Today I’m participating in the Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities (Day of DH), a project and event intended to document who digital humanists are and what it is that we do. As part of that project, I’m both tweeting activities and keeping a blog, Day of John Walter, at the Day of DH site. The screen shot is of my Day of DH blog as it currently exists and I’ll be adding a few more entries as I move into the afternoon and evening.
“Wait, wait,” I’m sure someone’s saying, “you’re a technorhetorician, a compositionist, a media ecologist, an orality-literacy studies scholar, a memory scholar, and now a digital humanist too?” First off, you forgot science fiction, fantasy, Tolkien, and medievalism, but yes. “Fine. Whatever.” I know at least some of my family members are now thinking, “Call yourself a digital humanist if you want to. What the hell does it mean?”
As part of registering for the Day of DH, I was asked to write a breif definition. I’m not going to claim it’s all that good, especially as it’s an off the cuff explanation. That said, here’s what I mean when I say I’m a digital humanist, slightly revised from what I originally submitted:
I define digital humanities as the engagement and practice of the humanities with and through digital technologies. This is far from simple, however. Digital technologies change the way we do work. They change the way we compose and revise even when we are writing for print publication. They also afford us new ways to distribute and publish our work and how we can analyze and manipulate the information that informs our work. More radically, however, digital technologies change the way we organize and perceive the world, and this in turn leads us to ask new questions and adopt new ideologies.
For example, the notion of a fixed, unchanging text and the notion that we can own ideas through copyright arose from the world view that came with the engagement with print. They are, simply put, print-based concepts rooted in the ideologies and noetics of print culture. The rise of open access scholarship, Creative Commons licenses, and remix culture, on the other hand, are new concepts that have emerged through our engagement with the digital.
I could add to this by pointing to my notion of database rhapsody as a form of mnemonic composing, which I explained in my Computers and Writing 2007 presentation “Databsae Rhapsody from the ‘Singer of Tales’ to ‘Geek DJs’” and, among other places here on this blog, in the post “Rice on the Network as Rhetorical Strategy.” This understanding of various pre-digital and digital technologies as database technologies, including oral-formulaic poetry, proverbs, the places and images mnemonic (aka, memory palace, Ciceronian mnemonic, and architectural mnemonic), research note cards, blogs, and Flickr as database technologies from which to inventively compose is a perspective allowed us from the digital age even though these pre-digital technologies were used as such.
For those interested, you can see how other participants have defined digital humanities on the Day of DH site.