To study Philosophy, History or Literature was long considered synonymous of prestige, but it was also considered necessary. Reading the classics, speaking Latin or ancient Greek was synonymous of high culture. Everything else went to the prosaic sphere.
Enormous libraries with thousands of volumes were the paradise of any humanist or intellectual who prized him/herself of such. The great universities measured their prestige by the size of their libraries.
To dissert about the problems and anguishes of man, his many weaknesses and his uncertain future was indispensable in any meeting of cultured people. The Humanities: an exclusive club that not everyone could enter.
Few people could boast of discussing the theses of the German philosophers as opposed to those of the French. Reading for very long hours the novels of Balzac, Dumas or Proust was only admissible if you already had read all the works of Shakespeare and twice Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
Universities prepared a lot of people to read. The Humanities involved, above all, reading. The thought followed the reading and the reading stimulated the thought. Oh, what times were those in which every intellectual, therefore, needed his glasses without fail!
The new Humanities
Today we talk about Digital Humanities to differentiate them from those old ones that were trapped in a regular library, with books of hundreds of pages of unique smell and beautiful covers with golden letters. The so-called digital humanities are another thing for certain.
Some people define them as the cross between traditional Humanities and Digital Technology. At first glance, this looks too obvious and too simple. If it were that way an ebook would be a product of the Digital Humanities and it is not, although Plato surely would love to have on his iPad his complete collection of manuscripts.
In the first place, we must make it clear that Digital Humanities are not a discipline, but a field of study. Those who have leaned towards them focus on digital intellectual products, that is, from videos to digital files. But they also use digital technology to study the intellectual production of society.
It is likely to be somewhat complicated to understand what is going on here. But this is only because we try to do it from the model of the traditional Humanities. Digital Humanities are very much like a network. Yes, a network. In this interconnected world it could not be otherwise.
What’s about Digital Humanities?
They are a network that synthesizes the traditional Humanities and Digital Technology, reaching points that previously could never have been connected. They do not seek to replace the wonderful congregation of knowledge that we have accumulated over many centuries and that is still fundamental to us (probably always will be).
Digital Humanities have their own identity, however, still under construction. Let’s take an example: the management of Big Data is essential today and its analysis, interpretation and ordering is the work of the Digital Humanities at very broad levels of comprehension. Without the current technology or the traditional tools from the Humanities, Big Data’s analysis would be impossible.
In this sense, when we talk about databases, data visualization, information interpretation, data mining, etc., we are not talking about cryptic methods, but about Digital Humanities. History, Philosophy, Art History, Archeology, Sociology, Anthropology, just to mention a few, have all joined today in this new way of conceiving the Humanities.
What can we do with them in eLearning?
In a way, e-Learning is itself a process generated by Digital Humanities. We even dare to say that it is its favorite son. Education has been the first beneficiary of the new conception of the Humanities, because it has been re-thought in its bosom.
Designing learning materials especially for new media is a digital humanist’s task. Publishing an ebook is not a process of these new Humanities. Doing it in order to make the most of the digital technology available to us, is.
Moocs, for example, are part of this adaptation of education to the new digital media, its possibilities and its benefits. Doing it coherently and with a clear purpose is part of the dynamics of the Digital Humanities.
Digital Humanities are concerned with the fact that many should have access to a knowledge that previously was only protected in the large and prestigious libraries, that everyone should be able to find what they require and integrate it to their needs… All this is part of that new field that links us all because it is a network.
What we end doing with Digital Humanities is up to us all. Humanities teach us about us as human beings, about our potential and possibilities. On the other hand, Technology can be as beneficial as we decide it to be. To paraphrase Cervantes, fate can shuffle the cards, but we are the ones who play.
[ Originally published in a extended version on Teachlr’s blog ]