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The future of Digital Humanities

Published on
21 May 2014
Written by
Kathryn Eccles

As Glen Worthy pointed out the week before last, there are a lot of terrible things written about the Digital Humanities.  As his commentary was published, I was attending a summit on the Future of the Digital Humanities organised by the Higher Education Academy in the beautiful coastal town of Lewes, East Sussex.  The summit was designed to provoke thinking around future directions in Digital Humanities pedagogy, but produced some excellent debates around institutional cultures, the challenges of multidisciplinary groups and approaches, the different lenses that can be applied to the Digital Humanities, and the extent to which debates about what lies at the core of Digital Humanities affects our teaching and research.

The summit provided a rare opportunity to learn more about the state and status of Digital Humanities outside my own institution, particularly its place in core undergraduate teaching. I learned a huge amount from colleagues who are offering really dynamic experiences to students in their courses and related activities, and witnessed a refreshing openness to the possibility that when it comes to such teaching, we have as much to learn as to teach. I also caught a glimpse of the different perspectives on the future of Digital Humanities in teaching and research, and was reassured both by the confidence and the uncertainty reflected by those in attendance.  Let me unpack that. Confidence reflects the extent to which Digital Humanities has arrived in British academic life,  having been embedded into our teaching practices and research activities.  The uncertainty I witnessed suggested to me that the field of Digital Humanities is still exploratory, and those of us working in Digital Humanities are still working out where we fit, who we can collaborate with, which methodologies apply and work, how we can reach out to other research areas and across different sectors, and what roles we might have in newly configured universities. The longer we stay in this state of relative uncertainty, the more open we remain to any and all of these variables and the stronger and more flexible we can become.

The importance of this openness was reflected in two of the artefacts created during our 2 days to reflect the current state of DH, both of which imagined the landscape of Digital Humanities.  The first, discussed in this blog about the event by Tony Reeves, represented the Digital Humanities as a kitchen, with ingredients, rules, people, recipe books and most importantly, open doors and ample space for experimentation. The second was a fairly abstract, semi-structured environment, with a compass for roving DH actors to use for navigation. Being involved in DH can feel reckless, disruptive, risky and bewildering, but navigating this new environment is also fantastically exciting, and the potential knowledge exchange inherent in DH activities makes it, for me, absolutely worth it.

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