Week 6: Cultural History and the Digital Humanities

Those eagle-eyed among you may notice that this post is a few days late. However I delayed my weekly post to make mention of my guest slot this morning in Alixe Bovey‘s ‘The Monster and Medieval Culture‘, a year-long special subject course at the University of Kent. Alixe asked me to come and talk to the group after the students voted to have their work appear on a blog, as this seemed the ideal opportunity to discuss the intersection between digital scholarly communication and digital scholarship.

The talk (the presentation for which is here) dealt with an explanation – as I see it – of what makes DH, followed by some examples of how I’ve used methods derived from DH in my research. Given that the students didn’t know my subject area I limited myself to slightly crude examples, but I think I got the point across the DH driven research can provide a valuable addition to the cultural historians armory. Indeed in the discussion that followed the benefits and limitations of qualitative work came up (on which Alixe made a perceptive point that much of what I’m doing contained echoes of the Annales School –  to which I agree, I’m sure that third generation Annalists such as Ladurie would have embraced DH were it around at their pomp) and I frightened them a little by showing off the inner workings of TileMill and Gephi, but there was apparent positivity towards to potential of DH – of all the tools perhaps unsurprisingly Voyant came out as a clear favourite.

Hopefully my presence will inspire some of them to tease at the edges of DH and blog about it. The shame is that this message is only finding its way to our third year cohort (and only a fraction of them). Surely our first year students need some knowledge of DH in order to develop – as some will – into effective and creative researchers? Much as I like the idea of DH as a ‘paradiscpline‘, it also clearly needs some hooks in order to become recognised as an regular part of our existing pedagogical programmes. Perhaps, thinking of the sector wide drive for humanities degrees offering ‘added value’ and ’employability opportunities’, DH-based modules might push their way into humanities teaching portfolios through the promise of offering novel skills – not least (given the gasps the inside of TileMill and Gephi provoked) the promise of developing knowledge and experience of using and reading some code (html, css, json), skills surely of some prestige to employers whose visibility, agenda, and fortune are increasingly digitally driven.


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