The Future of the Digital Humanities

Welcome to a HASTAC Scholars Discussion Forum on

The Future of the Digital Humanities


Brett Bobley

Director of the Office of Digital Humanities,

National Endowment for the Humanities

hosted by HASTAC Scholars

Michael Gavin (Rutgers University)

and Kathleen Smith (University of Illinois at

This forum addresses the question ?Where do the digital humanities go from here??

Brett Bobley serves as the Chief Information Officer for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and is also the Director of the agency?s Office of Digital Humanities (ODH). Under ODH, Brett has put in place new grant programs aimed at supporting innovative humanities projects that utilize or study the impact of digital technology. He has a master's degree in computer science from the Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago. In 2007, Brett was recognized by the President of the United States for his exceptional long-term accomplishments with a Presidential Rank Award.

For HASTAC scholars, the increasing demand for collaborative projects across many disciplines presents unparalleled opportunities, particularly for those at an early stage in their professional careers. The NEH/ODH is a major supporter of digital humanities initiatives and welcomes applications involving innovative new projects, and Brett agreed to share his thoughts on the future and to discuss NEH priorities for providing support. As a starting point for our discussion, we proposed some initial interview questions to Brett. Read the full transcript of Brett Bobley's interview here.

Please join us in welcoming Brett to the HASTAC Scholars forum!

So, we turn these questions over to you:

  • 1) What do you see as the most exciting innovations happening right now in the field of digital humanities?
  • 2) How is digital technology transforming your work?
  • 3) When it comes to the digital humanities, what should administrators focus on, whether at universities or other institutions like the NEH? What is the role of grad students and junior faculty?

While you are welcome to join the conversation vertically by adding a text comment, we also invite you to join in the horizontal conversation by contributing a vlog via Seesmic. To add a vlog to the discussion, just click on the "Reply" or "Start a new conversation" buttons below. It requires an account on (these are free and very simple to register for), and you will either need a web cam or some other video format you can upload. Replies to the original vlog are included in the same video widget; clicking on the thumbnail pics at the bottom of the video will play these responses. The responses run in order from Mike?s original vlog to the most recent response.


I want to draw everyone's attention to Kathleen and Mike's full Q&A with Brett Bobley that has been posted to the HASTAC blog at   In this document, Brett offers insightful responses to the following questions:

  1. What are the most interesting innovations happening right now in the field of digital humanities, and is it possible to predict or anticipate what will be most important in the future?
  2. How do you see digital technology transforming work in the disciplines of the humanities? Are there disciplines in which digital technology will have less of an impact?
  3. What road blocks are scholars in the digital humanities encountering, and what advice do you have for graduate students and junior faculty?
  4. How will digital technology in the academic system in general (for example, in the changing role of textbooks in the classroom, open-access databases, or publishing requirements for tenure) affect the way research is performed and shared?
  5. Tell us about some of the programs the NEH is currently funding. What are your priorities for the next few years?
  6. Many of the NEH's programs involve collaboration with other institutions. What does the NEH need from administrators and researchers to make successful programs?

I'm looking forward to hearing what our HASTAC users have to say about this topic so germane to us all!


Great topic! Thanks to Michael and Kathleen for running it, and to Brett Bobley for joining us. Btw, the word processor analogy is a great one.

I work at HyperStudio, the Digital Humanities lab at MIT -- which is to say that I'm a believer, am even producing my thesis as an interactive website with no print version. But my natural role in life seems to be the skeptic, so I'm going to start by pointing out two issues I see confronting us right now.

First, even 20+ years after the start of (something that might be called) DH, many project sites still don't provide clear editorial and technical standards. This might be why scholars are still afraid to cite them. Certainly more groups are starting to think about this (like NINES), but as a field we've yet to develop a standard -- and I don't mean metadata/technical standards, but something akin to a colophon in a printed book, exposing the project's production process.

Which leads into my second concern: the idea (brought up in the Q&A) that we *do* have every book or every newspaper at our fingertips. Of course, text and data mining, facsimiles of materials and databases are incredibly useful -- I use them on an almost daily basis in my own research -- and they're providing new ways of looking at and manipulating media materials. But they are themselves media, allowing certain affordances while foreclosing other possibilities. I realize what an obvious point this is -- yet this mode of thinking hasn't trickled down into the way institutions and labs and scholars do and support DH research. It's still all about innovation, with limited opportunities to closely analyze how certain structures are remediating the objects we study (just as the book remediates other media, etc -- it isn't a "new media"-specific argument).

How many times have you studied a media artifact from the past and wished to know more about how and by whom it was produced and circulated? A book historian might spend years studying the binding and folds of a book to gather this kind of information. On the web, though, we don't have to make it a game of Clue -- so we should go overboard (I'm mixing my metaphors here ;) providing that information. I'd like to see the future of DH be all about transparency.



for your terrific comments.  The issues
of transparency and standardization are closely related, as you capture
well.  I saw Alan Liu give a talk last
year, titled "Peopling
the Police
,"  in which he argued that
increasing the transparency of contributions to sites like Wikipedia would make
its entries easier to evaluate and therefore more "citable."  On the other hand, new work is underway to
develop these kinds of standards in the academy-I've been reading about some of
these at the recent MLA.  But, I'm not sure such skepticism is at odds
with a rhetoric of "innovation," which is, as Brett has suggested, a pretty
useful rhetoric for administrators. 

point about remediation is also well-taken. 
My work on microfilm the last few days has brought home two points: the
first, that many of our digital-facsimile archives are actually made from
microfilm "originals," rather than directly from books; so when reading a "book"
on, say, Early English Books Online, you're actually looking at a copy of a
copy of a copy (and even that risks glossing over the processes of photographic
and digital transcription).   The other
thing that I've been noticing is the way such facsimiles communicate so insistently
their remediating function.  If there's
one thing a microfilm-reader asks you to think, it's to disregard the machine
as incidental to the "text."  Everything
about the machine cries out, "Ignore me and imagine the past!"  Perhaps that's an advantage of media that signify
as "technology"; that is, they call attention to their status in a way that
books no longer do because they're so familiar?



I find your initiative very interesting and am glad to see that there are people thinking about making information available in this way. 

I found the following quote from the Q&A particularly interesting:
"Imagine a future where we have huge digital libraries of far more material than you ever had access to before. Now imagine automatic language translation for those documents, which greatly increases your ability to study documents from around the globe." 

There is however a very Anglo-centric perspective in your vision and I wanted to point out the possibility for expanding your vision to also include converting more information into other languages to minimize the possibility of a widening digital divide.

The next billion users on the Internet are not likely to be English, French, German or Japanese speakers. Do we (or you) care to include these people in the future where information flows as freely as you describe? 

There are several people who have been raising this issue of digital divide recently and you may be familiar with some of them. I have put in some of the links for convenience:

Ethan Zuckerman's essay on The Polyglot Internet: talks about the need for this problem to be addressed.

Vince Cerf interview points to teh promise of a truly multilingual Internet.

The Worldwide Lexicon is also attempting to break the language barriers for blog content by creating an open platform to enable rapid translation.

Peter Brantley
They all basically make the point that mass machine/automated translation is not a translation of a work, per se, but it is rather, a liberation of the constraints of language in the discovery of knowledge. It is seen increasingly as an important next step in the evolution of the Internet.

I am involved with an initiative that is attempting to create digital content to help address the serious dearth of knowledge (or any) content in South East Asia. Our research indicates that for a population of almost a billion people there is a minuscule amount of content. Asia Online is attempting to translate open source knowledge content like the complete English Wikipedia into several Asian languages that are content starved using SMT (Statistical Machine Translation) and crowdsourcing This could help kick start a real content explosion within the local population, enable a stronger knowledge economy to build and also enable collaboration around knowledge that has never been seen before. We intend to also translate the Gutenberg collection which includes literary works by many great western authors. 

It can be argued that the proliferation of knowledge, both scientific and humanistic, could act as a much more effective approach to creating global cooperation than the traditional approaches of the past. Large numbers of people exposed to the human quest for knowledge and meaning are much less likely to use violence as a means of persuasion hopefully. At the very least it can provide more common ground.Perhaps a much more effective way to combat terrorism even. 

I hope that the Digital Humanities initiative will keep a focus on globalizing their efforts to enable rapid dissemination of their effort across the non-English speaking globe.



I completely agree.  I was suggesting that I'd like to see machine translation systems much as Vint Cerf described in the Guardian piece.  I see automatic translation technology as a way of bridging the language gap.  Hence, English speakers could easily read Arabic or Chinese digital libraries and vice versa.  It could be a way for all to access materials from any langauge.





