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Where to begin? Approaches to DH

Posted in DH Blog

DH 101: Getting Started in the Digital Humanities

By Rachel Rochester and Heidi Kaufman

One of the challenges of learning DH is figuring out where to begin, what to learn and how to learn it. For some, the internet, let alone the field of Digital Humanities, didn’t exist during our graduate training. Others have stumbled into Digital Humanities out of necessity or inspiration, and would like to gain a fuller understanding of the discipline and its history. So how do we get up to speed? Where do we begin?



As academics, it’s easy for us to seek quick answers in print. Matthew Kirschenbaum’s 2010 essay, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” is an excellent overview of the history of the field, its unifying principles, and even handy descriptions of commonly used digital technologies. Kim Gallon’s excellent 2016 article “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities” does a beautiful job of illustrating how DH and other humanities disciplines and sub-fields interact, exchange, and enhance each other. Kathleen Fitzpatrick makes an excellent case for leaving the “Digital Humanities” open for interpretation, expansion, and plurality, even as debates continue to rage about the definition of the field. Alan Liu’s 2012 article, “Where is the Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” and ongoing follow up Against the Cultural Singularity, are a call to arms for digital humanists to embed social consciousness more thoroughly into the discipline. Read en masse, these articles, and those they site along the way, can nurture a foundational understanding of the field.



As Kirschenbaum notes, the Digital Humanities are more of “a methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” (2). He emphasizes, quite correctly, that much of DH is about community and collaboration: the heart of DH lives in its ability to bring humanists, who are all too often isolated in their work, into a refreshingly communal intellectual environment. In these ways, DH lends itself to group learning. Not surprisingly, DH boot camps and workshops abound for those who want to get started in the field. The Price Lab for Digital Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania has put together a comprehensive list of DH training programs in the US and beyond. Three of the best known are the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, which is a 1 or 2 week intensive summer institute featuring workshops for scholars at all different levels of experience with DH. University of Guelph also runs an excellent workshops series, DH @ Guelph. Guelph’s program “provides a forum for colleagues to network, discuss and learn about the digital world and its impact on our work.” And for those who wish to travel abroad, the University of Oxford Summer DH program is another wonderful option. Oxford welcomes “academics at all career stages, students, project managers, and people who work in IT, libraries, and cultural heritage.”



And please don’t forget—here at UO we’ve been offering modified workshops to help you get your feet wet, learn basic DH skills, and find out whether a digital tool will help you advance your work. While our workshops are smaller, they offer consultations and support to help launch new work or take existing work to the next level.

Very soon we’ll be publicizing our lineup of Spring term workshops. We hope to see you all there!

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