[Humanist] 24.324 designing an academic DH department

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Sep 8 23:02:11 CEST 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 324.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 08 Sep 2010 13:46:13 -0400
        From: Wendell Piez <wapiez at mulberrytech.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.320 designing an academic DH department
        In-Reply-To: <20100908010724.7AFC3689DA at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

Maybe you are cannily trying to elicit dismay or disagreement by your 
suggestion that a Digital Humanities "department" might perhaps be 
better organized like a corporation than like "a conventional 
academic entity" such as a department of History or Literature, with 
a more or less well-defined scope of interest and a self-sustaining 
and self-motivating research agenda. But the questions you raise and 
the distinctions you make are good ones.

Yet rather than try and answer them (who am I to say), let me just 
pose this question. We now know -- we are now learning -- that there 
is this interesting problem or set of problems we call "information 
modeling". (I dare say you know this better than anyone.) It is not 
exactly engineering, although it involves design. Maybe it stands in 
the same relation to the engineering of information systems as 
architecture and urban planning do to engineering. It is a thing, but 
not exactly one thing -- the kind of modeling you do when using a 
typesetting program, a spreadsheet, a relational database, a web 
site, a markup language or an object-oriented application development 
framework, are all different, despite interesting commonalities. It 
is about naming things, and defining and relating what it is you 
distinguish by name.

It is also a very old thing, even if "information modeling" when it 
comes to the design of narrative or verse form or stagecraft or other 
vehicles has happened by evolutionary processes as well as by the 
intentional activities of poets, thaumaturges, rhetoricians, 
legislators and bureaucrats.

It involves technology and material forms, but it also involves much 
"softer" understandings of psychology, audience, and social 
organization. It has always been done implicitly within other 
disciplines. But now, perhaps due to the pressures of digital 
convergence, it is coming to be understood as a thing in itself.

What is the proper framework within which to study and research the 
topics related to this?

Digital Humanities comprises media theory as well as technology. It's 
a Klein bottle of a discipline (which is part of why it's so 
difficult to explain and justify). It is contained by much narrower 
interests like engineering and systems design; but it also contains 
whatever it is that contains them.


Wendell Piez                            mailto:wapiez at mulberrytech.com
Mulberry Technologies, Inc.                http://www.mulberrytech.com
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