Notes from the Field

  • The Short Guide
  • February 1, 2013

The Digital Humanities, Design, and Material Culture: A Short Guide and an Ongoing Conversation

A video introduction to The Short Guide to the Digital Humanities starring our very own (and the metaLAB (at) Harvard's) Jeffrey Schnapp.


As part of our directive to consider all aspects of design history and material culture, we would be more than remiss not to consider the enormous impact that digital culture continues to have not only on the rapidly changing practices and methods of producing scholarship in the humanities, but also on what the ongoing digitization of culture means for material culture writ large. 

The premise on which much of the hand-wringing within the academy, the publishing industry, and amongst lovers of books more generally is predicated is that we are, or that we will soon be living, in a post-print culture. And while books are still being written, pitched, acquired, edited, printed, bought, shelved, and read in massive quantities, there is no question that most of us now rely for our research, writing, and reading on technologies, networks, and displays that did not exist or at least could easily have been avoided twenty, ten, and even five years ago.

So let’s posit that we are already living in a rapidly evolving post-print world. For those of us in the humanities, this has already had a profound effect on our research and routines, our basic assumptions about the breadth and depth of information we can gather and consider, and of course on the ultimate outcome and dissemination of our findings.

Published in December by MIT Press, the book Digital_Humanities attempts to answer a question that has been difficult to avoid in recent academic discourse: “What is digital humanities?” and perhaps more poignantly for humanists, “How does this affect me?” One of its five co-authors is Jeffrey Schnapp—who in addition to being the faculty director of metaLAB (at) Harvard, where he is Professor of Romance Literatures, teaches at the Graduate School of Design, and serves as faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society—is also a contributing editor to West 86th Online. (For information on the book and its other authors, please visit the MIT Press website.) 

In collaboration with Jeffrey Schnapp and with the metaLAB (at) Harvard, West 86th is pleased to host The Short Guide, an open excerpt from Digital_Humanities. We will be posting excerpts from The Short Guide in regular installments, in the hopes of generating and facilitating discussion around the topic, particularly amongst our readership of design historians and material culture specialists.

Some of the more general questions we might want to keep in mind are: What is meant by the term “digital humanities” and how does it affect the study of material culture?  What part does design have in the development of the digital humanities? And further, how does digital culture affect the study of material culture?

We hope you'll join us in the conversation.


Up Next: What is the Digital Humanities?


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