David Mimno wrote a lovely overview of Princeton’s Digital Humanities work, “The Digital Humanities Initiative at Princeton University.”
I’d like to emphasize several of his excellent points, which are applicable to all digital humanities work (emphasis added below is mine):
If there is one message I’d like to convey in this talk, it is that the real goals of digital humanities are not that diferent from traditional humanities.The methods and tools that have become available recently are not part of standard practice in the humanities, so we need a label for them: thus, “digital” humanities. But as these new technologies become more familiar, they will fade into the background, leaving the real humanistic questions in the forefront. Take the example of communications technology. Most of us would describe my iPhone as a “cellphone”, but increasingly people — especially younger people — think of it as simply a “phone”. If we are successful, there will be no such thing as “digital humanities”, just digital tools that are a natural and integral part of scholarship.
I’d like to conclude by summarizing some of the lessons I’ve learned in digital humanities.
First, we need to remember the goal of digital humanities. We often think of the unit of work as the digital humanities project. These projects put a lot of work into some collection, and the result is often a pretty web page. The project becomes stale, and eventually dies. The corpus and the interface are important, but our goal should be the same as it always was: to learn about the past, to think about art or culture or history in a new way. If we lead with our questions and let the technology ﬁll in the details, we will do better work.
Second, we should not be training “digital humanists” who sit between scholarship and technology. No one person will do everything. Collaboration between experts will become the model for the near future. We do not need interdisciplinarians, who are equally comfortable in multiple ﬁelds, but hirable in none. What we need is enough common language for people to work
together, and enough social engineering to make connections happen.
Finally, we should not focus on technology for its own sake. The goal of digital humanities is to become invisible. With each year, the level of technological skill of students is rising. My children know all about smartphones, but will probably never see a card catalog. They will not understand how not to use technology. Training this generation to ask humanistic questions and to think critically about the past using digital tools may look much more like traditional scholarly education than we expect.
I wholeheartedly agree with these statements, and I’m very happy to have read this so near to the first Fall meeting of UF’s Digital Humanities Working Group where we’ll be discussing concerns of the humanities, using the “digital” to signal collaborative opportunities and to foster discussion among different potential collaborators.