Blog Post

Re:Humanities -- Playing around in the Digital Humanities

I know, I know, this post is a little bit overdue. Though the tri-co Re:Humanities 2012 symposium hosted at Swarthmore College happened a little over two weeks ago, many of the presentations deserve some (virtual) recognition. In this post, I will be highlighting some of interesting tidbits the keynote speakers, Alex Juhasz and Katherine D. Harris and the student presentations, which were, in my opinion at least, outstanding.

Both the keynote speakers exhibited some of their digital student work. Unlike more traditional courses, both Juhasz and Harris allowed their students to “do the risky thing” (to take from Harris’ keynote title) and explore digital tools to present their work. Though I have done “webevents” for classes at Bryn Mawr, I started to realize that “with this freedom comes great responsibility”. (Spiderman).

Thus, I started thinking about the student presentations and how they started to build a framework for thinking about how to present information through these digital tools in an effective manner. This is by no means a completely comprehensive list – consider this as my own work/thinking in progress.

1. Design. Our student presentations this year were rather design-heavy with Kevin McGilivray from St. Norbert’s kicking things off with “Designs of Meaning”. He argued that design allows you to get your message across the write way (pun intended) and that it is absolutely essential to consider the visual relationship between the content and the medium you decide to use. Does the form help you get your message across or does it create a barrier to understanding your content?

2. Language and syntax. Lauren Close’s presentation on her digital thesis presented the questions about the type of language and writing we use in digital formats. In academia, we valorise theory-based work that forces us to use language that is within a certain vernacular. This type of language does not necessarily translate when presented through a digital medium, as our audience is no longer comprised of those in the “ivory tower”. Thus, another important consideration when creating digital texts is to think of becoming accessible to a wider audience yet, communicate exactly what you want to say.

3. What does a digital medium bring? In Michael Rushmore’s presentation on street art in the age of digital reproduction revealed how some artworks looked better in person while others looked better or were more accessible through digital photographs. We cannot argue that information presented digitally is always better; sometimes, traditional text serves your purpose more effectively. Before we jump on the bandwagon and start digitizing everything under the sun, we need to step back and really think about what digitization might bring and also, what we might lose.

4. Performance. This idea of performance really came from Shahzeen Nasim’s presentation, “The Face of the Digital Humanities”, where she spoke about blogs as a space for performance and scholarly collaboration. Given the conversational function that many digital platforms have (I’m thinking about commenting, retweeting, reblogging etc.), we really need to consider how to incorporate fellow writers in this flexible space. If we have this tool, why don't we use it well?

I’ve oftentimes found myself, and some of my peers excited about the possibility of creating a piece of academic work that does not take the form of a traditional paper. However, I’ve failed many times in creating something that really surpasses the communicative function of a traditional paper. With these guidelines, I hope to succeed in my exploration of digital media and work towards a framework that speaks to this type of academic writing.

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