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Ethics Week 9: What We Talk About When We Talk About Digital Humanities

This past week I was lucky enough to attend two different talks co-sponsored by the Cinema & Media Studies and Digital Arts & Humanities departments, both given by Jason Mittell of Middlebury College. It got me reflecting on a couple of different aspects, both of my work at Carleton as a student and my work specifically for the Digital Scholarship program. So that’s my blog post for Week 9!

The first talk covered modes of videographic criticism or, more simply put, video essays. How do we construct criticism for media we can’t accurately depict in print? What’s the most effective way to address a text?

The second talk explained Middlebury’s approach to digital humanities, which involved sponsoring professors to make modes of conveying their research that aren’t typically associated with the digital humanities. Mittell talked about these as a way of integrating digital arts with data-driven research or computational approaches to the humanities.

These were particularly interesting to me because of where I am in Carleton’s academic space. I’m a CAMS major, so a lot of my coursework has been dedicated to making and analyzing art, usually using digital tools. But I’ve also taken a good number of data-driven classes in the Computer Science, Economics and Statistics departments. My job frequently has me assessing how Carleton’s humanities departments use and teach digital methods of interacting with their content.

Yet I was honestly surprised when I started in the Digital Scholarship program this year. My expectation for digital humanities at Carleton was shaped by my understanding of CAMS, not by my experiences in the English or History departments, so I expected the topics we covered to hew much more closely to digital media and how it affects our lives.

In keeping with the claim in their name, the Digital Arts and Humanities minor at Carleton counts three courses from the CAMS department as applying towards its program, one each in the three areas of Skill Building, Critical Reflection, and Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration. But looking at the ways digital humanities are supported at Carleton, it’s hard for me to feel like CAMS is integrated into the curriculum in the same way.

The CAMS department has classes and resources dedicated to helping students learn the digital equipment and software available to them, separate from the work of the Digital Humanities Associates or the library. The Audio Recording Studio, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Director of the Arts but is operated through the CAMS Production Office, is frequently used for history or language courses looking to incorporate podcasting into their curriculums, but those students don’t have access to the equipment or editing training of the CAMS department. This isn’t to say either program is lacking, but I don’t feel like there’s any connections there. This might be a matter of resources, or it might be a matter of time.

Similarly, the analytical work done in the CAMS department could greatly benefit from the integration of digital humanities’ work with ethical and critical reflection. A course offered two years ago by visiting professor Dimitri Pavlounis, Digital Cinema Cultures, tied the two topics closely together: how do we think about media when it’s digital, as opposed to when it’s not? How does digitization affect the work we do? What are the ethical, philosophical and social ramifications of the moving image in the digital age?

These are questions I would love to see both the Digital Humanities and CAMS departments at Carleton tackle, preferably together and preferably on an on-going basis.

I don’t have a data-driven approach to the humanities. It’s not something that’s intuitive to me. But hopefully I can carve out a humanistic approach to the digital, especially when it comes to the media we make and consume.

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