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Thinking the Digital in the Humanities not as literal but as changing thinking

July 17, 2013

The cool thing about not travelling much this summer is that I do not have to contend with physical change as much, and so can catch up with all that information overload that still comes through even in the summers. Scholars and academics never sleep (or have long vacations), despite the popular view that they get the summer to do as they choose compared to the rest of the world who have to plod through the grind. This is because one can never leave one’s passions behind for long. As much as we all complain about the workload, about being fatigued with everything, and the dire situation of academic politics, it is the same work that we do that keep us happy and make our lives meaningful.

That said, in this age of social media and constant connection to the world, and to our colleagues all over, even the ones we never had met, the adage of that romantic poet in the attic (or gutter) is nothing but a myth implanted into the minds of the public, inexperienced graduate students, and some rather asocial professors. I have, participated, even if somewhat irregularly due to my other work commitments, at the dhpoco summer school, organized by the indefatigable Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam (both young scholars at different stages of their careers), that is virtually conducted so that academics/interested parties located across different time zones are always able to participate (and therefore, there is always some individual or other posting on the forums), and for free. More importantly, supposedly ‘isolated’ and ‘lonely’ scholars who may not be able to find a community within their immediate geographical location could not find such a community through these forums. Not perfect, but a perfect start.

Many have contributed interesting thoughts in how they see digital humanities can become a tool of empowerment rather than be situated mostly at the discourse of the hegemonic. Were you to sign up for the forum and visit the conversations there, you would therefore see how the idea of the ‘digital’ is not longer a term in binary relation with that of the ‘analog,’ but has morphed to represent, instead, the idea of taking back the humanities, and taking it back through whatever tools present to change not just the way we do, but also the way we think. To revitalize old ideas, and to produce new theorizations, and therefore, new do-ability, on projects that had hitherto gone through the wash cycle once too often.

More importantly, participation from scholars who may not have originally been active participants in the growth of the field brings about important points for considering how DH is viewed from the periphery and from beyond, and why it is vital to be that field that promotes theory in action and action in theory, and even be the paradigm by which we can rethink the meaning of literacies across disciplines and disciplinary practices that have traditionally worked from different paradigms.  The CP Snow’s lament of the increasing divide between the sciences and the humanities can possibly, even if not yet conclusively, be addressed by understanding what conversations on literacies, on agency (if this is possible to be redressed), and the valuation of knowledge (and even the institutionalization of what counts as value in knowledge practices). In fact, it is vital for more humanist to participate in this process of recategorizing and interrogating the digital of the humanities, philosophers included (who tend to not be participants at all in this area), and therefore, to bring in new questions while shattering the complacency of existing questions.

At the same time, another momentous event happening for Digital Humanities, which I am sad not to be participating, is in Lincoln Nebraska. If you follow the twitter stream #DH2013 #DH, you will be able to witness some live tweets happening as the sessions are ongoing. Even if not, just scrolling through the conversations will bring you to a very rich list of links to projects in different disciplines that have been produced by the various members who work in DH and even beyond what DH is envisioning at the current moment.  As a new field that is still shaping its pedagogy and its future in the academy, and hopefully, a future that will redeem humanities’s intervention into public discourse, it is vital to have more conversations on DH and how to address the issues that naysayers and critics have to say. Most scholars involved in DH work at any level are both participants as well as major critics of the development of the field, and are altogether anxious in producing a field that have respect and dignity in the various subfields it has intervened in.

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