What Digital Humanities mean to me

Digital and Humanities sound like two very ‘big’ and complex words to me which scared me away the first time I read them together in a sentence. Then after learning during the summer that learning about them would be one of my optional modules I started to look into it. From Youtube videos to my reading list, I still could not figure out what this field was all about and decided to wait and see, to make my opinion of it later. To me, it sounded like something very theoretical and based on computer science, that I had no knowledge of whatsoever and I dreaded that my lack of abilities in coding and general computing would be an issue.

However, Digital Humanities did not end up being as scary and incomprehensible as I feared it would be – apart maybe from the exception of TEI so far. Learning about it has allowed me to realize how omnipresent – from mind maps of Shakespearian Tragedies to Google Earth – and important the field is to research and how digital tools can be used in so many different ways to help to learn or just to have fun.

As a Drama Student, I have watched and been part of performances that were based on research and used digital tools as a mean to communicate it and make that research concrete. Most recently in the Dublin Fringe Festival, I was part of an experience/performance called ‘The Justice Syndicates’ that used a specifically designed software (by a ‘computational artist’) on Ipads to create the ‘piece of playable theatre’ as they call it. An audience of twelve was brought in a jury room in the Four Courts to decide the defendant of a trial was guilty or not. All of the information about the (fake) trial were displayed on the Ipads and every member of the jury-audience was voting along the way. This experience was accompanied by a talk on the play and its different responses through space and time and how they used it as research for social phenomena and behaviours. It was very interesting to see the use of multidisciplinary tools for this unusual experience as a theatre company, a neuroscientist and a computational artist were all involved in this and managed to gather a lot of data about the different demographies and places that they did the experience in and to share it with us along the way.

As an English Student, I discovered all the resources about writers and languages that are available online and was fascinated by this academic drive to make information available to the greatest number. This digital aspect also makes those research projects more accessible and exciting for the common reader like me.

As a person who has always loved education and has considered a career in teaching, I think Digital Humanities projects are often great tools for education and can create nice and captivating ways for me and other students to learn about things that might seem complex or boring at first sight.

As a person who was born in a more or less post internet world I think it’s very important to acknowledge the importance of the digital medium as a tool for research and understanding and that the use of those practices are being more and more democratized and globally employed.

I have also been fascinated by historical documentaries and museum with 3D reconstructions of monuments and places. Now, how is that related to the obscure notion of Digital Humanities will you ask me. Well, simply because those digital projects are the product for years – and even sometimes centuries – of research, as you can see with this project about the reconstruction through centuries of the theatre of Pompeii. Those images are so common nowadays that we don’t realize the amount of work and research that go behind them. I never thought, when I first heard about Digital Humanities that they would encompass this kind of information.

In the last year, I have been very interested in stage design and, while writing an essay about Edward Gordon Craig – who is the man who revolutionised stage design in the early 20th century- I stumbled upon a Digital Humanities project that recreated some of his designs on the Old Abbey Theatre stage. I find this project most useful because it provides, with resources and explanations, an accurate depiction of what the scenography of three plays on the Old Abbey Theatre stage were. The fact that this Trinity College Dublin project made 3D models of the scenographies is very fascinating for me. Edward Gordon Craig’s iconic designs used to only be represented through drawings and pictures, which did not give a great impression of depth or scale, but those 3D models are very useful to visualise the impressive scale of his designs as they usually involved the whole depth and height of the stage area. Gordon Craig’s designs were architectural exploits that were exceptional for the time and set a new standard for stage and set design in general.

So basically, so far, I’ve been the most captivated and in Digital Humanities by the creation or a visualisation of something invisible, or long destroyed, by the use of – mostly historical -research. However, I’ve realized that the Digital humanities were such a large field full of discoveries that I am sure to find other interests as I get to know it better. It feels like, to me, being the Sherlock Holmes of the digital age, looking for tools and clues that could be useful (or fun) for me.

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