Digital Humanities: The Future and the Challenges

Digital humanists use technology to aid cultural analysis. But they can also create new platforms, pollinate interdisciplinary research, and explore social issues. The 2019 edition of a series called Debates in the Digital Humanities (University of Minnesota Press) explores the field’s direction and challenges. The collection of essays was edited by Professor Matthew K. Gold (The Graduate Center) and Lauren Klein (formerly of Macaulay Honors College, now at Georgia Tech).

In their introduction, “A DH That Matters,” Gold and Klein noted that the field prepares students for both “academic and nonacademic careers,” and that it has always engaged “the world beyond the academy—through its orientation toward the public in its scholarship, pedagogy, and service,” and by questioning “ossified institutional structures.”

Gold and Klein describe the need for digital humanities work to make forceful, politically significant interventions into the public sphere, especially during a turbulent political time. They suggest that this work involves “enabling communication across communities and networks … creating platforms that amplify the voices of those most in need of being heard … pursuing projects that perform the work of recovery and resistance, and … undertaking research that intervenes in the areas of data surveillance and privacy.” 

CUNY contributors to the book include Marta Effinger-Crichlow (City Tech), who draws analogies between New York’s historic African Burial Ground and cultural marginalization online. The burial ground was established “on the outskirts of town” in the 1600s, reflecting “the literal and figurative marginalization of people of African descent.” Yet these burials also illustrate “how African people cared for their own, maintained their system of beliefs, resisted being marginalized, and simultaneously articulated their desire for a place—a home.”

What does it mean, she asks, “to be denied a home, or to be denied care, in a physical versus a digital space? What does it mean to be visible in a home, of any form, and to use that home to control one’s care, to (re)shape the discourse, to memorialize the culture or one’s own narrative?”

Professor Kevin Ferguson (Queens College) contributed an essay on “volumetric cinema,” asking how digital humanities might “look past the flat screen” and “visualize collections of images as three-dimensional objects.” His “surrealist” approach would view “a film not as a succession of images, but as a simultaneity of images. … Camera movements, a character’s walk across a set, or a choreographed fight or dance can all be made visible as flowing physical shapes.”

Another chapter reproduces a spirited email debate about digital art history between Claire Bishop (The Graduate Center) and Johanna Drucker (UCLA). Drucker notes that digital projects are revolutionizing preservation and access, from creating 3D models of endangered heritage sites, to providing online images of thousands of Silk Road paintings, artifacts, textiles, and manuscripts through the Dunhuang project. Bishop, for her part, criticizes digital art history for being too quantitative, and for reducing works of art “to metrics” without engaging intellectual arguments.

The book, along with all volumes in the Debates in the Digital Humanities series, are available both in print and as open-access, interactive editions on the Manifold publishing platform.

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Debates in the Digital Humanities
University of Minnesota Press, 2019

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Matthew K. Gold (Associate Professor, English and Digital Humanities) | Profile 1
Claire Bishop (Professor, Art History) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools

The Graduate Center

Bonus Content

"Approaching Technology as a Humanist" (The Graduate Center, CUNY)
"Dissecting the Digital Humanities with Matthew Gold" (Indoor Voices podcast)