Julia Fox

Though the study of digital humanities has been pursued for more than two decades now, there is still a great amount of confusion as to how to actually define the concentration. This is understandable, seeing as how computers and the internet are still very new tools being used in our education. It is even noted in Julia Flander’s interview that she once claimed she “might never own a computer.” While it may seem as if society has already merged comfortably with the  dawn of the digital age, there are still many daunting aspects to it. In a way, this uncertainty with the new age actually defines digital humanities. However, to understand how, I must digress to another point made by John Unsworth.

In my own observations, I came upon this definition of digital humanities: “A practice concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities.” While this is technically true, it is also extremely ambiguous. However, maybe that’s all we as a people can expect from a field of study that is not fully developed or understood yet. So how can one even begin to try to define digital humanities?  Through many of his different theories on what digital humanities is, this is where one of Unsworth’s definitions stands out. He claims digital humanities is “shaped by the need for efficient computation on the one hand, and for human communication on the other.” Boiled down to it’s most simplistic form, that is exactly what the study is – the integration of technology into culture. Not only does the world learn about technology, but technology also teaches us about the world. With the invention of the internet, cell phones, and iPods, our culture is relying more heavily on digital encoding and it’s tools. Unfortunately, we are a society that thrives on technology, but in many instances, it is a technology we do not fully understand.

Flanders is correct when she claims we should investigate “how we can understand the relationship between the surfaces of things – how they make meaning and how they operate culturally, how cultural artifacts speak to us.” Technology and it’s tools could be perfect for investigating new ideas, communicating with other cultures, and becoming one with educational opportunities. So, though technology is becoming more and more a part of our culture each day, there is still an aspect of this new digital age that is daunting to many people. The study of digital humanities aims to make digital technology more accessible and more a part of every day life by fusing it with our personal; lives, careers and educations in a way that it is no longer frightening, but instead stimulating. This idea was used during “A Day in the Life of a Digital Humanist” event in which a community of people were chosen to document their day learning about the study. Their photos and blogs were then published to a site in which other users could comment and interact with their peers about what had happened. As well as learning about the technologies, the people also interacted with each other through these same technologies, which is a vital part of digital humanities. It was not simply talking to each other about the day, nor was it storing pictures and words on a computer where no one could interact with them. It was a fusion of the two ideas.

This is how Flander’s and Unsworth’s words combine. Society needs efficient computation in order to interact with the world around it. To understand the meaning of objects and the significance and meanings they hold to our lives, we need to understand technology. Digital humanities is the need for human communication, as well as the need for humans to understand technology and the digital age.

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