Decoding DigiHumanities: March Wrap-Up

I attended my first meeting of Decoding Digital Humanities Bloomington.  The theme was “building things.”  Specifically, we debated whether digital humanists should know how to code.   In an earlier post, I blogged about my preparation for the meeting (short summaries of the readings, some brief thoughts, and a few questions).

The meeting was held last week, and as things were winding down, I was charged with writing a wrap-up of the group’s discussion from my point-of-view. You’ll see that my wrap-up reflects changes in my initial thoughts about the readings and their insistence on the importance of coding in the digital humanities.

Also pretty interesting is that in writing the wrap-up, which is posted on the group’s tublr site (see my blog roll below for a link), I had a eureka moment: essentially, I discovered how my scholarship might be re-conceived from the vantage point of a digital humanist.  To me, this realization was significant because, lacking programming skills, I only could grasp claims about coding’s significance to the digital humanities on an abstract level.   In other words, I had difficulty imagining a response to this question: operating under the assumption that all digital humanists at least code–they make programs–then what kind of work would I do as a digital humanist? Half-way through writing the wrap-up, I came up with the following answer, which I’ve excerpted from my post on the DDHB blog.

I wondered how “building and making” might transform my work, so I’d like to indulge that question here, if only to illustrate the inherent difference between traditional and digital humanistscholarship.  Consider Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives (1890), which focuses on New York City’s immigrant underclass: a literary scholar might critique the text’s representation of the Lower East Side’s transportation pathways, including its meandering sidewalks, nefarious streets, and subterranean sewer passages; however, a digital humanist might build a program that would spatially map these pathways so that users ultimately could compare Riis’ version of the Lower East Side with actual maps of this area.

Although my idea for transforming Riis’ textual world into an interactive, multi-dimensional, digital space  is inchoate, to say the least, it nevertheless represents an important first step in my understanding of the fundamental distinction between traditional and digital humanist scholarship: in practicing the former, one reads and critiques, while in engaging in the latter, one also builds and creates primarily (albeit not solely) via code.

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Posted in Books, Life of the Mind

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Dr. Amy Rubens
I'm an "ambulant scholar," and I move among several worlds. As a professor of English, I research and write for audiences within and outside of academia. As a teacher of writing, literature, and culture, I facilitate learning. As a blogger, I critique, question, and reflect. Learn more about this blog and the work I do as a professor and workplace writing consultant.

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