Digital Humanities

Digital humanities is the spread and sharing of experiences, obstacles, happiness, culture, ideas and other characteristics of humans through text, photos and videos posted online, serving as a virtual representation of their life. Technology has become an efficient way to access information. Through technology it has become easier to find prior references that could be impossible to access if they weren’t saved and shared. For instance, if there was only one hard copy of The Constitution how would we be able to gain our historical knowledge? Because of the easy access provides, individuals can obtain the transcript of The Constitution in a matter of seconds.

Without the aid of digital humanities, individuals would find themselves searching through billions of files in order to find the documents or sources they’re looking for. It has become very convenient for individuals to easily access sources of accurate information from the past through the internet. For instance, in Guantánamo Public Memory Project, they have provided different information regarding different experiences people have encountered while at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Having this collection in one piece of writing makes it easier for people to access it through the web. Digital humanities has become a great source in today’s life and is a great tool for exposing individuals to information from all around the world.

Expanding the Humanities Beyond the Classroom

happy computer crowd

The Digital Humanities provides new and extended scope to the composition of scholarship in the humanities with incorporating electronic technologies to preserve, document, further develop disciplinary methodologies, and overall challenge traditional means of studies.

Digital Humanities extends access to learning and the liberal arts to anyone with an internet connection.

The Data narratives and structural histories: Melville, Maury, and American whaling page illustrates the use of online technology’s ability to widen access to scholarship, through online media, such as videos, that not only provide interpretations, but different methods of academic work other than the typical academic paper. Digital Humanities, illustrated in the Data narratives and structural histories: Melville, Maury, and American whaling, supports the idea that the humanities and academia share a goal to provide personal growth and improvement. The best way to reach these aims in a digital age is through online media. The Digital Humanities offers growth and improvement to those that don’t have the access to the humanities through a university or college. The Digital Humanities requires a computer, an internet connection, and an interest to learn.

The access to learning and exchanging information through electronic, digital, and online technologies offers fresh thinking that advances beyond stagnant learning and teaching methods. One of the biggest online means of information exchange is YouTube.  The online site gives people the platform to  share their opinions, music, and projects. YouTube provides an avenue to promote education and expand the methods of teaching.

Crash course logo

The YouTube channel CrashCourse is an educational formatted video series that touch on areas of science, history, and literature. In the videos, either John Green or, his brother, Hank Green discuss, in an animated manner, topics like the importance of literature, the Roaring Twenties, and various scientific workings.

In a media soaked culture, attention spans are shrinking, and it becomes necessary to be able be advance ideas quickly. The CrashCourse videos condense lesson to roughly 10 to 14 minute videos. John or Hank Green achieve exchanging large amounts of information in short videos by rapid speaking. The rapid speech is an direct reaction to brevity in the digital age. It is necessary to express as much information as possible in as little time as possible. The rapid fire pace of the videos make the videos initially hard to internalize, but the viewer has the ability to rewind the video as much as the viewer wants.

Not only is it important to discuss ideas concisely, but to be creative and engaging. The video continues to hold the viewer’s interest through cartoon imaginary. The videos splice entertainment and eduction with cartoon animation. Cartoon characters are used to visually explain or highlight aspects of the video. The visual stimulus works to further secure the viewer’s attention. A new stimulus is introduced to the viewer, but a cartoon visual that is recognizable and palatable to a teen age demographic, but the intellectual endeavor of the video make the videos attention grabbing just as well.

Examining the CrashCourse video The Roaring 20’s: Crash Course US History #32 John Green discusses the 1920s through verbal and visual means. John Greens begins the videos with highlighting the topics of discuss such as jazz, the automobile, new methods of courtship, consumer culture to mention a few. The introduction of the topics are as quickly raised as they are followed with visuals to punctuate the topic, and process continues throughout video.  He moves throughout out the video quickly and easily to different topics with brevity and humor. The decade involved an increased public access to automobile that changed courtship. John Green jokes that automobile were nicknamed “skoodilypooping chariots” before stating they were actually nicknamed “brothels on wheels.” The combination of humor with learning makes the video fun and engaging, removing notions that learning has to be dull or dry and disconnecting. The video continues to provide a layer learning experience through cartoon animation to enhance the audio. Cartoon animation gives a visual underscore to the unequal spread of prosperity of the decade that followed the expansion of industry while simultaneously making the videos palatable to young viewers, but not alienating anyone interested in  serious historical learning. Overall the video captures the challenges the Digital Humanities proposes to tradition academies: how scholarship is presented and document, methods of engaging the audience, and how learning is made accessible to people.