Note:  Opinions expressed are those of Brett Bobley and don't necessarily reflect the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Hi Mike!

oh man, microfilm. You're right -- but at least EEBO usually shows page spreads, which you don't get in many high-quality direct scans, one lonely&isolated page at a time. They're useful, no doubt; but also a little like learning how a frog hops by looking at some dead, amputated frog legs ready to be boiled.

I'd like to spend more time on the word "innovate." If we're defining "innovative" as a creative, exciting, unique new way of looking at the project using digital tools, then I agree that it doesn't have to be at odds with the need for transparency. But if we're defining "innovative" in terms of the technology . . well, academia can't compete with industry. It's hard enough finding good programmers and developers willing to take humanities-level pay to work on DH projects. Especially when the faculty members themselves usually don't get much institutional support (except at a few notable universities).

(As I understand it, the NEH start-up grants define "innovation" broadly, through either methodologies or tools -- which I like a lot -- although this is potentially confusing when it comes time to judge the merits of a proposal.)

In any case, what do you see as innovative?


Some very interesting points.  I liked when you pointed out "A book historian might spend years studying the binding and folds of a book to gather this kind of information."  I think it will be interesting to see how future "book" historians will use digital forensics techniques to study the "bindings" of born-digital materials.  (Matt Kirschenbaum discusses this in his recent book "Mechanisms.")



Note:  Opinions expressed are those of Brett Bobley and don't necessarily reflect the National Endowment for the Humanities.


I'm curious about the application of digital technology to traditional areas of scholarship. For example, why should classics have become "one of the most digitally-savvy disciplines"? I can think of a few reasons (comparatively limited set of texts, established standards for evaluation, and so on) but could classics also be more willing to embrace innovation precisely because people working with classical works might not have to justify the "validity" or applicability of their research in the same way someone working with born-digital documents might (I'm thinking of issues of tenure and funding here)? I don't mean to pick on classics--I would imagine that medieval studies is also a leader here. It also seems like researchers working in cross-disciplinary topics might have to deal with some confusion about the identity of their work, and that might pose a setback to innovation. How does "research identity" interact with development?


Hi Whitney,

What do I see as innovative?  Well, I think you're right that a broad definition is useful, and that it needs to cover both new tools and new uses of those tools.  Innovation in academia doesn't have to be something that Steve Jobs might present at an electronics show.  (That said, I'm pretty excited about the release of the newest Zotero, which works far better than any commercial bibliographic software that I've tested.)    

Innovation also has a tendency to be linked to individual creativity (i.e., individual works that are "creative, exciting, unique.")  But, I think it can also be usefully thought of institutionally; not just in terms of new methodologies, but new contexts for doing scholarly work.  Innovation can best most effective when it seems mundane.  For example, one of Brett's ideas that most resonated with me was this:

"One issue I'd like to
see graduate programs tackle:  more
training in digital tools and methodologies for humanities
scholarship.  In the sciences, graduate students learn how
to use digital tools for research and analysis. 
But how many graduate humanities programs include classes on using GIS,
3-D modeling, data analysis, or other methods of scholarship?  I
suspect the number is fairly low.  I wonder if this isn't an area more
programs should be exploring."

When I talk or read about digital media and pedagogy, the unspoken assumption is usually that we're talking about undergraduate pedagogy.  To me, a priority for humanities departments should be cultivating faculty who can teach these kinds of skills, and then requiring that they do so.  How would it change DH if most graduate students were required to produce at least one (and maybe two or three) digital media projects during coursework?  It seems to me that such a requirement would spawn other, more obviously "innovative" changes.



Hi, Kathleen, Gavin, Brett, et al,
I'd like to jump in here because I start thinking we are playing a loser's game if we get too much into the "innovation v. tradition" binary and I'd rather we thought more in terms of "innovation and tradition." What excites me about the humanities today (and you will notice I am trying to drop "digital") is that there is such a fantastic merging of new tools for exploring new questions, whether those questions are about the global ancient world or about anime. One can use fabulously innovative data-combining tools for really dull ideas. One can use clunky tools for brilliant ideas. What I wish, as humanists, that we would all embrace is something Brett mentioned early in the Q and A: we are in the midst of a revolution--seismic, paradigm-shifting--in the way people read, write, learn, and, I am arguing in my new work, think. That is the terrain of the humanities. We should be all over this! All of us! Even those who still can do barely more than answer email should be thrilled by the new formations of GLOBAL wisdom that aggregate from collaborative knowledge tools that do not know national and linguistic borders. I blogged a while ago about Geri Heng's work with the Global Middle Ages project; What is so fabulous about that project is that, because of global contributions, we have to change our paradigms about what the "world" looked like in the middle ages. Same with an incredible project, an early entry into digital humanities, like the International Dunhuang Project ( that reunites an intellectual world scattered by 19th century intellectual looters (building museums in major urban centers far from the Silk Roads crossing place of Dunhuang). My hope for the humanities of the future is deep change to our conception of ourself, our place in the world, and, perhaps most difficult for us, a really careful, consistent, introspective examination about how the new knowledge made available by global technological affordances has deeply changed the Anglo-centric (in my field of English) and Western-centered map of the intellectual world and needs to change the forms of the history we make and the contributions that we then make to contemporary understandings of the world. In other words, if we really believe what we are learning from these incredible tools, humanists are central to the new understanding of the world. Is that too much to ask? (Well, okay, a little too much.)
Thanks for this fascinating discussion and for dealing with questions both big and small--especially since, given the world of digital humanities, so-called "small questions" can soon lead us to important ideas that are not small at all.


Cathy (and everyone),


What an inspiring vision! It seems like you're suggesting that digital
technologies can offer way out of the tragedy of disciplinarity. If one of the
things happening is a wider scope for sharing information--and thus a wider
scope for our histories and our selves--I wonder what we can be doing to
accelerate the process. Too, thanks for bringing Global Middle Ages Project back to our attention.
It's a terrific example of collaborative work that challenges traditional
divisions, by bringing together a wide range of scholars, with various geographical specialties, to provide a truly planetary vision of the middle ages.

What strikes me about the GMAP is that technology itself seems almost
incidental, and that its successes are as much a matter of old-fashioned
"Collaboration 1.0" dealing with administrative hurdles, gathering a team of scholars, etc.  Do you think
that this kind of interdisciplinary grunt-work has to happen to bring out these
potentialities in technology?

For anyone who's curious, a pdf of Professor Heng's article on their collaborative teaching effort is here.



I don't know how Brett Bobley or others might answer this but I don't actually find disciplines tragic . . . just in need of major refurbishing and a good dose of introspection about what it is they do, how willing they are to be irrelevant to a larger world, how they fight their declining (in the humanities) numbers, and how urgently they reconsider their shape and importance in the light of the new, global forms of knowledge being produced everywhere around them, and changing the timelines and the geography of knowledge production. It is such an exciting time and I wish more in the humanities grasped the implications of what this new time means for the shape of our many fields and inter-fields.



"Did You Know"---no idea if it is factually accurate, not sure I understand all the implications (or that I like them), but this is an interesting and well produced video by Scott McLeod that is an eye-opener in many ways . . . and, on YouTube, has also been mashed many times with different emphases and endings. Worth viewing for our topic.


Not to distract from the already fruitful conversation, but I want to just stick my neck out to answer the third question that Kathleen and Michael propose in the initial post: When it comes to the digital humanities, what should administrators focus on, whether at universities or other institutions like the NEH? What is the role of grad students and junior faculty?

