Blog Post

What are we doing, anyway?

I'd like to revisit Amanda Visconti's blog post about the must-have technical skills for a digital humanist.

Our department's Literature.Culture.Media Center was fortunate enough to be visited by Dr. Patrik Svensson today. Of course, I had class and then a meeting during his talk, but I was able to make the reception afterward and hear him talk about digital humanities - and, in particular, the state of the field.

Or lack thereof. It turns out that "digital humanities" is, like most things humanities, a slippery thing to define. Do you remember when it was "humanities computing"? Do you remember even further back, when it was just a humanist who knew a little about Unix, HTML, or C+?

But to get to the point: what are we doing when we claim to be "digital humanists"? We are clearly not all doing the same thing, or (I suspect) even on the same page at least part of the time. So what would you say to someone from the "outside" if they asked you what you mean by digital humanities?

Part of my reason for asking is that, even though I'm in an English department, my dissertation has slid significantly into the social sciences by way of online virtual worlds. I keep my humanist focus, at least in my own mind, by steadfastly sticking to qualitative methodologies. But my digital credibility - well, I'm not so sure where I stand. I use a lot of technology, and I understand a lot about its technical underpinnings, but coding left me behind right about when amateur programmers switched from PASCAL to C. Yes indeed, that was a very long time ago.

Thus, I consider myself part of the DH universe mostly because my object of study (virtual worlds) is digital, and I approach the analysis of it from a humanities or humanist perspective.

But that's just one approach. As implied by Amanda's blog post, the DH universe also includes those people who do humanities with digital tools, often creating said tools themselves with their programming prowess. Is that enough? How digital do you have to be, or how humanities, to be considered DH? Is it even right to try to fit such disparate activities under a single categorical umbrella?

One pragmatic / cynical way to look at it is in terms of fads and funding. The money (what little there is) is in digital humanities, so we have an interest in being considered digital humanists. But when the money turns its attention elsewhere in a few years, what will we have left?

What are we doing? What are you doing, and why do you call it digital humanities?

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22 comments

Hi, Bola, Your questions and your dissertation area sound fantastic---and like they ARE the humanities, as the humanities are more and more coming to understand themselves.  I am seeing more and more positions that require a blurring, a use and understanding of technology and also a comprehension of the qualitative and sometimes even quantitative social sciences. ( The comments Amanda raised too, by the way, are also wrapped up in this reply, as are so many comments I've read by HASTAC Scholars over the last weeks while I was out of the country.  Sorry to leave anyone out; this is a bit specific and, at the same time, a bit generic in its tone for that reason.)

 

That's why we created HASTAC, in fact, is we were seeing (even in the foggy past of 2002) that such blending was happening more and more and from both directions.  Those in the social sciences too were feeling alienated---and even in the natural sciences.  We used to joke that we weren't just a network of networks or a networked community but a networked community of misfits-----which is another way of saying the avant garde.   We're now starting to feel more mainstream but posts like yours remind me of why we started, why we all do this, why we created HASTAC to give a certain configuration to a newly forming and many-tentacled field.   Good luck with your work, and keep asking these hard questions.  They are urgent and important, even if unanswerable in any simple, definitive way.

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I definitely agree that digital humanities is a slippery field. On the plus side, this was part of what made the big conference DH2009 so amazing: hundreds of scholars passionate about doing just about everything under the humanities sun -- and doing it through the web, software, etc. "DH" functions very well as a common denominator for scholars who are trying to embrace technology in academia.

On the other hand, as you say, DH is also a nebulous field. Especially when you start to add science learning, grade-school teaching, pop culture studies -- what do we call ourselves then? Digital learners? I can see a point at which DH will drop entirely from the lexicon (as "humanities computing" already has -- well, from most academic departments) because everyone will be embracing DH techniques for researching, learning, and teaching, and we'll lose that sense of ourselves as the vanguard minority. For now, it feels like there aren't enough DH practitioners in any given sub-field of humanities that a major group of digital-x (x being theater studies, science teaching.. anything, almost, except history and literature) has successfully splintered off from the DH tag.

