Amanda Machey

I’m not going to suggest the following is a definition of digital humanities. Why? Because I’ve been “studying” this field for a week; in no way, shape or form could I have the answer to a question scholars in the field don’t. My take on what we covered so far is slightly different than what we’ve reviewed; for that reason as well, I’m not going to say it’s a definition because I may still be missing something – the ability to understand and see what everyone else is.

That being said, I think it’s important to look at the language – “digital” and “humanities”. “Digital” implies electronic in nature, something of the computer/cyberspace element and “humanities”, a discipline of its own, such as literature, art, philosophy and the classics (etc). If you put the two together, rather simply, digital humanities could just refer to the MEDIUM with which we are using for a specific humanity we are talking about. That will be the stance I take on trying to define digital humanities. And here’s why.

When digital humanities is talked about, things like, writing emails, posting/electronically publishing old manuscripts and even creating digital artwork are mentioned. In his article “We’re all Digital Humanists Now”, Lincoln Mullen cites various examples of how we use computers/technology today. While all of the examples are very accurate, I would disagree with him that we are all, in fact, digital humanists. He does state that “using these methods does not imply that the scholar works in the digital humanities” however, he goes on to say that digital humanities can be thought of as a spectrum and therefore, is being used by everyone.
Some questions to consider – Does having an online version of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice make it any different than the real thing? Is an email simply a letter? I’m not too naive to suggest they are the same in their advantages and disadvantages; however, their purpose is very similar.

I remembered a scene from Mona Lisa Smile as I wrote this “definition”. You can view it here – the only part of the scene I’m interested in is from 8:19 until the end. Instead of a computer/electronic medium, we are able to look at an example, similar to the Dante and Jane Austin websites reference, from an earlier time period. Here, and with our discussed examples, we can still see and ask the question, does the medium really make a difference, or can we say that they (the pieces called into question) are in fact, still the same thing.

Looking at the Austin and Dante websites, aren’t they just resources? Can you not compare the two based on what they offer and how effective or thorough they are?

In his “What is Humanities Computing and What is not?”, John Unsworth states, “So, one of the many things you can do with computers is something that I would call humanities computing, in which the computer is used as tool for modeling humanities data and our understanding of it, and that activity is entirely distinct from using the computer when it models the typewriter, or the telephone, or the phonograph, or any of the many other things it can be.” Do I agree with this? Yes. I believe Unsworth is on to something. That activity is singular in nature, when compared to the other uses of the computer. However, what does it mean to have created a humanity? Is cyberspace singular enough that it rates its own study? Are the computer languages and processes used a discipline of their own? If so, that might make anything created via a computer, website, etc. a breed of its own. That is exactly what I believe. Therefore, to me, a digital humanist would be someone who works in this “field” – the field of cyberspace; dealing with html and cyber languages and digital graphic creation. To be a field of its own, it must have singular properties. Can a website be found outside the realm of cyberspace? No. Can a video game exist in any other form? Of course not. Now, to work in this “field”, I’d argue that one would have to be a creator of things in this field. I use email and I blog – does that make me a digital humanist? No. The person who studied html, knows the language and created the interface for emailing would be a digital humanist.

Now, in an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of digital humanities, I’ll cite Julie Flanders for my closing statements. “In other words, it’s not simply the deployment of technology in the study of humanities, but it’s an expressed interest in how the relationship between the surface and the method or the surface and the various technological underpinnings and back stories — how that relationship can be probed and understood and critiqued. In other words, what is happening to the rhetoric of scholarship as a result of these changes in the way we think of media and the ways that we express ourselves and the ways that we share and consume and store and interpret digital artifacts.” She could be on to something if, and that’s a rather large if, there is such a relationship and this relationship only exists in this type of medium.

The most difficult thing about this field/realm/discipline, is that there is no consensus, no starting point, no definitions. How can we determine what is classified as DH if we don’t even know what DH is!? And if those more experienced and scholarly than I have not come up with a definition, I most certainly will fail [the field] DH trying to do so.

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