  • While there are interesting faculty working throughout the country, many of them are dispersed. Conferences and new networking tools make it possible to collaborate quickly. But there is something to face-to-face conversation and action. I think one thing that the NEH can do would be to organize workshops on the digital humanities. Workshops could include someone like Matt Kirschenbaum teaching the basics of forensics, as he calls it; it could include Franco Moretti talking about how he builds his databases. People could be brought to the workshops that have proposed specific projects for themselves or as a group and the desire take-away from the workshop would be some significant progress made on the project. The NEH should also be funding work that happens at places like George Mason's CHNM, where the projects benefit the whole of humanisitic inquiry.
  • University administrators and--more importantly--individual departments need to recognize that the way humanities research has been conducted for the last 100 years is being modified. They need to make it possible for new types of scholarship to be funded and rewarded. It is possible that department structures might need to radically change and move more toward different research centers on campuses, where English professors work closely with those in history, art history, classics, film studies, and more. In these centers, there would be people who have the necessary skill sets to carry out the projects' technical sides as well as the subject matter expertise. Graduate students might become affiliated with a center rather than a traditional department. (A recent article in the Chronicle--that I can't find for the life of me--argued as much.)
  • Grad students should be taking every opportunity to learn the different technical skills. They need to recognize--and need to be told--that they will be best served by learning new communication/textual tools and thinking about how they can be applied to their scholarship. They of course need to be trained in their disciplines' modes of discourse and knowledge production. But they cannot think that these matters of the digital do not apply to them because they study 18th-century Spanish literature (picked, I swear, at random using As John Jones argued during the Twitter panel at MLA, we humanists certainly don't want to cede this conversation entirely to other branches of inquiry.
  • Junior faculty--a class to which I newly and barely belong--need to spend their time wisely. We have to get tenure under a system that still privileges last century's scholarship. But at the same time it obviously behooves us to learn the skills and tools that we perhaps were not exposed to in graduate school for one reason or another. This means that we need to become active with organizations like HASTAC and perhaps write posts urging the NEH to fund workshops for us to go and do some catching up. Beyond this, we need to point our graduate students to the tools we are using to collaborate and to extend our community of scholarship (for me, this has recently been Twitter, where I am @briancroxall). One of the most exciting things about the (digital) humanities is the drive/need to collaborate. If junior faculty work closely with graduate students--at their own institutions and across the country--both groups can benefit and we can build a new and better model for success in and the longevity and continued relevancy of the humanities.

There's some hasty thoughts, at least.


Brian -- That's a darn nice list of ideas.  I will note that last year, my office did indeed add a new grant program to fund workshops in the digital humanities, much as you described in your first bullet.  The program is called Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities.  Last year, we funded three cool workshops which are set to be held this coming summer.  The first went to USC for the workshop "Broadening the Digital Humanities: The Vectors-IML Summer Institute on Multimodal Scholarship." The second went to Brown for "Advanced Topics in TEI Encoding" and the third to University of Illinois for "Humanities High Performance Computing Collaboratory."  

If you know anyone interested in hosting such a workshop, they need to hustle and send us an application because the next deadline is February 18!  Info at:


Note:  Opinions expressed are those of Brett Bobley and don't necessarily reflect the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Check out The New Humanities - You Tube Channel at - "Newhumanities is a collaborative venture, uniting a commitment to the new humanities with a desire to explore the possibilities of multimedia composition"


At almost every digital humanities conference I attend, there is a great deal of discussion about promotion & tenure. I'm often asked how NEH can help younger scholars get recognition for digital schilarship.

I'm sure, as young scholars interested in technology and the humanities, HASTAC scholars must think about this a lot as well. Have you read Tom Scheinfeldt's Making It Count: Toward a Third Way blog posting? Tom is the Managing Director of the Center for History and New Media, the folks who brought you Zotero, Omeka, "Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives" and lots of other important humanities projects. In the blog piece, Tom argues for the importance of a new employment model, one outside of the tenure track. I'd be very curious to hear what you think.




Note:  Opinions expressed are those of Brett Bobley and don't necessarily reflect the National Endowment for the Humanities.


I found this concept from Scott McLeod's "Did You Know" video striking, particularly since as a graduate student, I have struggled with the question of which tools/skills/technological directions will be relevant in the years ahead, and I can only imagine what this must be like for those in a decision-making capacity. What criteria determine which technologies are worth teaching and which ones will be outdated in a few years?


Thank you for raising this interesting point, Brett!

If we are working on moving beyond previous ways of thinking about scholarship in the humanities at the university level, is tenure necessary or even desirable? 

As a humanities graduate student with a degree in library science, the question of tenure is something I have had to think about when considering my employment options. Many university libraries do not offer tenure to academic librarians, and the long-term research requirements in the humanities disciplines (and time allotted for research) seem to give way to the daily tasks of the job. Many of those jobs offer exciting opportunities to learn new skills (like digital archiving), however, which I find interesting.


This is a great list, Brian. One thing that seems implicitly assumed on this forum is that people that are (or could be) involved in digital humanities are humanities grad students, faculty, and scholars. I am actually in a department of Informatics in an information studies school, but with committee members in anthropology and women's studies and doing a "Feminist Emphasis" -- identity crisis is my constant anxiety and opportunity. :)

The areas of informatics / human-computer interaction have a long history of thinking about mediation, interaciton, and knowledge production by building, deploying, and studying systems for people like biologists, ecologists, zoologists, physicians, and educators. Precisely because humanities scholarship has distinct practices and epistemological standpoints, the idea of building alliances between humanities and systems design seems like it could be fruitful to both sides if you can find the right people that are over the C.P. Snow "Two Cultures" animosities. 

Our informatics dept at UCI, for example, has a medical informatics researcher who does fieldwork with and builds systems for physicians and caregivers. While the doctors, in an ideal world, might like to fully control their system within their discipline, alliances get around the issue Whitney brings up of getting engineering labor for creating digital humanities platforms. 

Might the NEH be able to create collaboration grants for interdisciplinary research teams to create and theorize digital humanities tools?  Such research could answer questions like:
* what are best practices for sustainably developing digital humanities tools (i.e. open source? particular languages?)

* what kinds of toolkits can support more general digital humanities appropriations and tool building? (Imagine a toolkit for the humanities like Processing is for media arts:

* what kinds of resonances and frictions are there between humanities epistemologies and digital tools / archives?


I'm finding many threads of this conversation engaging and thoughtful, but I wanted to address one aspect of the tenure and promotion question and suggest one possibility in that area. At my university and at many others, one mechanism by which a young scholar's work is 'warranted' is through her association with a particular press. In my field (media studies/cultural studies), a contract from certain presses goes a long way toward validating a scholar's research, traditionally in the form of a print monograph. I think one mid-term approach to getting "respect" for born-digital work is to think through new possible relationships to scholarly presses, networking these organizations into our efforts in the digital humanities from early in the process so that they might continue to provide the kind of academic credentialing/review that many chairs and senior faculty demand of scholarship. This is not to say that collective dreams of peer-to-peer review and of open, public scholarship (often self published) is not something we should also push toward. But it is to underscore some practical realities: universities change slowly (the humanities perhaps more slowly than most); presses have long functioned as a signifier of quality within the university; we can't change everything at once. 

In ongoing conversations with a number of presses, I'm finding them eager partners in thinking about new kinds of partnerships and new platforms for digitally-rich publication.
I'm particularly drawn to a kind of 'soup to nuts' approach to working with digital archives and data. We already have access to large, carefully marked-up sets of data; now imagine a set of scholars working with this material to embed their analysis/argument within the data structures themselves (or to provide the kinds of context Whitney longs for). That is, rather than study the materials and then write about them in print, why not use the affordances of the digital to embed an analysis within the materials themselves? Several scholars working together could produce a set of 'alternate' interfaces to a shared dataset, illustrating various arguments and textured readings. These readings could be at least partially 'warranted' by academic presses and 'published' digitally, easing anxieties about "self publishing." I'm not just talking about annotation or even curatorial practice, but about creating new genres of born-digital scholarship that are embedded in the datasets themselves, forms of analysis that push far beyond what print affords. 

I'm down with the dreams of the open and the free (I publish a journal that is free and has no ties to a press) but I'm also realistic about the need to think through some transitional models that can help digital scholarship thrive. Of course, another place we need some transitional models is in graduate education, as Brett rightly mentions. But that's the topic for another post, I think....


As many of you know, I study college students who participate in online fan fiction communities. The thrust of my argument is that for the fields of composition and literacy to remain relevant and engaging we must be more cognizant of our students? so-called extracurricular online literacy practices so that we can invite those experiences into the classroom and, furthermore, better prepare our students for future practice in emerging discursive spaces. This project certainly comes out of my desire to recognize how digital humanities ? and I follow Brett Bobley?s example and use that term broadly ? is and should be transforming composition and literacy studies and the ways in which it is also transforming our work in faculty development.

Certainly these kinds of conversations are beginning to occur at the University of Michigan ? it?s just that they can be difficult to locate, especially for graduate students who might not have access to them. Isabel Millan and I have just applied for institutional funding to launch an interdisciplinary graduate student workshop that would bring together students and faculty from across a number of disciplines so we could provide a local physical and intellectual space for networking, sharing our work, reading together, developing skills, and so forth and so we can, we hope, usher U of M into these essential global conversations.

