July 17, 2009
I am spending a month at USC’s NEH Vector‘s Institute, Broadening the Digital Humanities. 11 scholars are given the incredible opportunity to develop digital projects through the generous technical and intellectual support of the Institute for Multi-Media Literacy.
At the first session, Tara McPherson asked of us our relation to the term “digital humanities,” and I said that I had always thought of myself as a media scholar, artist, and activist but would be pleased to also take on this newer title. However, after spending a few days amongst digital humanists of various home disciplinary stripes, I believe that this inter-disciplinary field holds much in common with earlier practices enabled through the work of scholars who have pressed at the intersections of academia and art and/or activism.
In an unpublished draft essay by Institute fellow Katherine Hayles, “How We Think: The Transforming Power of Digital Technologies,” Hayles engages in dialogue with 18 Digital Humanists to better understand the current shape of the field, currently, in her opinion, its 2nd phase (having gone from text to multi-modality). She proposes how Digital Humanities move Traditional Humanities from “text-based study … to time-based art forms such as film, music, and animation, visual traditions such as graphics and design, spatial practices such as architecture and geography, and curatorial practices associated with museums, galleries, and the like.”
I would want to say the same thing, just differently. Listening to my ten colleagues describe their exciting digital projects, I see a turn in traditional scholarship towards accounting for and embracing the demands of art and activism. Namely, digital humanists need to collaborate (a well-developed set of practices refined by those in film or theater, for instance, and theorized by feminists and other activist-scholars who work within communities while being committed to re-thinking power relations). Similarly: digital humanists engage affect and aesthetics, must make sense of their relation to machines, take account of audiences, as they no longer necessarily speak only to a small and rarified audience of their peers, and think seriously about time and space, which to my mind, demands an ethics about how one’s “intellectual” practices effect the lived world and its inhabitants.
Thus, I’d suggest that the “digital” part, while being primarily the new technology of the day, is perhaps what was needed to push more scholars to engage with the personal and political implications of their practices.
See also, Sharon Daniel’s Vector’s project on women and prison.