The Weekly Create: DH and you. How does DH challenge, support, rethink, expand your approach to literary studies, past and/or future?

Kirschenbaum posits that anyone asking for a definition of digital humanities hasn’t expended much effort finding the answer. Kirschenbaum’s conclusion in the article “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” connects with my present day thoughts. Notably in a recently published article, that inspired multimodal reactions through comments, litsserv postings, and new articles, a Tenured Community College Professor wrote of Margaret Mary Vojtko: “Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?“

Certainly the ensuing discussion was “publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed” inspiring many talented writers, teachers, and businesspeople to weigh in on the “dysfunctional and outmoded practices surrounding peer review, tenure, and promotion” (as Kirschenbaum puts it) as well as critique the author’s offhanded, insensitive, and tactless disregard for contingent faculty everywhere, with broad sweeping generalization. Yet the striking dynamic of the public conversation (many of the articles are published on The Chronicle) demonstrates the speed and accessibility of ‘cutting edge’ discussions, that outpace the past structures of publishing, academic or otherwise.

My past views connect more with what Price and Siemens describe as ( Digital Humanities has many “Open Source” attributes emerging from the pro-freedom-of-information camp, which is freeingly open and collaborative, or as they put it “a culture of sharing and exchange.” There is also an undercurrent of danger however, as the internet began with Web 1.0 and some element of “the guardedness so often seen in the academy” as computers can be difficult, or as McCann describes, “extremely ‘complex,’ and too much freedom of information can backfire, as demonstrated by the NSA. In short, the internet has always been a scary place, and the “last mile problem” expanded internet access from telephone poles into our pockets, where anyone with the know-how, can record another’s every word.

The future is far more challenging to picture. The sheer vast potential in what “could be” depends mostly upon what we do with emerging technologies. For every standardized test created, there is a student googling (researching?) a video game strategy (problem solving?) and applying their learning in a fluid and dynamic setting, with engagement-by-definition. I hesitate to try imagining what the future category of Digital Humanities might include, because we don’t have enough information yet, for one thing. There is still much growing left for the internet do to.

As described in Humanities to Digital Humanities: “Digital Humanities… envisages the present era as one of exceptional promise for the renewal of humanistic scholarship and sets out to demonstrate the contributions of contemporary humanities scholarship to new modes of knowledge formation enabled by networked, digital environments.”

I appreciate the optimistic, idealistic view. It’s hard to imagine a more purely democratic interface than ease-of-self-publishing, especially in the historic context of the Printing Press replacing scribes. One of the challenges is merely the learning curve, as new technologies, platforms, operating systems, and Worlds replace the obsolete. But it happens so fast!

To return to video games, Pong in the 80s to 8-bit Nintendo of the 90s to PlayStation reinventions, to the now-dinosaur World of Warcraft – “what’s next?” is hard to imagine. The genre of Science Fiction is gradually eroding, as technology catches up to make even the most outlandish ideas into a possible reality. We are proceeding now into a user-generated-content filled future, with more application and hands-on applied learning, than the classic/historic heavy-study-of-theory-before-practice model with emphasis on rote memorization.

Part of the fun is in expecting the unexpected. It is impossible to know how tools will be refashioned or repurposed in the future, perhaps to accomplish goals we cannot presently foresee. Even cellphones are no longer “phones” perse, they are more mobile-computers with additional phone functionality.


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