Author Archives: Sarah Kelly

Looking at scale in humanities research

I think the idea of the humanities moving from a document-centric ideology to a data-centric ideology is an interesting one. Perhaps what the author of the text is getting at is that examining ideas in microcosm could be an equally reductive form of investigation as  just looking at a large data set. Traditional anthropological field work, for instance, that takes into account first hand interviews and case studies is a document-centric form of research can only go so far in understanding the practices of a particular culture. When data collection and statistical analysis come into play in a field that has previously neglected quantitative ways of knowing, the scale and scope of the investigation broadens too. I got kind of excited about the assertion the author makes that “if print culture foregrounds answers and pushes questions into the background, then perhaps data culture may do the opposite: it privileges queries and treats answers as if they are ephemeral”. At first I was resistant to this idea but I think there is some truth to it. I am all for privileging queries- I think ways in which we acquire knowledge should be messy and creative- if that makes any sense. There is a lot of pressure on the part of someone conducting research, in creating something like an ethnography (to use the example of Anthropology again), to draw immediate conclusions or create conclusive findings based on a small set of data. The same thing could be said of the minutiae of literary analysis: looking at the work of one author or one poem in its historical context. This seems to be how systems of knowledge and education in the humanities are set up- a kind of defensive strategy based on specificity and rhetorical prowess. In response to some of the questions put forward at the end of Emily’s post, I think that placing data culture at the forefront of research can broaden the scope of a researcher’s investigation and therefore allow new pathways of knowledge to open up. This is what might allow fields of study in the humanities to receive more time and attention (which I think they deserve).

A link between boredom and creativity?

I thought the quotation included at the end of Carr’s article from the playwright Richard Foreman was interesting, the idea that if we lose the ability to read and acquire knowledge we will also lose our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,”. Cultural inheritance, I think, can apply as much to ways in which we acquire knowledge as ways in which we produce the art that becomes part of our culture. A lot of the information in the article rang true for me-not because I’m sure search engines and other sites and are somehow intercepting my ability to concentrate, but because I am someone who inherently does not like to read. I would rather just go make something.

I listened to a radio program recently that discusses the impact of new forms of distraction on creativity and goal-setting behavior.

The program puts forward the idea that because the Internet becomes a way for us to be easily distracted while reading, it disallows the natural capacity for our minds to wander. So, someone who might be bored while reading and inclined to daydream, or someone who might be staring out the window on the bus trip home no longer just “thinks”. Apps on smartphones (instagram, facebook, pinterest etc) allow our brains to constantly be engaged with something. I find that if I am writing in a word document, I am inclined to research terms and ideas impulsively to make sure that I am getting my ideas “right”. Even in poems etc. The only time I (honestly) feel like I am working to the full extent of my creativity capacity I am working on paper, in a medium that involves mostly drawing. I wonder if the impact of new forms of distraction might have on future generations. I suppose if people are losing the capacity to be creative then they are already predisposed to the kind of automated, “flattened” thinking Carr is afraid of.

The Fault in Our Cultural Infrastructure

Is the act of reading a text less valuable when the medium is not textual? In “Pixel Dust: Illusions of Innovation in Scholarly Publishing” Johanna Drucker assigns a higher value to an understanding of information in traditionally published scholarship, as though encountering other forms of media are automatically reductive to a text’s message. She draws the conclusion that ways of knowing are determined through critical thought- that “Novelty and insight are effects of reading, not byproducts or packaging”. Although Drucker develops the idea of the importance of continued scholarship in the humanities, she leaves out the glass half full idea that new forms of scholarship have the potential to perform more than supplemental or decorative tasks. I think it is valid to be wary of innovation in one sense, as we are often taught to consider and engage with visual and graphic material differently (these forms are in our minds first as forms of entertainment or advertising that are not ‘serious’.) The article addresses the idea that a new form of rhetoric is being produced, and by the same token a new form of reading should be also. Forms that once existed only in the domains of visual art and design are now being used in fields that traditionally developed an academic discourse through text. Innovation in these fields might add to rather than become a roadblock to development within the humanities, providing wider access to and a wider understanding of new forms of knowledge. A screen is flattening, but the open boundaries of publishing digitally can be seen as a way for academic writers to broaden what is considered ‘publication’. I don’t suppose it is a question of medium, but rather a question of assigning value to the ways in which we learn. If this is the case, the ideas discussed in the article might also address the valuation of the arts in systems of education as supplemental or decorative areas of study.

Using Images

The illustrations in the Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 seem important. I didn’t pay much attention to them while reading (I remember there being an umbrella included in the middle of a sentence and thinking “there is an umbrella in the middle of this sentence”). The series of images on the last page function as a kind of border or decoration but also as a way to represent the manifesto’s last words, “In the meantime, let’s get our hands dirty”. I thought that the hand was intriguing but also unsettling and created quite a different visual argument than the creative, pioneering spirit of the document itself. The credited image was taken from a poster made in 1928 by the artist John Heartfield. The poster, created for the German communist party, included the caption “5 fingers has a hand! With these 5 grab the enemy!” The photographed hand is a factory worker’s.

I think it’s interesting to think of image use outside of the constraints of copyright law. It seems strange that a poster with this kind of historical weight and significance could be so easily repurposed in a much different context. What does it mean that an image is “iconic”? I suppose there is a difference between crediting an image appropriately and using it in a way that is appropriate. Both of these manifestos stress the blurring of lines between disciplines, but this also means blurring lines between mediums. Digital Humanities might also open a line of inquiry into what constitutes ethical use of public information (particularly the repurposing of visual art and design) and how fair use is evaluated.