tapestry world enough. People may assume propositions to be true too quickly with this advent of easy, fast communication. In a rush to get to the goal, the importance of the means of getting there is sometimes lost.
For this reason, I do not think it is so critical to get a clear, unambiguous definition of digital humanities as it is important to take a step back and realize that the methods used to solve problems in digital humanities are definitive and important in themselves, if not more. (If a definition is still wanted, I think Chris Forster and his commentators pretty much nailed it in the Digital Humanities rings). More than anything, I feel that the best definition of this field comes in the direct examples of projects themselves and the creative methods in which problems are being solved.
I can’t say I fully understand the hype surrounding Digital Humanities, a combination of the old field of humanities and the more recent digital technology. From what I’ve read, Digital Humanities is simply that; humanities that takes advantage of new technology. Some, such as Chris Foster, have broken the definition into concise points (Practical use of computers in humanities, study of new media, technology in the classroom and new research methods), however I’m not convinced all this frantic defining is warranted. The discord might indicate a new definition isn’t needed at all. Other fields that have been impacted by computers haven’t required “digital” be affixed to their title. When the nail gun was invented did it spawn a new field of carpentry called nail gun carpentry? No. It made it more practical to do large projects, just like computers do for the humanities. Granted, there are new areas of humanities study that owe their existence to the creation of computers, however the term New Media Studies seems to suffice.
Aside from the definition issues, computers do offer some interesting possibilities for the field of humanities. Take the visual arts for example; with the introduction of projectors and computers, creatives have taken murals to a whole new level. Consider while watching: The technology both creates projection as new medium and augments the older humanities involved in the building’s design.
In the realm of music, computers can now compose new pieces all on their own. It’s worth considering that music could be composed in a similar manner without a computer. Given a set of rules and a pair of dice, a human could generate random music as well. Computers just make it more practical.
On the first day of class I really had no way of truly defining digital humanities in my own words. This was mainly because I had a very bleak understanding of subject matter at hand. However, after completing the readings and class exercises I feel properly equipped to write my own response on the subject.
Before I define digital humanities I believe it is critical to first understand what the humanities are. Many of us forget that defining humanities has been an ongoing process as well. According to Webster the humanities encompasses the branches of learning (as philosophy, arts, or languages) that investigate human constructs and concerns as opposed to natural processes (as in physics or chemistry) and social relations (as in anthropology or economics). This means that the humanities, such as classical and modern languages, literature, history, and philosophy, have the overall goal of the exploration and explanation of human experience. Within these disciplines written texts are very important. Historians for example, attempt to document and analyze events related to specific people, countries, or periods. While, literary authors and artists attempt to capture their own human experiences and understanding of the world for others.
As technology advanced other disciplines outside the humanities did as well. Therefore, in order for the humanities to remain relevant people within the field began to bridge their work and research with technology using computerized methods. From this we now have a systematic documentation and analysis of events related to a particular person, country, or period available to us online. Some examples of this include projects that archive letters, writings and art that are now available through accessing online databases. I believe digital humanities also includes the change in the way literary authors and artist share their experiences with the world. Before they wrote everything by hand and hard copies were the only way to access their work. Now we can access books online thanks to google, amazon and Barnes & Nobles to name a few. There are online forums that allow us to discuss these works and give authors an opportunity communicate and respond to people.
Digital humanities is also responsible for creating a platform for the humanities to grow and has made way for new forms of sharing your work faster. For example blogs, twitter and Facebook allow people within the field (authors, artist, historians, philanthropist and etc.) to share their ideas and latest projects amongst one another and the world instantaneously.
In my opinion digital humanities is still very broad because technology has redefined humanities in itself. However, I think we are able to generally define it but I don’t think it has to be precisely defined because of its broad nature. Overall digital humanities offers us a lot more than the humanities could in the past, however I think one of the pitfalls to this advancement is the possibility of the field becoming over saturated.