Future Tense – Digital Humanities, Technology, and the Scholar
As a historian in training in academia today, the question of technology goes beyond the subjects I study into the current state of the profession I have chosen to enter. In teaching digital tools to undergraduate classes I see a break as substantial as the line between the generation before and after the advent of the internet. Part of my motivation to become a Cultural Heritage Informatics Fellow was to explore how the digital humanities have transformed other disciplines and find ways to work on a digital project that incorporated my own philosophies and worked in tandem with my future research goals.
In a short month and a half I have learned a great deal from the other members of the CHI fellowship, insights that have changed the way in which I am choosing to forge my way through the digital landscape. In doing so, I found that my embrace of digital technologies has already begun to shape my identity as a scholar to a larger degree than I expected.
Technology and its impact on national identity is a major focus of my academic interests.Technology looms large over the memory of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the subject of my proposed project for the CHI Fellowship. In 1964 Japan used technology to redefine itself to the world while introducing innovations that became the standard for future Olympics. Real time color satellite broadcast of events, touchpad timing for swimming, and enhanced photo finish technology for track and field all debuted in 1964. Even the shinkansen, the bullet train that is such an icon of modern Japan, was planned so that service would begin in time for the start of the Olympics as another symbol of the nations’ technological rebirth. Technology was no longer simply objects or tools, televisions and radios, but a carrier of culture, a banner of modernity. Yet the process was not an easy one. The speed in which Tokyo reinvented itself for the Olympics meant some of the past was pushed aside to make room for the new. Tradition seemed outdated by comparison at best, a necessary sacrifice at worst. The landmark Nihombashi Bridge, in a very real sense the center of Tokyo, was covered by a massive concrete overpass constructed for the Olympics that obscured the view of Mt. Fuji from the bridge, a classic subject for ukiyo-e prints. The contrast of the stately stone and iron bridge under a modern, bland overpass has become
In Tokyo’s embrace of technology as a means of establishing a new identity I see parallels for scholars. In academia today there are still scholars who are able to carry out their work without delving into the realm of the digital beyond email. Yet that is increasingly no longer a tenable path for those entering the academy. Digital humanities has become the hot ticket in academia as any cursory glance through job ads will indicate. The question of how to integrate it into the traditional cycle of publication and tenure is not only a personal one but a systemic dilemma. Like the Nihombashi Bridge, rushing into new without the considering the foundations of a discipline can create a mess, a uncomfortable arrangement where disciplines and concepts awkwardly intersect. At the same time, the methods and applications of the digital humanities are the future.