I wonder if any of the other Scholars have been involved in creating similar groups at their institutions, or if anyone has advice for how to ensure that these conversations get funded and therefore sustained?


The Digital Humanities: A Mediated Translation - The Remix

I?ve done a more visual piece on a few of digital humanities topics addressed above hopefully to also further dialogue and reflect on a few of the topics addressed here: digital scholarship, learning, academic libraries, millenials open access, intellectual property, digital preservation and media.


Hi, Staci, Some time ago ISIS here at Duke and HASTAC worked together and put on a fantastic graduate student forum that attracted many wonderful students working on these topics. In fact, the SECT workshop at UCHRI on new media and new ways of thinking evolved from that and the HASTAC Scholars is a virtual continuation in many ways. By hosting all these forums, we're hoping to strengthen the network of graduate students working in and on these areas. Perhaps it would be useful to hold a HASTAC Scholars Forum precisely on this topic and see if we can discover what is happening at various institutions around the country.


This is the thrust of the fourth question that Mike and Kathleen pose to Brett Bobley in the interview above. I want to draw the forum's attention to a recent critical post by BYU professor Gideon Burton on peer review publishing to which several academics on Twitter have been referring to throughout the day.

This response to peer review publishing, for example, was posted by Dave Parry on Twitter:

and this one some minutes later on Wikipedia as "the most rigorously anonymously peer reviewed knowledge object ever" on which many of our colleagues in the humanities frown. 



While my post is mostly about shifting the direction of the conversation to a current debate going on elsewhere, I want to add a few thoughts that derive from the context and content of the posts above and that reflect on the way that open source, web 2.0 and social media networks have shifted my work in the academy:

A thought regarding Wikipedia in my day to day work: I know my students check my lectures against Wikipedia all the time (I see it happening in class and I don't mind it). I ALWAYS check Wikipedia before walking into the classroom and for the most part, what I find there is extremely useful and also accurate. For me, this gesture of "checking" is a major shift in my work since I received my PhD in 1999. As a result, my teaching isn't as cut and dry as it used to be. Knowing that the class and I are referring to a collaborative and ever changing source such as Wikipedia, I have also become quite alert to the fact that we have  not and will not ever reach the end of knowledge. That shift is a shift that probably would not have become so palpable to me without Humanities 2.0 and the digitization of our work.

Being on Twitter for a few months now, I've created a network of people with whom I collaborate. My students are on Twitter and we're planning on putting on the first Twitter Film Festival some time in the next two months. This takes our classroom learning to the millions of people on Twitter and perhaps beyond. There's nothing more exciting about education, in my view, than seeing concrete results in the world-- results that are not about grades or measuring up to a fixed norm. Our classroom will have impact not only on  those in it, but those outside its four walls. To me that's exciting and it makes an enormous difference in how I approach my every day.

The speed of Digital Humanities amazes me too and has also affected the way that I work: For example: my colleagues on Twitter are now working on building a Call For Papers Wiki. This collaborative project which is in the service of the Humanities went from idea to action in 24 hours. (Have you ever heard of anything happening in 24 hours in the Humanities?) You can join us there and support us in building it:

Finally, I want to say one more thing about Twitter before I sign off. Being on Twitter has introduced me to the work of many journalists who report on their everyday activities on blogs etc. One of the recent tools I have come across in watching journalists at work is this one Yes, I fell in love immediately. CoveritLive allows anyone to live blog any event, upload images, Youtube videos and take polls and all this while continuing to report and give minute by minute updates on an event. I can see a thousand possibilities in using this and so many open source resources and tools like it.  

I've started live tweeting talks. And frankly live tweeting talks keeps me alert. But aside from that-- and I think I've been pretty clear about this--I think much of the work that we do in the Humanities has relevance beyond the four walls of the rooms we sit in. Many of us have forgotten that. The impact the talks that we sit through have must go beyond the 16 people who can attend them on any given day. While podcasts of talks may do the job just as well, podcasts of talks happen only occasionally. So why not give the world what we're teaching and learning while we continue to take our notes and record our thoughts in digital live recorded form?


I like your idea of 'checking' here.  I too feel this shift.  I actually taught a class this fall with only four weeks of the syllabus mapped out.  The students (undergrads) and I then co-created the future direction together via our wiki.  We also did an interesting experiment.  I've taught Neal Stepheson's Diamond Age several times before, but this time around I had the students collectively write a lecture on Stepheson and the novel 'live' in class instead of lecturing to them.  They remixed many websites, incluing wikipedia, on the fly, adding in interview links, videos, photos, reviews, etc, and then we had a  lively discussion about what they'd found.  They covered just about everything I had painstakingly put together years before when I first taught the novel circa 1996. 

I can't prove it, but I'm also guessing they learned/retained a good deal more than if I had delivered the class via lecture/discussion.  It was a great lesson for me in collaborative learning and digital pedagogy, as well as the profound shifts that are underway (if we'll let our classrooms be transformed.)   I do believe scholarship in the humanities will (slowly) tip in this regard as's already happening around the lively edges.


And here is another really stunning side-effect I'm finding of collaborative pedagogy or what the MacArthur Foundation calls "participatory learning." In TYBI (This Is Your Brain on the Internet), my students blog on what they read and we read the blogs before class. Two students present the class material, ask the questions. Often, in class, the conversation is unmediated. It as if there is a real soaking-in of face-to-face and the conversation turns extremely serious and deep and capacious---I am blown away but the connections my students are already making, from the science and the literature (both) we are reading to many things in the world around them, from popular culture, of course digital matters, in everyday life, in politics. As a teacher, I've always said that what I feel strongly is the contribution of the humanities is not so much the specific content but the skill-set we have to teach of being critical, informed readers of culture (big C, actually) as well as thoughtful, informed writer/producers of culture. I usually think of that as the long-term takeaway of my classes, whether I'm teaching 18th century literacy, democracy, and the novel---or TYBI. But this semester that is happening in the classroom, right at the time. Partly, I think, because of the blog work being done before the class but partly, I believe, because there are fifteen really great students and myself and two graduate students all in that room together. Our mediated lives, when honored, can also transform our f2f lives in profound ways. I'm blown away by the urgency of the f2f, informed by all we are reading and applied, on the spot, to a stunning array of cultural artifacts, past and also present. It is seamless post-digital humanities in action. By the way, thanks to all for these comments. What a great conversation!


Have you seen Bill Gates' TED talk from yesterday?


It starts off with a discussion on malaria but then moves to education. The statistics he gives are shattering. And then there's the discussion of going digital and giving people everywhere access to our teaching. Why not?


The concept of "peer reviewed publishing" as a type of vanity press is fascinating to me. Wikipedia is at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as the "peer review process" goes (more reviewers rather than fewer, constant updates, and instant publication). I've noticed when using Wikipedia that sometimes I recognize the names of the people who edit specific entries because they have written articles that I have cited in my own research--I love the thought of scholars who are working on multiple levels of access and publication.

I also enjoyed the discussion of Wikipedia's uses in the classroom. I find Wikipedia very useful for gaining an initial understanding of a particular topic, but I discourage my students from citing it in their research papers and essays. Do you think that Wikipedia will soon become an acceptable source for citations in research work?

I could imagine Wikipedia's value for modern cultural studies more than for my own area (early modern German) --I've tried using it to look up some of the people I'm studying, many of whom have similar names, and I've noticed that there is a big difference between the English and German entries for a topic. Sometimes the information is even contradictory...  


I apologize for coming late to this discussion, folks...a busy week at the University of Texas. Thank you very much, Cathy and Michael Gavin, for the kind words about the Global Middle Ages Project. Susan Noakes, Peter Schmidt and I just met in Minnesota to (among other things) identify a team to work on digitizing Africa across 1,000 years, so challenges of many kinds are fresh on my mind!


A quick thought on big datasets and the future of digital humanities: I'm teaching a graduate seminar right now called Holy War Redux, and my students are impressed with how differently you can challenge theses like the Lewis-Huntington "Clash of Civilizations" nonsense when you have "hard" data backing you. Robert Pape's massive dataset on suicide terrorists, e.g., in his book Dying to Win, shows there's no particular link between Islamic societies and suicide terrorism at all: the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka win hands down as the largest population of suicide terrorists. His data also show that suicide terrorism goes down when the U.S. ceases to occupy someone's homeland, or pulls out U.S. military bases. This is a whole other kind of argument than what we humanists are used to mustering,say, in the pages of PMLA or Social Text.

