Day of DH 2014

By Chris Cantwell

My post for today has less to do with American religious history and more to do with an American religious history blog. As some of you may know, today is the Sixth Annual "Day of DH." Run out of Michigan State University's MATRIX Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, the event is "an open community publication project that will bring together scholars interested in the digital humanities from around the world to document what they do on one day." Participants have all registered for blogs at the Day of DH site and on the specified day everyone will live-blog their workday to give the world a sense of the immense diversity and creativity of digital scholarship today.

Well it just so happens that today, April 8, is Day of DH 2014 and I am participating. To mark the event I've decided to repost my first Day of DH post here which is, as you'll see, relevant to our little corner of the web. As I suggest below, I am becoming increasingly interested in impact new media is having upon scholars and readers who don't explicitly self-identify as digital humanists. And so I'd like to ask our readers: What has this blog meant to you? Why do you read it? How have you used it? How has it changed the work that you do? Please sound off in the comments below. Your thoughts will not only contribute to a larger conversation about digital scholarship, but could also serve as a nice marker on how great this blog is as it approaches its seventh year.

My Day of DH begins before the Day of DH even begins.

Late into the night of April 7, I am up preparing a blog post--and not just for the Day of DH. I'm a contributor to a group blog on American religious history (my field) titled, quite obviously, Religion in American History. Founded in 2007 by historian Paul Harvey, a scholar whose generosity is only matched by his energy, the blog is now almost 7 years old and is about to publish its 2500th post. Over thirty contributors follow a monthly calendar to generate content and my day is, fortuitously, today.

For me, defining DH begins with trying to encapsulate the longevity and the energy behind a scholarly blog like RiAH. Most, indeed, all of the contributors would likely not classify themselves as DHers. But here they are, augmenting existing scholarly networks, crafting new genres of scholarly writing, and fostering new kinds of academic relationships through a mode of digital communication that is less than two decades old.

My Day of DH is busy. Today I'll be having a phone call with a web developer to get an update on a map-based digital exhibit I am building; I'll be curating the items for this exhibit and sending them off to the scanner for digitization; I'll continue working on a report I am writing for a scholarly association on how  new media is affecting how knowledge about religion is produced, shared, and authorized; I'll edit the blog posts of the interns I supervise in UMKC's history department; and this evening I'll teach a session of my Intro to Digital History class, where we'll discuss the use of GIS software for historical analysis. But when I think about what exactly the Digital Humanities are, I keep coming back to RiAH and the ways in which digital technology has permanently transformed how scholars everywhere research, teach, and communicate scholarship.

In short, in the same way no one in Chemistry talks about doing "Digital Chemistry" because they use statistical computer software, there is a part of me that is coming to realize that we may be approaching a point where the saturation digital humanities tools (from blogging platforms to searchable databases) is making everyone a Digital Humanist. To be sure, not everyone will do advanced text mining or network analysis. And nor should they. But the more I see the distinction between reblogs and footnotes disintegrate as writers cite blog posts, I can't help but think DH is in some new defining phase that is less about DH's relationship to the humanities and more about the humanities' relationship to the digital turn.

Want to get a sense of what I mean about this broader phase? Head on over to the Religion in American History blog. I've decided to make my first Day of DH post my monthly post for RiAH, and I've asked readers to comment on the post to tell us just what exactly the blog means to them and how they use it. Their answers might be of interest to other Day of DH folks.

Collaborative. Interconnected. Discursive. This, to me, is DH.


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