Struggling to define digital humanities (DH)

Based on what I have read thus far, there isn’t a definite, agreed upon defintion for the term “digital humanities.” Rafael C. Alvarado, in “The Digital Humanities Situation,” suggests that it is “a social category.” It cannot be described as a discipline, rather it is an intermingling of different disciplines working together. The idea suggests to me a field of collecting (archiving) and creating (composing) in digital modalities. Matthew Kirshcenbaum, too, plays with these ideas and a definition in “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” He suggests that DH “is about scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure.” When he uses the word “infrastructure,” I assume he is speaking of technology and how that plays with scholarship (research) and pedagogy in the composition classroom. Kirshenbaum centers his article around the increase in live Tweeting at academic conventions, but he also mentions a topic that frequently comes up in attempts to define or explain DH: funding. He points to the Digital Humanities Initiative created by the National Endowment for the Humanities as being a major turning point in the creation of the field. From my understanding, the opportunities for funding research that this initiative created encouraged scholars to enter into the arena of DH and helped to build the field.

In Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities, Ridolfo and Hart-Davidson continue this theme of funding as playing a key role in the growth of DH. The authors make an argument for DH to become an umbrella for a number of scholarly projects. They see this as an opportunity to attain funding and additional staff for DH as the English departments that have traditionally housed rhetoric and composition continually shrink in size.

The authors discuss the early designation of Digital Humanities as a term for computational practices involving text suggesting that it is only recently that the term has been associated with rhetoric and composition, particularly in terms of FYWPs and technical writing. They suggest that there is a necessity for this term to serve as a means of putting “scholars in conversation with each other,” but it also serves the very practical concerns of creating faculty positions, getting funding, as well as creating research centers or labs. They also acknowledge the influence of Kirschenbaum on their interest in using the term as an umbrella for getting additional funding. Actually, a lot of what they say in this introduction seems like a reiteration of Kirschenbaum in regards to funding. I find myself disenchanted by the idea that this term is less about content/pedagogy and more about creating funding opportunities, but I imagine many see this as an exciting opportunity to open up the field.

The opportunity for opening up the field of composition by including DH is part of the argument made by Kathleen Yancey in “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key.”  She talks a lot about the amount of writing taking place outside of the classroom and how it should be encouraged and developed into the curriculum. Calling this a “third literacy,” she suggests that we in FYW need to provide students with “the ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures with audio and vido to express thoughts” (305). Although her essay was given as an address in 2004, there is still much that is relevant today. There is still a lack of integration of technology into FYW, although we are getting better at encouraging multimodal transformations. I find myself looking for ways to update my own pedagogical practice to respond to the need for more “real-world” writing than classroom-specific writing.



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