Right now, my students and I are asking ourselves: given our own interest in Holy Wars so-called (the Crusades are our paradigm for a militarized past and an expansionist West,but we are interested in all kinds of holy wars: Hindu-Muslim wars in India, Catholic-Protestant wars in Reformation England, conflicts in Bosnia, Africa, etc), what kinds of questions would *we ourselves* ask a very large database, and how would we phrase our questions?

The questions come thick and fast: How do people across time and geography (macrohistorical time, across the world) use the rhetoric of holy war? What kinds of leaders deploy the rhetoric and at what point (before/during/after conflicts) does it come into play? Is there a difference between holy war and just war? What distinguish holy wars from other modes of politics, economics, extraterritoriality? How do the deaths of innocents factor into holy war? Is holy war always conceptualized as defensive? In defeat, does the inscrutability of God (and God's will) return? Can holy war be rescinded or recalled, once begun?

How to phrase these and other questions through keywords ("ontologies") that would mine data usefully for us is a challenge. We're working with information scientists and computer technologists at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to figure out how best to query large databases like JSTOR and ARTSTOR. The question for TACC, I guess, is how to develop the right tool or application that most efficiently facilitates our research. AND if we could also map holy wars visually and dynamically across space and time (where they occur, under what conditions, how they are defined) as an interactive tool, that would be a great teaching resource.

The question is, for all of us who want to try new things (an old question, on this lively and wonderful HASTAC Scholars forum), how long does it take before the academy acknowledges this as "real" academic work?


Echoing Gretchen, apologies for arriving late to the party. Brett?s overview and Mike?s personal story made an excellent combined launch. In the posts that followed I was particularly interested in the boundary work of definition. Lately I?ve been struck by tensions of claims staking in the discourse of digital humanities. I?m struck too by the stance of the UCLA Mellon Seminar, in the telling title ?What Is(n?t) Digital Humanities?? I would intrigued to hear what others think about field formation, both local (on particular campuses) and global (in the double sense of the field at large and the world at large). This topic takes on added magnitude for me as the campus HASTAC leader at Wayne State University. In trying to build a local Digital Humanities Collaboratory, I delight in identifying and rendering more visible the work of individual faculty but also trip over turf claims about what ?really? constitutes digital humanities and who ?owns? the field.

A number of other important tensions in the discourse also emerged in discussion. One of them brings to mind Whitney?s call to consider both affordances and foreclosures, a tension readily apparent in debates on fidelity to an ?original? vs. surrogacy. I?m mindful too of tensions between, on the one hand, allegiance to older hermeneutical/interpretive approaches and the concept of ?remediation,? and, on the other hand, Kate Hayles? counter concept of ?intermediation? and Henry Jenkin?s challenge of ?convergence? in multi-modal forms. Technical mastery is another tension, calling to mind Brett?s question about what humanists ?do.? In now looking at similarities and differences across academic programs in this field, I?m struck by the faultline of tool literacy. Some programs require learning at least one programming language, while others prioritize critical analysis of social computing without the requirement of tool mastery.

I was struck, too, by the topic of institution that Mike raised. This topic raises several concerns, with sustainability and copyright high on the list. At the level of building electronic texts, archives, and libraries, sustainability is a major challenge, both hosting in the long run and updating (the latter also calling to mind Whitney?s comment about differing capacities of academic and commercial buildings). The wall of copyright law means we will not have utopic universal access to everything even if the money were in place to build more electronic resources. The topic of institutions also aligns of course with the T&P discussion. It was the focus of a pre-workshop at MLA that was limited to registrants, but the materials from that workshop should be shared more widely. This topic touches, too, on Tara?s admonition regarding publications ? a good chance to call attention to Tom Dwyer?s effort to expand the series at the University of Michigan Press into a more experimental site.

A final personal aside ? great to hear what you?re planning on the Ann Arbor campus, Staci. Let?s get together f2f along with Isa again. I have some materials that might be useful to you.


We owe such a huge debt of thanks to Brett Bobley for giving us his time and thoughts and kicking off such a remarkable discussion. I in no way intend this comment to end debate but simply, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, want to thank everyone for this contribution, Brett and the HASTAC Scholars who launched this, Michael Gavin and Kathleen Smith, and, as always, Erin Gentry Lamb, our HASTAC Scholars Director. And to all thirty-one people who have not just made the usual bloggy "sounds great!" "this stinks" kinds of comments but have contributed here to an extremely thoughtful, textured, many-pronged slow-blogged dialogue (I love the term "slow blogging"). We haven't run the numbers yet but have been astonished all week to see how many people are tuning in. Right now, for example, at this instance, there are 830 non-bot viewers on the site. We've seen numbers like that consistently all week.


Even after the Forum is officially over next week, we'll archive this on the site, of course, so that others interested in these questions can come to it or send their students here to think through the issues. The long, thorough, interesting interview with Brett Bobley is an invaluable resource for anyone thinking through the humanities of the future--and so are these various responses.


I'd like to pick up something in Julie's posting. She writes: "In now looking at similarities and differences across academic programs in this field, I?m struck by the faultline of tool literacy. Some programs require learning at least one programming language, while others prioritize critical analysis of social computing without the requirement of tool mastery." This was such a major issue when we started HASTAC--this distinction between those who were humanists who knew some programming language and actually coded for themselves and those who did not participate in the actual HTML or other programming. With the kinds of scientists that many of us in the early days of HASTAC were working with, our non-professional code writing wasn't going to cut it. So we early came up with the methodology of "collaboration by difference" where those with multiple skills and talents who appreciated and valued one another's skills (even if one did not possess them: like Squeak! Such an elegant object-oriented programming language, so little time . . .) and contributions could work together toward some greater goal, with each being able not only to contribute something state-of-the-art to the final product but being able to contribute to that process through thoughtful, sustained discussion of goals, methods, skills,and so forth. It was the scientists, by the way, who pushed this harder.


"I haven't written code in twenty years," said one of our earliest members, someone who shall be nameless here but who is a household name in the Information Age, after he heard a colleague in digital humanities insist that we should all be doing our own programming. He put a few more expletives in his version. I have cleaned it up here.


In any case, one other aspect of the humanities is the "single-author paradigm" of one person doing it all. One deep value that HASTAC'ers imbibed from our first meetings with science and technology leaders was the importance of collaboration and learning how to trust people who do not share your values, methods, expertise, skills, or training but who have shared ends and goals. To my mind (and I realize this is very much a HASTAC kind of prejudice!), it is crucially important for us in the humanities to learn how to collaborate and value and evaluate collaborative labor. Whether one does or does not write HTML or master other kinds of digital affordances is for others to debate but, for me, the requirement of the new humanities is learning how to create an effective, productive, visionary team that, in aggregate, does something new and important with the best humanities and the best science and engineering---something that, without our collaboration, would not have existed before. I see that happening in so many places and many of those who have contributed to this forum exemplify that "something else, something new, something important" brilliantly.


I tried to take up some of the issues (and anxiety) around to code or not-to-code in my recent essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Hello Worlds: Why Humanities students should learn to program." It says pretty much what I want to say on the subject. What I think is relevant here are the increasingly exciting pedagogical possibilities for teaching programming (and more importantly, procedural literacy): tools like the late Randy Pausch's Alice, Processing, and scripting in places like Second Life (or MOOs).


I love this essay, Matt. Here's my favorite of many great sections: "Many of us in the humanities think our colleagues across the campus in the computer-science department spend most of their time debugging software. This is no more true than the notion that English professors spend most of their time correcting people's grammar and spelling. More significantly, many of us in the humanities miss the extent to which programming is a creative and generative activity. Many different ways exist to do even something as uninspiring as writing software to manage a retail inventory. Programming is about choices and constraints, and about how you choose to model some select slice of the world around you in the formal environment of a computer. This idea of modeling is vital, and what I think was missing from those early undergraduate courses I took. If only someone had told me I wasn't learning to manage a hardware store, I was learning to build models." Exactly!


My disagreement with some in what was mostly "first-gen" digital humanities is the idea that knowing HTML is the only or even most important passport into the field. I believe everyone should have exposure to some form of code, ideally to many forms. And I believe we severely limit and restrict the scope and importance of the humanities in the Information Age if only those who write code expertly, at a professional level, are allowed into the conversations about these matters. By analogy, I wouldn't want someone to have to understand all of Derrida and Deleuze to be able to contribute to every humanities discussion--whereas, for some discussions, such knowledge would be essential.


