The digital humanities have been around at least since the 1940s,1 but it was not until the Internet and World Wide Web that they came into their own as emerging fields with their own degree programs, research centres, scholarly journals, and books, and a growing body of expert practitioners. Nevertheless, many scholars – particularly in literary studies – are only vaguely aware of the digital humanities and lack a clear sense of the challenges they pose to traditional modes of enquiry. This essay outlines the field, analyses the implications of its practices, and discusses its potential for transforming research, teaching, and publication. The essay concludes with a vision that sees the digital humanities revitalising the traditional humanities, even as they also draw on the traditional humanities for their core strengths. Coming to the scene with a background in scientific programming and a long-standing interest in machine cognition, I wanted to see how engagements with digital technologies are changing the ways humanities scholars think. The obvious and visible signs of a shift include the changing nature of research, the inclusion of programming code as a necessary linguistic practice, and the increasing number of large Web projects in nearly every humanities discipline. This much I knew, but I was after something deeper and more elusive: how engagements with digital technologies are affecting the assumptions and presuppositions of humanities scholars, including their visions of themselves as professional practitioners, their relations to the field, and their hopes and fears for the future. To explore these issues, I conducted a series of phone and in-person interviews with twenty U.S. scholars at different stages of their careers and varying intensities of involvement with digital technologies.2 The insights that my interlocutors expressed in these conversations were remarkable. Through narrated experiences, sketched contexts, subtle nuances, and implicit conclusions, the interviews reveal the ways in which the digital humanities are transforming assumptions. The themes that emerged can be grouped under the following rubrics: scale, critical/productive theory, collaboration, databases, multimodal scholarship, code, and future trajectories. As we will see, each of these areas has its own tensions, conflicts, and intellectual issues. I do not find these contestations unsettling; on the contrary, I think they indicate the vitality of the digital humanities and their potential for catalysing significant change.

« Themes in dh: scale, critical/productive theory, collaboration, databases, multimodal scholarship, code, and future trajectories »

A quote saved on May 25, 2015.


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