As you may know, one of the biggest conference worldwide dedicated to digital humanities is starting today in Hamburg. Digital Humanities 2012 is this year edition of the annual conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations. With more than 600 participants and a 500 pages Conference abstracts volume, it is a rather impressive gathering.
Trying to give an account of similar ventures is always tricky. One can live-Tweet (I will to a certain extent), take notes (I am too) or write blog posts. During THATCamp Switzerland, we were astonished to see that Mills Kelly (CHMN) had this amazing skill to write blog posts during the sessions, with no delay, so that the post could be published by the end of the session. That’s what I’m trying to do here… The account is of course partial as it can be. For a more neutral report see the slides of Prof. Thaller at the end of this post.
The first workshop I attended this morning was entitled „Toward a Digital Humanities Curriculum“ and was hosted by Prof. Manfred Thaller, from Uni. Köln, which is a godfather-type figure in Digital Humanities in Germany. Prof. Thaller belongs to the first generation of digital humanities, as he himself stated, telling us an anecdote about the year 1996, where DH – at that time the word was „humanities computing“ – were first acknowledged as specific research field.
I’m coming to the point. Back in 1996, according to prof. Thaller, there was a hype in US Colleges about teaching student how to use Text processor softwares as Microsoft Word and to build their own homepages. At the same time, some researchers were starting to run computational analysis in digital corpora, mainly textual. While the ones were learning to use new available technologies, the others were trying to design new computer-based research methods. Modeling is thus a central DH skill, i.e. represent a humanities problem in such a way that it becomes possible to build a technical solution.
According to Prof. Thaller – or at least according to what I understood from his presentation – that’s where he sets the border between DH and „Library Studies“. Prof. Thaller somehow considers DH as a humanities discipline, where the humanities remain sovereign over the technology. The research questions, and the choice of what tool are to be developed, stays in the hand of the humanities scholar. Conversely, Library Science have a mission to teach how to use existing tools and empower student traditional research skills, but that’s not proper DH research.
This debate is crucial to a DH definition. Should DH be understood as augmentation of other curricula or rather as a new professional curriculum ?
Everybody seems to consent here that DH is a specific discipline, that differs from other information sciences. The core topic discussed here today is what skills should be taught to DH Ba/MA students in university. You will find in the slides below an impressive list of Standards important to Digital Humanities (pp. 8-11).
I should add that in Germany today there are ca. 10 Undergraduate Programs and 12 Master programs in DH, plus several news chairs in DH being created these last years. We received also a leaflet called Digitale Gesiteswissenschaften, which is a summary of the state of the art of DH university programs in Germany.