Elizabeth Eisenstein, Professor Emerita of History at the University of Michigan, speaking for the “Books and Beyond” series at the Library of Congress, on the subject of her recent book, Divine Art, Infernal Machine: The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of an Ending (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).
I just learned of this series of webcasts through the sometimes bewildering but not quite endless metonymy of the web. Highly recommended.
Thursday, April 12, 2012, 4:30-6 pm
370 Dwinelle Hall
University of California, Berkeley
An ongoing speaker and workshop series with events once per semester, Computing and the Practice of History explores the possibilities and challenges that come with the use of digital technology in historical and other humanities and social science research. Our speakers will discuss how they use computing technology in their own research, and they are also invited to address larger questions regarding the future of computing in the humanities and social sciences. They are selected to represent a variety of fields and a variety of technologies, so that our series might offer the broadest possible introduction to the ways that historians are using computing technology today.
For the spring iteration of Computing and the Practice of History, our guest is Peter K. Bol, the Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Director of the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University, and our topic is historical geo-spatial information systems (GIS).
Professor Bol is the chair of the China Historical GIS project, and also the China Biographical Database Project, a joint project of Harvard University, Academia Sinica, and Peking University, the goal of which is “to include all significant biographical material from China’s historical record and to make the contents available free of charge, without restriction, for academic use.”
This lecture is free and open to the public, sponsored by the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley, with support from the Mellon Foundation.
Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, 4:30-6 pm
370 Dwinelle Hall
University of California, Berkeley
An ongoing speaker and workshop series with events once per semester, “Computing and the Practice of History” will explore the possibilities and challenges that come with the use of digital technology in historical and other humanities research. Our speakers will discuss how they use computing technology, and they will also be invited to address larger questions regarding the future of computing and humanities research. They are selected to represent a variety of historical fields and a variety of technologies, so that our series might offer the broadest possible introduction to the ways that historians are using computing technology.
The inaugural event will feature Timothy Hitchcock, Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire, and Director of the Old Bailey Online and of London Lives.
Sponsored by the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley, with support from the Mellon Foundation.
2011 July 6
I am very excited to announce that the second annual San Francisco Bay Area THATcamp will be held Oct. 22-23, 2011, at Google’s Crittenden campus. Applications will open later in July.
For announcements and more information, see http://bayarea2011.thatcamp.org/, and follow us on twitter @THATCampSF. For general information on The Humanities and Technology Camp, see the main website, http://thatcamp.org/.
2011 March 21
Google Books is mired in controversy. Nevertheless, Google’s archivists have added another wing to their digital storehouse. And this time, they seem to have done it right.
2011 March 18
In a recent blog post entitled “What is Digital Humanities?,” the director of the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Brett Bobley said that a “precise definition may not really matter,” and that he prefers to focus on “the work we do” instead of what we call it.
But, as a historian of early China, I tend to think that twenty years is not a long time. Moreover, so long as digital humanities continues to be a subject of interest, it will continue to change, and its definition will need periodic reappraisals. I don’t expect that digital humanities will disappear, so I think that the question will remain pertinent for a very long time. To put the issue another way: nearly two and a half millennia after Herodotus of Halicarnassus produced his famous Histories, the historian E.H. Carr stood in front of a group of scholars and students at Cambridge University and asked What is History? Nobody thought that was a silly question.
It is not my intent here to denigrate the accomplishments and contributions of people who have been working in this new field since its inception; as a newcomer to digital humanities, I owe them much. But I do want to emphasize this: the question ‘what is the digital humanities?’ might be merely academic, but it is certainly not moot.
In any case, despite some apparent reservations, Kirschenbaum does offer an answer. He begins with Wikipedia’s surprisingly insightful definition:
I agree with Kirschenbaum that this is a good working definition. It is also detailed, so I want to highlight one part of that definition which I think is especially useful—namely, that digital humanities is “concerned with the intersection of computing and the discipline of the humanities.” This statement encapsulates an idea of digital humanities that many people share.
Kirschenbaum’s article continues by mentioning another aspect to digital humanites, one that is less often discussed:
And he goes on to say that digital humanities has become “something like a social movement” (4). To demonstrate this point, he mentions projects such as the Text Encoding Initiative, groups such as the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organizations, and institutions such as Bobley’s office at the NEH. At this point, thinking that any academic field or discipline has projects and institutions, we might be inclined to ask whether digital humanities is different. Or, to put it another way, what makes digital humanities a “movement” in a way that a discipline like history is not? How might we characterize this movement?
Kirschenbaum only touches on this issue. He mentions that there is “an unusually strong sense of community and common purpose, manifested, for example, in events such as the Day of Digital Humanities” (4). But he does not characterize the movement. His point has larger implications, so I want to try to expand on it. In order to illustrate what sort of movement digital humanities is, I want to consider a couple of projects that exemplify the social aspects of digital humanities.
Among academics, self-styled DHers are among the most likely to support (or even know about) the Creative Commons licensing project. The Creative Commons organization has outlined a set of copyright licenses for people, usually self-publishers, who wish to allow their work to be shared and copied more liberally than it would be under the usual ‘all rights reserved’ dictum of American copyright law.
In this statement there is a clear and necessary relationship between the “full potential” of the internet and the free exchange of ideas. In other words, the ideal is open-source. And, as a general rule, people in the digital humanities share information freely, collaborate eagerly, and laud the potential of computing technology to increase access to humanities resources. Digital humanities is an open-source movement.
Another fine example of digital humanities culture is The Humanities and Technology Camp (ThatCamp), organized by the Center for Humanities and New Media, George Mason University.
Today is the third annual “Day of Digital Humanities” event, organized by the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR) at the University of Alberta. We have seen how Bobley suggests that digital humanities is what digital humanities people do. Day of DH is addressing this issue:
For Day of DH, participants blog, twitter, and otherwise discuss their activities on the same day, and this information will be compiled and published together.
In preparation for this event, participants were asked to provide a definition of digital humanities. TAPoR compiled these answers and posted them online.
So what, after all, is digital humanities? One major implication of Kirschenbaum’s piece is that digital humanities is more than an academic field or a technical enterprise, more than a research methodology or a scholarly discipline, it is a social movement. And, as we can see from the Creative Commons and ThatCamp projects, the movement is open-source and democratic. So, I would define digital humanities like this: it is a democratic and open-source social movement at the intersection of humanities research and computing technology.
At least for the people at the heart of the field, I think digital humanities is in fact this sort of social movement. However, I worry that we might be missing something important when we define digital humanities in this way, since people who are not involved in the social and political aspects of digital humanities still use its tools in their research. So, in part two of this essay, I will explore the question from another angle—by looking not at the core, but at the margins of the field, where digital technology meets the analog humanities researcher.
I wish my library had that scanner.
2011 Feb. 26
Thanks to the wonderfully austere tastes of Andrew Simone, this page now has a new look; I’ve used a slightly modified version of his very clean Just Enough is More template.
I am captivated by the tattered edges. These cracked pages were not some investor’s rare-books display. They were gathered by someone who longed not to own but to know; they were assembled to be used, perused, and torn apart. And this is beautiful.