I'm interested in what you says about fads and funding--I've always thought that science had the most funding, and that humanities work (and, oddly enough, especially the suspect, interdisciplinary work of DH scholars) was chronically underfunded. It does seem like major projects with canon subjects (e.g. online editions of famous authors) get support, but things that are pushing the boundaries of traditional scholasticism by using the web for what it does best (interactivity, collaboration) are hard to sell to grant agencies. I can't say I'm very up-to-date with where the funding is going, but I'd be interested to hear more on this, especially since by looking at what is receiving funding, we can learn where we need to educate non-DHers in order to make innovative work palatable to them.

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Such good points. I think it's terrific that we're questioning the field of DH. I've been thinking about these issues a lot more recently and wanted to comment on that, and the issue of funding mentioned in the last comment.

More and more, I find myself frustrated with the way in which some DH sometimes floats off in the direction of coding/digital tools/tech gadgets ("this is cool! Look what it can do") and tends to stay there. This leaves some humanities people who are disinterested in these sorts of things (or incapable of quickly learning digital tools quickly) stuck behind and/or rolling their eyes at us DH people. On the other hand, there are also those of us in DH (I include myself) who are much more interested at this point at bypassing any attempt to help these people and at the other extreme -- what can certain aspects of DH do to help me re-think what I do in my research? How can it help me re-think the process of research itself? Is there a way for me to combine DH with my non-DH research? This is partially a personal struggle, because right now my research is definitely non-DH at this point (modern Chinese history/sports, with a focus on writing a monograph in standard form), and while I see it as breaking down barriers on a theoretical level (questioning area studies, temporarlity, etc) I can't figure out how DH might help me re-think what I'm doing with that... but somehow, I think it should. (Please, don't ask me how!) My point, however, is that I think a lot of PhD students and professors are in my position right now. We are in desperate need of moving beyond the digital tools and into the world of defining how we think of DH as a whole.

So, thus far, I think one of the problems is that re-thinking DH needs to recognize that one has to first be at least somewhat familiar with digital tools and what's out there. No one has to master all that stuff, but learning what's out there and what it can do for you now that you couldn't do before then *allows* us to ask "what do we want DH to be?" I don't think there's a right or wrong answer and I think it will be ambiguous. On the other hand, I think that, like a library or digital archive or database, we still need to start with some categories (maybe we can self-generate them based on tags associated with these blogs of common words?) and go from there.

With that in mind, is it too much to propose some sort of forum on "re-thinking the DH"? I would be very interested on getting other people's opinions. Much like area studies, it seems like current categories of definition (or lack thereof?) are not working anymore for people. I used to be able to tell you that DH was things like "digital tools" "education projects" "research tools" or something like that, but it just isn't that anymore. That seems very Web 1.0 in a 2.0 world.

A sidenote on the funding issue and what agencies are funding... this is a huge problem, in my opinion. It is so incredibly difficult to propose a project because places like NSF and NEH are still often stuck thinking in the 1.0 world, and yet they want collaborative relationships across disciplines, etc. We need to figure out, as a group and maybe through another forum on this site, how we can work together on these issues. As an example of a problem: on our current project we want to work with people in computer visualization for our project, and they are very interested in the project material, but are not interested in OUR humanities question. Specifically, they were and are not willing to help us at a reasonable cost (e.g. research time and money on their part and with their PhD students) unless they, too, can ask new questions and work on something new in their field. In other words, they don't want to produce "another cultural heritage project" (that'sa direct quote). So if they have new questions and we have new questions, this sounds great to us, but not to the funding agencies who, again, as one prof in computer visualization lamented "I know these funders, they want a finished project of some sort that represents goals they have as an agency"-- implying, of course, that the agency would not be interested in allowing his group to experiment in new research questions on his end, but would rather just see something web 1.0 or 2.0. How do we reconcile these kinds of issues such that both sides can support one another's research goals in order to get funding and (perchance!) even learn from one another in the process, thereby producing an even better project or set of questions in the end?

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You don't know the history of HASTAC but these issues are at the heart of it.  I think I just may do a blog myself, inspired by all of you

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I'm always a little worried about how learning code and toolsets is still considered optional.  To simply avoid it and still do work on digital subjects seems to me like a person doing research while incapable of reading the language of their research area:  You can do it, but it's not advisable.  After all, if you read a monograph about 17th century French poetry but the author stated, "I didn't really have the time to learn French" would that add to the credibility of the work?

