Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Total E-Glitch of the Heart

“Digital Humanities” (DH) is the field in which practitioners mock robots for being unable to feel. Formerly known as “humanities computing,” digital humanities blends modern binary technologies with the human essence. It inspects and expresses humanity through a lens of 1's and 0's. The field yearns to exploit the cold core of the digital realm to better understand the sapien soul. It is a total e-glitch of the human heart, though it is a good one.

Projects in the Digital Humanities take many shapes. All humanities branches can factor into the field, and some practices border the social sciences in their applications. Technologies like Voyant Tools perform "deep-reading" to analyze large (or small) bodies of text. E-literature brings the electric to literature (boogie, woogie, woogie). Data mapping and data visualization turn blocks of data into more palatable images. Archives and indexes like Google Books preserve knowledge and art for the future. These are just a few of the tree's branches.

Pinning the Digital Humanities down is a little like wrestling a mountain cat—you might get growled at. Scholarly opinion varies greatly regarding who belongs to the field. Some assert that virtually everyone belongs, while others would limit the honor to those fighting in the name of the squad. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication of the MLA, notes in "The Humanities, Done Digitally," "every 'What Is Digital Humanities?' panel aimed at explaining the field to other scholars winds up uncovering more differences of opinion among its practitioners. Sometimes those differences develop into tense debates about the borders of the field and about who's in and who's out."

There are a few elements to DH that can generally be agreed upon. Digital Humanities is an interdisciplinary realm of study. It has some attributes of an independent discipline, but overall it carves out slices of many humanities disciplines, the discipline of computer science, and some social science disciplines to build a cohesive framework in which scholars and laypeople alike may work. Digital tools are used by digital humanists in most of their work. Those tools range as wide as the applications of the field. Though digital humanists can work alone, one of the hallmarks of the field is its dedication to the collective mind. Most projects, besides those in e-literature (and even some of those projects), are advanced by a group.

Defining the Digital Humanities is an onerous task. Perhaps someone in the field ought to use its technologies to study the body of literature on the subject and find a way to put it into words. Or maybe not. Isn't one of the concerns of the field the expansion of language through the non-linear? A digital poem may be able to define it better than I can here in black ink, even with all the hyperlinks. I am but one cog in the great clock of DH. I won't use up any more of your time, just now, blogging on the subject.

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