Thoughts on the Digital Humanities

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

I just came back from a lunch-time session sponsored by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), a research unit housed right here in the main library at UMD, about their latest NEH-funded undertaking, the Shakespeare’s Quartos Project. (You can view the announcement for the talk, or read the University’s official news release.) It’s a pretty exciting pilot grant to “create a technical proof of concept ‘working model’ for the project by digitizing all 32 pre-1641 versions of Hamlet held by [six] participating libraries.” The eventual goal is to create a “freely-accessible, high resolution digital interactive archive of William Shakespeare’s pre-1641 quartos.” Scanning for the project has been under way for a while now, and you may already be familiar with the British Library’s Treasures in Full: Shakespeare in Quarto, which currently has the BL’s 93 copies of pre-1642 quartos, and which will eventually house the completed project.

The talk was part of MITH’s “Digital Dialogues” series, weekly talks on all sorts of interesting electronic issues and projects, usually attended by a mix of arts & humanities and computer science faculty and students. I attend when my schedule allows, but usually I’m the only librarian in the room. All of which got me to wondering… How much do you (as a humanities librarian) pay attention to and/or participate in developments in the realm of “Digital Humanities” (sometimes aka “Humanities Computing”)? If you do pay attention or participate, what are your reasons for doing so? What kinds of things interest you, and how do you keep up?

For now, my primary motivation is to learn about cool projects, like Shakespeare’s Quartos, (or the Dickinson Electronic Archives or the Walt Whitman Archive), that will help me to help my students and faculty. I think that down the road I’d be interested in participating in some sort of digital humanities project or scholarship, but I have yet to figure out how that would occur or what it would look like. As for keeping up, I feel a bit spoiled having a vibrant organization like MITH in-house, as I know there will always be interesting things going on right under my nose. But I’ve also recently become a fan of the blog Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, which is a great way to eavesdrop on some of the conversations going on in the field and learn about new resources. (Their three-part entry on Digital Humanities in 2007 offers an excellent overview of recent developments.)

I think the realm of Digital Humanities offers a natural venue for collaboration between librarians, researchers and computer scientists, and the best projects combine the technical proficiency, subject knowledge, and information organization skills and end-user focus of all three groups.

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