This week in our Digital History class we were asked to reflect on what we found missing from our introduction to the field of Digital Humanities. This turned out to be a more difficult question to answer than I had initially thought. The project the anchored the practical portion of our work this semester, an augmented reality book on Air Canada, showed us what it was like to work with a number of DH tools. More importantly it gave use an understanding of the challenges of working on DH projects are. The thing that strikes me most about DH is that is seems to be built around a very DIY mentality. When faced with a project requiring different skills or expertise, the expectation is that you will go out into the community and acquire these skills through trail and error or community advice. As a function of this, I’m not really sure you can be aware of what the holes in your DH knowledge are until you come face to face with a problem that requires that knowledge. To go even further, it might be better to think of DH as a not so much a broad set of skills and more of a mentality. For me DH has come to mean a desire and willingness to experiment.
Through experimentation we learn, I don’t think this is a groundbreaking idea and it’s not an idea that has come about as a result of digital tools. I think the true value added and what digital brings to the table is the sharing. Digital tools make it possible for people to do a variety of different and exciting things. These tools can help us sort through amounts of data that may not have been possible by hand. They also let us display information in ways that could change the way we think about old information. As exciting as some of these projects can be it is still the sharing that seems the most valuable to me. The DH community is the largest asset of doing digital work. The ability to stay in contact with people who share an interest or can help you trouble shoot your way through a project is more valuable than any single tool. Beyond the support aspect, it is also a way to get your work out to a wider audience than it may ever have seen.
Although I had trouble figuring out what the holes in my digital knowledge are I did notice a bit of a hole in the field. Possibly as a result of that DIY spirit, DH do not seem to be as critical of their processes as other fields have become. While browsing DigitalHumanitiesNow it seems like the trend in most articles is to show what is being accomplished in the field and offer advice for those that wish to pursue similar methods. I did run in to a bunch or critical articles but for the most part they seem to focus on digital work outside of the strictly academic sphere. I think there is room to deconstruct the tools and methods being used by people doing DH. At some point the same critical eye being used to study how video games engage with history needs to be applied to how the tools and methods used to do digital effect projects. This all may just be a result of the amount of critical theory I have had to read but I think sometimes you just need to get self-reflective before you move to far ahead of yourself. The danger with not looking back is that it can sometimes be easy to lose track of where you’re going. Although we need people to experiment for experimentations sake to keep pushing the boundaries forward in what is possible, we also need people to figure out why it’s important and what it means for how we think about our work.