Digital Humanities for Non-Humanists

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Not only are the digital humanities fascinating and important for those in the humanities, but also for people outside of Arts & Humanities disciplines. I am particularly invested in getting computer scientists interested in DH work, because of their expertise in the digital aspects of DH.

By working with the digital humanities, non-humanists will be exposed to humanistic ideas, just as humanists are exposed to technology they may not have faced yet. This sort of interdisciplinarity can be so valuable and expands the minds of everyone on a team.

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Re:Humanities ’15

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I have been accepted to the Re:Humanities ’15 Conference this April 9-10 at Swarthmore College. I will be presenting a paper entitled “Digital Distant Reading.” The slogan this year is “Save. Share. Self-Destruct.”

Here is the list of topics touched upon at this year’s symposium:
* Criticism of new media technologies and practices
* Archiving of personal and academic texts and literatures through new technologies and media
* Collaboration and solidarity in the digital humanities
* Hybrid practices, interdisciplinary media, and subversion of cultural and political norms
* Intersections between academic research and a public audience
* Public preservation of histories and cultures
* Risk, trial, and error in new media
* Privacy: digital footprints, cloud storage, and Big Data
* Self-destructing data and Do Not Track technology
* Identity as shaped by excessive information or data deprivation

The keynote speakers this year are Wendy Hsu and Whitney Trettien.

You can follow the conference on Twitter @rehumanities and #rehum15.

What are the Digital Humanities?

The digital humanities are defined as the intersection between humanities and computing. At first glance, this conflation of opposites seems unlikely, perhaps even disconcerting. There has also been, naturally, a flurry of criticism of a field that is largely misunderstood. Take, for example, the reaction to ebooks. In 2012, Jonathan Franzen said this: “The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now” (Telegraph).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that argument convincing, mostly because the fact that spilling water on something will break it does not necessarily make it bad technology. Let’s also not forget that if you spill enough water on a hard-copy book, you won’t be able to read it either. Moving beyond Franzen’s hazy technological knowledge, there is a clear anxiety that if we change the way readers and scholars consume literature, we will lose something, though it is not always clear what that something is.

Let me backtrack to my definition of the digital humanities again. First of all, it is a field, not a discipline. Digital humanities scholars study a wide range of materials, from video games to digital archiving, to topic modeling. It seems to me that the digital humanities are not defined by actual object of study, but by the use of technology to study it. I specialize in topic modeling, and so that is what I plan to address, but that is only a substratum of a wide range of possibilities covered by digital humanities.

Adam Hirsch, in his essay for The New Republic argues that the difficulty scholars face in the categorization of the digital humanities is a flaw:

Despite all this enthusiasm, the question of what the digital humanities is has yet to be given a satisfactory answer. Indeed, no one asks it more often than the digital humanists themselves. The recent proliferation of books on the subject—from sourcebooks and anthologies to critical manifestos—is a sign of a field suffering an identity crisis, trying to determine what, if anything, unites the disparate activities carried on under its banner. (Hirsch)

Kirsch fears that digital humanists do not even know what it is they do. I disagree with Kirsch. I think that the digital humanities is so challenging to categorize because it doesn’t fit into our traditional notion of a discipline. It functions more like a network, with the synthesis of technology and humanities centrally located, reaching out to nodes that may be more or less connected.

When considered on its own terms, rather than in the terms of the more conservative discipline, digital humanities seems productive and exciting. It does not replace the more traditional humanities, but it works alongside it as its own separate entity. All I ask is that readers of this blog keep an open mind about the abundant possibilities offered by digital humanities research and to keep thinking about how technology can improve our understanding of the humanities rather than hinder it.

Works Cited”Jonathan Franzen: E-books Are Damaging Society.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9047981/Jonathan-Franzen-e-books-are-damaging-society.html&gt;.

Kirsch, Adam. “Technology Is Taking Over English Departments.” Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117428/limits-digital-humanities-adam-kirsch&gt;.

 
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Michael Bérubé’s Lecture at Skidmore College

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Michael Bérubé, past president of the MLA, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State, gave a lecture on Thursday night here at Skidmore College. His lecture, called The Value and Values of the Humanities, addressed the state of the humanities as well as why we continue to study them. Bérubé critiqued the conservative critics who argue that the humanities as a field are dying, and argued instead that their method of measurement is flawed. As an aspiring graduate student I am particularly interested in the future of the humanities and found Bérubé’s analysis hopeful.

Bérubé argues for interdisciplinarity in the humanities and suggests that a literature-film double major should not count as interdisciplinary. He prefers a French-metallurgy double major. He certainly took a broad approach to his lecture, citing many different theorists and multiple disciplines.

His ultimate point was that humanists need to acknowledge the contingency of our ‘truths’ and to adjust accordingly. He argued against ‘textual fundamentalism’ and suggested that texts can change due to their contextualization, and every culture will read them differently. By rejecting the ‘universality’ (in the Enlightenment sense) of truth, texts, etc., the humanities can continue to thrive.

 

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Distant Reading

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Distant reading is a term invented by Franco Moretti, the Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University. Moretti is also the director of the Stanford Literary Lab. He describes this concept in his essay “Conjectures on World Literature” in The New Left Review in 2000. He writes:

literary history will quickly become very different from what it is now: it will become ‘second hand’: a patchwork of other people’s research, without a single direct textual reading. Still ambitious, and actually even more so than before (world literature!); but the ambition is now directly proportional to the distance from the text: the more ambitious the project, the greater must the distance be.

Moretti presents distant reading as a new methodological option for students of literature. He proposes moving beyond traditional close reading to embrace a much larger corpus of texts on a much less detailed level. Obviously, this suggestion is highly controversial, especially in the context of the very conservative academe. At the same time, the practice presents new possibilities and avenues of study, and can expand our understanding of how texts interact, and the general context in which they exist.

We can also handle the information we glean from the texts differently. Moretti often produces different types of data visualizations. The image below is a graph from Moretti’s work “Graphs, Maps, and Trees” (2003).

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I have used Moretti’s concept of distant reading to advise my own digital humanities work in two projects I have done: “A Postcolonial ‘Distant Reading’ of Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Anglophone Texts” and “A Distant Reading of Empire.

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First Post

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I always have trouble writing my first post when I create a new blog. Generally, I find that the best option is to introduce myself, so I suppose I should do that now. My name is Mae Capozzi and I am a senior at Skidmore College. I study English and Italian. I usually study Victorian literature, but I fell in love with Ulysses last semester. My senior capstone paper was called “Joycean Babeling: Scattered Language in ‘Oxen of the Sun.'”

I have created this blog as a NY6ThinkTank Fellow. This is the goal of the Fellows Program:

The goal of the program is to explore the surprising and often overlooked ways in which the Arts and Humanities play a part in the lives of today’s students. Fellows therefore get to express how students are reshaping, remixing, or reapplying the Arts and Humanities in new ways. They get to create projects that give shape to how students are using ideas, concepts, aspects derived from the Arts and Humanities to alter society, business, education, culture, politics, or other realms.

You can also find me at www.readingfromadistance.wordpress.com. I share that blog with Professor Scott Enderle. It documents a digital humanities project we worked on in the summer of 2014 called “A Distant Reading of Empire.” You can also follow me on twitter @MCapoz.

This blog will document my thoughts on the literature and theory I read. It will consist of my immediate impressions along with some of my more polished work as well.

Please feel free to comment on any of my posts. I would love to start a conversation with anyone who is interested in what I have to say and I always welcome discussion.

 

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