Session 8

Friday 09:30 - 11:00

High Tor 3

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

  • Paul Spence,
  • Renata Brandão

King’s College London

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.

Business as Usual? Reflections on University English in the Age of Digitality

  • Clare Hutton

Loughborough University

How can English, a traditional university discipline established in the 1900s, respond to the challenges of the digital revolution?  What kinds of new digital and analytical skills should English students now be encouraged to acquire? What kinds of new knowledge should scholars of English now address and teach to the coming generations? What needs to change in the design of a ‘traditional’ English degree?

Based on the experience of designing (but not yet fully implementing) a new BA Hons programme at Loughborough (English with Digital Humanities), this paper will reflect on the different ways in which English has responded to DH.  For some DH is a passing fad, and thus the response is one of ‘not at all’ or willed ignorance. For others ‘digital’ (not DH) is just about ‘new resources’ and not new methodologies. A third group, very much a minority, identifies DH as a set of paradigm shifts which must be addressed as a matter of priority. But what are those priorities? What is it that every English student needs to know? Is there any consensus on this, and, if so, what is it?

The paper will refer specifically to the methodology and intellectual content which lies behind three new ‘digital’ modules which are currently being introduced within the English programme at Loughborough.  The digital competes for curriculum space at Loughborough, as everywhere, with literary theory, literary history, the study of language, film and creative writing. Can intelligently designed digital modules form bridges between these disparate parts and if so how?  

Linguistic and Cultural Hegemony in the Digital Humanities

  • Simon Mahony,
  • Jin Gao

University College London

Digital Humanities has undergone many changes in its relatively short life; the focus has moved away from technology as the servant of the humanities to an equal partnership where both benefit from collaboration but this is not the only change. From Busa and his collaborations with IBM, Medievalists and Classicists were at the forefront of using computational methodologies to study primarily text based sources in a context where Greco-Roman culture formed the foundation of much of European (and hence North American) heritage. As a result, DH has developed in a very anglophone and text focused environment with English as the language of the Internet and the lingua franca of the web. DH has, however, arguably been built on openness and a sense of community but historically has excluded many by its anglophone preponderance and focus on text based scholarship; the dominance of the English language is a barrier to inclusivity to non-English speakers. DH has been moving beyond these linguistic and geographical confines with the ADHO conference becoming more global and new associations formed in Australasia and Japan; in addition, we are now seeing more interest in exploring beyond text to artefacts and visualisations of culture and heritage more widely. Geographic inclusion does not equate to scholarly inclusion, particularly if language is a barrier to that inclusiveness.

This paper presents research on the growth of DH beyond the anglophone sphere, using China as a case study, and the challenges that cross-cultural initiatives present. The rapidly growing Chinese DH community, with many large-scale projects, established centres, publications, conferences, and highly active online social groups, remain mostly unknown to the wider DH community. This also draws on my research into cross-cultural teaching, examines some of the issues that become apparent when working across disciplinary and ethnic boundaries. The artefacts we produce are the results of our cultural influences, so too are the writings, our cognitive processes, and how we view and understand the world around us. Restricting our cultural perspective is restricting our field; inclusion benefits us all.