On ThatCAMP LAC 2012 and Defining Digital Humanities

I recently wrote about ThatCAMP and how it expanded my horizons, but that it raised two concerns in my mind. I wrote about the first one, here’s my second concern.

It seems to be a “thing” now in academia that everyone has their own definition of “digital humanities”. I have noticed that lately, when discussions of what Digital Humanities encompasses, something a bit bothersome has happened – and it is something that Espen Aarseth predicted ten years ago in the first volume of Game Studies. In that volume he said that Game Studies should carve its own space in academia independent of other disciplines that will try to colonize it. I constantly made the argument that Game Studies is multidisciplinary in nature and that the field should reflect this, but Aarseth rejected such notions. He said that as long as Game Studies was not established, he would resist all attempts at multidisciplinary approaches.  It seems like now there is a colonization attempt from a growing field to absorb all other related fields. That field, however, is not a traditional humanities field, but a digital one. It seems to me that, as of late, digital humanists are trying to lay claim to every single field of study that does anything with digital technologies. Allow me to propose mine.

In ThatCAMP LAC 2012 there was a session that attempted to explain the difference between Digital Pedagogy and Digital Humanities. Although I did not attend this session, I did, in good ThatCAMP tradition,  keep up with the Tweeter feeds.

Allow me to direct your attention to a definition of Digital Pedagogy twittered by one Emily Ball Cicchini:


This image states a fairly accurate definition of what digital pedagogy is: a type of pedagogy where students are brought into discussions of their own learning through the use of technology. Teaching is reflective about how new technologies influence their own learning. This is, of course, my own interpretation of the notes. Now, while this is all well and good, my concern is with the chart presented at the bottom-right of the image. This chart suggests that the entirety of digital humanities is encompassed in digital pedagogy, and that while some digital technologies interact with digital humanities and digital pedagogy, some digital technology is outside of the realm of digital pedagogy. This seems to me partly right. Digital humanities – the study of everything that intersects digital technologies and humanities – can be partly intersected with digital pedagogy. Certainly, digital pedagogy includes far more than digital humanities. Digital pedagogy includes not only the use of digital technologies in the humanities, but also in fields like science and mathematics. It should also e obvious that digital technologies can exist both outside of pedagogical practices and outside of humanities. However, I do want to point out that while digital humanities does intersect with digital pedagogies, digital humanities can also exist outside of pedagogy. Practices such as e-book creation, TEI encoding, and source code studies can certainly be taught and can be used as pedagogical tools, but this is not necessarily the case. An individual can use TEI encoding to create an electronic version of a text for the sheer pleasure of doing so. And so, to that end, I’d like to propose a slightly modified version of this chart – one that reflects the fact I just mentioned.

This model assumes a theoretical layer to digital technologies. This diagram proposes that digital technologies can exist independent of pedagogy and humanities, that there is a digital pedagogy independent of the humanities as well as a theoretical aspect that’s independent of the actual use of digital technologies, and that there is also a theory of digital humanities. Certainly, these theoretical aspects might not be interesting to non-academics, but there is currently a deep interest in theories of digital humanities. The intersection between digital pedagogy and digital technology is the actual applied instruction where instructors use digital technologies to teach and help students engage with the course content. The intersection between digital humanities and digital technologies consider the use of digital tools to further the discipline of the humanities. These include text digitization and theories of digital humanities. The intersection between digital pedagogies and digital humanities involve the theoretical considerations of how to use technology to teach humanities. The center intersection of all three disciplines include the use of digital tools to teach in the humanities.

Now, the design presented here is one of many possible designs that take into account what I just explained. The following model is a slightly expanded version of the original. I don’t feel this second version is as accurate as the previous, but it does take into account the existence of a digital humanities independent of pedagogy.

Still, my complaints about this model is fairly minor. What really concerns me is a second definition that was also tweeted by Emily.


I somehow find this second image a bit more disturbing as far as the definition of digital humanities is concerned. First, allow me to take a small observation out of the way. if you look at the bottom right of the image, you will see a slightly modified version of the digital humanities chart from her first tweeted image. My comments on this one are the same as on the previous, and I still stand by the fact that the triple Venn diagram / Wiccan trifoil leaf looking diagram that I proposed is the correct solution to the visualization of the intersection between digital technologies, digital humanities, and digital pedagogies. What bothers me about this image is the writing on the top section of the board.

If you look at Emily’s image, you will see that according to whoever created this, the field of “digital media” and the field of “humanities computing” converged to create “digital humanities”.  This is actually an accurate interpretation of how the digital humanities came to be. What’s really troublesome is how this chart shows that geographic information systems, social media, digital media, critical code studies, new media, and game studies are a subset of the digital humanities. Now, perhaps in the ThatCAMP section they explained that these were intersections and not sub-sections, and if this was the case then it is an incredibly accurate description. But the way the image is structures, it suggests that these are sub-fields, not intersections. And so, I have a bone to pic.

