More Thoughts on the Digital Humanities

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I recently read an article on The Journal of Digital Humanities page. Though the Jurnal is “currently on hiatus,” the content is still accessible. The article by Tim Sherratt entitled “It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People,” was about the tools now available to researchers and the importance of harnessing the power the tools provide.
Sherratt wrote about how is was able to take existing “online technology” and tweak its function to suit his needs. He referred to this as “the power of interfaces.” While he acknowledged that the changes he made to various programs were not simple one click installations, but it wasn’t so difficult as to be insurmountable.
I think this is an important statement. When dealing with online databases’ there is always a point where I think, “I wish I could do X,” or “search just for Y” but it never accorded to me to change the way the interface interacted with my browser.
The one line that made me pause the longest was this, “Every API has an argument. What questions do they let us ask? What questions do they prevent us from asking?”
Sherratt argued that even with the new technology and digital access the institutions that house the records still control the narrative and interpretation of the collections by controlling the way the public can interface with those records. By taking the power away from the institutions, the researchers can evaluate smaller segments of information and see a narrative less distorted by the lens of those in power.
I also read an article by a man readers might recall from an earlier post on Digital Humanities,  Dan Choen, entitled “Information Overload, Past and Present.” In the short article Cohen contemplates our concerns of “information overload.” He considers Ann Blair’s book Too Much to Know and her argument that every generation has felt inundated with more information than what could be useful.
I think the adage, “one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure,” fights perfectly here. Yes, there is a lot of information out there, and no, not everything will apply to every topic of research; however, the more we use the power of technology to wade through the masses the more relevant information we can collect. The more information we have, the more complete the picture of the past becomes. I think we also need to acknowledge our obligation to the future. The present isn’t all about us. As Daniel W. Stowell  said, “People will use this data in ways we can’t even imagine yet.”

Tell me what you think.

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