Digital Humanities

Introduction to the Digital.

1. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 2):

‘…is the term digital humanities a redundancy? That is, are the humanities, like all contemporary scientific research and teaching, already digital to all important extents and purposes? Or – an even more vexed question for professional humanists – has the arrival of the digital forever changed the way humanists work, in the way they gather data and evidence or even in the very questions that humanists and the humanistic disciplines are now capable of posing? Is technology determinative? What role does the solitary scholar – the centuries-old model of the humanists since Petrarch – have in a digital environment that is increasingly collaborative, data-driven, report-oriented, ephemeral, “social” and unmediated?’

2. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 3):

‘The array of platforms, applications, techniques and tools, all developed under the rubric of “digital,” have been dramatically changing the way that humanists work, how they do research, gather information, organize, analyze, and interpret it and disseminate findings. How does the digital affect this basic work? While some believe that the digital is fundamentally changing the work of the humanist, others continue to believe that the digital merely helps humanists to work better. Some even believe that the digital may be undermining the fundamental nature of this work.’

3. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 12):

‘In 1964, sponsored in part by the American Council of Learned Societies, the famed Commission on the Humanities…could define the humanities as follows:

“The humanities may be regarded as a body of knowledge and insight, as modes of expression, as a program for education, as an underlying attitude toward life. The body of knowledge is usually taken to include the study of history, literature, the arts, religion, and philosophy. The fine and the performing arts are modes of expressing thoughts and feelings visually, verbally, and aurally. The method of education is one based on the liberal tradition we inherit from classical antiquity. The attitude toward life centers on concern for the human individual: for his emotional development, for his moral, religious, and aesthetic ideas, and for his goals — including in particular his growth as a rational being and a responsible member of his community.”‘

4a. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 67-69):

‘In the case of Antonello da Messina this [=the toolset of the humanist] expands out in a grand contextualization of the scholar within a far broader environment: St. Jerome set amid the sacred space of the Church. Finally we might also think of the tools as the public aggregations that humanists use: the archive or library, the collection of objects, whether in a cabinet of curiosities or a gallery of drawings, prints, paintings, or sculpture…all these provide the immaterial, performative and material base for humanistic work.

At the same time, everything from the scholar’s desk and shelves, study, studio, rehearsal and performance space, lecture halls, campuses, research institutes and convention halls can also legitimately be considered environments. Only most recently with the digital has this kit of tools begun to change rapidly and fundamentally. Yet in many ways these new digital tools carry on, in analogous ways, the same functions of traditional humanities. We are only now discovering and analyzing how these new digital tools may be transforming these methods and this basic work. Is the very computer upon which humanists rely so heavily still a tool, something akin to their medieval writing tablets? Or has it become an environment, its screen no longer a blanket sheet on which to write but a window or portal into the entire digital realm, which acts upon the humanist as much as or much more than she acts upon it?’

4b. Antonello da Messina, “Saint Jerome in His Study” (c. 1475). Image: The National Gallery.


5. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (2000: 23):

‘The desktop metaphor, which has replaced the wholly textual command-line interface, is supposed to assimilate the computer to the physical desktop and to the materials (file folders, sheets of paper, inbox, trash basket, etc.) familiar to office workers. The mouse and the pen-based interface allow the user the immediacy of touching, dragging, and manipulating visually attractive ideograms. Immediacy is supposed to make this computer interface “natural” rather than arbitrary… What designers often say they want is an “interfaceless” interface, in which there will be no recognizable electronic tools — no buttons, windows, scroll bars, or even icons as such. Instead the user will move through the space interacting with the objects ‘naturally’, as she does in the physical world. Virtual reality, three-dimensional graphics, and graphical interface design are all seeking to make digital technology “transparent.”‘

6. Sarah Bond (@sarahebond), “Mapping and Teaching the Classical World,” Society for Classical Studies Blog (Jan. 16 2017).

‘In Roman Gaul, a large map of the known world stood on display at the school of rhetoric at Augustodunum (modern Autun). Around 300 C.E., when the school had fallen into disrepair, a man named Eumenius made a pitch to the Roman governor to allow him to rebuild the structure with his own money. He put particular emphasis on the importance of the map:

“In [the school’s] porticoes let the young men see and examine daily every land and all the seas and whatever cities, peoples, nations, our most invincible rulers either restore by affection or conquer by valor or restrain by fear. [They can] learn more clearly with their eyes what they comprehend less readily by their ears…” (Eum. Pan. Lat. XI.20, trans. Talbert).”

It was as clear to Eumenius as it is to modern teachers that students respond well to visual aids. Then as now, students more easily understand the world, their studies, and their place within the cosmos with the help of a good map.’

Augustodunum as visualized by the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo. Tiles by AWMC-UNC (CC)


7. Mona Chalabi (@MonaChalabi) interviewed by It’s Nice That (March 8 2018): ‘“If it’s about farts, draw a butt for god’s sakes”: Mona Chalabi tells us how to illustrate data.’

‘I was inspired by the fact that I was bored out of my tiny mind in a dead end job. My desk was in a little booth so it was easy to doodle discreetly. Slowly though, when people started to respond to my early work, I found it enormously encouraging that there was another way of doing data visualisation — one that would reach more people without compromising on precision. A big part of my philosophy is that computer-generated images overstate certainty, my hand-drawn graphics show the real margin of error in the numbers while reminding people that a human was responsible for the data gathering and analysis… Also, hand-drawing isn’t always slower. If there’s a sudden news event, sometimes I can really quickly draw something and snap it – although it might look shoddy af, it’s clear it was made in a rush. It’s transparent about its lack of certainty.’

8. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 69):

‘Scholars usually date the beginnings of this collaboration [=between humanities scholars and computer scientists] to 1949 when Thomas J. Watson helped Roberto Busa with tools for indexing the works of Thomas Aquinas. The tools that have been developed since that time have helped scholars to collect material, encode it, study it with text mining and data analysis, map it using anything from Google Maps to geographic information systems (GIS), visualize it — sometimes using video, 3D, or virtual reality recreations — create digital archives, incorporate and analyze sound — anything from speech to music to noise. All these tools help with organizing and analyzing and thus facilitate the real work of the humanist, which, as noted, is to interpret the evidence of human lives, thoughts, and actions.’



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