Themes: Not Just for Web Design

In the Digital Humanities, three particularly unexpected themes surfaced throughout my studies: (1) collaboration, (2) pre-1800’s emphasis, and (3) the interaction between the modern and the pre-modern through technology. First, in terms of collaboration, the numerous tools–cited in the “Digital Tools” chapter of The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars by Eileen Gardiner and Ronald G. Musto–require collaboration on some levels, at the very least as some scholars create the tools for others to utilize. Further, tools for blogging and collaboration themselves are included in the chapter. Collaboration is also seen in projects like Linguistic Landscapes of Beirut to facilitate the collection of more data. However, unlike Linguistic Landscapes of Beirut, many digital projects interestingly focus on what I, as a scholar focused on the 20th century, just generally consider “old.” A good example of such projects would be 18th Century Connect, which also exhibits the aforementioned theme of collaboration as anyone with an internet connection could participate in correcting the OCR for the digitization of these old texts. Before studying OCR, I had presumed that old texts would be overly difficult to access for the digital world or that people of the digital age wouldn’t be interested in these older texts and therefore there would not be an overlap. It’s quite interesting to me that there is, and evidences the breadth of study available to digital humanists. Finally, a recent workshop on NYU Abu Dhabi campus about preserving cultural heritage highlighted the theme of modern and pre-modern interaction. In the workshop, a team went out onto Saadiyat Island, one of the islands of Abu Dhabi city, and took photos of an archaeological site. Those photos were then transformed into a 3D image. Additionally, the team took an oral history from an Emirati man to discover the sites around Saadiyat pre-development. These data were laid over a Google Map to build a historical map that is clearly contrasted with the modern state of the area.

In my efforts to make examples of these themes, I tried to be exclusionary; yet failed to do so with collaboration particularly. This failure to extract collaboration from other examples showcases its centrality in the digital humanities, while also sharply differentiating the digital humanities from traditional humanities. Meanwhile, this collaboration can contribute to projects dealing with pre-19th century histories or even facilitate comparisons of pre-modern and modern times.

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