Digital What??…

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What exactly the field so named “Digital Humanities” entails and how it is defined, seems to be a topic with varying conclusions. All the pieces we read for this week seemed to have a similar idea of it involving humanities being represented in some sort of technological space, but vary on its specific purposes and properties.  One definition I agreed with the most was included in “Debates in the Digital Humanities” that read:

The digital humanities, also known as humanities computing, is a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities. It is methodological by nature and interdisciplinary in scope. It involves investigation, analysis, synthesis and presentation of information in electronic form. It studies how these media affect the disciplines in which they are used, and what these disciplines have to contribute to our knowledge of computing.

While there’s a lot that I agree with in that statement, there’s also a lot that I don’t like. Starting with the first sentence, right off I want to throw out the term “Humanities Computing” because I don’t find it relevant to our time period. I love, however, the sections describing it as “investigation, analysis, synthesis and presentation of information.” I may steal that later. There’s also one other thing left out of this, and that’s collaboration. One of the biggest parts of Digital Humanities is its communicative qualities and the ability to learn from and teach people all around the world with the touch of a button.

In my personal quest for what “Digital Humanities” means to me, I broke the phrase apart to think about each word. When I sought out the definition of “Digital” I ran into a rather annoying problem. It seems that no one wants to define solely the word “Digital” but rather all sorts of different phrases containing the word (i.e digital divide, digital switch, digits etc.). There were also several that rather than defining just the word, they described what it was related to; which was commonly computers. Yet, as was discussed in our meeting we have all sorts of digital devices these days that I wouldn’t call a computer; like our phones, or tablet devices. Finally, a Miss Margaret Rouse gave me the answer I was looking for in this excerpt: “Digital describes electronic technology that generates, stores, and processes data in terms of two states: positive and non-positive.” Thus, “Digital” means technology that uses data to do something.

My quest for a definition of the word “Humanities” didn’t prove too simple either. There were many that I was thoroughly disappointed in, like this one from WordNet that described it as “studies intended to provide general knowledge and intellectual skills rather than occupational or professional skills.” I’d like to know exactly how effective communication and writing is not a professional skill. I actually ended up being most agreeable with the Dictionary.com’s definition of Humanity as “the quality or condition of being human.” There’s something lovely about how simple that is.

In my opinion, Digital humanities cannot be defined so specifically. I enjoy the idea of the term being so broad it can include almost anyone, if they wanted it too. With this idea in mind, if I combined the two ideas from the information I found I came up with this:

Digital Humanities is the utilization of electronic technology (that is ever evolving) for human expression and collaboration in order to investigate, analyze, synthesize and present information in a form that is easily accessible.

….or to paraphrase: Human expression in an electronic space.

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4 thoughts on “Digital What??…

  1. I’m glad you put the definition you found from dictionary.com defining humanities: it really is the best one I’ve heard so far! I also really love your paraphrased definition of digital humanities: the simplicity makes it so easy to understand.

  2. I really appreciate how you illustrated and “investigated” this definition. You broke it down for us pretty well, and used a lot of sources doing it. Awesome! Now, is that picture of Rob Patz there because of his quizzical look, which ties into your title, or another reason altogether?

  3. “One of the biggest parts of Digital Humanities is its communicative qualities and the ability to learn from and teach people all around the world with the touch of a button.”

    That is my favorite thing about the Internet and Pinterest. Everyday the Internet teaches me something new. Like today I learned to wash my cat in Dawn to kill fleas. Who knew?

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