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This changes everything! 
The “Digital Turn” and the Institutional Practice 
of the Humanities 
Daniel Paul O'Donnell 
Uni...
Imagine what it was like to be a 
middle-aged natural historian in 
1869 
Ten years after the publication of 
Origin of Sp...
Imagine what it was like to be a 
middle-aged natural historian in 
1869 
Ten years after the publication of 
Origin of Sp...
The Humanities Darwinian Moment 
Technological change is affecting the 
humanities in fundamental ways: 
Methodology 
What...
The Humanities Darwinian Moment 
Change is more significant in Humanities than 
other disciplines because it is non-increm...
O'Donnell's Law 
The non-trivial application of computing to 
Humanities research always involves a 
consideration of firs...
O'Donnell's Law 
The non-trivial application of computing to 
Humanities research always involves a 
consideration of firs...
Why am I speaking here? 
A Canadian Anglo-Saxonist at a meeting of 
Portugese-speaking scholars in Brazil? 
7
Why am I speaking here? 
A Canadian Anglo-Saxonist at a meeting of 
Portugese-speaking scholars in Brazil? 
Because of par...
Why am I speaking here? 
A Canadian Anglo-Saxonist at a meeting of 
Portugese-speaking scholars in Brazil? 
Not something ...
Why am I speaking here? 
This meeting is evidence of the generalising 
(i.e. deductive) turn the digital has introduced 
i...
Why do people fund us? 
Digital Humanities is target of many special 
funding opportunities not available to traditional 
...
Why do people fund us? 
Partially because we are efficient target 
Allow access to many different disciplines 
united by s...
Why do people fund us? 
But more importantly, we make the Humanities 
extensible 
We leverage Humanities skills for goals ...
Who do we work for? 
In traditional Humanities, clear distinction 
between peers and public 
Peers work in universities an...
Who do we work for? 
In Digital Humanities, distinction is less clear: 
Work with multiple disciplines. 
Work with wider r...
Who do we work for? 
This causes us to question the previously rigid 
hierarchy Scholarly Dissemination > Popular 
Dissemi...
This is our Survival of the Fittest 
The bit we don't understand yet, but which is 
clearly is going to occupy our attenti...
This is our Survival of the Fittest 
Model is Darwinian divide in the library. 
Predates our own (late 1990s/early 2000s) ...
And finally, two problems 
Globalisation ironically reduces diversity of 
expression 
Research is conducted in lingua fran...
Thank you! 
daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca 
@danielPaulOD 
20
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This changes everything: The "digital turn" and the institutional practice of the Humanities

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It is a truism to say that the “Digital Turn” is having a profound effect on disciplinary practice in the Humanities. It is affecting what we study, how we teach, and the methods we use present our findings. These are changes we've seen coming and, as a result, they have been well studied.
But how is it affecting our institutional practice? The way we organise and adjudicate our work? The way we fund and understand our activity? The way we present ourselves to the public? How what we do is understood?
These changes are as important and potentially far-reaching as anything affecting our disciplinary practice. But because they involve us rather than the things we study, they can be easier to overlook and more difficult to analyze. The inherent institutional conservatism of academy also ensures that they tend to move much more slowly, and often in the face of deep resistance.
This paper looks at the effect the “Digital Turn” is having on the place and practice of the Humanities as an institution and how humanists are responding to the challenges and opportunities it presents. Perhaps most importantly, it discusses some of the new opportunities these changes present for improving the humanities relevance and standing in contemporary society.

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This changes everything: The "digital turn" and the institutional practice of the Humanities

  1. 1. This changes everything! The “Digital Turn” and the Institutional Practice of the Humanities Daniel Paul O'Donnell University of Lethbridge daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca @danielPaulOD I Seminário Internacional em Humanidades Digitais no Brasil. Universidade de São Paulo. October 23, 2013
  2. 2. Imagine what it was like to be a middle-aged natural historian in 1869 Ten years after the publication of Origin of Species 1
  3. 3. Imagine what it was like to be a middle-aged natural historian in 1869 Ten years after the publication of Origin of Species Study of what to study of how Natural History to Biology Statistics added to observation 2
  4. 4. The Humanities Darwinian Moment Technological change is affecting the humanities in fundamental ways: Methodology What we study Institutions Will things look the same in 25 years? 3
  5. 5. The Humanities Darwinian Moment Change is more significant in Humanities than other disciplines because it is non-incremental. Major change in how we work and the questions we ask. In this paper, I'm going to look at some examples of the institutional effect of these changes. 4
  6. 6. O'Donnell's Law The non-trivial application of computing to Humanities research always involves a consideration of first principles. 5
  7. 7. O'Donnell's Law The non-trivial application of computing to Humanities research always involves a consideration of first principles. Or Computers require us to develop principles that can then be used algorithmically (i.e. deductively) elsewhere. 6
  8. 8. Why am I speaking here? A Canadian Anglo-Saxonist at a meeting of Portugese-speaking scholars in Brazil? 7
  9. 9. Why am I speaking here? A Canadian Anglo-Saxonist at a meeting of Portugese-speaking scholars in Brazil? Because of paradisciplinary experience with scholarly societies and scholarly communication: Digital Medievalist Global Outlook::Digital Humanities Canadian Society for Digital Humanities 8
  10. 10. Why am I speaking here? A Canadian Anglo-Saxonist at a meeting of Portugese-speaking scholars in Brazil? Not something you would have seen 15 years ago. Because the pre-digital Humanities were tied to specific linguistic, cultural, and disciplinary interests. 9
  11. 11. Why am I speaking here? This meeting is evidence of the generalising (i.e. deductive) turn the digital has introduced into Humanities study. We have something in common to talk about! Globalisation of the Humanities only makes sense in a Digital context. 10
  12. 12. Why do people fund us? Digital Humanities is target of many special funding opportunities not available to traditional humanities. “Digging into Data” not “Digging into Shakespeare” or “Digging into Deconstruction”. 11
  13. 13. Why do people fund us? Partially because we are efficient target Allow access to many different disciplines united by single method or interest. 12
  14. 14. Why do people fund us? But more importantly, we make the Humanities extensible We leverage Humanities skills for goals other than personal fulfilment. Make them applicable to economic ends. We give our students transferable skills. 13
  15. 15. Who do we work for? In traditional Humanities, clear distinction between peers and public Peers work in universities and are trained in our discipline. Public are people outside of universities we sometimes write special studies for 14
  16. 16. Who do we work for? In Digital Humanities, distinction is less clear: Work with multiple disciplines. Work with wider range of specialists. Greater engagement with non-Scholars 15
  17. 17. Who do we work for? This causes us to question the previously rigid hierarchy Scholarly Dissemination > Popular Dissemination. Novel forms of publication (Blogs, Exhibitions, Crowd sourcing) puts pressure on our evaluation systems. 16
  18. 18. This is our Survival of the Fittest The bit we don't understand yet, but which is clearly is going to occupy our attention going forward. Something new is required. But we don't know what. Inherent conservatism of the academy will hold us back. But final result will need to work with global, popular, reasonably well funded Humanities. 17
  19. 19. This is our Survival of the Fittest Model is Darwinian divide in the library. Predates our own (late 1990s/early 2000s) Different issues; similar, though perhaps greater, disruption. 18
  20. 20. And finally, two problems Globalisation ironically reduces diversity of expression Research is conducted in lingua franca—by people who were hired because of their abilities in their native language and culture. Extensibility of Digital Humanities to other domains opens us up to neo-liberal attack Training is purpose not side benefit of research 19
  21. 21. Thank you! daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca @danielPaulOD 20

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