I'm just not good at being a fundamentalist in any field, I guess. (And, by the way, I know you aren't either. I'm a fan of your work, as you know). As the Famous Scientist I quoted in my comment was suggesting, being able to write HTML does not necessarily make one perceptive about the scope and importance of either science or the humanities in a digital age.


We need so many different talents, and the humanities have so much to offer, in this historical moment.
I see it as both/and, not either/or. We are in an exciting, capacious time, if only we in the humanities accept the challenges of our time, including, as you so eloquently point out, learning to understand the fundamentals of the digital affordances that offer us so many possibilities and pose so many global challenges.


The replies of Cathy and Matthew call to mind a conversation that took place in Seattle a few years ago when HASTACers were plotting the In/Formation Year series. The historical relationship of humanities and technology tilted the balance in this vexed conjunctive relationship after the rise of empirical sciences. Expressed in terms of the conversation in Seattle -- Which partner in a relationship gets to shape the questions that are asked? Humanities were rendered the handmaiden of technology. Reductivity and disciplinary hierarchy are challenged, though, not only by Matthew's response but also the Hayles and Jenkins propositions I alluded to earlier.

 They are also challenged when collaborative teams (still a rarity in humanities circles) negotiate the differential status of their "humanist" members. I've spent much of the last year and a half negotiating status on a team composed of web designers and librarians, instructional designers, technology trainers, and me-the designated "content" expert in humanities and interdisciplinary collaboration.

A third response emerges in Matthew's riff on pedagogy. Working half-time now as a faculty fellow in a Technology Resource Center, I am keenly aware of how the majority of our time is spent bridging the bottom level of the "digital disconnect." In trying to create a HASTAC Digital Humanities Collaboratory on campus, I yearn to get beyond that level. The next step on our campus is a local event in late February on "Digital Humanities: Mapping the Field." One of our major goals is to start a local conversation about the rich complexity of theory and practice in the field.


I think it is less a matter of deciding which technologies to teach than it is a matter of teaching ways of thinking with technologies.  As some of the later posts suggest, a great deal of value in learning a programming language is in conceptualizing various ways to accomplish tasks given a set of limitations; this can be done with technologies both complex and simple.  

I haven't had the occasion to teach "how to" courses, but I have tried to integrate multimedia production into the courses I do teach.  Part of the answer for me has been to give assignments with loosely structured outcomes so that students can focus on the skills that seem most important to them at the time.  The two challenges from this are helping students who are used to specific outcomes (i.e. writing papers) and getting students to do work outside of their comfort zone.  This takes a bit more one-on-one work for each project, but the results can be rewarding.  

I recently asked students in a seminar class to "creatively document a networked media space".  After some discussions about the issues at stake (space/place, private/public, freedom/control, technology/sociality) various students turned in an essay, a photo-collage, an edited documentary, a richly constructed powerpoint-style presentation, and a web site; I had a few not-so-compelling projects, but the majority were good first steps at thinking creatively with technologies.  This is also the first in a series of assignments for the class that I hope will result in ever more complex engagements with course material and technologies.  Given that this course deals with technology from a largely theoretical perspective it is both pedagogically and pre-professionally useful to ask students to create work using such technologies.  In other courses I attempt to productively complicate this methodology by getting students to use social technologies to collaboratively produce assignment work, often in the service of a class-wide final product that brings together the contributions from the various groups.   

I think that part of the pleasure and the pain of the digital humanities label is that it encompasses changing teaching methods, research methods, subjects, modes of publishing, and so much more.  That leaves plenty of opportunities to get things moving.


I'd like to say a few words about the following question:

"3) When it comes to the digital humanities, what should administrators focus on, whether at universities or other institutions like the NEH? What is the role of grad students and junior faculty?"

Let me introduce myself a little bit first. I am Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies, ABD, currently doing research in Taiwan. My undergraduate degree is in computer engineering. I've worked as a software engineer for 5 years before I decided to go back to school.

People fulfilling administrative duties (i.e. administrators proper but also those who manage digital projects) could promote digital humanities better in the following ways:

1. Contribution to digital humanities should be recognized for tenure. This has been pointed out already in this thread. I don't feel the need to elaborate further.

2. Humanities programs should include learning digital technologies as part of their curriculum. I'm thinking about classes about digital technologies for the humanities. Teachers sometimes add a technological dimension to a seminar but this does not replace a class which would focus on technological methods.

3. Administrators should hire the professionals they need to implement digital humanities projects.

This is a biggie and it is rarely addressed.

The main issue here is money. Professionals are costly, so administrators hire non-professionals. Rather than hiring someone who is able to professionally develop and maintain software, they hire whichever student in the department happens to be good at writing software, and who happens to be willing to work on the project. The results are rarely satisfactory. Writing software which does not scale, is buggy and unmaintanable requires neither skill nor experience. Writing software which is scalable, robust and maintainable requires skill and experience. It requires experience beyond the classroom and books, experience in real projects. I've been called several times to take over projects which had been implemented by people who were undoubtedly intelligent but who were not professional software writers. All of the projects suffered from serious problems. It ranged from "we can maintain it but it will be difficult" to "this is an unmanageable mess".

Even if by sheer luck the administrator is able to hire a student who has professional skills, the salary offered makes it likely that the project will fail. It is not a matter of ill will but simply the reality of the job market. If someone with professional skills is underpaid, that person is most likely going to move on at some point. That's what happened on two digital humanities projects I worked on during my M.A. I graduated and moved on. One project completely died after I left. The other one remained unmaintained for a few years. Eventually, maintenance was outsourced to a company in India. (Maybe there was a lesson learned in this case.)

As I said, the main issue is money. Project administrators assume that the salaries they offer will be enough to ensure quality. It is not enough. There is no way around it: pay a competitive salary or jeopardize the quality of the project.

From time to time I see signs that administrative practices are moving in the right direction.  However, the problems I mentioned above are still present.


These are great comments and point to one real issue in the humanities and in collaboration across fields. All comparative studies emphasize the discrepancy between humanities v. engineering or computer science salaries. To work in a humanities environment as a full computer professional often means lower compensation. Needless to say, that is a structural problem! One reason everyone in the digital humanities is so grateful to NEH, the Mellon Foundation, and other supporters of digital humanities is they often understand this structural disparity in a keen way. It is yet another legacy of the "two cultures."


Speaking of which, there is a New York Times article on the need for digital archivists now: Here's an excerpt: "

Many work for public institutions, and businesses use them, too,
said Deborah Schwarz, chief executive of Library Associates Companies,
a consulting and headhunting firm. Especially big employers in this
area are law firms, which need experts on digital copyright and other
issues tied to the migration of legal documents from filing cabinets to

One comparative advantage of private-sector jobs is
the pay. Digital asset managers at public facilities would do well to
make $70,000 a year. Salaries for their corporate counterparts are
generally higher.

?Compensation varies wildly because it?s an
emerging area,? said Keith Gurtzweiler, vice president for recruiting
at Library Associates. ?Consultants who can make recommendations on
systems can make $150 an hour.? Those who ?manage them once they?re up
and running and maintain the machinery,? he said, make from the
$70,000?s up to $100,000."


Starting salaries for English teachers at some colleges are still in the $40's . . . so 70-100K is an impressive salary. As we've been saying for a long time now, Digital Humanists who understand book culture and can write code at a professional-level, especially those who prefer the lifestyle of academe, have a future, even in this economy.


Idd's contribution reinforces the importance of interdisciplinary management skills. Coordinating a team of staff with varying expertise, experience, and time commitments is an ongoing challenge. I could relate to Idd's personal story, since I hired a student to do programming code for a digital image collection project then lost him to AMAZON.COM. His replacement did not turn out to have the skill set needed. The second replacement I hired didn't have the complete skill set but he is a terrific student colleague, even voluntarily learning programming languages he didn't have to be able to help us out in all aspects of the project. I rejoice in watching the two web designers on our team mentor him, though my less joyful task this week is to find another $3,000 to keep him going after he uses up the funds I tapped to hire him from a small personal development grant. (I'm the designated humanities content expert on the team but of necessity have spent more time hiring, managing inputs, and securing exceptions to Human Subjects IRB policies.) The need to juggle diverse expertise on differing time schedules is nothing new in the annals of interdisciplinary collaboration. It's compounded today, though, by the larger process of deprofessionalization in the academy. Every single contribution must be viewed within a systemic framework and, to echo Martha Nell Smith, long-term issues of sustainability must be thought about from the very beginning in the design and implementation of any project.


