Digital Humanities Defined?

imageI am going to come right out and admit that though digital humanities is a large part of my major, I don’t have a concrete definition for what it means. In fact, I had to consult my good friend Wikipedia to try to define humanities so that I had a jumping off point. This is what i found on the subject. If you actually clicked on the link and tried to read the definition, you might notice how even the term humanities is very broad and wordy. If narrowing in on a definition for humanities (a discipline that’s been around since the 15th century) is difficult, then it makes sense that defining digital humanities (a comparitively new term) accurately would be tough at best.

The humanities are essentially an approach to understanding the human experience. It is inclusive of bits of literature and music and even history. It is hundreds of years (and perhaps more) of culture distilled into useable parts. It is a call to look outside of yourself and into others worlds. Some would go so far as to say it is an attempt at cataloguing and interpreting the meaning of life itself.

In the article, “The Humanities Done Digitally” Kathleen Fitzpatrick says:

Scholarly work across the humanities, as in all academic fields, is increasingly being done digitally. The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another.

I like her choice of the word communicate, and think that it is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. Digital humanities are a form of communication (a conversation) with the world around us that is consistently being changed by new technology.

I was having a discussion with my Grandfather yesterday about the digitization of our world, and the amazing things that can be accomplished using computers or other digital devices. He was telling me a story about how he had been at a friends’ house and no one could remember the name of a steakhouse they wanted to go to. He looked it up on his smartphone and within seconds, they knew the name of the steakhouse, had directions on how to get there, and were calling in reservations. These are, of course things that weren’t possible when he was my age (nor even a few years ago for that matter). If you didn’t know the name of the steakhouse, you might just be out of luck. Now anything is possible.

There is an oft-used saying “with great power comes great responsibility” and I would argue that it applies in this case. Digital media gives us magic powers unlike what the world has ever seen, and the magic grows every day. Todays technology is already obsolete by the time it reaches our outstretched fingertips. There has to be some semblence of responsibility, some deciding factor on what the correct approach to using this power is. Digital humanities is that deciding factor in some ways. It is a deliberate approach to interpreting the human experience in its current form using technology. It is creative and collaborative and always open to new forms of interpretation, while still working to increase civic responsibility and projects that benefit humanity on a broad scale.

I’m aware that my brief interpretation muddies the waters more than it offers clarity, but perhaps that’s the beauty of the digital humanities. It is constantly changing and evading a description that would pigeonhole it and force obsolescence. Scholars should be constantly striving to better understand and define it, and even to improve upon it. Change is the only constant.

7 thoughts on “Digital Humanities Defined?

  1. I too think that communication, especially collaboration, are the most important part of Digital Humanities because thats the most amazing part of them. The fact that we can now connect so easily with others anywhere in the world changes everything.

    • Exactly. I have a friend from college who lives in Japan with his family and because of technology I still get to see pictures and videos of his two beautiful little girls. Even a few years ago, I might not have had that opportunity.

  2. I think you address a big part regarding the role of responsibility with the digital humanities (particularly digital). I had never thought of the correlation between magic and digital capabilities: but it almost seems as if our digital world mirrors magic. You are right when you say, “change is he only constant”: the field seems to change as fast as we attempt to define it.

    • Computers the size of peas, the ability to see people who live on whole other continents. It sounds a lot like magic to me. The most interesting part is that it can only grow from here. I can’t even fathom what some computer engineer will come up with even a year in the future.

  3. I love this: “Digital humanities is that deciding factor in some ways. It is a deliberate approach to interpreting the human experience in its current form using technology.” I love it because it’s how I see Digital Humanities, too. As mentioned in Carrie’s post, a lot of our interpretation of what it means has to do with our personal experiences with the digital world, and it can mean different things to different people. I also appreciate the “muddled” quality of your post because it accurately reflects the abstract nature of Digital Humanities.

    Now this: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Isn’t that also from Spider-Man?

    • I believe that they used it in Spider-Man, but I looked it up and it is attributed to anonymous at this point. Responsibility seems to be the one thing lacking in a lot of digital noise, and I think that it is up to scholars to define what the human/computer relationship can and should be.

