September 13 – What is/are Digital Humanities

//September 13 – What is/are Digital Humanities
September 13 – What is/are Digital Humanities 2018-01-07T15:25:11-04:00


Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital_Humanities. The MIT Press, 2012. Sections 1 and 2, pg. 1-72

Johanna Drucker, “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship,” in Matthew Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities(Minnesota, 2012).

N. Katherine Hayles. “Chap 2: The Digital Humanities: Engaging the Issues” in How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. University of Chicago Press. (available through NYU ebarary)

Matthew G. Kirschenbaum. “What Is Digital humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?ADE Bulletin, 150. 2010.

Stephen Ramsay, Geoffrey Rockwell, “Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities,” in Matthew Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities (Minnesota, 2012).

Additional Readings

Stanley Fish, “The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of MortalityThe New York Times. 9 Jan 2012

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “The Humanities, Done DigitallyChronicle of Higher Education. 8 May 2011

Day of DH: Defining the Digital Humanities” in Matthew Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities(Minnesota, 2012).

OED Definition of “digital” and “humanities


Go into the WP admin backend and make a post with your own definition of the term “digital humanities”. Be prepared to read it aloud and justify your definition to the class. We will attempt to combine our definitions during the course of class into a unified description.

To Discuss

Student Definitions of What the Digital Humanities is/are


  1. ithomas September 10, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    Naturally, there’s a lot of discussion of actually defining the term “digital humanities” (as our assignment and discussion next class will no-doubt prove), and part of my own struggle with the definition is the purpose of the field. It seems to me that there are two separate, although equally important, lines of inquiry being created with regards to the digital humanities. The first it perhaps the most obvious: the ability to perform a more “distant reading” (mentioned on page 39 of Digital_Humanities and page 28 in How We Think) of texts and find patterns that would be impossible without computers. Algorithms can parse through literature at a speed humans can hardly even dream of. The other line of inquiry focuses on the tool itself, and the more advanced ways we can preserve and present information. I supposed my question revolves around the sort of curation of the tools themselves. Would a video game in which you play as Shakespeare, navigating the trials and tribulations of the life of an English poet and playwright be fun? Sure. Would we actually learn anything more from that than having read a biography? I’m not so sure. How can we ensure that DH projects are forwarding the field, instead of simply representing material already known?

    Should there be a sort of prerequisite before pursuing DH? Should one be relatively well versed in traditional humanities before jumping into the digital world? Or is that just too exclusionary for this incredibly collaborative field? For example, with the rise of deconstructionism, many people felt the need to offer their own deconstructionist views on works of art, with the idea that deconstructionism simply means the art is whatever the viewer perceives it to be (artist’s intent is unimportant). This gave way to a gross misrepresentation of the movement. Those who truly follow deconstructionism are also well educated in the “construct” being “deconstructed.” I fear DH may also fall prey to being misrepresented or misused by those without an understanding of the humanities in general, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

    Lastly (and much more to the point), how has the issue of citations been dealt with in these more digital projects? I get wary of documentaries because I can’t flip to a citation immediately; I can’t imagine the anxiety in a more interactive and digital project. Especially since the projects often involve multiple creators, and as the digitization of work is being more frequent, these creators have access to countless resources, leading to more citations needed. How can we make sure the same standard of integrity being used for academic essays is used for, say, a video game?

  2. lcipicchio September 12, 2016 at 12:34 am

    The definitions and the discussions around digital humanities centered around the use of the tools and its ability to advance the field. The new tools have open the doors for a need of a variety of new players to participate within the field. Skills that have previously been kept at an arms length away from the humanities are now seen as essential to be able to digest and comprehend the vast amount of humanity data.

    On the idea of inclusion of people within to the field, there is a dramatic feel of a turf war happening, people defining what is and is not digital humanities to be able to claim their area. But the question with most turf wars quickly delves into what is the advantage of defining the space, who benefits from which definition and which definition allows for the most upside in the way we compound our knowledge and understanding of humanities.

    On the outside the opening of the doors of those who can contribute and help advance the field (the “amateurs” ) brings in a variety of new ideas and ways of thinking that may have not been considered. This way of thinking has the ability to push the envelope, force the logic around previously decided on ways of consuming and interpreting logic. These new actors tend to be “amateurs” or not classical trained, does this risk a dilution of ideas? what are the core fundamentals that need to be understood to be able to properly use the tools to determine new insights within the humanities. Personally as an outsider of the humanities field, I am very curious to see if there will there be a good tension in trying to fit tools and skills with a lack of understanding the basis of the field or does it destroy the fundamental nature of the kind of insight that should be gained from studying humanities.

