Yesterday was Day of DH, when self-styled DHers live-tweeted and blogged their activities. Among the questions inspiring this event, the most important is “what is digital humanities?”

This popular tweet captured the extremely self-conscious nature of the exercise:

It’s funny because it’s true.

Personally, I spent much of the day glued to the #dayofdh Twitter reel. All those tweets
did shed some light on the main question at hand; meanwhile, they raised some other
issues. Here, I want to comment on one—namely, the issue of non-digital work. Is it DH
to read a book? Is it DH to check email or attend meetings? Where do ‘traditional’
humanities activities end and DH activities begin? What about teaching?

“No Actual DH”

“I didn’t have a #dayOfDH”

“Traditional librarianship” vs. “#dh duties”

“That counts, right?”

I don’t mean to pick on these tweeters; there is nothing wrong with any of these posts, on
their own terms. I did pretty much the same thing when I decided that I should work on
something “digital”
for the event. And besides, I have a sneaking suspicion there was some irony in one or two of them.

What troubles me here is the silence. That is to say, some people may have felt that their ‘traditional’ humanities-related activities, teaching and so on, weren’t worth tweeting about. I think this is likely, and such silence may serve to obscure the DH work which is not all about coding or metadata.

Whatever one’s definition of digital humanities, I think there is, and there ought to be, plenty of room for the humanities part of things (in spite of certain famous invectives against close reading). To wit, a tweet from my colleague:

Indeed, close reading and DH make sense together.

Here is another take on the larger issue:

It’s worth reading her full blog post: “DH without DH.”

Taipei, 11:59 pm, Day of DH 2014 comes to a close.

With a brief break for dinner, I spent the past five hours playing with eXist-db and going through xquery tutorials and documentation. A couple of fundamental xquery concepts clicked for me, and I was able to do some web-scraping; however, there is still a lot to learn before I can build the more complicated text analysis tool I have in mind.

One of the motivations behind Day of DH is to collect data on DHers, so it is important to ask: Is this an accurate reflection of what I do? It’s true that I picked today to do some DH-related work, and this is not the work I was doing last night, nor is it what I will be doing tomorrow night, most likely. So yes, I don’t spend every night web-scraping and learning programming languages and database platforms. Still, tonight is not an unusual night. Despite the fact that my schedule is already packed with Chinese language learning, I have spent several evenings like this recently. Over the past few weeks, I updated my website, adding some (basic) responsive design; I spent a couple of other nights struggling with eXist-db; and I have been working here and there on several electronic texts. In the end, Day of DH was a typical day. And it was a good day.

IMG_20130914_185036 banner

7:00 pm

Today provides a good excuse to make progress on my digital projects, so I’m going to work through some eXist-db tutorials.

Why eXist-db?

Last year, in the XSLT course at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, I created* a ‘keyword in context’ (KWIC) concordance tool for an early Chinese historical work, the Han shu 漢書 [History of the (former) Han Dynasty)] by Ban Gu 班固 (32-92 CE) et al. I will present this tool as a part of the colloquium and poster session at this year’s DHSI. I’ve already worked out the bugs of the basic tool, but I have something more complex in mind for the long-term; for this, I’m learning the eXist-db open-source XML database platform.

A screenshot of the digital concordance, which is set up for comparing the contexts of two words simultaneously:

In this case, we are comparing two words that have to do with knowledge. Want to know more? Visit my poster at DHSI!

* Martin Holmes helped immensely with this. Thanks Martin!!

12:01 am

IMG_20140408_000824Taipei, Taiwan. It’s 12:01 am, Tuesday, Apr. 8, 2014: Day of DH.

I think I might be the first to post this year, unless some other DHer in Japan, Australia, or somewhere else to the East of East beat me to it. Too bad I have nothing exciting to report, just a Chinese language textbook, a 0.9mm Pentel P209, and a well-worn non-latex eraser. What is DH? Is it this?