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Digital Humanities Defined?

imageI am going to come right out and admit that though digital humanities is a large part of my major, I don’t have a concrete definition for what it means. In fact, I had to consult my good friend Wikipedia to try to define humanities so that I had a jumping off point. This is what i found on the subject. If you actually clicked on the link and tried to read the definition, you might notice how even the term humanities is very broad and wordy. If narrowing in on a definition for humanities (a discipline that’s been around since the 15th century) is difficult, then it makes sense that defining digital humanities (a comparitively new term) accurately would be tough at best.

The humanities are essentially an approach to understanding the human experience. It is inclusive of bits of literature and music and even history. It is hundreds of years (and perhaps more) of culture distilled into useable parts. It is a call to look outside of yourself and into others worlds. Some would go so far as to say it is an attempt at cataloguing and interpreting the meaning of life itself.

In the article, “The Humanities Done Digitally” Kathleen Fitzpatrick says:

Scholarly work across the humanities, as in all academic fields, is increasingly being done digitally. The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another.

I like her choice of the word communicate, and think that it is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle. Digital humanities are a form of communication (a conversation) with the world around us that is consistently being changed by new technology.

I was having a discussion with my Grandfather yesterday about the digitization of our world, and the amazing things that can be accomplished using computers or other digital devices. He was telling me a story about how he had been at a friends’ house and no one could remember the name of a steakhouse they wanted to go to. He looked it up on his smartphone and within seconds, they knew the name of the steakhouse, had directions on how to get there, and were calling in reservations. These are, of course things that weren’t possible when he was my age (nor even a few years ago for that matter). If you didn’t know the name of the steakhouse, you might just be out of luck. Now anything is possible.

There is an oft-used saying “with great power comes great responsibility” and I would argue that it applies in this case. Digital media gives us magic powers unlike what the world has ever seen, and the magic grows every day. Todays technology is already obsolete by the time it reaches our outstretched fingertips. There has to be some semblence of responsibility, some deciding factor on what the correct approach to using this power is. Digital humanities is that deciding factor in some ways. It is a deliberate approach to interpreting the human experience in its current form using technology. It is creative and collaborative and always open to new forms of interpretation, while still working to increase civic responsibility and projects that benefit humanity on a broad scale.

I’m aware that my brief interpretation muddies the waters more than it offers clarity, but perhaps that’s the beauty of the digital humanities. It is constantly changing and evading a description that would pigeonhole it and force obsolescence. Scholars should be constantly striving to better understand and define it, and even to improve upon it. Change is the only constant.

7 thoughts on “Digital Humanities Defined?

  1. I too think that communication, especially collaboration, are the most important part of Digital Humanities because thats the most amazing part of them. The fact that we can now connect so easily with others anywhere in the world changes everything.

    • Exactly. I have a friend from college who lives in Japan with his family and because of technology I still get to see pictures and videos of his two beautiful little girls. Even a few years ago, I might not have had that opportunity.

  2. I think you address a big part regarding the role of responsibility with the digital humanities (particularly digital). I had never thought of the correlation between magic and digital capabilities: but it almost seems as if our digital world mirrors magic. You are right when you say, “change is he only constant”: the field seems to change as fast as we attempt to define it.

    • Computers the size of peas, the ability to see people who live on whole other continents. It sounds a lot like magic to me. The most interesting part is that it can only grow from here. I can’t even fathom what some computer engineer will come up with even a year in the future.

  3. I love this: “Digital humanities is that deciding factor in some ways. It is a deliberate approach to interpreting the human experience in its current form using technology.” I love it because it’s how I see Digital Humanities, too. As mentioned in Carrie’s post, a lot of our interpretation of what it means has to do with our personal experiences with the digital world, and it can mean different things to different people. I also appreciate the “muddled” quality of your post because it accurately reflects the abstract nature of Digital Humanities.

    Now this: “with great power comes great responsibility.” Isn’t that also from Spider-Man?

    • I believe that they used it in Spider-Man, but I looked it up and it is attributed to anonymous at this point. Responsibility seems to be the one thing lacking in a lot of digital noise, and I think that it is up to scholars to define what the human/computer relationship can and should be.

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