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Towards A Brighter DH Future

Towards A Brighter DH Future

I'd like to talk about the digital humanities.  I don't mean the field itself, but rather how as graduate students, we can continue to raise the visibility of DH to our colleagues, faculty, and university administrators.  I'm sure many of us who have incorporated DH into our research can recall many times when discussion of our methodology or research tools have been met with blank stares or the dreaded "Digital humanities, what is that and why are you even using it?"  Rather than contempt or arrogance, I think much of the reticence directed towards DH can be explained by ignorance of the field augmented by a lack of witnessing (for lack of a better term) by DH practitioners.

A workshop was recently held at the University of Kansas (my home institution) that sought to create a plan of action for more effectively developing DH as a field.  One of the first activities of the workshop was to write down--in very broad terms--what each participant thought was the most pressing issue with DH.  Major issues included: pedagogical concerns; administrative assistance with projects; securing financial aid for research; and ways for university-based HD projects to network with the surrounding community more effectively.  Those are all interesting topics; however, for me the most important issue to emerge was simply raising the visibility of DH.

Along those lines, I would be interested in getting a conversation going about the ways in which DH's visibility within academia can be raised.  There is no doubt that DH has gotten its foot in the door on many campuses, but it still seems to enjoy second class status.  This can have repercussions for graduate students wanting to do innovative research but find faculty reluctant to accept such scholarship; grads incorporating DH methods into dissertations can face pushback from their committee who may not see the point of DH inclusion; and faculty going up for tenure and promotion are not certain to have DH work weighted the same as traditional scholarship.  Gaining wider acceptance of DH is incredibly important for these reasons and more and I would like to develop ideas on how we might be able to further legitimize DH as a scholarly field.

One of the first things that comes to my mind is to increase the visibility of DH.  This can take many forms, from better marketing of DH events (announcements buried within daily University newletters are not an adequate measure as the majority of people do not read them) to increased communication between departments with regards to classes that incorporate DH elements being offered to establishing devoted departments in libraries or the college as a whole.  However, I think what might be most useful is creating a central repository of students and faculty who are either interested in or conduct DH-related research.  I have found that informal networks and word-of-mouth are the default and they work to some extent, but centralizing a formal database or website would seem to me the best option.  Doing so would make it easier for scholars who may not have known about each other's work otherwise to possibly collaborate or, at the very least, share ideas.

The other major step we can take in being proactive about improving DH's visibility is encouraging our students to explore DH in their own research.  This could be as simple as devoting one class period to a particular DH platform (such as GIS software or network visualization) or assigning readings and talking about theoretical and critical issues related to DH.  DH becoming 'accepted' is not going to happen overnight, just as it took most (insert field) Studies fields years of work to become a part of the liberal arts tradition.  It's worth it, though.

I'm sure this is a common topic of discussion, but I think it might be worthwhile to talk through it on our own, particularly because as junior scholars we have the opportunity to help shape the academy and the cultures of knowledge existing within.  I really do believe that to witness of a shifting of the Kuhnian paradigm, actively promoting and educating our peers, faculty mentors, and undergraduate students as to the benefits and possibilities of DH is paramount.  I look forward to hearing any ideas!

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