    A much more narrow question that I found necessary to highlight as we go about defining words.

    a) What is scholarly? Who should be allowed to define it? What does having a definition for it even get you?
    b) In ‘Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities’ , three verbs are used as a collection to talk about the skills needing to do digital work “building, hacking, and coding”. Each of those words give a very different feel and crediblity for the type of work, is hacking something scholarly?

    “To ask whether coding is a scholarly act is like asking whether writing is a scholarly act. Writing is the technology—or better, the methodology—that lies between model and result in humanistic discourse.” (Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities)

    if the code is beautiful than does it in itself become literature or art? is there a recursive loop, where you can write code to find an insight within literature but the code is written in a way that it in itself is beautiful so it becomes something that someone would want to write a way to detect its beauty? Likely this gets into the idea of how much is code a language and so has the ability to both convey meaning and art within it.

  3. acloarec September 13, 2016 at 2:29 am

    Digital humanities have the same area of study than the Traditional Humanities. They ask the same questions but they differ from the Traditional Humanities both in their protocols – through coding for example as opposed as writing – and in their form of publication – a 3D representation of a Greek temple for example as opposed as a 2D drawing. Digital humanities also have the advantage of both accessing and the analyzing data at speed humans are incapable of.

    1- In How we think: digital media and contemporary technologies p33 Timothy Lenoir’s idea is to “forget meaning” but would it really be of any interest to just collect data? Isn’t it the point of humanities to go over the data we already have and think, exchange, interpret, exchange different point of view about the same facts? If digital humanities forgot meaning, wouldn’t it be deprived from its humanities aspect? Wouldn’t the digital be left “on its own”?

    2- In Digital humanities p11; Is it still relevant to talk of orality when speaking of “YouTube lectures, podcasts, audio books”? The digital may facilitate the access to some oral performances but in the same time it constitutes something that stands in between the orator and the receiver. Especially when we know that digital oral performances can be remixed.

    3- Some texts have emphasis the link between digital humanities and visualization but if we want digital humanities to really bring added value to our experience, knowledge and lives wouldn’t it be interesting to also explore other senses?

  4. Zejun September 13, 2016 at 3:17 am

    1) In P31, Hayles mentioned that computer analyses have been praised by their objectivity. Since the algorism is designed by human, and used in the way as the user want it to be, will the computer analyses achieving true objectivity?

    2) In the essay ““What Is Digital humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” Kirschenbaum seems to be entirely optimistic about the digital waves in the English departments. However, one can imagine DH’s exponential scale and the new collaboration models mentioned by Hayles, allow more user generated content in the DH field. For the scholars, can their voices be better heard or drown out eventually?

    3) How about the regulation? In the name of DH, can everything and anyone be the subject of the research?

  5. wdavis September 13, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    1.) Is it really true, as Todd Presner proposes, that “‘human’ is not a fixed term”? Can we even truly define Digital Humanities if we are unable to place a fixed definition on the term “human”?

    2. What are the findings so far from distant-reading of world literature? (I honestly am having difficulties with understanding how distant reading works when it almost doesn’t require “reading”)

    3. Is the 3rd wave of DH on the horizon, or are scholars still having too many issues with the contemporary phase of the field to be able to predict what is upcoming? Basically, what’s next?

  6. Ariel Chaffin September 13, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    In Johanna Drucker’s article, she writes, “put the average person in front of one of those screens, and they believe they are seeing the world, not a constructed version of it.” This makes me think, well in this digital age, what does it even mean to see the world? It could be argued that all perceptions of this world, whether through a physical or digitalized view, are constructed.

    Later in her article, she says, “The experience of temporality, like that of space, is already inflected by cultural circumstance. We feel time differently, because it is a different kind of time than other generations.” I think this thought plays a huge role in digital humanities today. She continues on, “Life expectancy, control over lighting, and mechanical clocks and their presence in daily routines are all structuring features of the contemporary experience of time that are fundamentally different from those of, say, citizens of Augustan Rome…” Furthering this thought, in what other ways are we experiencing time differently than past generations? Facebook’s Timeline poses it’s own interesting take on the passage of time.

    In Ramsay and Rockwell’s article, it states, “who have turned to building, hacking, and coding as part of their normal research activity.” When will being digitally literate become so natural in our society that building, hacking and coding will be required skills for all academics in research?

  7. Leslie September 13, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    In “What are digital humanities and what’s it Doing in English Departments?,” Kirschenbaum writes that digital humanities are particularly rooted in English departments over other academic departments (1). I can see this argument for his citing of word processing and even on the simple use of e-books, however, I am confused as to why English is the department he claims DH is most linked with. In my experience, it seems like history would be the original HQ for DH due to archiving by museums and so on. Is there a way to track this? How would we determine the roots of DH anyway?

