The field of digital humanities is a slowly evolving field that has yet to really hit its stride and figure out what it truly wants to accomplish. I think it is an interesting area of study with some neat ideas rolling around, but I have yet to see any sort of unified goal or sense of true application across the different projects we have investigated and read about. Many of the projects that we have seen and discussed seem to have a large focus on the textual humanities, mainly using information technologies to numerically and analytically assess large libraries of texts to find patterns, similarities and links within them. They take in these writings, process the letters, spaces, and punctuation, and then use numerical or contextual patterns for various purposes. We looked at this type of Digital Humanities project extensively when we played with the Many Eyes visualization tools using the articles that we read. These visualizations really do a good job of illustrating how I feel about the DH field up to this early point in our studies.
This visualization took in Patrick Svensson’s article “The Landscape of Digital Humanities” and created a dynamic, navigable word tree out of the words in the article. It allows you to search for a phrase, then shows the words that come directly after that term, then finds the next words after that, and so on and so forth. This allows you to see what words are used most often and gives them context based on surrounding words in the article. For this particular visualization, I wanted to see if I could gather a definition of Digital Humanities. The definitions that I found underline my beliefs about the field pretty clearly. The tools and projects that many people in the field are interested in do a really nice job of highlighting the broader, grander perspective of the texts that they evaluate, giving a fairly nice overview of the subject. But when you look closely at the direct artifacts produced by the visualization, most of what you get out of the program is half-complete definitions with no outside context or very general definitions that do not quite feel complete.
You get some as short as “digital humanities as a field.” or “digital humanities as humanities computing.”, which provide nothing. Then we get a bunch of confusing half-definitions that and pieces of sentences that might lead somewhere interesting if they were complete: “digital humanities as a project in terms of history, epistemic commitments, modes of engagement with the digital, conceptual foundations for associated cyberinfrastructure, visions, and hope invested” and “digital humanities as traditional humanities computing seems rather clear, and the positioning of speculative computing outside the digital humanities would seem to contradict the very inclusive notion of”. These just confuse me with a lack of context and the fact that the idea is left dangling. There are one or two complete definitions within the visualization (such as the second definition form the top), but even they are simple and do not seem to provide a complete view of the field.
I think my current reaction to the field of Digital Humanities can best be summed up in the wonderfully prosaic definition that is third from the bottom: “digital humanities as we have seen, digital humanities hardly make up an uncontested or well-defined landscape.”