The meteor has struck. The dust is in the air. Let’s leave the dinosaurs to their fate and concentrate on the mammals: Notes on the New Humanities.Posted: April 5, 2013
The abstract for my talk tomorrow at Digging the Digital 2013 in at the University of Alberta in Edmonton tomorrow.
bqq. The digital humanities are not some flashy new theory that might go out of fashion. At this point, the digital humanities are The Thing. There’s no Next about it. And it won’t be long until the digital humanities are, quite simply, “the humanities” (Pannapacker 2011).
It is a truism to note that the definition and scope of the Digital Humanities has been the object of considerable discussion in recent years. Who’s in? Who’s out? Do you have to code? Must you read from a distance? Is DH under theorised? Overly popular with funders? A threat or an opportunity to renew the “old” humanities?
In my view, this focus on DH as a (sub-)discipline of the larger Humanities is unfortunate. Because while I have gradually come to believe that there is such a thing as the Digital Humanities (in the same way that there are other (sub-)disciplinary specialisations like Post-Colonial Theory or Medieval Studies), I have also come to believe that our focus on defining what makes it different is preventing us from paying attention to what is really important about the widespread introduction of computation into humanistic study over the last few years: the extent to which technology is changing the way we do everything else.
In this paper, I would like to look at how digital technologies are fundamentally changing the way Humanists—of all persuasions and sub-disciplines—are conducting their day-to-day business. How they are changing the way we teach, the way we communicate, interact with colleagues and the public, and judge our relative success. In many cases, these changes are so new that our discipline as a whole has, by-and-large, yet to grasp fully the extent to which they have already occurred. In other cases, our ability to benefit from changes that have been recognised is hindered by generational resistance, institutional inertia, and a tendency to see anything digital as belonging to the DH “fad.”
This is a problem we must address. An Open Access, Open Source, social web is an internet that presents Humanists of all stripes with remarkable opportunities: to engage with far larger audiences, to work with a far wider variety of cultural and historical material, and to develop forms of communication and publication that are far better suited to the type of research and teaching we have always done. Our unwillingness to embrace more fully the opportunities before us and develop the skills and knowledge necessary to lead in their development is a terrible missed opportunity.
As my title suggests, I also believe it is a generational problem: the technology that offers us the greatest opportunities has developed far faster than we have been able to integrate it into our disciplinary training. Few Associate Professors have PhDs that are newer than the popular recognition of the most significant Web 2.0 applications; many of our senior faculty began graduate school before the development of the World Wide Web. The only way forward, I argue, is for the dinosaurs to recognise that their days are numbered and to develop a new training model that prepares our students for the mammalian world they are going to inherit.