Posts Tagged Humanities

Digital Transformations of the Humanities

Feb 1st, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

“Humanists must actively engage with, design, create, critique and hack” the environments around them in order to make sense of “who we are, where we live, and what that means.” (Digital_Humanities, p. 30)

Going digital allows historians to do the above better. “Digital” is just another tool for historians to continue their analyses of the past, just as ink, paper, the printing press and the computer were innovative new methods. Historians must be aware at all times of the dangers of the digital world – as with anything, there are advantages and disadvantages of technology, and being mindful of this is an element of a good digital historian.

Cataloging and curation are important factors to a myriad of people: digital historians, researchers – academic and lay alike, teachers, students, museum professionals and visitors, historical societies, lineal organizations, service organizations, anyone who is interested in the organization and presentation, and preservation of information and cultural artifacts that define who we are as humans. Along with this cataloging and curation goes the tagging and identification of the information of the items being presented. Proper tagging and metadata allows the information to be found quickly in the digital world, as well as relate like objects to one another.

Digital mapping is another asset of the cataloging and curation – maps create the visualization of the text, putting the person where the “action” is taking place. Many researchers are not able to be at the exact place the information they are seeking took place, and mapping and virtual collections can enable this.

Virtual gaming is something that is interesting and new to me. The idea of taking a 3D, simulated world from a game to interpret and display material is a concept that never crossed my mind. Virtual memory sites can be created and experienced from anywhere, including your living room.

But what about the dehumanizing effects of creating a game out of something of greater meaning? The case study in Digital_Humanities talks about a refugee camp experience. How do you consider the ethical and cultural sensitivities when creating this virtual world? These are the reasons for human interaction and humanists to be involved in this process, rather than computers and scientists who may or may not be aware of cultural implications for their work. But without the digital element, stories like this may never get told. Or it is showcased at a museum for x amount of time and then it goes away. The digital realm allows information to be there for everyone and stories to be told. That’s not to say the viability of museums will go away, on the contrary, an exhibit can remain far after the blockbuster show time is over.

I worked at the Museum of the Horse at the Lexington, Kentucky Horse Park during their blockbuster summer even, Imperial China: The Art of the Horse in China in 2000. (I found some stuff online about the exhibit, you can check it out here.)  It was my first experience working in a museum. What is notable about this exhibit is that it was the first time the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s terra cotta army figures had been outside of China. And they were only exhibited at the Museum of the Horse. Since then I believe they’ve been around a bit, but in 2000 they came to our museum and were packed up and went right back to China. Anyway, the point being that there will never be an exhibit like that again, and while the website and information I found to mention this exhibit are basic, there is still this presence and anyone researching Qin Shi Huang will come across the exhibit that once was. Today the possibilities of keeping these exhibits alive and active are numerous, and there is much that could be done to re-create the summer 2000 exhibit. I can imagine a map showing the areas each artifact came from, where interactively you could click on them and learn more about the region and the item itself. Or a virtual world where you could learn about the emperor and visit his tomb virtually. Or rediscover his tomb with the archaeologists in 1974. This exhibit, like so many others, could be brought to life using digital humanities methods and practices. This is truly a great time to be in the field of history and humanities. There is so much we can be doing with the cultural artifacts and material around us to make sense of “who we are, where we live, and what that means.”

Souvenir guide, docent training manual, and work shirt from Imperial China exhibit

Souvenir guide, docent training manual, and work shirt from Imperial China exhibit

Stop: Collaborate and Listen

Jan 26th, 2014 Posted in Public History | no comment »

Good, now you too can have a Vanilla Ice song stuck in your head. I saw a post on Facebook by a clever mom using the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby” to get her children to clean their rooms. Sadly, the sentiment was probably lost on them. At least Vanilla Ice has house flipping on his resume today, I’m sure he’ll be financially fine – in case anyone was concerned.

But this post is supposed to be about Digital Humanities. I just read The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0, and couldn’t help but have that one song lyric stuck in my head the whole time; which is unfortunate, because I am not and never was a fan. But I digress. The Manifesto was written by a collaboration of over a hundred people, which is exactly what the digital humanities are about.   The Manifesto states the digital humanities believe “that copyright and IP standards must be freed from the stranglehold of Capital.” An interesting comment for me to just now read, in light of recent news about “Net Neutrality” and its implications for the digital humanities, scholars, and not to mention genealogists (see article here). Digital humanities promotes a global community of researchers and scholars, which is also exactly the network in the genealogy community. The internet has facilitated the communication and ability to collaborate with and listen to others, as well as get across volumes of information in so many different forms that are continuously evolving. If Net Neutrality rulings empower the cable companies to dictate what content gets favored over others, what might the issues be for, as an example, the blog communities? Or those that share their family history with others in the hopes of connecting with someone else researching the same family, closing the distance gap? Genealogists and researchers rely heavily on their search engines to find the information they are looking for – perhaps a ruling such as this will foster the open source community to develop a search engine that can get around these limitations. But at the moment this ruling seems to go against everything the Digital Humanities Manifesto promotes. It brings back that question, “Who owns the internet?” Certainly not the cable companies/ISPs. Is the internet the last great frontier?

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat/

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat/

This controversy  is a great example of the need for public historians and the digital humanists to “seek to understand and interrogate the cultural and social impact of new technologies”  (Digital Manifesto 2.0) What is the cultural impact of the power given to ISPs to regulate the content delivered to its subscribers? Or is there one?

What about the cultural impact of this new public sphere that everyone can participate in? Scholars are no longer the only voice on a subject. Digital Humanities discussed the advent of Wikipedia, the quintessential example of an open source and creative sharing of information that embodies the digital humanities. It illustrates the issues facing the academic sphere – things will need to evolve for the classic university to remain viable! Already even knowledge sharing has opened up to the masses. You no longer need to be a degree holder to publish your knowledge – YouTube allows every Tom, Dick, and Harry to upload videos on whatever it is they know about, from car repair, to product reviews, to sharing recipes; right alongside the Harvard professor’s lecture on the Constitution. The internet has opened up a vast array of possibilities for cultural and academic pursuits. This poses the question of who owns the knowledge and who administers it and makes sure it’s right? Apparently ‘ownership’ is part of the issue surrounding the Net Neutrality controversy. But why does anyone need to own any of the internet or the content it contains? If there is concern that “just anyone” is doling out information (and I don’t know that it is a concern, it just came to mind while I was reading DH), then maybe we should look back on the so-called “correct” information we were given in grade school and high school about American history. Remember the Alamo? How about Washington and the cherry tree? Yeah. That’s what I mean.

One of the things I need to work on as I study the digital humanities is the visual aspect. I branched out on this new blog a little bit, I haven’t been using many photographs on my other blogs. But the visual – all the multimedia elements, really – is/are fundamental to the digital humanities. The possibilities for the dispersal of knowledge and data are endless in a digital environment.

"Wild Red Fox" Courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/

“Wild Red Fox” Courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/

"Hedgehog in a Glass" Courtesy of Sommai /

“Hedgehog in a Glass” Courtesy of Sommai /