Confused by Digital Humanities?

So this post about the LBSC 751 readings is late because I wanted to take time to read the essay which I did not get to before class (and turned out to be the most interesting one in class discussion). The article is Christine Borgman's (2009) "The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities." While the article is intended to be a kick in the pants to humanities scholars to get on the digital bandwagon, I found it comforting. I have been drawn to the digital humanities by a desire to see more special collection / cultural heritage materials digitized in a way that will increase their access and use for educational purposes. However over the last year much of the most current talk about DH that I encountered seemed to emphasize DH scholarship for the purpose of narrow areas of study within the humanities and internet applications that didn't appear readily applicable to other projects. It seemed to me that the field was focusing on spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money and creating personal projects that didn't really benefit world citizens. Niche projects and applications seemed the norm and I found that disillusioning. I was beginning to think that I had misunderstood DH and that it was just more ivory-tower, navel gazing. Something that I honestly find a little sickening. Why do humanities scholars insist on talking to each other rather than the general public?

Borgman's article was comforting because she argued for DH projects to capitalize on their ability to make cultural heritage resources more widely available for "teaching, research, and outreach." This is exactly how I want to be involved in DH. She broke down the the main digital scholarship interests (scale, language & communication, space & time, and social networking) in a way which showed their applicability to multiple data sets and to teaching and learning. Borgman also spoke about DH projects being created with "K to grey" (heart this phrase) in mind. That way undergraduates would arrive at University with exposure to DH projects and would already know how to successfully search for and use DH in their research. I have read this concept in educational journals but had not seen or heard it from a practicing DH scholar. So seeing it here made me very happy. Even though Borgman's article is several years old and her ideas are not what I hear from DH scholars at UMD, this article reassured me that I didn't misunderstand DH prior to beginning my MLS, nor am I alone in my ideas of what DH scholarship can be.

Finally, I was inspired by Borgman's call for social studies of DH. She wants a study of practitioners as a way to better understand the field. The field is currently so fractured that such a study would prove very useful as a way to fully understanding the breadth and depth of DH. I wonder what Borgman would think of my current research interest? I came to UMD wanting to write a thesis about the users of DH. What are their uses and needs in terms of cultural heritage content and applications to increase the access and usefulness of such content. I think such a study could prove useful in supplying direction for DH.

Borgman, Christine. (2009). “The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities,” Digital Humanities Quarterly (3)4.

Have a great day and keep smiling! :)