I'm not saying we should all become software engineers, but Perl is easy, ArcGIS is easy, MySQL is easy, Flash is easy. Really.  Sure there are barriers to entry, but those barriers are everywhere.  I think I'm being a bit draconian about this, too imperious and not communitarian enough, so let me turn this around:  How can the research of digital humanities scholars who are technically adept (in the traditional digital sense: they code, they do high-level spatial analysis, they write their own text-mining tools, they build & query their own databases) be different from the research of digital humanities scholars who are not digitally fluent in one or more ways?  Obviously, Wikipedia is more a social phenomenon than it is a digital one, and much of the "digital" world is simply a hybrid world wherein the digital component isn't so fundamental, but game-playing is different from game-making and database-using is different from database-producing.

At the SSHA conference I was part of a talk on historical GIS and I claimed that we still have to engage with the text, but we don't have to always do that engagement in text.  I suppose the converse is true, that we can engage with the digital without doing that engagement in a digital manner.  But I think we need to define the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches.

 

 

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Elijah, I agree with you. In fact, I've had in mind a blog post demanding everyone to go out and learn Perl or Python. I've seen too many professors with enthusiasm for digital projects but without the basic literacy necessary to really understand what questions should be asked, much less how to implement the answers. While I don't really think everyone should learn how to code or that, if they learned, it would suddenly revolutionize their understanding, digital fluency more broadly defined is sometimes lacking. Perhaps we should start some crash courses for digital humanists in fundamental concepts like relational databases, LAMP stacks, networking, data-mining, and other such topics.

Similarly, I've heard numerous complaints that the "tech folk" don't understand the humanities fields well enough to ask the right questions or develop useful tools. What hope does collaboration have when we have two camps talking at right angles to each other? In the digital humanities, collaboration is absolutely necessary because of the incredibly broad range of skills and specializations being brought together, but when there are fundamental differences in assumptions and focii, communication becomes difficult. Maybe techies need courses in literary criticism?

Or maybe we should have three basic roles instead of the current two: techie, humanist, and bridge, the bridge being someone who's equally at home in both worlds. I know of at least 4 here at UT just off the top of my head who would qualify, all graduate students.

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This is great, Michael.   And I like the idea that each of us, in different situations, might play the role of techie, humanist, and bridge.   Depending on who I happen to be with and what conversation I'm in (and even more so when I was Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies), I am amazed at how my role changes . . . and that is a great thing.  

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These are good questions to ask, but are definitely part of ongoing debates as Cathy has noted.

Last week at the American Studies Association conference, the new digital humanities caucus spent a bit of time discussing how the term digital "humanities" can be problematic for AS scholars whose main field is not in the humanities. We talked about alternatives, such as using digital scholarhip instead, but then came back to digital humanities with the idea that it will probably change.  It works for now and that's ok.

We are used to tools and methods changing as technologies change, and we go w/it. That's how I approach the term "digital humanities."

As for funding, I always think the biggest challenge is interpreting guidelines and workin' that narrative. I don't know much about NSF, but I know that NEH's digital humanities division is very open and willing to fund projects that are not specifically housed in humanities departments or organizations. Their program officers are also very open and willing to discuss grant proposals before submission to help individuals craft the proposal in a way that might be fundable. This is not to say that everything will be funded, but they are more supportive than I would have expected. Their officers are on Twitter and are following a lot of DHers and are contributing and listening to conversations about "DH."

Private funders are much more varied in their deliverable expectations than federal ones, and sometimes more open to genuinely new ideas and approaches to problem solving. But, it can be harder to break into those foundations. And for federal and private grants, you probably will have to submit proposals more than once before they will be funded.

Re: skills, are folks familiar with  The Programming Historian by  Bill Turkel and Alan MacEachern? Turkel has argued for years that historians need some programming skills to work in the digital realm--as Elijah was saying. Turkel and MacEachern also advocate using tools that already exist and building upon and w/ them. Some of you won't need this type of programming tutorial, but it might be useful to see how other "digital humanists" are working through these challenges.

