Technological mediation as a supposed barrier to authentic enjoyment

In recent discussion of some apps which have been developed to allow visitors to engage with historical sites, I encountered some resistance from some people who make the argument that this somehow ‘cheapens’ the experience. The argument goes that in having a cultural experience, however broadly this may be understood, there needs to be something approaching a one to one correspondence. Cultural artefact X plus individual Y combine to create authentic experience Z. This reminds me of the analysis offered by Susan Sontag in On Photography.  Continue reading

Digital humanities: a discipline unto itself, or just another methodology?

How do you define an academic discipline? Or indeed a sub-discipline for that matter? If one goes to enough conferences and seminars concerned with digital humanities, this is a question which will raise its head. The way it goes is usually as follows: there have been papers presented regarding research being undertaken within the digital arts and humanities, and there is a discussion among practitioners about the relative merits of different metadata standards, or questions about the broader implications for other types of research which would build upon the work which had been presented. Then comes the question nobody wants to hear, which usually comes from an established member of the academy (a tenured professor if you’re really lucky, in something like Classics) who asks a question which attempts to pull the rug from under proceedings.

“But what is actually different about what you’re talking about? Why is it different? Why call it digital Humanities as though it was separate? You are a part of the humanities.” The implication is that somehow research and knowledge creation is a zero-sum activity. If you do work over there, that detracts from what is going on in our well-established discipline. Continue reading

Digital preservation as deletion and Paul Ricoeur

In a discussion about the importance of digital humanities at the “Realising the Opportunities of Digital Humanities” Conference today in Croke Park, William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition raised an interesting point that we have various ways of conceiving preservation.

According to this way of thinking, it is not the case that we fetishise preservation, as we don’t need some form of totalising memory, digital or otherwise. To attempt this would be tantamount to the shut-ins of urban mythology who hoard every newspaper from every day of their lives. That would be archivist qua bag lady. No, the fundamental, pragmatic point Kilbride appears to be making is that we simply don’t have the resources available to collect and maintain such an all-encompassing system of repositories and archives. Selection is necessary, editing is necessary, and thus knowing what not to hold on to is necessary. As such, then, preservation is ineluctably tied up with deletion. Continue reading