Challenging interactions: on what Digital Humanities and Modern Languages can learn from each other

Language-based research has been a central part of the digital humanities (DH) since its inception, and yet there have been few systematic studies or analyses of interactions between Modern (Foreign) Languages research (MLR) and DH. In spite of the significant proportion of MLR projects in DH catalogues (84 out of 794 projects listed in DH Commons), their relationship is sometimes under-articulated in comparison to other cognate disciplines, such as English or History. Hijacking the title of Kirschenbaum’s historic dissection of DH, we might well ask, ‘What is digital humanities, and what’s it doing in Modern Languages departments?’(Kirschenbaum, 2010).

There are many reasons why a consolidated intellectual agenda for digitally mediated Modern Languages research has not yet emerged, both from language and digital perspectives, and yet Modern Languages investigate processes of translation, mobility, inter-cultural encounter and transnational perspectives on the study of the human, which suggest that a closer, and more explicit, role between MLR and DH may be beneficial.

One of four projects funded under the AHRC’s Open World Research Initiative, the multi-institutional research project Language Acts aims to “regenerate and transform modern language learning by foregrounding language's power to shape how we live and make our worlds”. The project consists of six strands, and the Digital Mediations strand which we work on explores two principal questions: (1) what role digital culture – including DH - might play in discussions about the future of Modern Languages and (2) how the experience of Modern Languages disciplines might help us to understand (global, multicultural) digital knowledge production better.

In a recent article in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Pitman and Taylor recently argued for a ‘critical DHML’, which might better define the contribution of each field to each other, and gave pointers towards a common research agenda (2017). Employing a thorough literature and resource review (200 resources so far), supplemented by case studies and interviews with numerous ML, DH and DHML respondents, we explore this agenda further, with a particular emphasis on the perspectives of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American studies, and make recommendations about DHML pedagogy, methods and use of data as a research object.