DH as self-defense.

If you’re interested in what I was doing for most of this month, you can read about it here. [Yes, I’m the goofball wearing a baseball cap in the back of the group picture.]  The short version?: I spent two weeks in Arlington, VA learning about the digital humanities in general and digital history in specific thanks to the nice folks at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This was an experience I was hoping to have the moment I heard about it for two reasons: 1) I made a commitment long ago not to be that professor lecturing from yellow lecture notes when they get old. [And I mean yellow because the white paper turned yellow, not because they wrote their notes on yellow paper.] and 2) The Center for History and New Media always struck me as an organization that handles technology right. Just look at Zotero, for example.

So rather than just summarize our entire two weeks with all the tools and articles about them (all of which is still posted here indefinitely), I wanted to make a broader point about the labor politics of DH. It seems to my newbie mind that the digital humanities are more interested in equipping professors with the tools they need to do their jobs better (or at least differently) than they are in creating robots that will do their jobs for them. I heard nary a peep about MOOCs in two weeks, but lots about how to teach history in ways that no MOOC could ever duplicate. Indeed, starting with getting a site from Reclaim Hosting* (the revolutionary nature of which I explained to the group summarizing this article the best I could), continuing with tools like StoryMap or Scalar and culminating with planning projects of our own, we learned how to drive the tractor rather than let the tractor drive us off our land.

Of course, I’ve read the same complaining that you have about DH soaking up all the money and attention while the rest of us soldier on teaching history or English or whatever old style. I still sympathize. After all, it’s not like every class I teach is going to become all digital humanities all the time overnight, or even ever. But I’ve come to believe that the Digital Humanities are a good thing not just because they are a different way to teach, but because they are an excellent way to highlight the importance of professors in general as higher education transforms itself into whatever it will eventually become.

* By the way, thanks for making the transition to the new blog site with me. This is a friendly reminder to change your book marks and blogrolls too if you haven’t done so already.

Jonathan Rees

Professor of History, Colorado State University - Pueblo.

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