“Digital Humanities” gets an Office (with a capital “O”)

The National Endowment for the Humanities announced today the formation of the Office of Digital Humanities, a permanent promotion of the two-year old Digital Humanities Initiative.

The Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) is an office within the National
Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Our primary mission is to help
coordinate the NEH’s efforts in the area of digital scholarship. As in
the sciences, digital technology has changed the way scholars perform
their work. It allows new questions to be raised and has radically
changed the ways in which materials can be searched, mined, displayed,
taught, and analyzed. Technology has also had an enormous impact on how
scholarly materials are preserved and accessed, which brings with it
many challenging issues related to sustainability, copyright, and
authenticity. The ODH works not only with NEH staff and members of the
scholarly community, but also facilitates conversations with other
funding bodies both in the United States and abroad so that we can work
towards meeting these challenges.

I find this rather exciting, as it is yet another sign that digital humanities has arrived (or continues to arrive).

To clarify to readers, digital humanities concerns the relationship between contemporary digital technologies and traditional humanities scholarship. To some, that means sophisticated mapping technologies for historical research. To others it means a web-cam in a museum installation. To others it means reexamining the academic publishing paradigm. To the folks at George Mason’s Center for History and New Media it means Zotero, the amazing citation management tool that they’ve developed as a plug-in for Firefox.

CHNM also produces a wonderful podcast called Digital Campus, in which Dan Cohen, Mills Kelly, and Tom Scheinfeldt discuss technology issues on college campuses. In a recent episode, they were discussing the increasing numbers of "Digital Humanities Centers" on college campuses across the country. These are, I presume, comparable to regular humanities centers, but with an emphasis on the digital.

Considering whether these centers should be seen as a sign that digital humanities has arrived, the hosts agreed that the true sign would be when the centers dropped the "Digital" from their names, breaking the distinction between the digital and the analog.

Might the same be said of the new ODH? Is its newfound existence just the first step towards its own deprecation?

I wouldn’t be so bold as to try to answer my own questions, but I will say this… the ODH funds some pretty cool grant programs.

Brad Weikel

Brad Weikel received his MA in Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) from Georgetown University in 2009. His thesis, "From Coding to Community: Iteration, Abstraction, and Open Source Software Development" argued that programming practices, particularly iterative workflows and abstraction models, can help explain both the success and struggles of open source software. His work was a technocentric complement to prior explanations from economists, lawyers, and political and cultural theorists. While writing his thesis, Brad blogged about his topic at OpenCulture.cc, where he has since continued blogging, more broudly, about collaborative production and the commons at large. Brad was Managing Editor of gnovis during the 2007/2008 and 2008/2009 school years, and Creative Director in 2006/2007. He is currently the Web & Communications Coordinator for EarthRights International.