Alongside my blogmates, I attended my first THATCamp at last week’s AHA meeting in Chicago. I learned a lot and enjoyed myself. I think we especially gained valuable feedback during the session that Ben proposed on E-publishing. That said, I came away somewhat skeptical of what I sensed was a utopianism among many of the digital humanists and historians at THATCamp. In one session that I attended–on the question, “What Are the Digital Humanities?” (still debated, not surprisingly, since the much older question, “What Are the Humanities?” has yet to be resolved either)–some of the participants made claims that digitalization has created a fundamental, even epistemological shift in how we think about history. I am underwhelmed.
I’m no Luddite or technophobe. I see the merits of the digital world for historians. Research can be made easier, or at least, more efficient. How historians deliver content is changing, obviously, evident in this blog post. But these are examples of how digitalization serves as an important new tool. It does not change the way we conceptualize the past. Or does it? I am genuinely curious about this question, so if you, dear reader, have answers, I would like you to share them.
There’s another element of digitalization that worries me, beyond misconceptions of utopia. Some of the THATCamp participants have changed the types of work they have their students do. One professor told of having his students produce collaborative, digital media projects, like short digital films, in place of traditional essays. When it comes to teaching history and the humanities, the level of my distrust for technophiles rises. Call me crazy, but I think reading and writing remain essential, and I don’t think digital filmmaking is a replacement in a humanities course, even though it is a valuable skill in and of itself. But what think you?