Acc to the authors, "Programming is for digital historians what sketching is for artists or architects: a mode of creative expression and a means of exploration."

 

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Wow, thanks Sheila! I never saw that resource before. I will pass it along, too. I like how the instructions are written with the historian in mind -- helps my discipline.

The funding question is still huge, and a problem we are trying to deal with at UCSC. I think the bigger problems are not just trying to figure out what they will fund (we kind of know that already) but how to fund something that is truly innovative AND cross-disciplinary beyond the humanities. So, for example, we would like to collaborate with people in computer visualization, but we don't want to just pay them to make a project for us, we want them to enthusastically participate in the process as something that changes the way they do something as well. This is difficult, and I think it's also at the heart of digital humanities. On the other hand -- and here's where I think time has changed things -- this seems to me to be a relatively new-ish question in the field. As people move above and beyond the basic questions of "how can it be done? what does it do for humanities? how does it re-define humanities?" we probably need to start addressing questions about the intersection of humanities and the sciences within the digital world. I know some people have already started doing that, but I guess I have mostly only personally seen that happen in literature, where people in literature team up with software studies or gaming theory to develop their projects. This is all fairly new, I suspect, just the last two years (or so?). I wonder how this might happen across other disciplines? Basically, I think we all need to keep in mind that people in computer science and other technology disciplines (and other sciences, in general) can be just as abstract and dynamic in their thinking, and that we can learn from that, rather than making them fit our disciplinary molds. It's time for us to start asking them about what their research questions are and what kinds of methods inform the projects theyr'e doing.

The additional thing I would like to say on funding is perhaps somewhat trivial, but it seems to me that a lot of places do actually still prefer something that sticks to a specific discipline or produces a final, finished product of some sort. The truth of that matter is that many of us have great ideas for projects and we don't know if they'll work or not. In theory, this is how the NEH digital humanities start-ups work. It seems, however, from looking at the list of funded projects over the last two years, that many of the projects funded still fall along the lines of digitization and/or specific humanities disciplines (with cross-disciplinary only meaning somebody else actually writes the code or designs the website backend for the project). There is also very little funded for projects that might focus on issues of diversity or democratizing knowledge (both of which are big HASTAC issues). Of course, all of us would love to get a DML award, but those are few and far between, and large in scope. It's much easier for us to come up with small projects that might (or might not) turn into big things. Do any organizations offer small amounts of money to one or two scholars to try something new out?

Also, I know how much Sheila has worked on successful grant proposals, so when she has advice, I listen to her!

 

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Hi Amanda!

I agree that trying to push the boundaries can be difficult for any funders to accept.

Sloan has been very interested in democratizing knowledge creation and dissemination across disciplines. They funded a lot of the early digital collecting work at CHNM starting in 2001 before "web 2.0" was a term, and much of that was interdisciplinary stuff in science, technology, and history. Seems like now they are more interested in Wikipedia, e-books, the Encyclopedia of Life, et al.

Sometimes it may take piecing together bits from different grants here and there to get something done. Look at this project from Univ of Washington, that pulls in photos from Flickr to recreate the landscape of Rome in a 3-D model: http://uwnews.org/article.asp?articleID=51970

It's a work in progress and was funded from multiple sources: National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and its Spawar lab, Microsoft Research, and Google.

As you know, there aren't easy answers to funding questions. This economy isn't helping either as private endowments are way down so everyone is giving less. Hopefully this will change, and hopefully federal funds will increase so that there are more opportunities to experiment!

 

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wow! I'm a little late jumping into this convo, but am digging it.

I don't need to repeat what Michael and Elijah have already said eloquently, so I'll just throw my support behind digital humanists learning some programming. I have no formal training in programming but have been using jQuery to create more interactive websites. Plugins are readily available, it's lightweight, and it's ridiculously easy to hack something together. Seriously.

No more excuses! Even a little programming helps you better understand how digital objects are modeled.