CrashCourse presents a more enjoyable learning experience than sitting in front of a textbook and reading academic speak for hours about the implications of buying goods and services on credit for the U.S. economy. The videos mix the lessons of the classroom with the visual stimulus of smart and funny narration and illustration.

“What’s on your mind?”

What's on your mind?

My definition of digital humanities is the application of digital technology that provides humans more information about topics such as history and society One site that Professor Urban shared with us that supports my personal definition of digital humanities is the Guantanamo Public Memory Project. In the Guantanamo Public Memory people online can comment and share their stories about the Guantanamo so interaction among humans is showcased.The ability for interaction is important because it allows us to be able to express our opinions and views about that topic.For example Facebook ,a popular social media site, asks its users the question Whats on your mind?. By asking that question Facebook is encouraging its users to speak on anything from politics, religion, music, etc. whatever they want to share with other users. It shows that the opinions we have does matter because we are being asked to participate in conversation.

Digital humanities provides people with opportunities to learn old ideas in a new way.For example because of digital humanities someone can learn more about the Sistine chapel and actually experience and see the Sistine chapel in your own living room. Digital humanities provides that visual experience that can not be duplicated in a text.

Digital Humanities and the Rutgers Oral History Archives


The Digital Humanities include the collection of information via means utilizing modern technology to support the teachings of traditional topics. A site that was discussed in the presentations that supports this idea would be the Guantánamo Public Memory Project. It is a collection of audio, video, and print interviews of people who spent time on Guantánamo base. The site also includes a fairly comprehensive timeline of information about the base from the late 19th century up to the present day. The site allows users to search through these interviews and learn more about history, a process that incorporates and mirrors my working definition of Digital Humanities.

Similar in structure to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, the Rutgers Oral History Archives is another site that incorporates the use of Digital Humanities. This site was established through Rutgers University’s School of Arts and Sciences as a database for approximately 700 interviews with men and women veterans of war. The interviews are conducted orally and then transcribed and published to the site where they can be searched through and accessed for research. My mother’s father, Frank Gimpel, is a graduate of Rutgers University and a veteran of World War II. He was interviewed for this project, and being able to read his interview about his time at Rutgers and his experiences in the Army was an enlightening experience for me. Excerpts from his interview were featured in Tom Kindre’s book The Boys from New Jersey, and his photograph can be seen in the bottom right corner of the photo above.

Digital Humanities

My working definition of digital humanities is using technology to conduct interdisciplinary research, answer questions, and display information in a way by which creativity can be invoked and the possibilities are endless. With the digital age arising, there are many ways to display information, and as a result, anything can be created as long as someone does it. For example using the YouTube digitization on whaling, the creator was able to make a magnificent virtual display of every single ship path. This enables us as scholars to not only to have a visual, but also gives us the ability to freeze at any point in time what the paths were like and this comes all at the expense at the click of a button. In my opinion this is a much more interesting and convenient way to display information and it allows us to quickly access information that would take a long time to find. With this said, I am very intrigued about the display of digital humanities as there are no boundaries and people can present history in any way they want and imagine.

An example that displays digital humanities is the online museum This allows anyone to virtually explore several different countries histories without having to physically go there. With this, you can both briefly read about and see pictures that you normally would see at a regular museum. Although it is virtual, it still provides the same information and knowledge you would receive if you were physically at a museum. Its digital images are available for use and its convenience provides another example how valuable and important digital humanities is and can be in the future. The image below displays what the site looks likes, and from it, there is a still a museum “feel” in the sense of the setup.

