Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beyond Digital Humanities

This year, the year-long Mellon Seminar at UCLA is asking "What Is(n't) Digital Humanities?" It is a question that many others are also apparently asking, including panelists in "American Studies at the Digital Crossroads" at the annual meeting of the ASA.

Randy Bass of the Crossroads website at Georgetown showed the work of his colleague and collaborator Tim Powell, while describing how the project was founded in 1995 with FIPSE money, originally as a Gopher site before the superiority of the World Wide Web as a way to reach large audiences became apparent. Their ambitions were to collect and post a whole range of materials that represented an entire field and establish a web presence suitable for "inquiry-based" and "constructivist" pedagogies. He noted how these projects can defy Library of Congress categorizations, while exploring cultural epistemology, as in the case of Powell's web work that uses the Ojibwe seven sacred directions.

People from the Keywords for American Studies showed a number of collaborative online writing tools, techniques, projects, and products that included their Wiki for the Keywords Collaboratory. For this group the digital humanities is about opening up education and reexamining the ownership of course content and pedagogical materials, so that there is a "power shift in information, learning, and knowledge work." They acknowledge borrowing from the ideas of Cathy Davidson of HASTAC, so that the emphasis becomes collaboration by difference and participatory learning.oundtable to map and push forward digital forms of research, teaching, and engagement for thinking "critically and creatively about what counts as teaching and research."

They described three general approaches in the current keywords oeuvre: 1) synthetic essays that track and narrate a particular keyword’s usage, 2) multi-layered essays that parse keyword usage across the web, and 3) archives of course texts paired with student analysis, which bring out the "public character of the classroom" and encourage students to "revise and extend one another’s work."

As a compositionist, the fact they instructors can track that process of production and encourage students to explain the reasons for choices, so that they are forced into awareness of process of production of knowledge seemed particularly promising as a mode of writing instruction that allows for possibilities that students’ text will be read beyond a narrow readership of instructors. There are, of course, pitfalls, particularly since -- as the panelists noted -- there is not much "cross-wiki communication yet." Given the fact that many students improperly appropriate student work on the web and repurpose it for their own assignments in ways that violate academic honesty policies, I think there may also be other unintended consequences.

Tara McPherson
followed up by reminding the audience that there has been a long tradition of humanities computing igital humanities that involves the NEH, the Mellon foundation and early adopters in the newer disciplines of media studies, American studies, and digital studies who have grappled with the epistemelogical, ethical, and phenomenological effects of computational media and an engagement with "visual and aural culture" and "embodiment, emotions, and affect." For McPherson this shift represents "new modes of collection" that transforms the humanities scholar into a content-provider and transforms existing narrative structures, aesthetic norms, and even politics, as in the case of "Public Secrets" by Sharon Daniel, which McPherson showed. When interviewed by N. Katherine Hayles, Daniel described this work as both a "database aesthetics" that was also an "aesthetics of humanity" expressed by multiple voices.

She argued that sites like Vectors could provide "powerful simulations" that "can be richly annotated" and even "played like a videogame" in texts that can me "multiple, associative, and even digressive." McPherson championed "database thinking" and its new genres of argument that might represent a reconfiguration of understanding of technology's role. As she said, she hopes to no longer use the phrase "digital humanities," since one wouldn’t want to say that one works in the "print humanities."

During the respondent's talk, images from Silcon Valley History looped on the screen. In the comment period that followed others pointed to the International Journal of Learning and Media as a site for similar "transitional objects."

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home