Additionally, in the last few weeks I've experienced quite a few moments of frustration with the rhetoric surrounding DH (as evidenced in my post here, which goes back to 1999 to show how little it's changed..). I'm so eager to see a new generation experiment with digital work as a medium for communicating (not just researching) in the humanities. A lot is going on in rhetoric/composition in this direction (see Kairos, for example), but it remains marginalized. Why aren't we seeing more digital dissertations?

Where the funding comes from is definitely shaping the direction of DH; but it doesn't have to. Again, writing a digital essay doesn't cost a scholar any more (or any less) than writing a traditional journal article. Why not experiment?

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"Why aren't we seeing more digital dissertations?"

"Again, writing a digital essay doesn't cost a scholar any more (or any less) than writing a traditional journal article. Why not experiment?"

Both good points. When I brought up the DH and making my dissertation digital with my adviser, she informed me quite simply, "You need to graduate" (my department won't allow it) "You need a job" (in my field) and that that means I still need to produce in the traditional format for my field. My guess is that, even though every field/discipline is slightly different, she's right on the whole. I suppose once I have a job I can afford to do more of what I want, but until then.... I still need a job. And, unfortunately, the way it is in my field, you can apply to be a historian of East Asia/China/world history or you can be in the digital humanities, but I have yet to see a position that lets you combine both. This is a real problem.

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Saddening to read, and very true. I worked with the Deena Larsen Collection at MITH this past summer, where one of the artifacts was Larsen's MFA thesis -- one of the first (the first?) hypertext dissertations, I think. That was in the early 90s, so of course Larsen had to explain a lot of the involved terminology to her reviewing commitee -- ideas like "hyperlinks" that everyone now understands.

It seems like we need to educate our peers in a similar way -- I understand how a person without tech experience would see a web project and think it wasn't up to scholarly standards, that it didn't represent the kind of thought and labor that's obvious when looking at a traditional dissertation. I'm hoping to do English PhD work combining digital humanities scholarship with complex Modernist novels -- it's sad to think that although DH techniques offer excellent scholarly support for working with large, complex corpora, a DH dissertation is still something one has to defend as useful.

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BTW, depending on what you mean by a digital dissertation, it can be tremendously expensive or not.  A journal such as VECTORS, for example, that is multi-media costs far more than a conventional book to build, design, and sustain.  Maintaining digital presence on line is also expensive---as we definitely know from HASTAC.  For example, maintaining a website this complex requires many hours of human time and on many levels, etc etc.  

 

Part of being a digital humanist is also recognizing how much we cost (including ecologically:  I don't think any of us believes the myth anymore that computers are "clean," not in the area around your desktop or the places around the world that make code or the sweat shops around the world where people write code in terrible conditions).   All these SOCIAL aspects of digitality are also part of the new humanities which includes consideration of who we are, interconnected and together, as humans in a global world.     

 

That said, a digital repository for a text-based dissertation, especially if we don't care about it lasting hundreds of years, is reasonably inexpensive (although by no mean as "free" as we used to all, naively, say that it was).

 

Well, that's about fifteen subjects for future forums isn't it?   Enough for one night and, again, thank you for these wise thoughts and provocations.

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This is a pretty amazing conversation---and, yes, I hope we see some digital dissertations soon, and I hope, in the future, that HASTAC and other organizations will be able to put support behind seriously digital work.

 

I do want to throw a bit of a funny monkey wrench into the "all digital humanists need to know programming" conversation, though.  Back in 2003, at one of our very first meetings, at NSF in DC in a terrible snow storm, some of the most famous digital humanists in the country wanted us to all agree that no one could be a "digital humanist" without knowing code.  Guess who wanted to pull out of the conference?   Some of the most famous scientists in the world.  

 

One of them, Larry Smarr, was director of the lab were Netscape Navigator/Mosaic was invented!   He noted that he hadn't written code in a long time, that you could always find someone to write code (he said it less politely than this) and he didn't want a bunch of half-baked code writers envisioning the interdisciplinary future:  he wanted people who respected what one another did brilliantly to be able to work together and contribute unique knowledge and backgrounds together to arrive at something better and knew.   I don't think I'm paraphrasing too far off the mark when I recall something on the line of, "Give me a great ethicist over a mediocre one who knows a little C++, and then there's a conversation I want to be in." 

