For years, digital humanities has operated as a distinct field. There are publications devoted to the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of digital scholarship and university centers designed to cultivate and support, DH projects. Some embrace digital scholarship, while others prefer the analog route. However, this year removed any choice of opting into the digital. With COVID causing many universities to operate remotely, humanities had no choice but to become digital.
As I reflect back on this extraordinary year, it’s hard to ignore how the complete transition to digital formats transformed my work. Like so many others, I worked more due to communicating solely through email. I also collaborated more. I’m working on a project to document Emory employees’ experiences of COVID, and this semester involved laying the foundation for a digital archive and exhibit. I zoomed with an exhibit specialist, an archivist, and a graphic designer to think through the best ways to see this idea come to fruition. After a year of working remotely tethered to our computers, we all had refined visions of what a successful exhibit would look like. An upside to spending so much time in a digital space is that we know which websites work and which ones don’t. For example, rather than a Twitter-like endless scroll, we chose defined beginning, middle, and endpoints. We also discussed the importance of short label text to account for the shrinking digital attention span.
It’s too early to know how a year spent (mostly) online will affect the future of digital scholarship, but it no doubt will. Though I am eager to return to the normal routine of university life, I’m excited to see how the year of doing humanities digitally shapes future scholarship.