By Sharon Wiatt Jones
UCLA star professor Todd Samuel Presner has been called a “time traveler” for using emerging technology and history to portray the growth of cities. In 2008 he led a Center for Digital Humanities team to create “Hypermedia Berlin,” an interactive Web-based visualization of the city from the 13th century to present. The result is a collection of maps, one on top of another, in layers similar to an archeological dig. Presner refers to himself simply as a “techie-humanist,” but his work has spawned a new field called “digital humanities.” Scholars in this new occupation hold positions such as professor of humanities computing, digital archeologist, humanities specialist, digital humanities developer, and librarian for digital research and scholarship.
Digital humanities positions began to appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2008. One faculty member wrote an online forum post about working with colleagues in this new field. “I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of us in the department have absolutely no idea what they do. However, it seems to be very sexy and attracts a lot of grant funding. I can’t help wondering if it’s just a fad and will die out soon.”
Duke University hosts several humanities labs at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. A team of faculty members leads each lab as a sort of think tank for interdisciplinary research and teaching. For example, BorderWork(s) provided intensive collaboration on topics such as citizenship, refugees, human rights, cartography, and geopolitical space. The purpose of these one to three year endeavors is to apply theory and practice to important world problems.
Although Melissa Terras from the University College London once blogged about digital humanities scholars as the “freaks and geeks of the academic world,” this emerging field offers growing opportunities.