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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Academics & Research

UH programs unite for digital humanities


Initiatives in the rapidly growing field of digital humanities are popping up in universities across Texas, and UH will host a meeting for a state-wide digital humanities consortium.

The Texas Digital Humanities Consortium will hold its inaugural Texas Digital Humanities Conference from April 10 to 12 at UH. The consortium’s website names UH, Rice University, Texas A&M University, University of Texas, University of North Texas and UT-Arlington as founding members.

“Traditional humanities have always sought to answer questions about things such as art and literature,” said Casey Dué Hackney, professor and director of the Classical Studies program. “Digital humanities seeks to use techniques derived from computer science to answer new questions, whereas before, scholars of the humanities would be limited (to) their own knowledge and readings they had done throughout the course of their life.”

Two examples of computer science-based techniques involve searching for textual patterns in immense digital archives and using algorithms that span information systems across the globe.

“For example, UH just joined this organization called HathiTrust, which has access to over 11 million digitized volumes,” said CLASS postdoctoral fellow Cameron Buckner.

“Our (Consortium) conference’s opening keynote lecturer, Erez Lieberman Aiden, was a part of founding the digital humanities tool Google Ngram Viewer, a tool available for everyone to easily use. We at CLASS welcome all undergraduates and graduates to attend the keynote lecture.”

Digital humanities project leaders tend to be experts in one field — the humanities or computer science — who have picked up an interest in the other. Another model of work is collaboration between a humanities expert and someone skilled in computer science, according to Hackney.

“Humanists are getting trained in computer science techniques, whether it’s learning something basic like XML or MarkUp to actually learning how to code and learning how to use algorithms,” Hackney said. “There are even ‘camps,’ or gatherings, not conferences per se, that humanists attend to pick and learn specific computer science and/or information system technology skills.”

The main issues facing digital humanities initiatives include managing multi-disciplinary expertise and making the sheer amount of raw information accessible and useful to the general public, Buckner said.

“I think some of the same issues facing the humanities are also facing business and technology out in enterprise,” Buckner said. “Companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter — they now have (an) enormous amount of cultural data, and they want to know what to do with it.”

Buckner said a field such as digital humanities can yield progress in both academia and the job market.

“The main solution is to have a new wave of hybrid scholars who have a passion for the humanities with the kind of technical expertise you would find in, say, computer science or engineering,” Buckner said. “One thing we’re trying to do is figure out how to help undergraduates from UH be as competitive as they possibly can be in the job market, and the hybrid combination of a liberal arts and technological background is a killer combination.”

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