I really appreciate the genealogy you provide, Jason, tracing the ways DH discourses were given meaning through refinement and iteration. I do worry, however, that boolean logic might ignore the capriciousness of the human(ist)s that employ it and the turf marking that accompanies institutionalization of the search parameters (not to mention the asymmetrical relationships between institutions vying for definitional authority). Iteration and refinement are not evolutionary processes or benign modes of categorization, but sites of struggle, hegemony, prejudice and coalition building. I say this not to undermine your post, which frankly, I think is brilliant and incredibly valuable in making visible DH's porous and opaque borders, but to suggest that boolean logic requires a messier equation that looks to iterative and refining moments for DH as productively charged confrontations between competing disciplines that repeatedly produce new border configurations.
Thanks for the link to Kathleen Fitzpatrick's article and considerations on what DH scholars should be producing. In thinking about major projects, many institutions still do not accept digital dissertations. Some scholars may only be entering digital production modes as they begin their careers as associate professors. This would mean that the institution they will be working at would need to be even more supportive. Thanks for reminding graduate and post-doc students of the right questions to ask as we enter the job market.
I have to confess that, as the editor of MediaCommons, I continue to get the question of 'how do I count this towards tenure?' and the answer, I feel, will continue to be that it depends on the institution.
One part of 'defining' the digital humanities that I find interesting is, just as you say, its near infancy as far as an approach to humanities study and the fact that limiting a definition at this point is problematic. At the same time, there are posts like this on the Chronicle that looks at some of the current claims about the digital humanities based on the most recent MLA conference. It notes that DH seams to have hit a peak and that it is currently cultivating detractors (which is growth in and of itself). In some ways, conversations like this are good at helping to define what DH might NOT be (for instance, MOOCs). I also appreciate the reminder that many scholars were doing digital humanities before there was a term for it.
As someone involved in the process of building digital tools for film and media research, I was glad this week to read both your post and Richard Abel’s essay, “The Pleasures and Perils of Big Data in Digitized Newspapers” (which is in the new issue of Film History).
Search is important, and I’ve been working with a team at the Media History Digital Library and University of Wisconsin-Madison Dept. of Communication Arts on making the MHDL’s collection of 500,000+ digitized film and media magazines more easily searchable. The process has been illuminating and often surprising. I frequently hear scholars express concern about OCR quality in terms of search accuracy. However, I’ve found that the bigger problem for accuracy is search algorithms that are optimized for speed and time out after a certain number of results. It’s only when you peek under the hood of an open source search engine, like Solr, that you notice these things. (Solr, by the way, has great “stemming” algorithms that help mitigate the problems of OCR).
Also, as I work on the MHDL’s search tool, I’m also aware that there are many other uses beyond fulltext search for the digital data available to our field. Two especially exiting tools that pursue these possibilities are emerging from USC: the Scalar platform, with its powerful integration of media archive APIs, and Virgina Kuhn’s ongoing development of moving image analytics software.
We’re at a point where media scholars aren’t simply using digital humanities tools; we’re building them.
Two ideas in here I really like: “DH as a recurring process of refining,” rather than in need of definition; and Boolean logic as enabling constructive iterations and not simply filtering or narrowing search queries.
Great week of posts on Media Commons.
I don't know that I am so much suggesting a way for the digital humanities to get in step with traditional fields as I am intrigued by what the tools they have to offer can do for a more established one, namely media studies. I will answer your rhetorical question positively, following your lead, and perhaps go further yet: these tools, whether they are modes of preservation or research filters, will have an impact not only on scholars' research designs and readings of their object of study, but also on the nature of the knowledge they produce. Shall we consider an epistemology of the digital archive? How much will be lost in heuristic translation? How much gained?
I think the concepts that you present for helping to fold digital humanities into more traditional fields. I wonder if it might be productive to think about the ways in which the archiving process and those who determine what the archiving process looks like for certain media. In other words, how does the heuristic applied to the archiving process for, say your 1980s French television shows example, configure how the researcher approaches the object of their research?
There’s a potential for a digital humanities that holds toward data the same vexed, impossible loyalty with which media scholars honor the photographic image. In this version of digital humanities, scholars would view data neither as fully adequate to reality nor as necessarily mendacious, but as one moment, a slice of time and space.
I think your example of Paisa brings up something else about how media scholarship and digital humanities have something to give. I study new media (and film) and often feel as though the field moves much too quickly to really be digested (at least considering how quickly new media is released or changed). DH sometimes feels like it provides the methods that help keep the research up to date. As you say in your post, however, data is only one part of the equation and no matter the media studied, it will continue to require this mixed method aproach that sees the limitations in any method. At the same time, if we can still find something to write about Rosselini's almost 70 years later, we can continue to apply mixed methods work to new media texts.
Thanks for a great post kicking off this new survey, Jason. I have often felt like a clumsy interloper or an undercover agent (maybe both, kind of like Maxwell Smart) hanging out/on in the realm of the digital humanities. As a media studies scholar, I bristle a bit at the sometimes unreflexive worship at the alter of technology or the fuzzy evaluative terrain (where "cool,""brave," "honest" or "smart" becomes indistinguishable from "scholarly") that the worst kinds of digital humanities work produces. But then I try to remind myself about what many scholars coming from more "established" disciplines say about media studies and I wonder if some of my uneasiness comes from my need to produce an "other" against which I might demonstrate my "normalcy;" an "other" in typical postcolonial parlance that I am simultaneously repelled by and fascinated with, onto whom I project both my fears about the future of digital scholarship as well as my unrealistic fantasies about this fetish category known as the "digital humanities." And in all honesty, despite my occasional self-serving sneer, for the most part, I tend to bestow a tremendous amount of reverence upon the digital humanities (even as I am too easily dismissive of many of the folks who claim membership within it), seeing its transformative potential as key to creating not only new forms of scholarship, but new types of scholars (is it any wonder I am often disappointed?).
I am writing all of this because your post expressing your curiosity about the digital humanities reminded me about my own, but also because I think you capture what is at the heart of what I find so intriguing about it: a community of "thinkerers" (not a misspelling), interested in praxis, play, openness, experimentation, and a prescriptive spirit that doesn't seek to provide solutions, but rather, opportunities to participate in mind-fucking the conventions of reading and writing, creating and consuming; categories laden with power disguised as mundane, self-evident and distinct processes. Is this more fantasy projection than reality? Probably. Does a lot of digital humanities work fall short of achieving these objectives. I think so. Would the imposition of more rigidly defined modes of evaluation diminish this "revolutionary" spirit? Most certainly. But like any philosophical movement, it is the spirit of the ideas that inspire, not necessarily their execution.
With much of the work coming out on the topic of blogs via rhetoric and composition studies, I have wondered about the application of the same tools to literary courses. I am glad that this class worked out so well, but I always wonder about the ways that making these fledgling ideas public might have on students in the future. What if one of these students working through rape apology and victim blaming runs for congress some day? Would this still be around and would this be held against him/her even if the student ended up not believing it in the end? Even if they were talking about a book and not actual events?
"the only person I’m aware of getting upset over the blog is me"
I appreciate the consideration of the process and wonder how it doesn't also reflect classroom discussion. I think of a time I was teaching Oedipus Rex and underwhelmed by my students understanding of the text during preliminary discussions, but we actually did a meme project later on and they contributed rather complex content later on.