Please vote for the panel that Will Burdette (U Texas at Austin) and I have proposed for the 2012 SXSW Interactive festival . Our description follows (click to go to the SXSW voting site):
It’s common to call the printing press revolutionary. But the printing press did not eliminate handwriting. To this day, we have Moleskine notebooks, Post-It Notes, hipster PDAs. Similarly, the digital revolution will not kill print. We still buy books online and mark them up with pencils and highlighters. Pens are still more ubiquitous than digital mobile apps. People pay for photographic prints to hang on their fridges and walls. Bookstores do not merely exist; they legitimate neighborhoods. Every coffee shop has a bulletin board full of printed posters. Instead of predicting “The Future of Print in the Digital Age,” this panel celebrates the present of print, and focuses on emerging print-digital hybrids. The panel consists of a printer, a couple of scholars, a poster distributor, and a print photographer who started a photo booth. Together we will explore projects that capitalize on the permeability of the boundaries separating manual, print, and digital realms.
Questions that the panel will address include:
- What does the history of print suggest about the present of print?
- What economic factors are shaping print presently?
- What challenges and affordances are offered by the production and distribution of printed products?
- What does the printed photo offer to an instagram world?
- What print/digital hybrids are emerging to question the print/digital divide?
My own presentation will focus upon the ongoing symbiosis between analog and born-digital maps and mapping technologies.
SXSW does require you to register in order to vote, but it’s quick and painless. So, please vote for our panel, and vote early and often (seriously).
As the title of this post indicates, I’m not a huge fan of ascribing the name “digital humanities” to, uh, well, the digital humanities. Therein is the problem though, right? What else are we going to call it, this thing? And what is this thing? Surely it’s not really just a collision of the traditional humanities disciplines with new technologies, is it?
I’m sure that some people will find this polemical, but what if we just called it the humanities? Drop the digital part. My logic is this: I think that it becomes more and more of an obligation for humanists to account for and incorporate appropriate digital technologies in their work, whether those uses of technology are for the discovery of new knowledge and relationships, or for the transmission and display of finished work, or some combination of the two. In an era when the humanities disciplines are clearly under assault, both financially and intellectually, I would go so far as to say that not accounting for and capitalizing upon such technologies in one’s work is a disservice to one’s discipline. That’s a strong statement, I know. But bear with me for a moment. This doesn’t mean that people should stop doing traditional work, I don’t think. But any study–no matter the topic–can be enriched by new technologies of display and distribution, at the very least. And surely there are many more sophisticated ways than simply display and distribution that inquiry into virtually any topic or field can be enriched.
Insisting on the term digital humanities automatically creates an us/them situation. Either you’re a digital humanist or you’re not, and I don’t think that dynamic is to the long term benefit of the thing that we’re calling the digital humanities or to the humanities more generally. By creating a distinct thing, the digital humanities, we actually make it easier for some to resist the trend to combine new technologies with traditional modes of inquiry, and against the innovation of entirely new modes of inquiry. The humanities suffer enough in the current cultural, intellectual, and political environment. I think that we shouldn’t be splitting ourselves into factions right now, and that we should be very public in the production of our work, so as to demonstrate our value to those outside of the humanities and outside of the academy. Digital technologies enable that broader connection.
I also worry very much that in some cases the digital humanities simply becomes a worship of the newest and coolest platforms and interfaces, and that that infatuation with new software gizmos might in some cases come at the expense of the intellectual content of scholarship. This, of course, is likely to be the criticism of those within the academy who (for whatever reason) might be hostile to the digital humanities. That hostility–and we know that such hostility exists at many institutions, particularly among faculty who feel threatened by the newness and fast pace of new technologies–makes it even more imperative that those of us committed to the digital humanities produce scholarship that is especially intellectually robust.
If it’s not a discipline (as I contend) then I think that it would be fair to describe the digital humanities more as an ethos, aesthetic, and philosophy of scholarship. Herein lies, I believe, the greatest asset of the digital humanities. New platforms and interfaces (that is, digital ones) allow humanists to connect to new, broader, more public audiences than ever before. For too many generations we humanists have spoken primarily to each other, with our work shielded from public view by virtue of its publication only in obscure, expensive print publications that have only been held (generally) in elite (university) libraries, walled from public access and eyes. A second exciting promise of new digital platforms and interfaces is the way(s) they allow us to actually envision, detect, and display previously unnoticed relationships. In these cases, new digital tools actually contribute to the discovery and manufacture of new knowledge, and allow us to display that knowledge more effectively than we might have previously.
Of course, there might be another phenomenon that I’m failing to account for (I know, there’s probably tons here that I’m failing to account for, but such are the luxuries of writing in an informal space). As a graduate student I was involved with UT Austin’s Science, Technology, and Society Center, a since de-funded certificate granting academic unit that sought to bring humanists, scientists, and social scientists into conversation. We held a very large event on nanotechnology, during which many scientists observed that nanotechnology research blurs the lines between traditional science disciplines. Consider that once there was just “science” (think Newton’s era, and earlier) and then individual disciplines differentiated themselves, and now new technologies and research into things like nanotechnology cause a coalescing of fields like biology and chemistry and physics that would previously have been unthinkable. My question is, do digital technologies do the same thing for the humanities, creating an environment in which traditional disciplinary boundaries collapse and the humanities disciplines collapse/expand into one massive uber-discipline? Could that be on the horizon? Is it good? Bad?
This post doesn’t represent my final perspective on the digital humanities. I’m open to persuasion, and I know that a lot of people are struggling with these issues, trying to figure out how to proceed. I may be contributing to the problem here, but maybe we’re putting too much energy into trying to figure out what the digital humanities is/are. We should just do our work, and that answer will arise organically, I believe. But, then again, here I am contemplating the digital bellybutton too . . .
On a completely serious final note, I worry that many “digital humanists” have forgotten what the internet was really built for–making war, and pornography (don’t worry–the links are totally safe for work).
In the interest of providing some different perspectives on these issues, here are some links where other academics take up some similar issues. I’m sure that this list isn’t anywhere near comprehensive, so please post additional links in the comments. I don’t pretend that this list is anything approaching comprehensive.
These are just some of the posts that prompted me to document my own two cents. I’d love to know what others are reading/thinking about these issues.
I’ve posted syllabi and most assignments for my undergraduate and graduate courses for Spring 2011. All class materials can always be found on the Courses page.
Materials for both sections of the undergraduate course ENGL 102: Writing and Critical Inquiry can be found here: ENGL 102-09 and ENGL 102-13.
Here are the materials for the graduate course ENGL 695: Visual and Digital Rhetorics.
I hope everyone enjoyed the snow days. I did. And it sure is a lot easier to deal with snow days in the beginning of the semester than in the middle of it . . . See you all in class.
As always, if you’re an instructor at another institution and would like to crib something from me, feel free, but please do attribute. I’m happy to answer questions about my syllabi and materials as well.