Musings on the Human Element of Digital Humanities

The liberal arts and digital humanities seem to be intrinsically connected on their most core level.  While the liberal arts may encompass a more broad category, there is still a definitive emphasis placed on the humanities and the human experience.  Digital humanities obviously also have a huge emphasis on the humanities, but the actual human element seems to be up for question.  Human history has been profoundly, inarguably impacted by the technological breakthroughs that occurred throughout it.  While it is debatable whether pre-agricultural revolution nomads had more of a genuine human interaction than subsequent farming civilizations, it seems safe to say that the emergence of widely accessible digital communications has rocked the way we understand human interaction.  It seems easy to say that some aspect of the human element is lost when a class is held over Skype, or Blue Jeans, or any other kind of telecommunication.  As we’re inherently social creatures, it seems that a conversation that isn’t face-to-face lacks a certain authenticity, and is somehow seen as less valid.  If we were to follow this train of thought, it seems clear that the wider lens of the liberal arts seems much more preferable than losing something so hard to describe, yet crucial.  However, I would argue that the digital humanities don’t deprive people of an essential part of learning, but instead, trade it for a different kind of human interaction.  The way that people interact over the phone, through a letter, or through a video call is profoundly different than in person, and to not experience that form of communication is to miss out on a learning experience.  That brings me back to our COPLAC course in general.  Our experience of being able to participate in a digital humanities course, to me, is simply the natural evolution of a liberal arts education.  Allowing students to discuss and learn about the humanities through a different outlet than traditional schooling is simply the next step in education.  So rather than have the liberal arts and digital humanities be seen as two competing ideas, I believe digital humanities are just a natural extension of the liberal arts.  In this vein, I believe that the work we are doing with our projects is the next step in education.  Rather than compile information for a one-time use of a paper, we’re taking meaningful interactions and experiences, and synthesizing them for whoever would want to learn about the material.  The active human element of having such a personal experience allows us to experience education is a way very unique to our type of class.  Our liberal arts educations let us craft a project that will have much more long-lasting effects than a single grade.

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