Debates in the Digital Humanities

This week our class read Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold. This book is the epitome of what I expected from a class on digital history. It is available completely online, is easy to navigate, have an intuitive design, and has interesting statistics, such as sentences marked interesting, that helped me narrow down some larger sections in a time crunch.

Often hailed as “the next big thing,” Digital Humanities is an ever developing, and both strictly and vaguely defined field. The purpose of Debates, I believe, is to help assign the nature and purpose of the Digital Humanities in both academic and public life. The introduction to this book discusses the struggle of defining Digital Humanities, but overall the humanists settle on the Digital Humanities being “a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities.”  “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” discusses the Digital Humanities as a methodology, as well as a field. The author describes the methodology as almost defining the field itself. This is a concept I easily got behind while reading because this is what I initially saw the Digital Humanities as being. Other parts, particularly the discussion on the Digital Humanities’ social portion was interesting. The idea of people creation and participating in the creation of a new scholarly field is extremely foreign to me. Kirschenbaum recalls the origin story fo the term Digital Humanities as simply a debate on whether the Wiley companion’s title should computing, digitized, or digital. Ultimately, the authors and publisher decided on digital humanities because they wanted a broader scope, not just humanities computing or digitized materials in the humanities, but instead digital humanities which encompasses both of the other titles.

In the fourth chapter, “Practicing the Digital Humanities,” a wide variety of topics are discussed under this  keyword. Practicing includes both methodology and institutionalization. The first post in Practicing discusses canons and close reading. Particularly, the problem with canons in the digital humanities is which texts do we ignore? Wilkens provides figures on publication rates over time, stressing that there is simply too much work to be analyzed for digital projects. Wilkens shows the Digital Humanities in practice when he creates a point-map that pins named places in early American novels on a map. From this he draws conclusions combating the traditional ideas of the American Renaissance, providing them as evidence for American regionalism and as a tool to help understand the American imaginary landscape of fiction.  Other authors also post on “Practicing” as practicing in the field of Digital Humanities, also said as working in the Digital Humanities. In these sections the authors discuss multiple problems and occurrences within the career field of Digital Humanities. These include debates on Digital Humanities Centers, Alternate Careers such as our guest speaker last week, and publishing within the Digital Humanities. Each of these essays argue their own location within the field, as well as their importance and problems.

In the final chapter, “Envisioning the Future of the Digital Humanities,” the most important and interesting essay to me is the one regarding Big Social Data by Manovich. Starting off, Manovich places Digital Humanities in the world of big data, meaning it is not a part of it. The DH do not yet study data sets that range over terabytes, and sometimes petabytes of storage. As a way to get Digital Humanities to this point,  Manovich outlines a possible future of data collection and analysis through the current use of APIs on websites that hold valuable social statistics and information. Currently, users can access and request small portions of the statistics from a website, including their content. I personally have uses Google analytics and this definitely falls into the scope of this essay. From here, Manovich moves onto the harvesting of data from social media sites as a means of collecting culture and other things. Unfortunately, human nature censors the posting to these sites, whether it be because of a tyrannical government or for the posters own embarrassment. Computers cannot yet distinguish these factors like a human can, and while a research could dig through all of these posts it is impossible due to their sheer size. Digital humanites cannot enter the realm of Big Data until computers can distinguish the small differences in and the reasons why people post certain things on social media.



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