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Humanities and the Digital Age

November 16, 2010

The New York Times has an article up by Patricia Cohen on how humanities scholars are embracing digital technology. This quote nicely summarizes the piece:

As Brett Bobley, director of the endowment’s office of digital humanities, explained, analyzing unprecedented amounts of data can reveal patterns and trends and raise unexpected questions for study….

Mr. Bobley said the emerging field of digital humanities is probably best understood as an umbrella term covering a wide range of activities, from online preservation and digital mapping to data mining and the use of geographic information systems.

It’s exciting to see the implications of this technology. Digital resources in the ancient Near East in particular are moving quite quickly. With most of the artifacts strewn in libraries and museums across the globe, digitized media is making it easier to access information.

Notice the present tense at the end of the last paragraph. The future is now. If you’re reading this, chances are you already have figured this out. To cite only the most recent example, take a look at John Hobbins’ piece today on Why web publishing is ten times better than dead tree publishing. It’s quite amazing what we can now do even in such a standard idiom as the book review.

Of course, there are problems. The blogosphere has been abuzz recently about the technological blunders surrounding the upcoming SBL national meeting. The most interesting discussions revolve around the $25-75 cost of using a digital projector, the usefulness of handouts, and the apparent lack of wifi in the convention center. To my mind the last is the most damning to those of us who are technologically dependent.

However, our ilk is not alone in this lag time, as the article also notes:

Most humanities professors remain unaware, uninterested or unconvinced that digital humanities has much to offer. Even historians, who have used databases before, have been slow to embrace the trend. Just one of the nearly 300 main panels scheduled for next year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association covers digital matters. Still, universities, professional associations and private institutions are increasingly devoting a larger slice of the pie to the field.

Let’s hope this trend continues.

One Comment
  1. November 17, 2010 1:39 pm

    If it ain’t 4,000 years old, it’s crap!

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