Saturday, March 30, 2013

Narratives of #digitalhumanities

A few days ago, Melissa Terras posted some great thoughts about analyzing the unfolding history of the hashtag for #digitalhumanities on Twitter, largely focusing on the financial problems of accessing data. While some data has already been charted and analyzed, the large-scale project that she proposes sounds like a useful approach to the field. 

But I would like to offer a few caveats to consider in such endeavors. In following and interacting with digital humanities scholarship, I have noticed that #digitalhumanities is not the only hashtag to follow. I am relatively new to the digital humanities, and I offer these thoughts from more of a newbie's perspective. A little over a year ago, I started following trends in the field, including scholars and conversations on Twitter. I have mainly kept to reading and briefly responding (on Twitter and this blog), and only within the past few months have I begun to develop my own projects to contribute. To my point, the feeds of some of the scholars whom I have followed (representing medieval studies as well as digital humanities more broadly) present some other common hashtags: #dh, #WhatisDH, #transformdh; further afield are even more, such as #dataviz and #analytics, and no doubt others could be added within specific sub-fields that may not be particularly relevant for charting general trends. For myself, I often use #dh as a shorthand, especially since its brevity allows for inclusion in longer messages in the face of the 140-character limit.

This variety in possible hashtags, then, also presents variety for "charting the growth of the discipline, the geolocation of tweets, the networks that exist, the sentiments surrounding it" (Terra's words). In short, the #digitalhumanities hashtag does not so readily encapsulate the field; nor does that single hashtag encapsulate all of the narratives to trace in the developments of the field. So I pose my main question, which I mean not as a rhetorical challenge but as a genuine question to foster discussion: Is #digitalhumanities the only, or even the most appropriate, hashtag to consider? What about other common hashtags like #dh, #WhatisDH, #transformdh, etc.? These questions bring a host of attendant issues, but I believe they are worth considering in order to avoid charting narratives that do not encompass the whole field.

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