 

Just because you know a little C++ doesn't make you a mediocre ethicist, but his point was otherwise:  that knowing something doesn't make you interesting.   Having an inquisitive mind that brings something essential to a conversation is more important than knowing code.  Also, the most exciting and visionary projects aren't about knowing a little code---game writing, for example, often requires some very fancy programming.  And programming is by no means the only computer science or engineering skill of importance to those digital elements of the humanities.  There are many ways to offer, and many things to offer, and many different points of intersection along the way. 

 

I started out in AI and have done more than my share of programming I was never great at it (although my AI chicken scratchings on complexity and the geodesics of language weren't so bad).   To my mind, the point of HASTAC is not that we all do the same thing but that, precisely, we understand enough about what one another is doing to be able to find ways that our unique contributions can work together toward something more important.   There isn't one size fits all or we would be a dull field indeed.  And, believe me, the academy has plenty of dull fields.  We don't need more. 

 

My bottom line is that prescriptions such as "everyone in digital humanities needs to know code" leaves out exciting possibilities and includes mediocrity.  I'd rather make a tweak and rephrase that:  "Look at what happens when those who have a sophisticated grasp of the theoretical commitments of the humanities also have a sophisticated ability to write good code to a creative and interesting end."   In other words, I see the technical chops as instrumental, by no means an end to themselves, and the end, for me, is a much more engaged and innovative way of all of us, across many disciplines, seeing the world together.  

 

Does that make sense?   Please push back if you disagree with this.  I love a good argument.   And admire you for speaking so clearly.

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It seems to me that for digital humanists, the core ability may be envisioning specific uses of technology to advance learning, rather than effecting them (though that is, of course, the eventual goal!). Peopple who are just programmers can handle what we ask them to code, and people who are just humanists can identify research areas needing further analysis -- but it's part of being a "digital humanist" to connect the two skillsets with a reasonable plan, regardless of any additional abilities you have (or lack) in the humanities or in CS.

I'm sure there are dozens (or more) other useful ways to define what digital humanists do, though -- might be a nice project to present a "digital humanities is..." dictionary entry, then have everyone on HASTAC fill in with two sentences.

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I agree, and both Amanda and Cathy have importantly qualified my earlier statements. I do, though, think we have to shift our rhetoric away from the idea that programming is the technical instantiation of creative approaches, instead of itself being a way of drafting and modeling ideas.

I also want to underscore my earlier point that code isn't (necessarily) "CODE" anymore, the big scary thing punched into the command line. Plug-ins, readily available hacks/tutorials, and more natural programming languages lower the bar for "knowing how to program" (a phrase with an increasingly variable definition). Hell, while it isn't programming, you at least have to know a little CSS to tweak your wordpress blog. And we all do the CTRL-U, CTRL-C, CTRL-V dance from time to time. This should all be included in those ever-longer lists of new literacies we can be, should and are acquiring as digital humanists. It's also blurring that divide between the code monkeys and idea people.

And yes! Digital humanities is _____! How I fill that in might change depending on what day you catch me on. :D

 

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I can't tell you how much I agree with this sentiment, Whitney.  It makes me want to go back in time and write a blog post claiming that we're all creating code right now with our silly Powerpoint presentations.

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Bingo!   This side exchange strikes me as exactly, exactly, exactly right . . . and of course plug-and-play and the democratizing of open source (duh) is the whole deal.  This is such a thoughtful exchange.  I'm a huge believer in the whole John Seely Brown "tinkering" or "thinkering" idea  . . .    for everybody.   But then, as y'all know, I want to reform every part of education, from k-20 and beyond . . .   That's why digital humanities seems narrow to me.  It's ALL humanities.  I mean, even writing code to build a nano-chip or whatever is still humanities.   I continue to be baffled that, in this age where so many assumptions about writing, reading, copyright, authorship, communication, interaction, globalization, etc etc, are being turned inside out that humanists haven't claimed the territory, taken charge, insisted we need to be front and central in every discussion-----and been there!   

