DH201 Post #8: A Whirlwind Tour of the Digital Humanities

For my last post of the quarter, I thought I’d would go through the big topics that we’ve covered in class and pull comments from all our blog posts that illustrate what we’ve learned on the topics. As some of the comments will show, a lot of what we’ve learned is that we’re still awfully confused and divided on this thing called the “digital humanities”. Nonetheless, I’m pleasantly surprised at the sheer amount of thoughts 10+ DH201 students have put down on paper over an 8-week period. These thoughts range from informative to emotive, subsume moments of epiphanies and utter confusion, and include happy expressions at learning and incredible frustrations born of disagreements.

  • On digital humanities:

How do practitioners of digital humanities characterize their field? Who are the people engaged in digital humanities scholarship? Who cares to know? What purpose does a definition serve?

So, almost ten weeks into my digital humanities course and I am still not 100% sure of what that means. But, if I have understood the messages behind digital humanities then it is alright that I am not 100% sure of the definition.

As a scholar that studies items of popular culture and literature, I was happy to read that because DH seeks to include a larger audience and engage our student, it “gladly flirts with the scandal of entertainment as scholarship, scholarship as entertainment” (5). Popular culture and scholarship as entertainment is appealing to students, instructors and educates the public through richly constructed tools that emerge from an academic setting.

  • On topic modeling

I still don’t know exactly how topic modeling works, but I don’t think that matters.

Topic Modeling this week really floored me. Looking at the pages of .html output and trying to make some coherent sense of the strings of words supposedly forming a relevant idea was mind-blowing.

Although MALLET and other LDA-driven topic modeling tools are not entirely easy to understand (though Ted Underwood provides an excellent explanation of LDA-based topic modeling for non-mathematicians), they are not black boxes — the software is open source, and as a software developer, I can assure you that nothing ‘magical’ or unscripted happens when a program is executed.

Although my experience with using this topic modeling tool was often frustrating, and left me with more questions than answers (perhaps that is the point),  I am definitely interested to keep working with it to examine  large bodies of texts related to the arts

  • On Drupal

Already, we saw a tendency in the critiques of digital humanities projects and their websites to view things that are familiar and follow standard web conventions as well designed and, simultaneously, to see things that ignore these conventions as being poorly designed. The conventions and the temptation to use them are powerful, but I think we should resist, unless we decide we want to follow a convention for some reason. I don’t think we should just assume it.

So maybe my anticipation and excitement at “discovering” Drupal blindsided me, but I was caught entirely by surprise when before even becoming familiar with Drupal, leave alone attaining any mastery over it, we instead started talking about how using Drupal limits our ability to do presumably wondrous, creative things.

  • On theory

The major divide, then, seems to be not necessarily one between “theory” and “practice,” but rather a broader argument concerning the use-value of any given project, regardless of format and medium.

The emphasis on creating and the process and creation itself being the theory seems fitting for the digital humanities

Regarding the conversations in many of the articles about the tensions between the ways “Theory” and “theory” are used (or not) in digital humanities: could these tensions be considered paths to new possibilities of engagement for the digital humanities?

  • On history/narrative:

it seems generally accepted that history is a narrative. I don’t have a problem with this statement.

I would take the stance opposite of White’s view presented in the article that “the narrative does not preexist but a narrative is invented and provided by the historian” and say that narratives do exist in history, possibly before the historian has a chance to write them.

We have long since abandoned the ominous God Voice and Big White Men history . . . Data and non-linear history is not new to our profession.

  • On Wikipedia/peer review:

When I taught English composition, I encouraged my students to read Wikipedia to learn about a subject, but I explicitly forbade students from listing a Wikipedia entry in the references of a paper or quoting directly from it.

For years I’ve heard teachers telling students to  find sources for their papers but don’t use Wikipedia. I personally think that’s a disservice and it seems that Roy Rosenzwig and Kathleen Fitzpatrick agree.

Wikipedia does not follow the cannons of the historical profession . . . That said I do believe that Wikipedia has a place in the classroom.  It is an excellent pedagogical tool . . . We need to teach our students how to accurately use, critically critique, and contribute to the information posted on Wikipedia

Quite a flood, isn’t it? Is it really possible that we absorbed this all in 8 weeks? How many of us will be back for seconds?

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