- Digital_Humanities by Anne Burdick et al.
I begin with a simple directive: Everyone in the academy should read Digital_Humanities, no matter the academic discipline or position, because the book provides a cogent and clear description of a growing area of research, one the authors call “an array of convergent practices” (p. 122) that encompass design, computation, transdisciplinarity, qualitative and quantitative methods, statistical analysis, translation, communication, and a host of other interests and methods that, taken together, have the potential of transforming higher education and, thus, influencing contemporary culture.
Earlier in 2012 we saw the publication of Debates in the Digital Humanities (Gold et al., reviewed in LDR, August 2012) 1, a 500-page anthology of essays by 42 authors who engaged in a lively dialogue of overlapping ideas and congenial disagreements—and so modeled the collegial discourse they promote—on the topic of the ontology, methods and pedagogies of the Digital Humanities. Digital_Humanities, conversely, is a “metalogue,” a dialogue among five scholars collaborating in a short book of 176 pages written in one collective voice (p. 137), with a unified message and a single tone of confident authority. Like the authors of Debates, the authors of Digital_Humanities are among some of the most respected in the Digital Humanities. They represent a wide range of training, including (among other things) design, cultural criticism, media theory and visual culture.
The book is divided into four chapters plus a “short guide.” Chapter 1, “Humanities to Digital Humanities,” lays the groundwork for understanding the qualities and characteristics that digital brings to the humanities. The words in the title Digital_Humanities “yoke[d]” with the underscore encapsulates this union where these “two concepts” combine “in a productive tension, without either becoming absorbed into the other” (p. ix). The addition of the digital to the humanities has been important for the humanities, a field under attack for a perceived lack of relevance to everyday life, where humanistic knowledge has become woefully undervalued. As the authors tell us, their book takes a “different view.” For them, “the present era [is] one of exceptional promise for the renewal of humanistic scholarship and [their book] sets out to demonstrate the contributions of contemporary humanities scholarship to new modes of knowledge formation enabled by networked, digital environments” (p. 7). Digital Humanities endeavors include designing; computational activities; curation, analysis, editing and modeling; and prototyping and versioning. For scholars laboring in academic programs that do not count production as research, this chapter provides good information that can be consulted for updating one’s department’s tenure and promotions guidelines.
Chapter 2, “Emerging Methods and Genres,” gets to the nuts and bolts of Digital Humanities research—specifically, the 15 different methods and types that the authors recognize as within the purview of the Digital Humanities. The information provided is, as the authors say, a “field map of the experimental forms and different kinds of ‘knowledge models’ emerging in the Digital Humanities.” These models include “enhanced critical curation”; “augmented editions and fluid textuality”; “scale”; “conjunctions of distant/close, macros/micro, surface/depth”; “cultural analytics, aggregation, and data-mining”; “visualization”; “locative investigation and thick mapping”; “animated archive”; “distributed knowledge production and performative access”; “humanities gaming”; “code, software, and platform studies”; “the database document and documentary”; “repurposable intellectual content and remix culture”; “systematic integration and pervasive infrastructure”; and “ubiquitous scholarship” (p. 31). Also included in Chapter 2 is “A Portfolio of Case Studies”—that is, five different examples of Digital Humanities projects. The first is a “cartographic project” involving “thick mapping,” “text analysis,” “data-mining,” and “a large corpus of natural language processing” (p. 61). Second is an “expanded publication of a textual corpus of papyrus fragments for the Alexandria Library” (pp. 64–65). Third is a “critical curation” project involving Jewish ritual objects (pp. 66–67). The fourth case study utilizes technology associated with an “online multi-player game” to produce a repository of artifacts from an Afghan refugee camp aimed at preserving culture and building community (pp. 68–69). The final...