Welcome to the Topic of Digital Humanities

My how the times have changed!

When thinking back on my relationship with historical research, my first thought is always of Eastern Washington University’s esteemed archivist Dr. Charlie Mutschler.  For decades he oversaw the JFK Library Special Collections and I remember, as clear as if it where yesterday, the horror on his face as I, in error, used a ballpoint pen in the research area.  Yes, this dates me, but as a member of Generation X I have experienced first-hand the vast changes to research methods within educational and workplace settings that have occurred over the past few, dare I say decades.  For example, my undergraduate experiences involved long hours in the library sorting through microfiche, card catalogs, with only limited access to online resources.  In contrast, many years later, my post-graduate experiences have involved sitting in coffee houses as I easily access JSTOR and other online resources. 

As I read through the many articles related to the topic of digital humanities, I was overwhelmed by what the field’s title encompassed, and how technological and expansive it all seems.  Wikipedia states that there is a general recognition that printed word is no longer the main medium for knowledge production and distribution.  This is clearly evident when examining how students learn and workers collaborate in today’s digital-based online structures.  Currently, when creating presentations or course lessons, I use an online presentation tool that maintains the copyright of my finished work. I research content using online open source databases, and I present and share the material using tools like Zoom, Google docs, SharePoint, or WordPress. There is no longer a need for hard copy reports as workplace and educational documentation and publications are stored and shared on the cloud.

The convenience of it all seems to be a time saving blessing and a much more accessible and equitable method of sharing knowledge.  However, this overwhelming abundance of easily attainable knowledge comes with a new set of challenges. Within the article State of the Field: Digital History, the authors discuss how the multifaceted features—associated with digital history—also require the expertise to ask the right questions.  Typing a single topic or keyword within a search engine or online database can result in an overwhelming amount of content to sift through. As a result, the accessibility of the knowledge becomes a cumbersome challenge to manage and navigate. This proves that even though the methods of maintaining and storing the knowledge has changed, the need for trained and educated individuals to help with the processes of research inquiry are still a valued and important aspect of humanist and historical research and scholarship.

Though I reminisce fondly on the more simplistic aspects of sitting quietly (pencil in hand) in the library, reviewing and carefully handling primary sources within an archival setting, I also see the value and convenience associated with unlimited access to the wide variety of digital resources currently available online.  However, the larger and more challenging question facing those within the field of digital humanities is how best to maintain and organize the overwhelming amount media currently requiring preservation.  However, that is a topic of discussion for another day.

  1. Melissa, I love the Christmas theme of your blog post, way to get into the holiday spirit! It’s very lovely.…

  2. Nice blog! I’m super curious now about that valley for Hallmark movies. How’s the Christmas historian field looking these days??

  3. I hate you – this is that good.

  4. Enjoyed your synopsis, of the book. I think he spent more time talking about the Americans. If he spoke of…

2 Replies to “Welcome to the Topic of Digital Humanities”

  1. Do you feel anything lost in that contrast between sifting through physical documents and navigating JSTOR? Like the “old book smell” you don’t get when you read a Kindle book? Even in my undergrad work, we were mostly reliant on digital publications and my visits to the library were usually to access videos or the random physical book I needed that they actually carried.

    I wonder if these things are similar to many other tech leaps where there’s a learning curve, but we end up not missing the old way except for nostalgia. (Like, how many people go out and buy cassette tapes because they prefer listening to music that way, or actually listen to that record player they bought because it “just sounds better?”)

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