Tagged: digital humanities

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:

  1. What does the history of print suggest about the present of print?
  2. What economic factors are shaping print presently?
  3. What challenges and affordances are offered by the production and distribution of printed products?
  4. What does the printed photo offer to an instagram world?
  5. 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).

Detail of US Occupation Map of Fukushima, Japan

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.

The Analog World in Western North Carolina

With the winter break and the holidays it has taken me nearly a two months to get to this post!  But, since the THATCamp movement seems to be carrying a full head of steam , it seems worth posting a somewhat belated reflection upon my own first THATCamp experience.  In December I attended THATCampVA, hosted by the University of Virginia‘s Scholars’ Lab, which itself lives inside Alderman Library.

One thing the THATCamp experience made me realize even more acutely is the value of academic units like the Scholars’ Lab, which link technologists with academics.  I’m lucky to have worked in a similar lab at UT Austin, the Digital Writing and Research Lab (DWRL), which is similar, though focused more exclusively upon the concerns of a single discipline, rather than a host of disciplines, which is what UVA’s Scholars’ Lab serves.

My first THATCamp experience was invigorating, but also exhausting.  I attended the Friday BootCamp, and attended a session on using Geographic Information Systems.  I have a distant background in GIS from my undergrad days and previous, albeit short lived, career, and the BootCamp session was a great refresher, and a great introduction to the more sophisticated elements of what current GIS software is capable of.  It was nice to attend a session on a technology for its own sake, without being entirely clear in my own mind on how I might use that technology down the road.  This allowed me to play during the session, which is how I tend to learn new interfaces best–when I’m not too focused on immediate goals, which tend to suck the fun out of things.

Saturday and Sunday the sessions began, and without getting too far into the nitty gritty, it was a tumult, in a good–no, great–way.  For me the greatest value of the experience was simply conversing with intelligent people OUTSIDE OF MY OWN DISCIPLINE about a host of topics of general interest.  We get so locked into our disciplinary identities, and yet, when we meet people completely outside of our own disciplines, it can be hard to break the intellectual ice and connect in a meaningful way.  In my limited experience, this is the greatest value of the THATCamp experience, semi-structured conversation with very smart people who I otherwise never would have had the opportunity to meet.  It really was that simple, and that valuable, for me.  I especially liked the absence of formal goals or presentations, which allowed the unconference to take the form of almost pure brainstorming and intellectual cross-pollination.  This is where things became exhausting–it takes a lot of energy to talk to new people about new ideas for 8-12 hours a day.  I left exhausted, but in that most pleasing way.

In March I’ll attend my second THATCamp event, THATCampSE, at Emory University.  It will be my first time on the Emory campus and I look forward to meeting a mostly new crowd (new to me, that is) of digital humanists, and catching up with a few of my new friends from THATCampVA.  I’ll be working especially hard to recruit people into getting their classes to contribute to the very newly launched Rural Image Cooperative, which my grad class in Visual and Digital Rhetorics has begun to build.

My one regret about the THATCampVA experience is that I was too tired Saturday evening to stick around for the “vintage pan-Asian surf and garage rock” of Dzian. Next time.

Dzian

After the semester wraps up here at Western Carolina I’ll be attending THATCampVA.  THATCampVA is a regional incarnation of the larger THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) “unconference.”  The mission of THATCamp is pretty exciting in terms of how it shakes up the typical conference format, how its content is determined by the participants, its content is open source and note sharing is the norm, its prioritizing of conversations over presentations, and the unconference’s preference for short, PechaKucha style presentations. Check out their website for more info.  THATCampVA is being held in Charlottesville, VA, on the campus of the University of Virginia.  This will be my first THATCamp event.

THATCamp events typically include BootCamps, which are brief technology training sessions, and take place one day before the main THATCamp event begins.  At THATCampVA I’ll be attending the GIS Track BootCamp, which is particularly exciting for me because I used to work in GIS when I worked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) at the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), which is also in Charlottesville.  I imagine that the technologies and interfaces have changed quite significantly in the time since I was working with them regularly.

Now that THATCampVA participants have been selected, the participants have begun proposing topics of discussion for the weekend via the THATCampVA blog.  The proposals should be less than 500 words each.  I’ve pitched three ideas, and tried to hold myself to 250 words per idea, so as not to overwhelm the board.  To be perfectly honest though, I’m not too worried about whether or not any of my ideas gain any momentum with the other Campers, but am simply excited to meet people working n the digital humanities (very broadly conceived) here on the East Coast.  Most of the THATCampVA participants are on Twitter, and you can find a list of them HERE.

Here are the topics of discussion that I’ve proposed:

  • the politics of expertise, and how the digital humanities (whatever that is) might take a role in returning ethics to the center of higher education

As per the spirit of THATCamp events, I’ll be blogging my notes/thoughts/screeds during and after the event itself in December.  As always when venturing off of my mountaintop fortress and into public, my primary goal will be to not make an ass of myself:

Burro