Profs. discuss ‘digital humanities'

by Annie Jones | 5/16/10 10:00pm

Professors, librarians and students from across the United States gathered at Dartmouth's Symposium on the Digital Humanities, held in the Haldeman Center on Friday, to discuss the intersection of humanist scholarship and digital technology. The symposium featured discussions that focused on how best to adapt academic work to new media, as well as presentations on new scholarship incorporating digital technology. Presenters included Mary Flanagan, film and television studies professor and chair of digital humanities, and computer science professor Hany Farid.

The symposium comes a year after the introduction of a more formalized digital humanities program at Dartmouth. The program spans multiple disciplines and incorporates professors from the English, film and media studies, comparative literature and computer science departments, among others.

At the conclusion of the day's session of presentations, six speakers discussed the difficulties facing scholars who complete work in the digital humanities. Panelists included Kate Conley, associate Dean of the Faculty for the arts and humanities; Doug Sery, an editor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press; Timothy Murray, professor of comparative literature at Cornell University; Laura Mandell, english professor at Miami University; and Thomas Streeter, associate sociology professor at the University of Vermont.

One issue that arose during the discussion was the difficulty tenure committees face in considering work that incorporates technological elements.

Dartmouth tenure committees already take nontraditional scholarly work into account while evaluating the work of tenure-track professors, Flanagan said.

Panelists also questioned the importance of printed books in the digital era. They discussed copyright issues and methods of ensuring correct scholarly attribution, particularly because technology allows writers and researchers to collaborate in new ways.

Sery said he has observed that readers find it more difficult to read scholarly books online than in print. As a result, he said, he did not think the immediate decline of physical books was likely. He also said peer review procedures would likely stay the same until there was a change in the mindset of tenure committees.

Another panelist emphasized the need to ensure that difficult, obscure works will find publishers in the future, when traditional publishing institutions may no longer be relevant.

Others on the panel foresaw a world in which professors' output would shift from traditional monograph and book forms into more exciting works with "active engagement with different platforms."

One suggested venue for non-traditional scholarly work was Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia which is partially supported by work from scholars. One panelist likened contributing to Wikipedia to "building medieval cathedrals," because so many anonymous workers are contributing to a single massive undertaking.

The panelists also considered what digital humanities programs should attempt to offer students and how these degrees fit into the traditional disciplinary university model.

The symposium also featured a keynote speech by Flanagan, and continued with presentations on digital photo manipulation, a digital excavation project on the work of Archimedes and the confluence of capitalism, personal passions and the social construction of the Internet.

Between these formal presentations were lightning rounds in which scholars briefly explained innovative projects in digital humanities. These projects included the Occom Circle Project by English professor Ivy Schweitzer, a website featuring letters between Mohegan minister Samson Occom and his contemporaries, and the Dartmouth Dante Project, an attempt annotate the text of Dante's Commedia with links to a compilation of over 70 commentaries, presented by project participant Stephen Campbell.