Freedom and the Digital Frontier

"Internet Freedom," Cravens World

“Internet Freedom,” Cravens World

In 1994, John Perry Barlow published a prophetic essay in Computerworld College Edition titled “Jack In, Young Pioneer” (available here), in which he outlined how he and his fellows humans were being

“swallowed by the cultural superorganism of digital technology, a beast now well beyond anyone’s control… slouching off to Cyberspace with us in its belly.”

Even in the mid-1990s, when many American colleges and universities were first establishing email accounts and servers  for students, Barlow was aware that even at that early stage of the digital revolution, most of our everyday lives were governed directly or indirectly through our interactions with what he calls “Cyberspace.” Barlow, who had run a ranch in Wyoming, described his own encounter with new forms of technology as one in which he had no choice but to surrender, since he:

was as culturally doomed as the Tasaday of New Guinea. Technology had so empowered my competitors with fertilizer, growth hormones, and computerized futures hedging programs, that only a few of us were necessary to feed those remaining Americans who still eat beef. Such atavistic practices as mine were like stone axes against smart bombs.

Barlow relies on the myth of the frontier, to explain the significance of the new digital frontier that ” we are all going [to] whether we want to or not.”

He writes that,

“Misfits and dreamers, rejected by or rejecting society, are pushed out into the margins. There they set up camp and maintain what little order they want in it by unwritten codes, the honor of thieves, the Code of the West.

Despite their usual haplessness, they discover resources and start exploiting them. Burghers and boosters back in the civilized regions hear of these discoveries. Settlers, a milder sort, come in with their women and children and are repelled by the savagery and license of their predecessors, whether mountain men, prospectors, or Indians. They send for troops to secure the frontier for the Rotary Club and the PTA. They elect representatives, pass laws, and, pretty soon, they’ve created another place which is boring but which at least appears predictable.”

His cartoon-ish history of society’s conquest of the frontier, and its transformation from a place of independent individuals bound by nothing more than honor, codes, and pledges to the banal, conformity of suburbia, is troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which for its reversal of causality. Without state investment in railroads, military conquests of indigenous lands, and capital investment from cities such as New York and London, there is no frontier. It is unclear who occupies Barlow’s imagined camps. For every misfit and dreamer who landed in the West, there were many more whose initial arrival on the frontier was enabled by the very forces Barlow claims came only subsequently.

Barlow’s problematic use of the frontier aside – he is certainly not the first – his fascinating personal history, and the backgrounds that explain his initial involvement in debates on the freedom of the internet, are worth noting. He was, among other things (see a fascinating biography, preserved as an artifact of the earlier Internet, here), a lyricist for the Grateful Dead. A favorite song that he wrote is “Cassidy” from 1970.

“Cassidy,” though named after the recently born daughter of the band’s office manager, is also a reference to Neal Cassady, the drug-using, constantly riffing, and always wandering bisexual muse of the Beat Generation, who appears as Dean Moriarty in  Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. As with many things Barlow, it is a statement about freedom, in Cassidy’s case what being a free spirit might mean to her as she enters the world, and a reflection on Cassady, who had embodied a particular idea of a person who lived freely, in opposition to social norms, yet had died two years earlier at only the age of 41. (Or at least this is one popular interpretation. According to the comments section of this discussion, on the Dead’s official website, cats may have something to do with the story as well. Narrative form in a Deadhead comments section follows its own rhythms.)

A super groovy Grateful Dead poster for a 1967 show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. I wonder what Barlow would think of the watermark tag on this poster, signifying its "ownership" by the Vault, which will also sell you a reproduced hard copy of the poster. They might own the real property here in the form of the poster they made this quality scan of, but should they be able to claim every reproduction - not matter how intangibly - that is distributed across the internet?

A super groovy Grateful Dead poster for a 1967 show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. We take for granted the ability to circulate an image like this, using simple functions like cutting and pasting, or with digital files, by transmitting bit torrents, but this ability to reproduce and duplicate cultural information is quite novel. Bootlegging novels in the 18th century, for example, required the ownership of a printing press and therefore significant capital investment in equipment and education in the skills needed to work that equipment. Not so anymore. For a fascinating history of piracy and accompanying legal and philosophical debates about the cultural and intellectual ownership of property, see Adrian Johns’ wonderful book Piracy.