One of my favorite articles about collaboration in many places accords with the HASTAC model we've been calling, at least since 2003, "collaboration by difference." Nicholas D. Kristof happened to mention it in his op ed column in the NY Times of Feb 8, 2009, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is not allergic to the jargon of economists (as opposed to the jargon of English teachers and other humanists). It is "Problem Solving by Heterogeneous Agents" by Lu Hong and Scott E. Page, and appears in the Feb 17, 2000 issue of The Journal of Economic Theory. I found this particular essay, and a number of the essays it cites and then subsequently spawned, to be very helpful when I was Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. It was so interesting getting to be there, in the room, when faculty and other administrators from different schools of the university were working together to create new programs--Institute for Care at the End of Life, Information Science + Information Studies, Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine, and Applied Science, Institute for Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy, Nasher Museum of Art, Arts, Culture and Technology Warehouse, Center for Environmental Solutions, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, Social Science Research Institute, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, Global Health Initiative . . . and, of course, HASTAC itself. You get the drift. There was a lot of "collaboration by difference" to get any of those huge efforts off the ground.


I love this essay, too! It makes some truly excellent points (brought up by Cathy below) and is beautifully written.

I was struck by how much the same claims could support a stronger and broader humanities education for technologists. I TA'ed last semester for a digital poetry workshop taught by Ed Barrett here at MIT, where the undergraduates don't get a humanities education as deep or inclusive as, say, your average graduate of a small liberal arts college. In fact, many of them seem not to have read a poem since high school, and don't know where to begin the process of textual interpretation. But put them in front of a computer, and suddenly what has been taught to them in the language of engineering or programming becomes (to borrow some of your terms) models, molds for creativity, worlds of words to explore -- in short, the stuff of poetry.

We often frame discussions about digital humanities as "why is technology important for the humanities," when in fact it's just as important to consider what the humanities can offer to a technologist. Students who are creative -- who are makers -- are so often turned off by (and turned away from) an English or History or Writing curriculum that that is killing us with canon. And yet (as your essay points out) the humanities have the potential to offer these students a language for understanding their work as a creative process, rather than another p-set to get through. Certainly I saw this in our workshop.

Elli Mylonas of the Scholarly Technology Group at Brown gave a great talk at HyperStudio last year in which she emphasized that the distinction between "humanities" (written in a frilly manuscript font) and "computing" (written in some monospaced-techy font) is obsolete. I'd like to see a DH future in which the technologists are not workhorses for humanists but identify themselves *as* humanists. And vice versa. A broader curriculum on both sides of the aisle might be a step in the right direction, as would required lab work and production workshops for humanists (something required of me here, and for which I'm very grateful). 



Thank you for collecting these links and encouraging us to think deeply about the non-English speaking web.

I was particularly drawn to Brian McConnell's article on the Worldwide Lexicon ( and his emphasis on social ? as oppose to mechanical ? translation. For those who didn't get a chance to read it, this quote seems to sum up the driving ethos of the project:

"Computer scientists have been chasing a Holy Grail of machine
intelligence for decades, but the breakthrough that will eliminate the
language barrier is social, not technical."

I'm especially excited about technology that enables social translation to occur as a natural outgrowth of audience participation. Although I have questions about how the Worldwide Lexicon project manages to reconcile the mismatch of serialized web content (with its brief window of hyperfocused attention), on the one hand, with collaborative translation efforts on the other. Especially since these collaborative efforts (like wikipedia articles) would seem to require a longer term life-cycle to be fully realized.




Kvashee and Brett,

One more thought on the subject of mechanical vs. social translation...

I'm not sure I agree with McConnell's claim about the impending elimination of the language barrier, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. He suggests that future web users:

"...will simply use the web just as they do today, except they will be able to see the entire world, not just their language. When that happens, the language barrier, at least as it applies to one-to-many communication, will be history."

I find myself excited by McConnell's prediction, here, but perhaps for the opposite reason. I don't think it will succeed nearly as smoothly as he expects, but it is precisely this lack of smoothness that I think may prove incredibly productive for cross-linguistic exchange.

I'm making some assumptions here, but McConnell seems to be talking about translation as we traditionally encounter it ? as a mapping between "best-fit" denotational categories (or calques). And his argument is that this kind of translation could become highly streamlined through social media tools.

I think it's also possible, though, that this streamlined process of collaborative calquing (from one language to another) will also reveal just how much the socio-functional categories of language-use (i.e. pragmatics) are usually left untranslated. Imagine a conversation that might emerge as various collaborators argue over the proper way to translate the social context of an interaction between author and audience, or the severity of a blogger's rant, or the right tone to convey snarkiness.

The incommensurability of language-in-context could itself become a topic of social translation in its own right. And if that were the case, the web would not only become multilingual but also increasingly sophisticated as a metalinguistic tool ? one that teaches us to recognize the complex ways that language is embedded within particular social contexts.


What a great way to approach this. Problem/Dig Hum Solution!


The problem we tackled as members of the Franklin Humanities Institute Seminar on Interface was how to visualize huge data sets in order to understand extremely complex collaborative relationships, institutional partnerships, corporate interests, patent implications, and other forms of non-parallel data too complex for any one mind to grasp and too important for simple surmise without some help. We did the visualization in a 3-D interactive VR cave, the Dive, where you can actually extract single strands of data, and then see how that strand interacts with many others that suddenly become visible on the 3-D surface.


Great discussion! Regarding the problems of tenure & promotion, institutional support for digital humanities, etc, I am reminded of Jim Gray's quip (via Chris Borgman's Scholarship in the Digital Age): "May all of your problems be technical." But it seems that momentum for the digital humanities is building, thanks in part to leadership by funding agencies such as NEH, the Mellon Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation; organizations such as HASTAC, CenterNet, and the MLA's Committee on Information Technology; faculty, technical folks and grad students collaborating on exemplary projects that demonstrate the potential of digital humanities, etc.

One way to envision the future of the digital humanities is to imagine the kinds of problems (or opportunities, depending on your perspective) that might be tackled by applying digital resources and tools--as well as the ways that the insights of the humanities can problematize the digital (awkwardly stated, I know, but I think it's important to take a critical perspective toward technology and emphasize how we can use humanities methods to understand the digital age, as Cathy and others have argued.) Problem: print critical editions can't capture the richness of the documentary record. Enter projects such as the Blake Archive, Rossetti Archive, Whitman Archive, etc. Problem: millions of digitized books and other digital data are now available, but how can scholars deal with this plenitude? Enter the Digging into Data Challenge, projects to build text mining tools and methods (e.g. MONK and Perseus's ePhilology tools), etc. Problem: how to bust out of the restrictions of print publication--the long lag time between submission of the manuscript and final publication, the lack of feedback and interaction, the static nature of print, etc. Enter ejournals, blogs, wikis, online forums, etc.


What a fascinatin conversation! And yes, Cathy, I think a Forum in which the Scholars discuss ongoing (or not!) digital humanities activities, conversations, and connections happening across campuses would be exciting and productive. I'd be happy to work on setting that up!


Not to but you too much on the spot, Matt, but as someone who was recently awarded one of those NEH grants ... any tips?


By a circuitous route I received the following, which I take to be a provocation from HASTAC to discuss what's happening at the intersection of computing with the humanities:

> The Future of the Digital Humanities
> A HASTAC Scholars Discussion Forum featuring Brett Bobley, Director  
> of the Office of Digital Humanities
> Where do the digital humanities go from here?
> Digital humanities is not a discipline.  It is an attitude towards
> technology across many disciplines.  The changes wrought by the
> introduction of digital media to study in the humanities are in many
> ways inevitable--computing technologies have infiltrated every
> aspect of the academic workplace, even for those who do not think of
> themselves as working with "digital media."  But they invite
> pressing questions.  Historians can read more old books than ever
> before, but without visiting a physical archive or cracking an
> actual codex.  And, without publishing their findings in print
> journals.  What happens to disciplines built around the book when
> they no longer need books to do their work?

There's an assumption here that if simply accepted confines discussion to a very small box. The assumption is that we know what the term "discipline" means, as if it were a well-defined socio-intellectual category to which an area of enquiry and/or practice either belongs or not. I'd challenge the author of this statement to produce a definition of "discipline" useful for the purpose if I thought that it would help advance and expand the discussion. I'd ask for us to roll back the discussion to that period in the late 19C when English was getting started as a "discipline" and the conservatives (small c) were saying that it wasn't one, that it was simply what every educated person already did. Or I could choose anthropology, or psychology and show that the Edenic myth of foundationalism -- that disciplines were created (by God at the foundation of the world, if you will) -- is just that, a myth, and a rather poor one.

