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Digital Humanities


Dana Leibsohn, Art
Hélène Visentin, French Studies

The advent of digital humanities has begun to transform the ways in which research, teaching and thinking about the humanities can be done. In part, information once accessed through arduous detective work in archives and libraries is more readily available; but no less importantly, the ways in which we capture and share knowledge is also shifting. Beyond this, though, new questions about what constitutes knowledge and authorship, and the boundaries of humanistic inquiry are also being posed.  Given the turn to digital humanities over the last fifteen years, it now seems time to ask questions about its promise and limits. This is the purpose of this short-term project at the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute.

Through a series of colloquia, we will explore the impact of digital humanities—in the humanities broadly and in our own research and teaching. Organized in three parts, the first in the fall of 2012, the next in the spring of 2013, and the third in the fall of 2013, these colloquia will bring together faculty and staff from across the Five Colleges who are working on (or looking to begin) digital humanities projects to consider the range of issues that emerge from alternative ways of accessing and producing knowledge.  The colloquia series will serve as an extended forum for sharing work in progress and discussing issues that emerge from digital humanities work, whether ethical or philosophical. Fellows in these serial colloquia will consider a range of questions associated with emerging digital capabilities within humanities research. What does it mean to think through, and with, digital technologies (not merely apply them to familiar questions), and what are the most interesting possibilities (and limits) of doing so? What are some of the consequences and intellectual implications of the shifts in humanities scholarship? To what extent is “digital humanities” a project of learning more about “the digital,” to what extent does it focus more on learning about “the humanities”? Can digital humanities fundamentally change practices within academic and cultural institutions?

One of the primary characteristics of digital humanities as a broadly defined field is that it fosters collaboration not only among disciplines and cultural institutions (universities, museums, and archives to name a few), but also between discipline-based scholars and technology experts, a pairing that was traditionally unprecedented in humanities-based fields. This project seeks to draw together participants from all of the Five Colleges and to open an ongoing dialogue among them and with other digital humanities scholars from outside this immediate area. One of the goals of the project is to develop a sustained discussion among humanists and to build a set of continuing, collegial relationships involving people within this community and also within the broader—and now more digitally accessible—community of scholars elsewhere.

The project will begin with a public symposium that brings together three key scholars in the field to describe their work and discuss intellectual questions that have shaped their approach to digital humanities.  The visiting speakers for this opening event will be Jeffrey Schnapp, Professor of Romance Languages & Literature and Director of the metaLAB at Harvard University; Tara McPherson, Associate Professor of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California; and Joan Saab, Associate Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies and Chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Rochester. All of these scholars engage with materials across the full spectrum of digital humanities technologies, using images and texts, and working with literature, objects, and maps—dominant sites where digital humanities work has already been vibrant.

The first colloquium in this series will begin on October 25, 2012 with the public symposium. This public event will be followed in October 26, 2012 by the first of several colloquium meetings that will initiate a more detailed discussion of digital humanities and the issues, opportunities, and challenges represented by them. These colloquia will continue in the spring and fall of 2013 as Fellows continue to engage and explore this exciting and still-developing field.

Interested faculty should email Rosetta Cohen (, Director of the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, on or before October 5, 2012. In your email, please include the title of the project and explain why you are interested in it, what you would bring to it, and what you would hope to gain from it.


Project Schedule:

Thursday, October 25, 2012:

  • 5:00-8:00 pm           Opening panel discussion, dinner for Project Fellows

Friday, October 26, 2012:

  • 9:30 am-3:30 pm    Colloquium meetings with panelists; includes lunch


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