Friday, April 6, 2012

Proof is in the Pudding....the social proof that is...

Okay, it's been long in coming, but I finally got a response from one of my contacts, Lisa Spiro, who is a strong advocate for the digital humanities. I shot her an e-mail and asked her a couple of questions and the other day she finally got back with me. Here's how the conversation went down:

My name is Kaleigh and I'm currently a Senior at Brigham Young University. I'm working on a project involving Shakespeare studies in the digital age and I was hoping that I could get some insight from you. If you wouldn't mind, perhaps you might answer some questions for me?
1. What do you think is the significance of the digital humanities? How are they beneficial to our current methods of study?

I think the digital humanities have broad significance. First, digital humanists have developed trustworthy digital collections that provide the basis for research. Second, they are creating tools and analytical approaches that enable researchers to, for example, discern patterns across large textual collections, visualize the relationships among participants in a network (for example, letter correspondents), model spaces and objects (including those that are imagined or destroyed), create geo-temporal visualizations that enable us to understand phenomena across space and time, etc. Third, digital humanists are experimenting with networked approaches to scholarly communication, including open peer review, multimedia publishing, networked communities, etc. Fourth, the digital humanities are devising pedagogical approaches that enable students to do original research and participate in networked communities. Fifth, DH is shaping new theoretical approaches, including a deeper understanding of the cultural implications of hardware and software. Finally, DH has a public impact by making information widely available and exploring approaches such as crowdsourcing.
2. Do you feel that digital studies will replace more traditional methods of study or enhance them? How so?

Ultimately, I think all humanities will be digital humanities, but that the core values of the humanities--interpretation, multiplicity, play--will abide.
3. How do digital studies affect our perception of texts and the humanities like Shakespeare? What can you do with digital data?

You can do lots with data: compare, mashup, map, visualize, mine, analyze, share, etc. With Shakespeare, for instance, one could compare the variants across folios, map relationships among characters, map the movements of characters, use topic modeling to detect larger themes across his works, use text analysis to plumb the significance of particular words and phrases, etc. Check out the MLA's Variorum Shakespeare Challenge:

There's also a special issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly you may wish to consult:
4. What do you think the trend is for digital studies?

I don't know that there is a single trend, beyond DH growing in visibility. I noted a number of sessions on DH at the most recent Modern Language Association conference.
5. What would you say to critics of the digital humanities?
Experiment. Play. See what's possible. Engage in conversation. Criticism is healthy, if it is informed, engaged criticism.

Good luck with your project!
I also got a response from another of my blogger contacts, David Parry, and he was kind enough to respond to my e-mail, though his comments were somewhat unexpected. His comment about Shakespeare and the digital humanities in particular made me do a double take. That being said, I appreciated his honesty and consideration in taking the time to respond to me. Here's his response:
The article linked to below should answer almost all those questions, and in much more detail than I could do in email responses. The only thing not addressed in that article is your question of Shakespeare.
Re: Shakespeare. Actually I am not really interested in that question. I think there are probably a lot of scholars who work on this question, but for me the question of leveraging data to redo scholarship on old texts is really the wrong approach, I want to use the digital to open up new perspectives and ways of being humanists.

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