So…just what IS this “DH” thing all about!?!!

Happy October, CSLS bloggers and followers! When I think of fall I inevitably think about PSL (Pumpkin Spice Lattes) at my favorite coffee shop, Starbucks. So, allow me to share a brief anecdote. The other day I was in Starbucks (with a fellow Graduate Student Affiliate) and overheard a conversation between two thirty-something men about Digital Humanities or DH. The comments of both seemed to echo the thought: “I don’t really get ‘it’…what is DH and what can it do for me?” When thinking about DH, I feel as thought this sentiment is pretty common. Now that the term circulates widely within the humanities and university-based scholarly circles, most people just nod their heads when they hear about new DH projects and initiatives. Yet, I think less than half of these individuals “familiar” with the term could successfully define the term or talk comfortably about a DH project. In relation to this cloud that seems to muddle the understanding of DH, one of the things I am currently working on is to make DH more approachable for academic communities like ours here at Vanderbilt. Last year, I wrote a research paper and conducted a study on the use of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) at Vanderbilt. What stood out most to me was the fact the language instructors as Vanderbilt often knew very little about the implementation of technology in language classrooms and more often than not the classroom was flipped in the sense the students ended up teaching the instructors about how to use different technological tools in the language classroom setting. While CALL and DH – and this is important to remember – are not synonyms, I think there are similar conclusions to be made when thinking about DH. While we “digital immigrants,” to borrow Scott Prensky’s term, are actively engaged in acquiring TEI skills, digital gaming skills, and learning how to use other programs such as GeoJSON, Drupal, etc., these skills are often second nature for our students. For example, they may have learned how to code in high school and they likely don’t blink an eye when asked to digitally represent data or create a digital archive for a classroom project. I think it is increasingly important to reflect upon these differences, or this notable “divide”, between students and teachers in the university setting, keeping in mind how we can possibly “teach” students to use DH tools during one class period.

My more palpable DH projects at this time can be separated into two. For one, as the co-founder and co-president of the Vanderbilt Graduate Student Modern Language Association (GSMLA), we are planning our (first annual!!!) spring conference (April 4, 2015) and have just confirmed our keynote speaker: Dr. Carl Blyth from UT Austin. Dr. Blyth studies the intersection(s) between language, culture and interaction and is particularly interested in the use of digital tools and social media to facilitate “collaborative social action” (sites like Wikipedia, for example). On a more personal level, I am currently attending the digital mapping/Geospatial working session here at the Center for Second Language Studies where I am learning to use GeoJSON to add points and features on a map. The creation of annotated maps is of interest to me since my plan is to create a digital map to analyze a novel important to my dissertation. The particular novel is set on the Haitian-Dominican border and the trajectory of the main character from the Dominican sugar plantation to the Haitian border-town appears to be a inversion of the river itself (a geographic interpretation that works well with my thesis). My end-goal is to create a visually appealing annotated map where people can click on certain points and images to get further information (I plan to include text as well). I hope to integrate the map I will create (and have already started creating…) into a formal presentation of my dissertation project. I’ll keep you all posted on how my mapping project progresses! And, of course, you are all welcome to attend Dr. Blyth’s keynote presentation in early April. Until next month!


One thought on “So…just what IS this “DH” thing all about!?!!

  1. Megan, I think your discussion of the confusion surrounding DH rings true. How many of us have heard comments such as: “Oh, DH, right, I’m a Humanist and I use email – that counts, right?”. What you’re doing with your dissertation project is important for two reasons: 1) It demystifies the DH process a bit and makes it a tangible visual reality for people. 2) It shows how serious DH research can be incorporated into traditional dissertation/other research. Brava!, and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.


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