Rather than discourage bootlegging at their shows, which many bands did – at the behest of record labels, who believed that unauthorized recordings cut into potential profits – the Grateful Dead encouraged the practice. As one anecdote goes, the band, upon observing a fan using equipment to record a live performance at the Hollywood Palladium in 1970, instructed, “You, with the microphone, if you want a good recording, you’ll need to move back about forty feet.”.

An NPR segment explores how bands make royalties on their intellectual property.

In a 1994 Wired article titled “The Economy of Ideas,” Barlow noted that

In regard to my own soft product, rock ‘n’ roll songs, there is no question that the band I write them for, the Grateful Dead, has increased its popularity enormously by giving them away. We have been letting people tape our concerts since the early seventies, but instead of reducing the demand for our product, we are now the largest concert draw in America, a fact that is at least in part attributable to the popularity generated by those tapes.

True, I don’t get any royalties on the millions of copies of my songs which have been extracted from concerts, but I see no reason to complain. The fact is, no one but the Grateful Dead can perform a Grateful Dead song, so if you want the experience and not its thin projection, you have to buy a ticket from us. In other words, our intellectual property protection derives from our being the only real-time source of it.

For Barlow, so long as the embodied experience, the one that took place in real time, possessed exchange value,  distributing its analog counterpart only served to promote the real product.

The policy that the Grateful Dead and its representatives pursue today is that Soundboard recordings, coordinated by the band, which have also been released as master versions by record labels, are available, but only streaming and not as downloads. Recordings made by audience members are available for download. All of this is organized on the Internet Archive, the “non-profit  digital library with the stated mission of ‘universal access to all knowledge.'” (The Dead’s page is here.)

The homepage for the Grateful Dead Internet Archive collection of streamable and downloadable music.

The homepage for the Grateful Dead Internet Archive collection of streamable and downloadable music.

 The site is a playland for Deadheads, catering to fans’ collective obsession with cataloging and tracing performance patterns. Nick Paumgarten, a New Yorker music critic and devotee, gives thirteen of his favorite recordings of live concerts here. The 1974 show he references in Oregon has a lovely version of “I Know You Rider.” Be sure to listen at the end of the song to the surreal announcement that fire trucks will be driving around providing water to thirsty Deadheads, who are instructed not to be alarmed by their presence. Despite the site’s rich offerings, as my above link to the YouTube video of “Cassidy” demonstrates – and as Barlow more than anyone knows and appreciates – distribution on the Internet remains a place in which rules of conduct apply only loosely.

Rainey Reitman, "Computer Search and Seizure: A Three-Panel Cartoon," Electronic Frontier Foundation

Rainey Reitman, “Computer Search and Seizure: A Three-Panel Cartoon,” Electronic Frontier Foundation

Barlow is a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a name that borrows from his influential essay. The EFF is one of the most prominent non-profit defenders of the legal rights and freedoms of Internet “free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights.” Just two days ago, the EFF reported on the testimony it had compiled and provided to a federal judge in the case of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, on how the National Security Agency “Surveillance Chilled the Right to Association.” The long strange trip continues…

digitial humanities

The question asked of us intrigues me because I believe that “digital humanities” is a contradiction. Professor Urban taught us that the humanities are skills we need to live in a democratic society. Such as analytical thinking, moral reasoning, and problem solving; they are the skills that make us sophisticated humans that can coexist. However, I don’t believe these skill are necessary in the digital world, or at least no where near the degree they’re needed in “real” society. In real societies, people are forced to coincide and work together. They often do not have the option to leave. In the digital world, people are able to pick and choose they communities they wish to be a part of. This leads to much less tension, because people can easily leave if they have an issue with the community. I suppose digital humanities lies in how the members of a community decide a website should be run. An example of this being reddit, where commenters can make their needs heard to moderators, who will (hopefully) modify the community to fit everyone’s needs.