Getting Digital into the Humanities
I recently attended a digital round table at a conference on Asian that focused on open access, online journals and the difficulty in maintaining the journal both financially and technically. While the presenters clearly cared very deeply for their journals and upholding academic integrity, they were just as plainly overwhelmed with the management of a WordPress site. One professor mentioned that they had issues moving forward with the journal because they needed to get IT people involved with a site that only housed text and photos.
This is not a criticism of the hard-working academics who are trying to keep their journals relevant and prevent hiding content behind a pay wall. However, the individuals working on these online journals were all established professors, and none appeared to have any special interest in digital humanities, save their digital journals. This is the same problem I see in many of the social sciences. The foundations of digital humanities is weak in many universities and professors do not always support students who do want to pursue digital work. As a result, when peer-reviewed journals want to move online they’re restricted by the faculty’s capabilities and their department’s budget.
While digital humanities is gaining traction, there is still a clear gap (at least in Asian Studies) of knowledge and experience. The younger generation of scholars may be more digitally literate, but that does not mean they won’t need extra training in digital methods. Humanities departments need to start looking to their students now, encouraging their digital work now, and getting them involved in digital humanities now. If for no other reason than that they don’t have to call and IT person for help with a WordPress site.
History departments are typically very conventional. This is changing, but it still requires the students to make intentional steps towards greater digital literacy. MSU is unique in its support of History and Anthropology students who want to learn how to use digital tools to help analyze and display their research. However, in many departments “digital scholars” are defined by their scanned versions of archival material and online journals. These things are helpful and important, but they are not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital tools. For the humanities, our digital round tables need to encompass the wide range of possibilities and acknowledge that digital humanities are not just a way to transfer dissertations and notes to a computer screen, but a way to transforms our research entirely.