Digital Humanities and the IRC link

What are the so-called "Digital Humanities"? It's difficult to find a single short answer—in fact, one can't even find consensus on whether the phrase is singular or plural. Are the Digital Humanities a set of tools, practices, theories and approaches? Is it a new field of scholarly endeavor that should rank alongside older disciplines like History, English, or Philosophy? Does a practitioner have to have the skills of a programmer? And how should we define the Humanities to begin with?[1]

Interactive virtual sculpture: Madeleine I, Henri Matisse, 1901

Cover Image: Point cloud from an infrared scan of Madeleine II, Henri Matisse, 1903

At the IRC we are loathe to wade into the longstanding debates over definitions of Digital Humanities, especially as some of the early conversations seemed to center on defining who was “in” or “out” of the field. We view ourselves as practitioners, rather than theoreticians. As such, we believe in the “big tent” approach, seeing the Digital Humanities as a way of using digital media to both ask big questions and visualize knowledge. Digital tools—like textual analysis, mapping and GIS, and virtual reality—are used to both support and define scholarship.[2] Importantly, at the IRC elements of research and scholarship are present in both the “Digital” and the “Humanities” aspects of projects. We don’t want to just work on projects using predefined tools; we want to make new and better tools.

Left above. Detail from interactive kiosk: BEARINGS of Baltimore, Circa 1815, 2016

Right above. Still from video: The Unbuilt Hurva, 1993

Sometimes humanists are afraid of working with digital tools because they worry about not having a technical background. But they shouldn’t be, because digital work is inherently collaborative and multi-disciplinary. Working together allows each scholar to build on their own strengths. The IRC has a long history of collaboration with humanities scholars, through projects like The Unbuilt Hurva, Matisse: Painter as Sculptor, Mapping Baybrook, and Visualizing Early Baltimore, and the Art of Transformation.

Screenshot: Art of Transformation, IRC project with Baltimore community partners and humanities scholars, 2016

We want the IRC to function as a hub of innovation, a place where scholars from all disciplines—humanities, social sciences, life sciences, visual arts, computer science and engineering—come together. Indeed, the IRC is already such a place, as the staff includes scholars from Visual Arts, History, and Computer Science. At the IRC we use our skills to make knowledge matter. The IRC is a place for scholarly experimentation, in form and content. It’s a place to build and use new tools, like MapTu. We want to push the limits, and we look forward to many future collaborations.

Screenshot: Interactive mapping site, Mapping Baybrook, 2012
  1. ^ According to the 1965 legislation that founded the National Endowment for the Humanities: "The term 'humanities' includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life."
  2. ^ See Spencer W. Roberts, “Reading Series: Part 1, Enacting Digital Humanities”