Daily Archives: July 20, 2009

“18th-c studies” meets “digital humanities”

This post by George Williams.

The CFP for ASECS 2010 is out, and I can’t help but notice that several of the panel proposals (including one being organized by Lisa Maruca and me) deal explicitly with digital humanities topics.

Details regarding these panels are available after the jump, but before you make that jump, dear reader, please indulge me for a few sentences.

Does it seem to you that the various academic disciplines concerned with the humanities are at a turning point with regard to integrating digital tools into their research and teaching methodologies? It certainly seems that way to me:

And yet, does it perhaps also feel to you that the benefits of these developments have not yet filtered down to our day-to-day academic lives?

  • The Gale Group’s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online is an amazing resource of primary texts, but it’s priced out of reach for all but the most generously funded colleges and universities, especially in light of what the average library budget looks like since the developments of the previous 12 months.
  • With the exception of Eighteenth-Century Life, our most-read journals provide RSS feeds that are practically useless.
  • Most of us probably don’t even know what an RSS feed is or why we would want to use one.
  • The English Short-Title Catalog is freely available online, which is wonderful, but the interface does not provide any advanced data output options such as useful information visualizations.
  • In 2009, most online conversations regarding our field of study make use of the exact same tool that was used 20 years ago: email.

This is not meant to be a list of complaints, mind you. We clearly have some amazing tools at our disposal. However, there are many new and powerful tools (some of them free) that could be available to us if we worked on developing them or advocated to our most influential organizations to help integrate them into existing platforms.

The idea for the panel that Lisa and I are organizing  on “The Digital Eighteenth-Century 2.0″ came out of conversations with several friends at ASECS 2009: many of us have been trained to a greater or lesser extent in digital humanities methods and now work at institutions without major funding for technology. As a result, we’ve learned to improvise quite happily with what happens to be available to us, which often turns out to be tools such as these:

These conversations and our embrace of these tools make me wonder if perhaps we’re entering a new phase of digital humanities research and pedagogy, and so I coined the not-terribly-original term “The Digital Eighteenth-Century 2.0,” playing off of the “Web 2.0” buzz phrase.

  • Is this new phase a good thing?
  • Are we shortchanging what might be possible if we built our own digital tools (a daunting task) rather than using those already created for non-academic purposes? (Zotero, Omeka, and the SIMILE Timeline are, in fact, aimed at academic audiences.)
  • If one is quite happy to work and teach at a smaller, less-than-wealthy, somewhat-teaching-oriented institution, how exactly does one embrace the field of digital humanities with its traditional focus on research and big grants?
  • At what point, if ever, do we internalize the conventions, the strengths, and the weaknesses of digital media such that “The Digital Humanities” becomes “The Humanities”?

Continue reading