Slightly Off-Topic: Digital Humanities

Since it is so close to the end of the semester, I’m not receiving tasks anymore. But before I get to my final blog post, I wanted to write about something I’m doing in another course: Honors 391A.

Honors 391A is a requirement of the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass, a 1-credit course of an interdisciplinary subject in depth. The topics vary widely, from the authentic self to complexities of Haiti. The one I chose, “Doing the Digital Humanities,” seemed interesting at the time, primarily because it had humanities in the title. I didn’t have a good idea of what exactly I was going to learn in the course, but it filled the requirement and it certainly piqued my interest.

Today, I still can’t really tell you what Digital Humanities is, because I’m not the sure digital humanists can tell you its definition either. The term is as expansive and complex as one can imagine. My professor says digital humanities is what ten years from now will be called the humanities, which is perhaps the most descriptive and yet simple definition. In my opinion, the purpose of digital humanities comes in three forms: 1) using technology to further one’s research, whether that be through programs or presentation; 2) the expansion of access to humanities research; and 3) the use of humanist inquiry to examine technological issues.

In this section of Honors 391A, each student is expected to imagine a final project, coming up with an idea that demonstrates our understanding of digital humanities and its application to something greater. So over the course of the semester, the final project has been in the back of my mind, as I try to find something original and yet exciting to talk about.

Okay, so you’re probably wondering at this point why I’m not talking about any work I’ve done with Prof. Miller. And I’m getting to that – in fact, I’ve spent most of this semester getting to that. Because I’ve found a good way to combine two projects: what more do I like to talk about than the research I’m working on?

You see, the end result of this research will be put into a study for the National Parks Service, and according to the contract, will result in some updated website and possibly a database for the National Whaling Historical Park. At the beginning of the semester, that sounded cool – I am all about quality websites and useful databases. But based on what already exists from the National Park Service and my expanded ideas of digital humanities, I want something more for the park.

I haven’t put together an entire presentation (that will probably follow later this week,) but I have a few ideas. Right now, most of the databases NWHP has serve as a digital exhibit – they are maps that require you to click on something for the information that would normally be placed beside it in a physical museum. It doesn’t make you think about the information so much as it just presents it to you. I want something more than that – something that will allow people to discover the whaling communities in a way that does not just pass on information, but gets others thinking about their representation and involvement in the greater society. Where did they live? What did they do? And how should we remember it?

 I’ll be sure to post a link to whatever presentation I make, so be on the lookout.

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