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Digital Humanities 2010 Keynote….and the purpose of this blog

I think this blog, and my associated Twitter account that I’ve added to the sidebar for all those non-twitterers out there,  is finding its focus. Unlike my previous blog and websites, which were focused towards the international digital humanities community, I’d like this one to provide digital humanities news for busy New Zealand humanities scholars who don’t have the time – or perhaps the inclination – to keep up with developments in this emerging field. So no polemics (if I can help it), just a series of posts to keep people up to date.

The link below is a good place to start if you’re vaguely interested in the Digital Humanities but don’t know where to start, or are just after a general introduction. It’s Melissa Terras’s keynote at the recent DH2010 conference, held in London from 7th to 10th July this year. One of the most engaging things about Melissa’s address is her honesty. She points out the problems facing the field: lack of funding, lack of recognition within universities, low quality websites that do nothing to present the field in a good light, and a general lack of definition. She also challenges those of us who profess to be ‘digital humanists’ to find a definition of the field that works for us, so that colleagues aren’t left confused when they ask us that very simple question, “So what are the Digital Humanities?”. I think I’m up to the challenge:

“The digital humanities is an emerging field that grew out of the much older humanities computing tradition. It began in earnest during the 1990s, when the first World Wide Web browsers like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator emerged. It has been described as an ‘enabling’ discipline, in that practitioners aim to facilitate the movement of the humanist tradition into the online world. To this end, the discipline is evolving a collaborative and educative focus and is strongly oriented towards the open access movement. Many practitioners see it as their role to help more traditionally-focused colleagues get the most out of the online world even if they would rather not spend a lot of time learning all the skills required to produce online content. To some degree because of a bias in the tenure review process towards non-digital content, but also due to a genuine love of ‘analog’ scholarship, the vast majority of digital humanists continue to produce traditional content in the form of scholarly articles and monographs. Their primary motivation, however, is the creation of high quality digital products that will add to global scholarly output and prompt a rejuvenation of the humanist tradition. The nascent nature of the discipline is such that no significant body of theory or method has as yet appeared. The focus thus far has been on content development and the parallel development of a global institutional framework. Development of a coherent body of theory and method is complicated by the inter-disciplinary nature of the undertaking. History, literature, philosophy and so forth all have their own strong sub-disciplinary strains within the digital humanities, and there is an inevitably strong relationship with computer science and the history of technology. That noted, there are several clearly emerging ‘areas of practice’ that digital humanists might focus on: standards and text encoding; content development; open access publishing; teaching students and providing workshops for colleagues; repository and database development; tool development; project management; web development; infrastructure development; and more traditional humanities computing involving high-powered super and grid computers. Many digital humanities projects will see one person taking on several of these roles at once, but greater specialization can be expected as the field develops. The relatively fluid nature of the field and its emergence alongside the World Wide Web has led the discipline to make considerable use of ‘Web 2.0′ virtualmachines like personal blogs and social networking virtualmachines (especially Twitter) to discuss emerging trends and potential new areas of theory, method and content development”.

Click on the image below to watch a video of Melissa Terras’s keynote. [UPDATE: This link no longer works. If anyone knows of an online copy of the lecture please let me know].

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Dr. James Smithies

Director | King’s Digital Lab

King's College London

Strand | London WC2R 2LS

Blog Categories
Digital Humanities | History