Return to Blogging and Turn to Digital Humanities

It’s been a while since I’ve last blogged (a while means 3 odd years!). This coincided with me getting more consumed into twitter culture: following, tweeting, RTweeting, archiving, storifying and all the “-ings” that in the context of twitter are more about “keeping track of” (another “-ing”!) rather than taking the time to think, reflect, and importantly, articulate thoughts and ideas. I think I’m returning to blogging (without leaving twitter) mainly because I’ve missed actually writing about stuff, rather than just bookmarking and archiving stuff. And we all know what happens to “to-be-checked” links, tweets and pages…

My ‘Return to blogging’ coincides with the University of Manchester’s move into understanding what its own offer and contribution to Digital Humanities might be. The last few months I’ve been part of a team of people in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures that have been putting together a conference for staff and researchers at the University of Manchester to share their work and approach to Digital Humanities. The conference, ‘Digital Humanities at Manchester‘ (8th November 2013) will aim to identify current relevant work and map also the challenges and opportunities for DH in Manchester. The overall initiative is led by Dr Guyda Armstrong and Dr Matthew Philpotts at the School and Joy Palmer and Frank Manista at MIMAS.

One of the key challenges for me in this process will be to conceptualise and articulate my own work in the context of Digital Humanities. Since 2001 as PhD student and especially after 2006, when I joined the University of Manchester and set up the ‘Digital Heritage’ module in our MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies, I’ve been positioning my research and teaching in the field of Digital Heritage and working with colleagues who have been doing the same  (such as Dr Areti Galani, Newcastle University and Dr Ross Parry, University of Leicester). This was (and still is) part of building an epistemological and methodological body of work in and for an area of investigation that both I and other colleagues have been very enthusiastic about.

In this context, the growing emphasis in Digital Humanities emerges as both an opportunity and a threat for academics, such as myself, that have been working in a relatively small and largely interdisciplinary field: the opportunity is to contribute to something that embraces and further advances the theory and practice of Digital Heritage (perhaps more than other disciplines have done). In this, Digital Humanities and Digital Heritage will benefit each other. There is, perhaps, also a threat (or more mildly, a risk): i.e. that in this process, smaller research and teaching fields are ‘streamlined’ or replaced by an overarching ‘grand narrative’ of Digital Humanities. I assume this has been discussed in places where Digital Humanities has already developed a presence and I’ll be looking forward to hearing more about this at the conference from Dr Melissa Terras (UCL Digital Humanities), Prof. Marilyn Deegan (Kings College London) and Prof Massimo Riva (Virtual Humanities Lab, Brown University). If anything though, I think that the “grass-roots” approach that our conference is taking will ensure that Digital Humanities in Manchester is not just a 140 character tweet, but offer a more in-depth and reflective articulation of related research.