Digital Contexts

The digital contexts of our scholarly practice impact not only the kind of work that we may do as humanists, but also how we represent changes in theory and methods over time. Whether we are preserving, analyzing, or representing cultural heritage collections, interpreting digital media, or communicating through open repositories or social media, our activities are doubly informed by digital modes of production and digital professional practice. Every time we participate in a conference panel that others tweet or blog about, deposit our pre-print article in an institutional repository, or even offer an online version of our course syllabus, the technical situation of our work as teachers, researchers, or students responds, knowingly or not, to a digital condition.

The articles in this ninth issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities consider ways in which digital contexts challenge scholarly practice, from the creation or engagement with digital source materials to new methods for sharing results, interpretations, or ideas. In particular, the authors grapple with reconciling the theories and values of one’s discipline with today’s shifting digital landscape.

What opportunities, as well as risks, do remediations of informal conference conversations through shared Google Docs or Twitter present? Bethany Nowviskie’s “On the Origin of ‘Hack’ and ‘Yack'” recuperates an anecdotal history of the phrase “hack vs. yack,” which is often used as a shorthand for opposing approaches to professional practice. Nowviskie resituates the phrase “more hack; less yack” within the first professional context in which it was deployed: to eschew the staid roles of active speakers and passive audiences and to foster active, non-hierarchical engagement among participants at THATCamp Prime in 2009. Prompting us to consider how recirculation of a phrase like “hack vs. yack” over social media divorces it from its necessary context, Nowviskie concludes, “… to pretend or believe that ‘more hack; less yack” represents a fundamental opposition in thinking between humanities theorists and deliberately anti-theortical digital humanities ‘builders’ is to ignore the specific history and different resonances of the phrase, and to fall into precisely the sort of zero-sum logic it seems to imply.”

This issue’s focus section features papers by Katharina Hering, Michael J. Kramer, Kate Theimer, and Joshua Sternfeld originally presented at the 2014 American Historical Association annual conference. In “Digital Historiography and the Archives,” the authors explain that as prompts for lively engagement with fellow panel participants and the audience, the papers are a representation of, but not a substitute for, the roundtable itself. Likewise, they argue that professional theory and practice are changing due to the current digital contexts of historical and archival work. Katharina Hering’s “Provenance Meets Source Criticism” considers an increasingly important ethic of attaching source criticism and provenance to a digital object’s record, while Kate Theimer in “A Distinction Worth Exploring: ‘Archives’ and ‘Digital Historical Representations'” discusses the salient distinctions between the digital practices of archivists and historians. Joshua Sternfeld contributes to the conversation in “Historical Understanding in the Quantum Age” by insisting that big data methods hold the potential to resituate digital collections within a much broader empirical context. Finally, Michael Kramer’s “Going Meta on Metadata” responds to his co-authors by contemplating the ways in which the increasingly digital landscape occasions a possible flip between historical roles and professional practices.

In “Using Computer Vision to Increase the Research Potential of Photo Archives,” John Resig presents a case study that combines TinEye’s Match Engine with custom tools to perform image analysis of Italian anonymous art  in the Frick Photoarchive. In the context of a digital collection, Resig responds to the challenges multiple, duplicate copies present to archivists and collectors by presenting a case study and custom toolkit that allows researchers to compare large collections of images and identify new relationships among items in the collection. These items include images before and after conservation, copies of the same artwork, detail shots of the same images, and cataloging errors. A key study for digital collections management, Resig’s contribution exemplifies in practice one way in which digital humanists are responding to questions raised by Hering, Kramer, Theimer, and Sternfeld about scale, provenance, and practice.

Finally, Alex Christie  explores the challenges of theorizing entwined scholarly fields in his review of The Johns Hopkins Guide to Digital Media by editors Marie-Laure Ryan, Lori Emerson, and Benjamin J. Robertson. He argues that the book offers a touchstone for both experienced and new audiences interested in digital media studies now and in the future.

What responsibility do we have to situate our representations of informal and formal scholarly conversation within its original context? How does our digital situation inform how we engage in scholarly debate? As the works in this issue suggest, scholars have an ethical, as well as a scholarly, imperative to place our object of study–whether it’s the creation of an archive or a conference presentation or a Twitter conversation–within a context that represents the condition of its creation. The goal of the Journal of Digital Humanities and its sister publication Digital Humanities Now has been to retain a sense of each entry’s original context as we recirculate and preserve informal scholarly discourse. By redirecting readers of Digital Humanities Now back to each entry’s original site of publication, and by citing the origin of each entry in the Journal, we strive to contextualize current, informal scholarship that can inform future discourse and research.

Joan Fragaszy Troyano and Lisa M. Rhody, Editors