After engaging in far too many debates of this sort over the last couple of decades, however, I've concluded that the question is a distraction, a red herring. I'd recommend rather asking with eyes as open as Erving Goffman's, "What's going on?", and then not allow myself to stop for any answers crafted to shut down discussion, put thinking to bed with a hot-water bottle and a fairytale.

The declaration, "Digital humanities is not a discipline", causes me to ask the lawyer's question, cui bono? Whom does it benefit if we agree -- or just tacitly accept? I think the answer is that it benefits those who don't want to change things very much, especially not institutional structures -- which is exactly what needs to happen. "He [or she] who is not being born is busy dying." I understand very well indeed the frustration of being on the wrong side of institutional structures, and so the felt need to think that what is being denied doesn't exist. But in this case it does in some places and can in yours.

Perhaps it would be more productive to use Imre Lakatos' distinction between progressive and degenerating research programmes ("Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes", in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, 1970) -- but be very generous and patient, again ask, "What's going on?" and note how differently humanities computing is playing out across the various digital humanities. In other words, ask not what the practice is, rather where we're going and what sort of institutional arrangements suit that going best. We now have scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, academic conferences, undergraduate courses, MA and PhD degree programmes and even a few (full) professorships. That hardly seems a degenerating circumstance to me.

Back to the provocation. If we slide easily from the initial declaration to the next, and not stop to question it as well, we're really on a slope so well lubricated that rapid decline happens without notice. "It is an *attitude* towards technology across many disciplines"? The danger here, I think, lies in the implication that since anyone can have an attitude about something, nothing much is required of him or her -- and, perhaps more significantly, nothing much required of the institution. Quite the contrary -- so much is needed as to require of us our very best efforts. "Darwin, energetically observing and writing before the establishment of a genetic theory, had to have the patience of a pioneer--the patience not to know for sure within his lifetime 'Whether the dream now purposed to rehearse / Be poet's or fanatic's', whether it could be authentic or delusive." That's Gillian Beer, in Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (Oxford, 1996, p. 14), quoting Keats in aid of depicting a situation analogous to our own, however much less culturally momentous ours may turn out to be.

But there's a hint of something quite promising in this having of an attitude, in the related notion that we are somehow positioned with respect to the older disciplines rather differently than they are with respect to each other. We should, I think, ask how we might think of the disciplines that allows for growth and change among them and for the entry into the picture of an intellectual practice that relates to them all -- like, say, a ship of exploration in an archipelago of epistemic island cultures.

Yours, WM

Willard McCarty, Professor of Humanities Computing,
King's College London,;
Editor, Humanist,;

Interdisciplinary Science Reviews,


To me, the "not a discipline" impulse, which I share, is covalent with the "not a department" impulse. I think digital humanities flourishes best in project-oriented centers and institutes that resemble laboratories; I would be skeptical of any move to create an academic department of digital humanities that resembled a traditional English or History or Philosophy department, a place where issues are studied and written about but not grappled with in the course of building something. For that reason, I like the term "community of practice" for digital humanities.


In case you didn't know, every Wikipedia page comes with a "Permanent link" that gives a durable URL to the current version of the page that you are looking at. You can find this under the Toolbox in the left frame. If students use this link, I see no reason why Wikipedia shouldn't be used as an acceptable citation source. (I say this despite the fact that my adviser required me to take out all references depending on Wikipedia from my dissertation.) The permanent link gets rid of one of the major concerns that people seem to have re: Wikipedia: that the entries are constantly changing. Of course, this doesn't eliminate the anonymity problem, but as Gideon Burton points out in the blog post that Negar linked to, academic publishing has always insisted on its own layers of anonymity.

The larger problem with using the Wikipedia as a reference source, of course, is that it is a basic reference tool. It gives one a good overview of a subject, which should be the jumping off point for more research. I encourage my students to not depend too heavily on encyclopedias of any type when writing their papers.  



One of the pieces that I appreciated most about Matt's essay is the anecdote of his substituting Perl as one of the required languages for his foreign language requirement. I came to grad school fluent in Dutch and with passable French. I was told that I couldn't take exams in Dutch because there was no one at the school who would be capable of judging my proficiency. The subtext was that Dutch was not a scholarly language.

As someone who is seen as the go-to person for anything technology related in my department but who finds himself outclassed and outgunned in larger DH circles when it comes to conversations with people like Matt, I agree with Cathy that there is a tension to helping our grad students gain a familiarity with coding languages. I can read French and German passably and they contribute to my scholarship. If I had a better grasp on something like Drupal or Perl (or a grasp at all, to be honest, since my knowledge of Perl comes primarily from Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and from xkcd), I would be better prepared for participating in different initiatives. I don't need to be at the level of Matt, however, to make contributions or to enrich my own work. As Cathy has it, I don't need to know everything about Derrida to be a part of the conversation.

All undergraduates should, in my opinion, be able to read (X)HTML and to make basic changes. All graduate students in forward-thinking Humanities departments need to be similarly versed in the building blocks of the tools that they will be using.

The most exciting thing about DH to me is the instant and rapid collaborative possibilities that defy the entrenched monograph culture. Perhaps a group like HASTAC is the right place where we can start to provide the tools for people to learn these skills in the absence of any movement in this direction on the level of an individual institution.


Here are some excellent tips on how to get an NEH grant (via Lisa Spiro):


Here are some more (via NEH's Meredith Hindley):




Note:  Opinions expressed are those of Brett Bobley and don't necessarily reflect the National Endowment for the Humanities.


I think there's already some issues with forensics for book historians.  While some projects attempt to render a material object in an exact digital form, it fails due to  lack of the entire material object.  What about the current codex material form?  How can we replicate that truthfully in a digital space?  Turning the Pages tried to do this with its 3D visualization but it's proprietary software and lack of scholarly apparatus make it really limiting.  Then, there are other scholars who don't want to replicate the form of the book in digital space -- thinking of Johanna Drucker's HASTAC lecture in  which she emphasized function over form. 





Great list of items to focus on.  However, I would add to that list under the Junior Faculty that there are way more projects for the NEH to fund than there are funds.  Sometimes, it boils down to who is more innovative; other times, it's about how many resources the Jr. Faculty already have access to.  Some of the projects that are trying to obtain funding are less in the innovative arena and more in the traditional field -- no sexy databases or new visualizations.  Those projects are important too.  What do we do with them?  McGann points out that these digital projects are borne into poverty and will, unfortunately, stay that way.  

For Jr. Faculty, this is tied to tenure/promotion.  Are we to wait 6-7 years until tenure is secured?  or, help to alter the tenure review process now?  The MLA and Bamboo are already on board with this.  Still, it leaves a tremendous burden on that 2nd wave of faculty (those after Matt Kirschenbaum's era) to educate while they innovate.  So, how to escape this burden with some support?  

Hasty (and perhaps frustrated) thoughts in return.



Ruzena Bajcsy I am new to this Blog, but I want to introduce myself. I am professor of Computer Science and Robotics. I did teach two times a freshman seminar for non-computer scientists on Information Technology(IT)and Humanities and Arts. Based on my experience, I strongly hold the view that Humanists do not need to learn programming language(s) in order to use properly and professionally IT for their respective subjects. What is more important than knowledge of a programming language (by the way those are changing rapidly,so knowing one does not garantee anything!!) is understanding certain computational concepts, such as how do we represent,store and retrieve,manipulate information. What is recursion, linking, matching both strings or images or any other data. How do we use games, what is interactivity, how does Internet functions. These are concepts that can be explained in lay terms and yet very useful in communication and collaboration between IT professionals and Humanists and artists. I also like to put my weight behind those who recognize that digital Humanities is not just text! We have by now many technologies using cameras, audio and even tactile and force measurements that can be used very profitably in research of humanities such as archeology, musicology, architecture (historical and/or current) antropology,linguistics, social and behavioural sciences and many forms of Arts. All this to be profitable requires a serious COLLABORATION between IT professionals and Humanists and artists. It is in this collaborative process where the conceptual understanding of computational concepts by the humanists/artists helps them to explain to the IT people what they need, what is more or less useful to them. Of course , it helps if the iT people also go beyond the superficial understanding of the needs of the Humanists/artists so that they can design better systems for their applications. In other words it is a two way street. I very much agree that Collaboration by difference is exteremly stimulating, it challanges in all subjects the status quo and hence it pushes all of us to be more creative.

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