The ‘shock of the new’ in the Digital Humanities

If there is such a thing as a ‘gold standard’ in the Digital Humanities, it is using computing in research to find out something new. And by something new I mean new in a research context, not new as a new pair of jeans or a new as in a new hair style. There have been numerous cases, primarily in linguistic computing, literature, and history, where computing has been applied to texts and we have discovered something new about those texts. One of the most famous cases is the discovery of the likely authors of the Federalist papers; some of the most important papers in US history. But of course, in the humanities there is no absolute truth, only convincing arguments. The application of computing (as in the Federalist case) adds weight to the construction of our arguments. As Willard McCarty argues, computing in the humanities research is primarily about using methods to find out something new. But also increasing it is about communication of our research results. Humanities research has direct application within the ‘real world’ (perhaps unlike applied science that must go through layer upon layer of consumerism and a utilitarian smoke-screen before it enters our home as a plastic bucket and exits as land fill) .

A humanities researcher using a computer (as in the case here) is not a digital humanist. This is just a blog communicating a bunch of ideas and anyone can make a blog. A digital humanist is someone trained in the humanities, who has spent years locked in small rooms, eating noodles, and drinking cask wine.  They use computers to find out something new and what they find out, you may not like (subscribe to LLC if you would like to see some new research in the field).  The Digital Humanities is not about understanding the impact of mainstream computing (there are lots of people doing good work there), it is about the scholarly use of computing to find out something new.



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