I have spoken previously about how technology is changing education and I have to say I think we are headed in a very exciting direction in relation to the humanities. Digital humanities is the study of how we can use computers and technology for arts and humanities research. It is a rapidly growing area and this is important for us as information professionals because there are gaps in this area that we are very capable of filling. Digital humanities is essentially all about engagement with information in a digital form. It is about allowing people to engage with a topic in a deeper way, creating visuals or stories that are interesting and interactive. Simon Tanner gave a very interesting talk on the subject at the A&SL Seminar in March, you can find it here. The talk was entitled, “To educate, enlighten and entertain – If you build it will they come and help?” I think this title outlines some of the important factors in digital humanities and why the area is so important for the future.
1. To educate – digital humanities provide us with the opportunity to educate in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. Imagine a architecture enthusiast being able to view digital renderings of some of the world’s most famous buildings for example, perhaps a history buff being able to view the maps around the building to see how the town had changed or maybe an artist being able to study the frescos inside without them ever having to leave their seats by a laptop. These things are all possible within the digital arts and humanities scope.
2. To enlighten – Although many could say that this is similar to education, I can see this going further; perhaps explaining parts of the past that we may not have understood before, teaching us things about ourselves, allowing for insight into the future even. Read this article about Gettysburg for example where spatial humanities and technology have combined to allow us to understand the ‘why’ of the situation.
3. To entertain – The interest people have in their own histories has been well documented in recent years with exponential growth in the genealogy sector. As a personal hobby people are looking into the past to find information about themselves, their families and little nuggets of history that tug on the heart-strings or inspire them. Take a look at The Diary of Mary Martin, although entertaining may not exactly be the right word, the diary is fascinating, whether you are studying Irish soldier’s in the First World War, or the 1916 Rising, or whether you just happen upon it and are caught up in this extraordinary story.
The thing I especially love about this area is that allows people to learn things they may not even have thought about; it allows people to see things in places they’ll never visit and go back through history; maybe even be inspired to learn more, write, create art etc. I also like how there is so much scope for people and communities to get involved. Crowd-sourcing is a hot topic here and I think it provides us with an excellent opportunity because we can see from projects like the Bentham Project that people are interested in helping and getting involved.
So if people can get involved and do the crowd-sourcing part, what are the opportunities for us? Well, we need to do the digitization, we need to think about digital preservation, how do people find your project, do the items contain relevant metadata, how is the crowd-sourced information edited and verified? There are plenty of areas that need a trained information professional.
For those interested in this area in Ireland there are PhDs available in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Maynooth. See here for more info. There are many more opportunities worldwide.