By Desi Gonzalez on October 21, 2014
I recently celebrated my one-year-anniversary as the author of h+d insights, HyperStudio’s weekly newsletter that shares the latest news, projects, resources, and fellowship and conference opportunities related to the intersection of technology and the humanities. (Subscribe here to stay in the loop!) That’s 52 weeks of combing through blogs, tweets, videos, slide shares, and news articles to find the most pressing issues in the field of digital humanities.
This responsibility (and privilege) has afforded me a unique perspective on DH: what’s happening to the field, what the current controversies are, and where the most exciting and cutting edge work is happening. Here, I highlight a few trends I’ve noticed over the past year.
1. What happens in the world affects digital humanities. While humanists often study the past and its artifacts, current events influence the work we do all the time. In April, net neutrality—the idea that Internet service providers and the government should allow equal access to all content and applications, without favoring specific products or websites—was threatened in the U.S. with the announcement that the Federal Communications Commission was considering changes its policies. Digital humanists immediately responded, recognizing how net neutrality could affect the type of work—often open-access and done with little funding—we do. Adeline Koh explained the implications: “Imagine this: an Internet where you can access Apple.com in a fraction of a heartbeat, but a non-profit activist website would take five minutes to load.” A group of leaders in DH penned an open letter urging the FCC to protect “the fundamental character of the open, non-discriminatory, creative, and competitive Internet.” Hybrid Pedagogy hosted a discussion on the implications of net neutrality for educators and learners, which turned out to be a riveting discussion.
Others are recognizing the importance of creating digital archives of major events happening now so that scholars may be able to use them in the future. For example, Ed Summers advocated for the documentation of the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri. He wrote a blog post sharing the process he used to archive tweets from the event.
2. Universities are evolving. DH continues to be placed at the center of heated and often hyperbolic debates about the so-called demise of the humanities. No matter which side you land on (or, if you’re like me, if you believe these debates are asking the wrong questions), it is clear that there are certain, very real changes happening in academia right now.
The Modern Language Association undertook the daunting task of producing a comprehensive report on the current state of doctoral education in the humanities. The report’s executive summary offers many recommendations, including redesigning the doctoral program to fit with “the evolving character of our fields,” providing support and training for technology work, and reimagining what a dissertation might look like. (In fact, a few months prior Cathy Davidson had reflected on what it means to write a digital dissertation.)
And speaking of dissertations, Mark Sample’s Disembargo project challenges the concept of the academic embargo, in which dissertations are withheld from being circulated digitally for up to six years. Every ten minutes, a character from his dissertation manuscript is added to the project website—published under a Creative Commons license—at “an excruciating pace that dramatizes the silence of an embargo.”
Finally, more and more scholars are opting for #altac (alternative academic) and #postac (post-academic) careers—paths outside of the traditional tenure-track route, which is increasingly becoming more untenable. Sarah Werner considered the relationship between #altac work and gender and shared her advice on pursuing an untraditional career.
3. Digital humanities is happening in the public sphere. As the #altac movement shows, digital humanities is often happening outside of the university. Crowdsourcing continues to be a popular strategy to involve the public in the development and execution of DH projects. Letters of 1916, for example, recently celebrated its first anniversary. Within the past year, families (in addition to cultural institutions, libraries, and archives) have donated letters penned during the Easter Rising in Ireland. Others have considered how the potential of crowdsourcing can be further enhanced: Mia Ridge outlines cultural heritage projects that combine crowdsourced data with machine learning, while Trevor Owens imagines crowdsourcing being used in tandem with linked open data.
Additionally, museums, archives, and libraries outside of academia are spearheading some exciting technology initiatives. Open data from museums and libraries allows broad audiences to do DH in their own homes. Nina Simon highlighted some of the data visualization projects that resulted from the Tate releasing an API of its collection. A consortium of museums involved in the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative are reimagining what art publications look like in the 21st century. The Walker Art Center, for example, challenges the notion of what is a page in the digital age.
The above are just a handful of the ideas and projects flowing through the digital humanities community. A blog post can’t do justice to all of the fantastic work being done in the field; to keep up with the latest, I recommend that you follow the #DH hashtag on Twitter and subscribe to h+d insights. I’m excited to see how the next year shapes up!
Image: visualization of the digital humanities community on Twitter by Martin Grandjean (source)