    Ramsay and Rockwell write, “The question, rather, is whether the manipulation of features, objects, and states of interest using the language of coding or programming (however abstracted by graphical systems) constitutes theorizing.” My question here is why wouldn’t it? This seems incredibly political to me (or something of that nature).

    “Digital_Humanities adopts a different view: It envisages the present era as one of exceptional promise for the renewal of humanistic scholarship and sets out to demonstrate the contributions of contemporary humanities scholarship to new modes of knowledge formation enabled by networked, digital environments” (7). I like the idea of revitalization of information. I think the digital has the ability to pump new life into subjects that might have become somewhat stale. What are some good examples of this, if any?

  8. Ryne September 13, 2016 at 10:13 pm


    1. Where does the drive to fight over a strict, clean definition of digital humanities come from? Does external criticism and pressure cause digital humanists to want to make a really nice umbrella that neatly covers everyone? Do people think that not having a neat category delegitimizes a field of study? How much blame should we place this drive to categorize academic study on the departmentalizing of universities? Further, why are the authors of Digital_Humanities trying to ascribe a (weirdly political, in my opinion) “necessary” ethos to a field of study in its infancy? I find the early sections of D_H strangely prescriptive rather than descriptive. Does the field have a struggle for existence, or just for acknowledgement and respect in the academy that it hopes to assure by extensive theoretical justification? I know this isn’t just one question, but they’re all so related I would feel bad putting it as more than one.

    2. Is it not deeply ironic that these texts (especially Digital_Humanities) exclaiming the necessity to use the new tools that allow us to give robust audio/visual experiences to get our points across, are using traditional print as their media with no visual element besides text? If you pressed the authors on this, would they concede, or say that the necessity is contextual, and there are spaces where it is necessary to use traditional media (books and journal articles) to get your point across?

    3. Should we be troubled by the persuasiveness of visual mapping, as Drucker says? When I think about the example from D_H about a virtual reconstruction of an ancient city with a time slider, and as you move the slider you see buildings constructed and destroyed, I think about how as a child in grade school, I would have seen that and accepted it at face value as a perfect representation of the pat, not something buried beneath a few interpretive layers. On the other hand, I think that most of the things we teach to school children are accepted without skepticism. Should we be worried about visual media’s power to stand in as a convincing replacement for reality for adults?

  9. Shoshanah September 13, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Is Digital Humanities scholarship or, as Ramsay and Rockwell put it, is it a “telescope for the mind”; providing us a deeper understanding of an already established theory through new modes of presenting information? Or, can DH be both?

    The activities of DH (building, hacking, coding) are tools which help us grapple with issues of situatedness, enunciation, and temporality (Drucker). But they are not, in and of themselves, theories. Does that mean DH isn’t scholarship? Can innovative reiteration of an established theory be scholarship?

    In Performance Studies we talk about experimental performance and the “avant-garde” (defined as any new or unusual idea.). Richard Schechner theorizes that the artistic avant-garde fluctuates between times of poorly executed innovation followed by periods of reiteration with excellence. (Ex: the 60’s were a time of artistic experimentation, happenings, sit-ins, performance art etc… Since then we have simply been using newer technologies to perfect the innovations of our predecessors.) If we view DH as a form of avant-garde—it is after all new and experimental—perhaps we are in a period of reiterating historical theories with digital excellence? If that is true, I posit that in the future DH will go through a period of innovation and invention; creating not only new modes of presenting information, but originals theories and scholarship of its own.

  10. Cristina September 20, 2016 at 10:21 pm


    Are Digital Humanities situated in – or breaking from – the Modern trajectory?

    There are various references throughout this week’s readings to anxiety (Ramsey and Rockwell) and destabilization (Hayles). While the authors demonstrate that the tools and practices of Digital Humanities work have the potential for shifts that reach beyond today’s trending market for “disruptive technologies,” is it appropriate to characterize these anxieties and tensions as parallel forces to the anxiety that permeates so much of the discourse around Modernism? What similarities and differences can we draw out between the experience of anxiety, destabilization and risk in the Modern era and now? (An interesting place to start would be interpersonal and human-machine relationships (Haynes).) Are today’s anxieties a continuation of the same trajectory?

    Furthermore, is anxiety and destabilization a necessary counterpart of technological advancement? Do we cultivate anxiety in order to accelerate our adaptation to new technologies?

    Overall, how do this week’s readings position Digital Humanities relative to anxiety and destabilization broadly? Is DH responsive, provocative or both and along what lines?

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