Reply To: Theorizing the Digital Humanities

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Becky Jenkins

If our peers in the DH are “scholarly editors, literary critics, librarians, academic computing staff, historians, archaeologists, and classicists,” I believe it’s their duty, as is with any scholar, to progress their field by using any skills they can apply. Ramsay and Rockwell point to digital libraries, the “deep encoding” of literary text, 3-D models of Roman ruins, linguistic advancements, instructional applications and the writing of software that solve academic work flow problems as examples of exactly how this process should be (and is) working. I think that any pursuit, traditional or cutting-edge, that has as a goal the advancement of scholarly knowledge should be considered an applied scholarship.

Manovich says (something to the effect of) “a prototype is a theory. Stop apologizing for your prototypes.” A decent pop culture example of this (just go with me here!) is Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy. In the beginning, Marty (Michael J. Fox’s character) goes back to the 1950’s to tell Doc Brown that his “theory” finally worked, that he is there from the future. Doc Brown is clearly an educated man, and uses his knowledge of many fields – physics, engineering, chemistry, etc. – to build a revolutionary machine that would, if a reality, change the world. Not only would a DeLorean Time Machine super cool, it would be ground-breaking to the fields of physics, engineering, chemistry, etc. His work would advance scholarship in each of these fields – scholars would be replicating and improving his work for years to come. I think this is parallel to the work that Digital Humanists are doing, minus the time travel. (Sadly.) Just because Doc Brown didn’t conduct his work in a traditional university research lab, it doesn’t make his work any less radical. Just because Digital Humanists are moving away from the traditional book or journal format for advancing scholarship doesn’t mean that it’s any less valuable as scholarship. In fact, like Doc Brown, I think much of the work that is happening in DH is just that – radical, innovative, and a breath of fresh air for the humanities in general.

I would argue the same point for the questions that Dr. Schocket is asking – Is editing scholarship? Is organizing a conference scholarship? You’ve already heard my opinion on the “traditional” formation of theories: if Doc Brown can do it, so can we. Organizing conferences brings together scholars and advances scholarship by creating a space for conversation. By my original definition (a duty to progress a field with any skills available), organization of conferences or even editing work to improve it should be considered scholarship. If we limit the definition of scholarship to strictly articles and books, we’re missing out of a lot of opportunities for learning and advancement in every field.

I also agree with the idea that “we must shift to a new idea of digital scholarship that’s made, something that’s useable, something that is transformed by the digital.” Ramsay and Rockwell’s example of creating 3-D models of Roman ruins, for example, fits all of these criteria – it’s useful and advances scholarship because it allows researchers access to the ruins in new ways. New insights are bound to be born of the 3-D model creation. In addition, scholarship in computing and modeling were probably advanced in some ways, too. Digital humanities – always willing to lend an interdisciplinary hand.

  • This reply was modified 10 years, 4 months ago by Becky Jenkins.