An Introduction to Digital Humanities

This is the first in a series of three posts written by students in my ENGL 175T: Writing in a Digital Age class.

by Nathan, Estevan, Jessica B. & Jessica T

When referring to humanities, a sort of physicality is insinuated. The humanities consist of concrete platforms: Dance, Art, Literature, Music and etc. One associates dance with the human body, art with canvas, brushes—tools, music with instrument, literature with paperback or hard covered books. All of these have tangible elements and each has its own set of tenets founded in a malleable physicality. So when one suggests a merging of humanities with technology, bafflement is bound to ensue.

In Kirschenbaum’s article What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? Wikipedia made the most accurate definition of Digital Humanities. They define Digital Humanities, also known as humanities computing, as a “field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of humanities. It is methodological by nature and interdisciplinary in scope. It involves investigation, analysis, synthesis, and presentation of information in electric form.” In turn, this concept studies how these medias affect the disciplines of humanities in which they are used and how they contribute to our comprehension of computing.

Digital Humanities is also a seen as a social undertaking. According to Kirschenbaum, the digital humanities harbor networks of people who share research, compete, collaborate, and most importantly, work together for many years. An example of collaboration can be seen in the social network Twitter. This media allows for social expansion of knowledge and attention to areas of study to audiences who would otherwise be unaware. The Digital Humanities have also become prominent in the scholarly world. Many organizations, conferences, journals, and institutes, utilize this field of study. According to Steve Lohr, this Big Data Technology, provides a bigger picture and a fresh look at culture. Culturomics is the umbrella term used to describe these rigorous quantitative inquiries in social sciences and humanities.

With this technology, word patterns, writing styles, and themes can be identified in pieces of literature from authors such as Jane Austin, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens. A new term stems from this, that word being stylometry: study of author’s writing and style. Professors are also taking advantage of the digital humanities. Professor Katherine Rowe provides an online theater class where she has created an online reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe. Here, the students stage block plays, and get a better sense of how stage blocking effects certain scenes of the play—a physical classroom hinders the students ability to recreate a close replica of Shakespeare’s dramatic scenes—plus, they can do all of this while in their pajamas.

The openness of the English Department to cultural studies welcomes analysis, which lends itself well to Digital Humanities. The text is tractable data, which is easy for computer technology to adopt. According to Kirschenbaum, we generally we are unaccustomed to this form of scholarship that is collaborative, and so dependent on networks of people that love an active 24/7 life online. Although Digital Humanities is relatively new, its expansion allows for new avenues and lenses for looking at traditional aspects of Humanities.

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