Blog Post

Interview with Professor David Palumbo-Liu on his scholarship and Digital Humanities

Interview with Professor David Palumbo-Liu on his scholarship and Digital Humanities

Professor Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, and Professor of Comparative Literature, at Stanford University. He is also a member of the HASTAC Steering Committee and the  Academic Steering and Advocacy Committee for the Open Library of Humanities. He also founded and directs the Teaching Human Rights Collaboratory.

I asked him a few questions about his thoughts on the new turn that the scholarship in humanities seems to be taking through digital humanities.


How did you come into the field of the Digital Humanities? How did the field affect your scholarship?

As I think I told you, I do not really consider myself a digital humanist. I use technology in the classroom mostly to extend the conversation to diverse populations.  I first was intrigued by the claim that MOOCs would democratize education.  So I did a course with the School of Ed wherein my class was in conversation with classes at Duke and UC Santa Barbara, taking a critical look at American education and the ethos of democracy, and how online ed would or could make any difference. Then I got a grant to develop a human rights website ( wherein we now have collaborators from many countries and several classroom experiments.  But that kind of thing is really the extent of my use of technology.

What are some of the current opportunities and challenges that you identify in DH?

What I just said—how to really exploit and use fully the capacity to engage people in different walks of life, in different locations, in teaching and learning from the ground up?  What kinds of assumptions about the world can be dislodged and reconfigured?

How do you see your field changing? What excites you most about the future of the humanities and of higher education more generally?

At present, the humanities, digitalized or not, are increasingly marginal in the academic sense.  Technology with reference to the humanities is exciting to me precisely as it helps us create a set of communities around the humanities that is not tethered to the academy.  Academic humanities seem increasingly rarified and out of touch with the vibrant and urgent ways the humanities live and thrive outside of the academy.  Technology can give us insights into the ways the humanities exist and live in different global spaces, in different forms, and are consumed, curated, appropriated, lived.

What would you tell us about interdisciplinary collaborations between DH and other disciplines, especially comparative literature? How can this kind of collaboration be improved?

I feel the more the humanities attempt to be “interdisciplinary” (and remember, I edit an e-journal on interdisciplinary studies in the humanities), the more they disappear into that mix.  I would rather see us explore humanities elsewhere, and in non-academic forms.

What role do you see HASTAC (and similar organizations) playing in addressing some of the opportunities and challenges in digital humanities?

Yes, they/it is the premier central site — but remember that it is a clearing house, not a place that mandates a particular brand. That is why I think it’s fantastic.  It allows us each a space to do our thing, either independently or not.



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