Digital Humanities: Do They Belong In the English Department and What Can They (It) Do?

Digital English Department?The essays and blogs in the first section of Debates in Digital Humanities seem to encapsulate similarly themed ideas regarding Digital Humanities. All articles highlight how new the field is and how confused modern scholars become at conferences over not only what exactly the academic study is, but which types of media live under this rubric? As a member of both the tech savvy millennial generation and of the CGU English department I particularly enjoyed the essay “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” I believe this essay addresses relevant questions about this new field that I hear scholars around me talking about on a now weekly basis, and it also speaks to the potential power of a system of media that adds a dimension to a visual media, namely social media. The article takes the appropriate example of an academic blog (such as this one) and raises the question of “collaborative scholarship.” In this part of the essay scholar Matthew Kirschenbaum claims that Digital Humanities today are about “a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks of people that live an active, 24-7 life online.” A few paragraphs before he raises the question of academic blogs and academic Twitter networks as academic tools. Surely these networks have the capacity to produce great academic work. A scholar posts weekly original thought on content and other scholars comment, adding in their thoughts and ideas. Social media facilitating communication and the spread of ideas must have a positive effect on the quality of theory and ideas produced in academia. On the other hand, the article also addresses how public this work has become. Will budding scholars feel comfortable putting free content online that they have worked hard to produce? In a department, such as the English Department, where scholars struggle to publish original work all of the time, and certain areas of study, such as Shakespearean studies, have been published on so many times one is more likely to place in the top 5 of the Iron Man triathlon than publish on “Romeo and Juliet,” will they add to the digital conversation? Will they join these social, academic networks? Another question completely is, what role must Digital Humanities play in the English Department? Perhaps visual presentation of ideas will become more and more relevant. If “Romeo and Juliet” academic theory is presented in a different way, such as digital, visual, multi-media it will produce a greater academic understanding of whatever element of the play is sought to be understood. Reading is only one way to understand something.

Another area of the essay I thought was particularly thought-provoking was the section that explores the Digital Humanities as “a social undertaking.” Kirschenbaum claims, “It [Digital Humanities] harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years.” He then describes key achievements of this community, examples that mainly include Digital Humanities victories of consensuses being reached in adding to the understanding of a complex and new field. This section of the essay caused me to think about my own goals with scholarship and my personal application of scholarship to the world. As a philosophical and practical vegan I try to consider how Social Media and Digital Theory can help me in communicating my cause and specifics of my lifestyle to the masses. I have reasons for making the choices I make and the “social undertaking” of digital culture should expedite and facilitate ideas where needed.

Overall I believe that the Digital Humanities have a role in the English Department (even if no one is 100% sure of what that is yet), and part of this is as Kirshenbaum declared, the English Department’s openness to Cultural Studies which seems to be a necessary linkage for this to work.  Digital Humanities seems to have many potentialed uses that have yet to be completely understood.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing In English Department?” Debates In Digital Humanities ed. Gold, Matthew K. University of Minnesota Press. 2012.

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4 comments
  1. alex said:

    Is there a possible (digital) connection for you between your studies in English and your philosophical and practical veganism?

  2. Yes! In several ways. First it must be established that the digital world and digital culture are pretty new to everyone. It is not just humanities people that are trying to find a role for it. People are still figuring out how to fit this new area of life into their thoughts, beliefs, and ideas, to fully utilize the potential.

    I believe there is linkage between the humanities, english department, and vegan lifestyle as a cause.

    -Digital Humanities could be very much about collaboration on academic ideas in order to develop better, more fluid logic. And it could help an idea/theory gain traction in key digital social circles.
    This strategy could be applied to vegan philosophy. Perhaps there is a new idea or specific cause at hand. E.g. the Blackfish documentary on keeping orcas in captivity. Perhaps I would like to collaborate to create the best article possible to publish on this documentary, or collaborate on research in support of the documentary. (the blend of writing/discussing/philosophizing and animal rights must put this in the humanities, if it were in academia.) Perhaps I already have an article and I would like to share it with people high up in animal rights groups.
    The digital world facilitates collaboration and allows easier access to social circles. This applies to both the English Department and advocates of the vegan lifestyle. It is all about digital culture.

    -I believe academic logic is respected across subcultures so if one can use reason and perhaps theory and apply it to a not so respected subculture/lifestyle (veganism), it brings some of the respect with it.

  3. Also, I think literature and film, and other art, operate with an understanding that human beings are compassionate and strive to understand what has not yet become clear. (Isn’t humanities currently striving to understand digital humanities what we need to do to understand it? According to scholar Lisa Spiro, yes.) I think that blending the English Department, Cultural Studies Department and Veganism in a digital setting is innovative yet relevant.

  4. kfranklk1 said:

    Great post Anastasia! However do you believe the utility of social networks will shift from trivial superficialness usage by the masses to a space of “collaborative scholarship”?

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