Much Debating in the Digital Humanities

Before opening the book titled Debates in the Digital Humanities (edited by Matthew K. Gold), I was pretty certain that I was entering a discussion without a clear answer. This book is the compilation of a number of essays dealing with such topics as:

Defining, Theorizing, Critiquing, Practicing, Teaching, and lastly, Envisioning the future of the Digital Humanities (DH).

The title is spot on when saying there are a myriad of debates that surround the field (if it can even be considered a field at this point given some of the arguments raised in the book) of DH. This book was very illuminating in the sense that it shed light on all aspects of DH (as can be seen by the list of major discussion points in the table of contents). Prior to reading this compilation of essays, I did not have a solid grasp on what was considered DH, and after finishing the final essay I would not say I have a definitive understanding of it now. However, I do think I understand the issues that are most concerning to this field. I don’t think this is a bad thing that the book does not define DH. In fact, I’m fairly certain that is the point of the book: not to give answers, but to raise questions about DH.

Given that the book does not give a clear definition of DH, I will not use this blog as a forum to try to define it either.  Instead, I’ll focus on the section that most intrigued me.  That section is “Teaching the Digital Humanities.” From what I gather, it seems a major concern with DH is that it is heavily research-based. In order to be considered successful as a Digital Humanist, one must build things with existing technology or create new technology that can be applied to the Humanities.  There seems to be a serious lack in the teaching of DH because of this focus on quantitative research. Based on the essays in this section, the teaching of digital skills (i.e. how to blog, use specific research tools/databases) is not an issue. The issue is that students are not being taught how to apply these skills to the study of the Humanities.

Having gone to a small liberal arts school for undergrad, I saw first-hand how DH was essentially nonexistent. It is worth noting that in this day and age I don’t think one can say that using a word processor, online database, blog, or really most internet features  is considered part of DH.  These skills are so commonplace to the average college student, no matter the size of the school, that when DH is discussed it should be assumed that we are talking about the type of research that is going on in the major Digital Technology/New Media Centers.  And these centers are almost never seen on small, liberal arts campuses, thus inhibiting the opportunity to students on those campuses to interact with cutting edge technology.

Although some of the essays in the book believe that because there is a discussion about DH and it is gaining recognition on some campuses that it is a legitimate field.  At this point I’m not sure I agree with that simply because one cannot study DH as widely as one can study the Humanities.  However, I do firmly believe that it is gaining traction and I am certainly in agreement with the idea that the Digital Humanities will not become a separate entity from the Humanities; instead it will simply become one in the same.

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