Julian Chambliss and Ellen Moll

Given the complexity of defining Digital Humanities, it may seem like an ambitious project. Yet, this book is born of a particular set of conversations about what we, as faculty members interested in Digital Humanities, would like students to have in a resource to help them explore. Our experience as teacher-scholars engaged with DH in and out of the classroom affords us some sense of the importance of the many works classified as digital humanities, but also the ways discussions so central to our colleagues may be difficult for students to grasp fully. This textbook has two purposes: First, it will bring together materials necessary for undergraduates to explore ethical ramifications, equity issues, and cultural or historical contexts of digital technologies and how this knowledge can shape real world decisions. Second, this reader will serve as an essential resource for the faculty teaching courses about these questions. It will be a living archive of evolving ideas connected to technology and cultural discussion supported by teaching and research activities.

Much has been written about digital humanities and much of that literature has wrestled with definitions and methodology. Making the distinction between Humanities Computing and Digital Humanities by itself represents a crucial ideological challenge. At the same time, the history of computing in humanities offers a clear set of historical benchmarks. By contrast, what we have come to define as Digital Humanities is less clear. Is it a discipline that provides a specific set of ideas, or methodological toolkit, that offers researchers the opportunity to shape our understanding of society in unique ways? This volume reflects the diverse viewpoints linked to digital humanities inspired by Michigan State University’s Digital Humanities program. The following section considers areas of interest codified by teaching and research in Digital Humanities at MSU. This volume seeks to balance concerns about theory and practice. This volume brings together scholars seeking to answer humane questions tightly linked to the implication of technological change.

The idea that a single perspective can encapsulate digital humanities is a challenge. Fundamental questions linked to the definition, intention, and implementation of digital humanities have numerous possible responses. Yet, if we step back and consider the challenge of generating a better understanding for undergraduate students, the questions we must consider are simplified in some way. As Ryan Cordell explains in his essay “How Not to Teach Digital Humanities”, undergraduate students do not care about digital humanities. As he rightly points out, the meta-discussions about digital humanities as an academic field and how it is or is not shaping disciplinary questions are secondary to student learning. Indeed, the broader set of theoretical questions and practical applications linked to specific projects, researchers, and methods drive student engagement. These discussions highlight the uncertainty framing professional implications about digital humanities. These discussions provide an understanding of the disciplinary debates sparked by the impact of computing on the humanities. Still, they all-too-often fail to provide the context around why the fundamental questions linked to the discipline matter and the ways digital humanities may open those questions to students in a new way.

This volume seeks to reflect the conversation about the humane and its intersection with the digital in a manner that clarifies why studying digital humanities is vital to the humanities. Inspired as we are by the undergraduate minor in digital humanities, the works in this volume consider technology and culture broadly. Like our curriculum, we rely on numerous voices to create a better understanding of the how and why linked to digital technology. A consideration of technoculture inspires this approach. Dr. Seth Giddings, Associate Professor of Digital Culture and Design at Winchester School of Art at the University of Southampton, writes in The New Media and Technocultures Reader, “…it is impossible to separate human culture from technology.” Thus, any consideration of digital humanities must consider the patterns of social life, economic structures, politics, art, literature, and popular culture. The collection of readings here calls attention to the complexities of digital humanities by understanding the questions of culture that shape technology are ultimately humane.


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Making Sense of Digital Humanities Copyright © 2022 by Julian Chambliss and Ellen Moll is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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