 

Then again, I just recently learned at the U of Melbourne that they've adopted an interesting system where 3/4 of your courses are prescriptive, majors and minors and prerequisites and requirements.   The other 1/4 you can take anywhere, just so long as it isn't one of those other required courses.   To everyone's surprise, since UM students, like those in the US, are gravitating now towards quantitative social sciences like economics, the humanities, arts, and languages are the huge winners when you leave learning unscripted.   They are having to hire arts and language profs, especially, like crazy, departments that were emptying are now filling up.  

 

So then is the bigger issue:   how do the structures of grading, evaluation, requirements, specializations, etc., foster certain channellings of knowledge that don't necessarily measure interest?   Ooooops, that is the other discussion going on over in the other HASTAC Scholars Forum! 

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______    . . .    what a great idea, Amanda!    Why don't we propose that to Fiona sometimes as an informal Forum?  (BTW, I actually don't even like the term "digital humanities."  I find it pretty insta-outmoded.  Digital learning too. Yes, yes, yes, I've been one of the spearheaders of both . . .    sorry about that!   It's just that so many of the most interesting ways of learning on line are far less interesting in their digital v. analog binary than in lots of other ways of researching, thinking, and learning that have to do with interactivity, mobility, customizing, modding, remixing, and so forth, not all of which require code but all of which require a dexterity with non-textual, multi-media modalities of expression.

 

HASTAC is one of the world's worst acronyms, but our early and wonderful scientists really pushed it hard because it does not privilege this particular "digital" moment or the humanities but suggests the way all the different fields play together in some kind of "collaboratory" of experience.  The "Advanced" used to be "Academic" and then some non-academic artists and scientists objected and they were right but, by then, the scientists especially loved the acronym being pronouncable as "haystack" because that seemed like such a fertile and right metaphor for the way we combine our individual knowledge into something bigger, and worthy of the harvest.   So, voila, "advanced."  Really?   I stumble over it still, all these years later, but, heck, an acronym is an acronym and maybe it is even more fundamental to have a SLA (Six Letter Acronym) than to know Pascal or Squeak.  (Sorry, it's late, a very long day, and I'm being flippant . . . but this topic is very serious and I'm so glad you are having this conversation.   I don't even have words to express how much I admire these conversations and feel privileged to be part of them.  Many thanks!)

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Thanks, Cathy, you've put a lot of what I was thinking into sensible wording. Having formerly worked for a software publisher, I'm no fan of the term "code monkey," but the precise point is reflected by the way they worked: programmers, statisticians, and managers all together created some fantastic products (statistical software, in this case).

And that's part of what I was originally getting at. I agree that it's important for us to understand the language of the programmers; I used to code, a long time ago, so I get what today's programmers talk about in general. But I feel no need to learn even Python or Java; I've got ten friends who can do that work. It's a full-time job on my side just to keep up with the (more strictly) humanistic ideas that are bouncing around and provide my own input, so I'd rather leave that stuff to the people who are (and want to be) good at it. But I can talk about it intelligently with them, so we can work together. I just don't feel that one really needs to learn to code in order to be able to communicate with coders. There's a theory (well, more than one) to programming; I think that if the principles involved are understood, then that should be sufficient to bridge that gap.

But that whole discussion left behind one of the other points I was trying to make. Think about this, since the game-writing example came up. Game Informer magazine recently did a short article on "loremasters," the people who keep IP universes consistent. Think of what it takes to keep the Star Wars or Halo or whatever universe, from backstory to new entries, coherent and consistent across games, novels, toys, comics, movies, and anything else you might imagine. These people don't necessarily have to be doing any coding; in fact, they probably don't have time for it. They're basically writers and database managers. But a lot of what they're dealing with is digital; it's probably maintained digitally, at the very least. Are these people in our field?

Or, more saliently, my personal example: my dissertation does not have a digital component in its presentation. I am a virtual-worlds researcher, but I use some pretty traditional approaches (literary theory and semiotics) as my analytical tools. This kind of work has not come up at all in the conversation, though I'm sure there are other scholars here who are doing it (anyone studying electronic literature?). I feel like some definitions of DH would leave us out. But we're quite explicitly helping to make sense of the digital aspects of our world.

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Music to my ears, Bola:  "I feel like some definitions of DH would leave us out. But we're quite explicitly helping to make sense of the digital aspects of our world."   And that would be a tragedy!  

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