Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Digital Humanities

I posted last week about the trouble that technology can cause in the classroom, in terms of students who insist on surfing the internet, reading Facebook, tweeting, and so on while class is in session.  This, however, does not mean that technology is a bad thing.  It means that we need to develop expectations in our classrooms for digital etiquette.

It is also true that the use of technology to teach and research in the Humanities is in full swing, and we need to catch up with this in our classrooms and become more savvy in terms of how we can use technology to help us with our research.

So I'm wondering what ideas you have, as students and as teachers.  What are some of the things that can be done to help us integrate our study of the Humanities and digital technology?  Express your opinion in the comments.

Today the Digital Humanities was featured in the news when 60 NEH grants were given for those with projects that integrated technology and the Humanities.  Here's the story:
WASHINGTON — “Secret plan to replace human scholars with robots,” read Brett Bobley's first slide.
“Oops!” exclaimed Bobley, director of the office of the digital humanities for the National Endowment of the Humanities, feigning embarrassment. The audience, made up mostly of NEH grantees, laughed. They were here at the endowment’s headquarters on Tuesday to celebrate their roles in forging a new frontier for the humanities -- a category of academic fields at risk of turning fallow for lack of public support. 

Humanities research is often derided as gauzy and esoteric, and therefore undeserving of tax dollars. Amid financial crises, humanities departments at many public universities have been razed. But even amid cuts, there has been a surge in interest in the digital humanities -- a branch of scholarship that takes the computational rigor that has long undergirded the sciences and applies it the study of history, language, and culture.

“While we have been anguishing over the fate of the humanities, the humanities have been busily moving into, and even colonizing, the fields that were supposedly displacing them,” wrote Stanley Fish, the outspoken professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, on his New York Times blog in June. 



Michael Satlow said...

The awards were a while ago; this was the project directors' meeting. See my summary at

bwhawk said...
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bwhawk said...

I think one of the most practical and emerging ways that digital humanities is creating new avenues is with the digitization of manuscripts. While I work mainly on the medieval period, this is surely the case with antiquity, too--especially with projects to make accessible things like the Dead Sea Scrolls ( These types of digitization initiatives offer greater access to scholars that can be integrated into both teaching and research in many ways (some of which are as yet untapped)--and no doubt more will emerge with greater attention to digital projects.

No doubt the teachable usability of online manuscripts is important: being able to show the images to students, help them work through the materials, languages, texts, etc., as well as knowing that there is now emerging direct access to these works. This, to me, is a profitable way that teachers should be bringing digital humanities into the classroom, with both undergraduate and graduate students.

As far as research goes, I'll provide an anecdotal note, since I myself have greatly benefited from such digitizations. Because of one digital initiative, I have been able to work with a few manuscripts from St. Gall libraries that would have been otherwise inaccessible without specifically allocated time and money for travel and research. Such work, in fact, has led to a previously unnoticed discovery in one manuscript, and a forthcoming publication. Though, in the larger scope of scholarship, mine is not a major discovery, it still adds to the store of knowledge about intellectual transmissions. No doubt further work to build up and work with digital humanities could yield further such discoveries and scholarship.

April DeConick said...

I agree completely. I love being able to access electronic versions of manuscripts and papyri via my computer.