What becoming a digital humanist means to me, is, taking all the amazing things I love about the humanities subjects and making them relevant and accessible to a global community of interested parties.
Fred Gibbs’ essay on Critical Discourse in the Digital Humanities provides an excellent introduction to the role which digital humanities has to play in the evolution of societal, academic and cultural exchange. In it, Gibbs draws on the work of influential traditional critical theorists , such as Matthew Arnold and Irving Howe for a very particular reason:
“One reason I’m evoking somewhat old-fashioned critics is because of the way in which evaluation and interpretation came together in their criticism. The way they hammered out a new kind of critique to judge, evaluate, and make sense of literature seems apropos to the new forms, structures, and processes digital humanities work, which is often fundamentally different than previous kinds of scholarship.”
Gibbs draws up a simple metric for how we should judge the merit of digital artefacts created in this burgeoning arena. There are four distinct criteria. Transparency, Reusability, Data and Design.
I will attempt to paraphrase and condense Gibbs’ paragraph of text on individual criterion down to a mere two sentences each.
Is the entirety of the process of creating a digital artefact clear to an outside observer from the initial stages to the finished product? Other people may be able to benefit from the mistakes you make as well as the triumphs you achieve, so it is time to ‘screw your courage to the sticking place’ and allow the world to see your efforts in all their flawed glory.
Think of all of the effort that you put into creating your digital artefact; wouldn’t it be great if the sum product of all those hours of work could act as a sort of springboard to those active in your field, and to those who follow after you? If others can access the code you wrote, the data you collected, or the methodology you used, then you have fulfilled another of Gibbs’ criteria.
What data will be generated by your digital project, and how will it be presented or visualised? Will that data be open access and freely available to others and if so, then how, meaning in what formats and according to what guidelines regarding best practice?
When creating a digital artefact, what are the organising principles which underlie the process? Are you receptive to comment and feedback about the infrastructure of your digital artefact, and the choices you have made concerning the presentation of your findings, including those to do with your encoding, markup, and the design of your database or online gallery?
A great many similar decisions must be made by any traditional scholar when they decide to publish a book or an article, however all the ones listed above must be considered by any digital humanist engaged in the creation of a globally available online artefact and engaged with the instantaneous nature of new media.