Writing Assignment 1: What is Digital Humanities?

Fundamentally, digital humanities (DH) is the process of using modern technology to organize and interpret the humanities. This simplified definition follows directly from our discussions in class of process over product with respect to DH. Also, in discussion, we considered how every DH project argues for something, so we could ask what a project argues to generate an initial understanding. Then, because of the focus on process, we discussed how those projects argue. Asking how one may argue allows us to explore the new methods in which we may use technology to make arguments. That distinction of asking how separates projects concerning DH from manipulation of those projects for daily tasks such as reading emails or checking social media.

However, this distinction seemingly contradicts the view that DH is a spectrum [1] that extends to all people. However, to say DH is a spectrum and leave it there, while inclusive, is dangerously reductive, which, again, we brought up briefly in class discussion. If everyone is a digital humanist, then no one is a digital humanist, and that invalidates the work that digital humanists do. In defining DH, we question what digital humanists do. Based on the DH Resources guide from the blackboard page for our class, that answer also varies extensively. In that case, why define DH at all? The work done overwhelmingly varies, and even the website, whatisdigitalhumanities.com, [2] cannot provide a consistent answer with input from hundreds of professionals.

Based on the variety of articles we read and discussed, DH needs definition and distinction from the humanities, because humanities scholars refused to acknowledge technology as a relevant tool. Mullen [1] noticed this and pointed out a common distinction between the traditional scholar and digital humanist, where traditional scholars viewed their work as more meaningful due to their classical methodology. DH arrived as a reaction to the denial of modern technology’s usefulness in the humanities, but as the compass and straightedge became the Texas Instruments graphing calculator, the humanities have evolved from the writing of text to the Library of Babel [3]. Thus, DH is a natural extension of the humanities given a title to advertise the power of modern tools to traditional scholars.

[1] Mullen, Author Lincoln. “Digital humanities is a spectrum; or, we’re all digital humanists now.” The Backward Glance. January 14, 2017. Accessed February 06, 2017. http://lincolnmullen.com/blog/digital-humanities-is-a-spectrum-or-we8217re-all-digital-humanists-now/

[2] Heppler, Jason A. “What Is Digital Humanities?” What Is Digital Humanities? Accessed February 06, 2017. http://whatisdigitalhumanities.com/.

[3] Borges, Jonathan Basile Jorge Luis. “Library of Babel.” Library of Babel. Accessed February 06, 2017. https://libraryofbabel.info/.

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