A Millennial’s Response to the Digital Humanities

Michael Lobocki

October 4th, 2013

ENG 240 — 36394

A Millennial’s Response to the Digital Humanities

            As a millennial, I feel as if I have a naturally engrained desire to see Digital Humanities succeed. Throughout my entire educational career, the importance of computer literacy has been stressed via numerous typing and computer-aided research courses. Despite sitting through painfully tedious lectures on the “home row” typing technique, I feel as if for the first time, the threat of “pay attention because you’ll be using this for the rest of your life” has—and will continue to—come true. While I haven’t written in cursive in almost ten years and I can’t remember the last time I did manual long division, I use computers and the internet as a vessel for academic research almost every day of my life.

“Digitial Humanities” is defined as “a field of research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the discipline of the humanities.” (Kirschenbaum, What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?) Implementing technological advancements in the classroom has become a much more complex practice than sitting twenty second graders in front of Oregon Trail to deter them from throwing paper planes at each other. Students have been taught how to search numerous sources and bookmark them while simultaneously judging their credibility on the fly. One thing that I’ve noticed as a result of expanding technological research in the classroom is the trained ability for students to judge academic credibility. Before anybody with Windows ’98 and some free time could publish their interpretations on the internet, the only filter for credibility was, “It’s in a book, so somebody obviously proofread and fact checked this.” There’s no copy editor or peer review involved when somebody grows passionate about a topic and decides to launch a Blogger.com page. As the internet bloats and more users begin to cover more topics, the importance of judging one’s digital ethos will predictably bloat at the same rate.

I think the most intriguing idea featured in Debates of the Digital Humanities comes from Kirschenbaum’s essay in which he told the story of Brian Croxall’s absentee paper from the 2009 MLA Convention. Due to travel complications, Croxall could not make it to the convention and had his paper read in absentia. As a result of his absence, he chose to also include this paper in a post on his online blog. Because of this, his paper went viral and became the most widely seen and read paper of the convention. The reason I found this so interesting is because it seems that in 2013, it should be considered the norm to want your literary work to be featured across as many platforms and forms of media as possible. The internet, in itself, is just that. It’s a sprawling amount of space for ideas to be shared with millions in the form of text, video, audio, etc., and Croxall capitalized on the medium.

Digital Humanities is about building things. It’s a global academic effort to shift from the act of reading and critiquing to a much more productive practice of building and making. I would hazard a bet that anybody that interacts with the general public on a regular basis would have a difficult time not running into somebody that either owns, references, or is explicitly using a tablet computer or iPad. These devices, when connected to a wireless connection more consistently reliable than that of UIC, can shift any book to a community based collaborative effort. I own a Kindle, and in a majority of books purchased from the Amazon bookstore, there is a feature in which you can read and add comments to certain passages. Very rarely do these comments contain useless Sparknote snippets regarding the plot and are instead detailed interpretations from passionate readers from across the country or even across the globe. Perhaps the binary divide between articulating thoughtful critiques and hurling caps-locked racial slurs exists because the “trolls” of the internet face the difficult decision between (a) lobbing unfounded promiscuity claims of one’s mother in the comments section of a video tribute to Spiderbait’s cover of Black Betty on YouTube or (b) belittling the economic plight of Dust Bowl farmers in the margins of the Kindle edition of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Innovations like that of the Amazon Kindle’s communal comment system open the gates of communication and bridge the intellectual gap between scholars—both proven and self-identified—and puzzled High School students who are perhaps having trouble grappling with the use of satire in George Orwell’s 1984.

While certain technological pitfalls exist, such as the unreliability and difficulty to index Twitter posts that are buried by newer posts in a matter of weeks, a change of media or online source can often resolve the issue. I am a supporter of the Digital Humanities in the sense that it expands sources for academic research while simultaneously creating a 24/7 free-flowing conversation on the very pages of your book. As our society moves deeper into the 21st century, I will accept and welcome with open arms the means by which any cooperative collaboration will operate in the coming years. However, in order for those innovations and technologies to branch outward, it will require open mindedness and a cooperative effort between the veteran scholars and rising millennial age scholars-to-be.


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About johnacaseyjr

A Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). My research currently focuses on issues of sustainability in nineteenth and early twentieth century US fiction about agriculture and family farming as well as generational tension within contemporary Native American fiction.

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