A Digital History of the Digital Humanities

Building off something that crossed my mind some time ago, it seems to me that “the history of humanities computing” is ripe for an online presentation–one that (naturally) uses all the best practices for the gathering and presentation of history in the digital environment.  It’s got everything we need: a finite start date in the not too distant past, but a long and varied enough history to be interesting, many players who are still available (which is to say: oral history), electronically–  and traditionally-published professional literature to mine, professional organizations, illustrative project examples.

Several folks have undertaken projects related to this, but so far it doesn’t seem that there’s a one-stop shop to provide a real context for people seeking to better understand the history of the field and a sense of the specific projects that have emerged from and contributed to it.

Ideally, this session would attract the éminences grises of the digital humanities who can provide their own experiences with and read on the history of the field, the young’uns who have questions about what’s come before, folks interested in clever ways to present historical information (text, video, oral history, etc.) online, historians of the (digital) humanities, information managers who can help organize all this mountain of pertinent information, and anybody else who feels they have a dog in this hunt.  Help us:

  • Figure out who to talk to about the history of the digital humanities (both players and scholars)
  • Figure out what to talk to them about
  • Think about best practices for archiving and presenting oral (and other) history online
  • Find examples of good work to inspire us
  • Develop visualizations: timelines, thematic treatments, “family trees” of projects and scholars

I fully admit to being a context hound–I love to see how planets relate to one another within a solar system and solar systems within galaxies.  In many ways I lack a context for my own specific work in the field and an understanding of how it fits in with others’.  And part of this, too, is a response to the broader notion that newer practitioners of the digital humanities–which in many ways is all of us–are unaware of their (our?) place in the history of humanities computing.  They/we too often lack a sense of the bigger picture.  So maybe we can create a living, breathing, go-to resource to help answer that very need.

What else might such a project enable, or do, or present?


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  1. George H. Williams

    I think this is a great idea and would love to participate.

    Something the project could enable is the preservation and explanation of competing narratives of the origins and growth of the field.

  2. Amanda French

    Dude, the Wikipedia page on digital humanities needs some serious updating. Hope that can be a part of this.

  3. George H. Williams

    I like that suggestion, Amanda. =)

    In terms of oral histories, I’ve got that process down and can bring a good quality pocket camcorder (plus other stuff) if we think that we want to record some interviews with THATCamp attendees.

  4. cybernetickinkwell.com

    Awesome thoughts from both of you–George, we definitely need to map those narratives. “In the beginning . . .” I definitely say bring the camcorder, too.

    And absolutely, Wikipedia cross-effort should be made.

  5. Aden Nichols

    Super idea for a session, Eric. What could be better than using our DH tools and approaches to generate the discipline’s own “proof of principle”? Further, it definitely makes sense to create a central contextual model now–let’s strike while the iron’s hot!

  6. George Brett

    I am very interested in participating. My experiences with ACH began in the early 1980’s. I was among the first to support faculty use of microcomputers in the Humanities in the University of North Carolina System.

    I have many anecdotes and stories from those days and more recent times too.

    Let’s Talk,
    — George

  7. Sarah Werner

    I love this idea! As a definite newbie and as someone who thinks about these types of questions in terms of the early years of print, I’d find this useful and interesting. If it would be useful to have someone uninformed to look at how things are presented and to ask the sort of questions that might be asked by the uninitiated, I would love to help!

  8. George H. Williams

    Noted with interest: “Defining the Digital Humanities: A Bibliography,” by Nathan R. Johnson (via Amanda French)

  9. James Neal

    I’m very interested in this area. I’m planning my Master’s thesis around DH history. Excellent idea.

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