Reading into Digital Humanities (Summer 2015)

New Semester in Six Weeks! The summer is flying by, this years cohort of Masters students are deep in writing their dissertations, most of the places for next year have been filled, BA offers will be going on in a few weeks,  and new students are asking “What should I read before we start”.  Reading into DH is a moving target, but here I suggest some of my favourite entry points. Most of this is freely available on the open web.

The best place to start is not at the ‘bleeding edge’ but with older material. The Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities is old enough that a second edition is in progress; in the first edition the Forward, Introduction and Chapter 1 “The History of Humanities Computing” are all good starting points.  If I had to put things in order, I would look go next to the Roy Rosenwig Centre for History and the New Media at George Mason University. Mark this as a place to explore because it is home to a range of important DH projects, but for a ‘book’ go to “Digital History: A guide to gathering, preserving and presenting the past on the web” which is hosted there.  After that I would send people to read “Debates in Digital Humanities” edited by Matthew Gold. This not only opens out a broader range of debate, but also presents it on the web in an open way, inviting comments on the text. It’s all good, but we often use the introduction and first four readings here – Kirschenbaum, Fitzpatrick, Spiro and Svenson – early in our conceptual introduction courses.  As well as these, I recommend an actual book, on paper or ebook: Matthew Jockers ‘Macroanalysis’ which explores one scholars work with digital scholarship in an accessible way.

At the other end of the timeline, a work currently in progress is ‘Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities’ on the MLA.  This includes  short conceptual essays by curators who are selecting examples of digital pedagogy – it embodies several key ways in which DH differs from traditional scholarly practice – it is open, public, collaborative; it is curated rather than just written,  and many of the examples offered show the centrality of research-based learning at undergraduate level,  the diversity of methods used in learning and assessment and the way in which learners in the field question, critique and seek to change the status quo. The material so far is brilliant – it includes examples from the learning experiences created by many leading figures in DH. The plan is to have 50 keyword based sections; what all of those will be be or when it will be finished is not yet clear, and perhaps the plan will change based on the feedback and comments – and such is the nature of DH.

There are several places on the web which serve as meeting points and link to current developments and ongoing projects. I’ve already mentioned RRCHNM. Others are HASTAC, and the ADHO whose publications page links to all the main journals in the field.

The Day of Digital Humanities websites are an eclectic collection of things, but I find their definitions of DH useful – they have hundreds of definitions, reflecting the perspectives of many many people in the field. The 2015 and 2014 lists are the most recent; older ones require a bit of digging but really, once you read a sample, you’ll get the general idea.

TED talks have lost their shine now – everyone has done a TED talk, and the format has been relentlessly copied. Some good ones do turn up every year, but there are some classics I particularly like – Ken Robinson’s brilliant critique of the education system, Seth Godin’s talk on ‘Tribes’ which is fundamental to understanding a world centered on social media,  Clay Shirky on Institutions and Collaboration, and Jesse Schell on Gamification, and Jane McGonigal on games are all worth watching.

Finally, although there are many more things that should go on this list; I’m going to devote a last paragraph to fiction – I think the ways in which scifi writers have imagined the future are useful. Cyberpunk classics you should read are Neil Stephensons ‘Snow Crash”, Gibsons ‘Neuromancer’ and ‘Count Zero’ and Charles Stross two near future police procedurals set in Edinburgh – ‘Halting State’ and ‘Rule 34’.

And that, I think, is more than enough. No list will ever be right, but as the majority of our learners are coming into DH from very conventional, content based, non-digital experiences in which content is clearly divided into ‘old’ disciplines, these work for now. In a couple of years, it will probably be entirely different as we cater to learners with very different experiences of the ‘digital’

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