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Digital_humanities
Burdick A., Drucker J., Lunenfeld P., Presner T., Schnapp J., The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2012. 152 pp.  Type: Book (978-0-262018-47-0)
Date Reviewed: May 22 2013

The authors of this book construct a metalogue--“a dialogue that assumes the form of that which it discusses”--about the emerging field of digital humanities. The term “refers to new modes of scholarship and institutional units for collaborative, transdisciplinary, and computationally engaged research, teaching, and publication.” The authors examine the role of digital materials, social media, web resources, and computer processes and programs in the way the humanities are studied.

As with any discussion or dialogue on a subject, there are peaks and valleys. The metalogue begins at a high point with a discussion of what digital humanities encompasses and how the field has expanded traditional humanities. Next, the authors identify technologies such as data mining and computer-based algorithms that are essential tools for any humanities student. They provide as an example the video testimonies at the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation, pointing out that it would take several decades to examine all of the material; however, with expanded computer techniques for scanning the material, a person can easily extract the information that identifies the ideas that thread through the testimonies. The authors expand on these ideas through case studies that link the concepts of digital humanities to real-world applications in the humanities. This provides an opportunity for students, scholars, librarians, and teachers to gain an understanding of the role digital humanities is playing in the field today.

The next section, on the culture of digital humanities, seems to be a lull in the conversation. The authors ask provocative questions: “What is the author function when reshaped around the plurality of creative design, open compositional practices, and the reality of versioning?” “If the platforms set the terms of cultural production, then whose worldviews and ideologies will they embody and structure into the creation of knowledge?” Despite this, the section fails to explore these questions or even attempt to provide answers. Instead, it rehashes history explored extensively elsewhere. This includes the collaborative growth of Wikipedia and the role social media played in the Arab Spring. The authors leave the reader with lots of questions and very few answers.

The book then begins to move the conversation out of this lull. This portion of the metalogue investigates the changes that will need to take place in the study of humanities in order to embrace the new digital tools the authors see as foundational. It examines how the conduct of humanities research will be altered by the analysis of large datasets of documents and the creation of digital projects. The authors make provocative statements about the changes that need to take place in the humanities, especially the shift from the lone researcher doing textual analysis to multiple authors working in a multifaceted research environment. Yet, the authors fail to acknowledge the many changes that have already occurred in the humanities, libraries, and archives to accommodate the role of digital resources. They do not investigate the rise of citizen metadata tagging or the increase in open-source journals.

The book ends on a high point with a quick question-and-answer session on the nature of digital humanities. When approaching this book, the reader might want to enter the metalogue at the end and then go back to the beginning; this will clarify much of the conversation. High school teachers, librarians, archivists, and beginning humanities scholars can use this book as an introduction to the emerging field of digital humanities. In addition, anyone interested in starting a conversation on digital humanities can use the questions raised in the book to construct their own metalogues on the subject.

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Reviewer:  Amy Phillips Review #: CR141232 (1308-0690)
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Arts And Humanities (J.5 )
 
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