It’s only my second day as a Digital Scholarship Summer Intern and already I’m wishing that I could go back to college. Or rather, I feel that I somehow haven’t quite graduated yet—after all, I am still here, surrounded by Amherst’s verdant June beauty that so quickly makes one forget the pain and stress of semesters past—and that this summer of exploration in digital humanities scholarship is just the natural continuation of the education I pursued during my past four years at this college.
Because although it’s only my second day as a Digital Scholarship Summer Intern, from what little two-day introductory exploration I’ve done in the field of digital humanities (DH), studying and working in this field already feels so important and so relevant to the liberal arts education I spent four years working towards that I can’t believe I wasn’t more exposed to it during that time. At this point, it’s still difficult for me to pin down exactly what it is about DH that excites me so much intellectually.
Part of this difficulty stems from my struggle to define what exactly DH is—a question that the DH community itself still wrestles with. Answers from those who work within the community (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/40) range from exhaustively descriptive—”Digital Humanities is the integration of sophisticated, empirical techniques utilizing tools and technologies typically associated with practical sciences into the study of traditional humanities questions,” via Elijah Meeks of Stanford University—to pithy—”A term of tactical convenience,” says Matthew Kirschenbaum of the University of Maryland.
For me, Ed Finn (Stanford University) has produced the most helpful and intriguing definition for me so far:
For now, digital humanities defines the overlap between humanities research and digital tools. But the humanities are the study of cultural life, and our cultural life will soon be inextricably bound up with digital media.
DH both excites me and intimidates me a little bit: it feels like a challenge. As an avid childhood reader turned English major, I can get 100% behind the “h” of DH, but am a bit unsure of the “d.” My love for the traditional analogue liberal arts entirely took over my education, and I have no experience with coding, web design, or many of the other digital skills that seem to be so ubiquitous in the DH community.
But I’m only a semi-Luddite in practice, not in theory, and while it’s an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling to admit that I’m nearly illiterate in a certain field, I also want to use this summer as a continuing education experience—not because I’m afraid of falling “behind with the times” or as a way of preparing for the supplanting of the analogue humanities by digital technologies, but because I truly see so much potential that these digital tools offer in examining texts (and a variety of other resources) from new perspectives. In a concrete, practical sense, I would like to walk away from this summer with some applicable new skills. I’d like to be less intimidated and unsure of myself when working with digital tools in general, and I’d like to have not just the vocabulary to build further on these skills but the confidence and drive to do so. I’m not sold that DH is the savior of the humanities, or that the humanities need saving, but I am open to the possibility that my study of the humanities (and the way I communicate it to others) can be enriched by the tools that DH has to offer.
If I can say one thing for certain about DH, it is that it is constantly moving, evolving, in flux. It began as a set of methodologies but became a community, one that is using innovative digital technology not only to address questions within the humanities but also turning the tradition of humanistic inquiry around to examine the technology that suffuses our lives.
Oddly, I believe that this hits close to the mark of what compels and fascinates me about DH: it allows me a framework to both utilize and critique the increasingly digitized world, and it assures me that despite what cynics and “doomsday”-ers may cry, this burgeoning world is not antithetical to or excluded from the range of humanistic inquiry that I’ve learned of (and learned to love) through the liberal arts.