Blog Post

Analogue Humanities?

Over the last few months I have thought about what it means to be working within digital humanities and how we, as scholars, engage with it. Throughout my time as a HASTAC Scholar and as part of the Digital Humanities Research Group at QUB, an aspect I keep coming back to is the relationship between the analogue and the digital. In my previous blog posts I have talked a little about some of the workshops and seminars organised by the DH group, some of which deal with the merge of the analogue and the digital – such as transmedia narratives of the Star Wars franchise and the Marvel Universe (Colin Harvey’s Fantastic Transmedia), ways and methods of converting archives to digital platforms (the Deep Film Access Project), and archives that are “born digital” (We Are Colony), another term that keeps cropping up… Through my own PhD research, an aspect of which looks at the development of Pixar Animation Studios, I have been plotting the growth and development of computer-generated animation, particularly in terms of technology and aesthetics. One of the ways I have been measuring this is through the development of Pixar’s short films chronologically from The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. (1984) to La Luna (2011). Clearly, as the technology becomes more sophisticated, the aesthetic becomes more “traditional” – by which I mean, a more organic or hand-drawn CG aesthetic has emerged. This is particularly evident in La Luna. But why? If CG animation has become so advanced that it can render mythical creatures (LOTR), dinosaurs (Jurassic World) and the far reaches of space (Gravity), why does mainstream animation play with the merge of the old and the new? Is it just post-modern nostalgia – a way of engaging with the foundational tools of the medium while simultaneously suggesting a future for digital animation?

This also got me thinking about the ways in which we research within DH. A large portion of my research involves critical responses to the films of Pixar and Disney Animation, and the ways in which the media talk about/describe the two studios pre- and post-2006, when the Disney Company acquired Pixar. Therefore, a good portion of the resources I require are available through online archives. However, there are still documents I cannot access digitally. I recently spent over £100 purchasing trade magazines from eBay that specifically mention Pixar from 1989 onwards – there is something about reading these “artefacts” that seems to make the research feel more legitimate. Is it because I spent time and money sifting through them, searching for information? It is because they are, as I’ve said, artefacts or products of their time (some of the adverts are amusing – “… the VCR for the future”). Would I feel the same if I had discovered the same information through an online resource?

Just reading some of the other HASTAC blog posts and general posts, there is clearly a growing interest in research in digital archives – I too have talked a bit about other scholars who are working in these areas (DFA Project and We are Colony). I was wondering if one day, hunting through archives, files and filing cabinets would become obsolete. Is that what we are working towards? I can see how my own research methods have developed “digitally” from an undergraduate to a postgraduate. Part of my research is the somewhat laborious task of watching films (tough job but someone’s got to do it), and I’ve noticed that even the way I watch films has changed. I have a library of DVDs and thought I would always watch films either on DVD or at the cinema. But the majority of my viewing is now via VOD. I rarely buy a hard copy, unless it’s a film I love and want to keep. I’m fortunate too that many of the films I need to watch for my research are available on Netflix. So, what I’m wondering is, does that diminish the hard work I put into my research, because the resources I need are easily available to me digitally? Should I be sifting through a dusty old archive in search of that one piece of semi-vital information to legitimise my research, or is this it? 

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