As I previously stated, digital humanities can be broadly defined as “the intersection between humanities and digital media”. Let’s see how the humanities can intersect with each of the aforementioned fields. I will just use single examples for each intersection, but more uses are possible.

Does humanities intersect with geographic information systems? Absolutely. As I mentioned in my last post, one of the conferences I attended was how to use ARIS game systems to create narratives. In a humanities course focusing on narrative, using the GIS systems in ARIS can help students understand how narrative works differently in space-based narratives from text-based narratives.

Humanities intersecting with social media should be fairly obvious. Using social media tools to engage students in their own learning or o disseminate information are prime modes of use for social networks in the humanities. And there is, of course, that ever important use of keeping in contact with colleagues from other universities. Digital media and humanities intersect both in the discussion of theories that scholars like Ian Bogost and Janet Murray are famous for, but also in the use of digital media technologies to enhance humanities scholarship. I explained this previously in this post. The intersection with new media is the same as with digital media. Critical source code studies is a field that – as far as I’m aware – involves knowledge both of the use of computer code for solving humanities problems and the in-depth knowledge to comment on these code structures critically in order to decipher the message of the coded text. Finally, despite Espen Aarseth’s and Jesper Juul’s attempts to deny this,  there is an intersection between video game studies and humanities. Video games (or at least some of them) have narratives, and some of these narratives are linear – reminiscent of traditional, text-based narratives. And so, in these cases, the best way to unlock meaning is to apply theory to the text, as is traditional in literature studies. The thing is that these are not, as the image suggests, sub-sections, but intersections.

Allow me to use an image to explain this:

This image is a bit complex and convoluted, so allow me to explain what I attempt to show. There is a broad field called “Media Studies”. Entirely within “Media Studies” there are the fields of New Media, Digital Media, and Game Studies. These three fields intersect with each other. They are independent of each other but do have some overlap, and all of them work entirely under the media studies umbrella. Working both inside the umbrella of Media Studies and outside of it, in their own field, are GIS, Digital Humanities, Social Media, and Source Code. All four of these fields are independent of each other but intersect with each other, and all of them can work inside and outside of media studies. All of these fields intersect in a similar way with the three previously mentioned fields.

So, in the end, what do I really want to say about digital humanities and the way that it should be defined?  Digital Humanities is a highly important field that intersects with many other important fields, but that does not house them. Digital Humanities is a large part of the equation, but it’s not the main function.

And in the end, where does Media Studies fall? Depends on who you ask. Some would argue that it should be housed under the humanities. Others would argue that it should be housed under communications. I am of the thought that media studies is in itself, by nature, multidisciplinary. It belongs in humanities departments as much as it belongs in communication, social sciences, and stand alone media departments. But I can write about that some other time.


Emily’s Twiter feed:



About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on June 10, 2012, in Education Commentary, Literature Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Just a few thoughts. First off, I would say that grouping things under the umbrella of Digital Humanities doesn’t mean that they don’t have a life outside of that categorization. For instance, Game Studies (the critical assessment and study of games) is a DH area. It’s also a unique form that merits its own concentrations or departments at some universities. Game development might be a DH field, but for the most part is not. I’m all for complexity in definitions. It gives me pause though when pedagogy is seen as the raison d’etre for DH. Similarly Media Studies encompasses both the humanities and the social sciences. Why would we want to limit it? That inclusivity does not mean that the same scholars are necessarily doing both humanities and social scientific analyses in the field. DH is largely necessary as an umbrella because that is the way funding in the academy works. That means that the tag is largely geographic — marking the spot where the work gets done and by whom. It does not preclude other fields or methods. It is inclusive by nature, not exclusionary by design. The fact that it is such an amorphorous tag is reflective of its organic and fluid nature — a nature that is constantly in a state of flux. And that’s a good thing for both the front line scholars and for the humanities. We can use whatever tool is in our toolbox to do our assessments, to launch an analysis, to build things. If only other fields worked this well and were so inclusive.

    • The first part of your comment is the point that I was clumsily trying to make. Thanks for making it easier to understand. I was not aware, however, of the complexities of labels and funding. Thanks for sharing this!

      • Similarly, Media Studies, the New Media Arts, Digital Media and Game Studies are all actually distinctly different. Media Studies is the study of literacies and writing technologies that follows from the thinking of Marshall McLuhan. Media Ecology (Postman’s branch of Media Studies) is grouped within it. The New Media Arts are an aesthetic category. Digital Media is a larger umbrella that might be construed to include the New Media Arts and Game Studies, but definitely not Media Studies — although Media Studies usually studies Digital Media to understand broader definitions of literacy and writing technologies like social media. There are no neat genealogies or classifications here. That’s why in my schematic (which you might want to reproduce here), I include an area called Critical Digital Studies. It is a field that encompasses many of these related areas without forcing them to marry. Cheers. cg.

  2. The look for the web site is a little bit off in Epiphany. Even So I like your site. I might need to install a normal browser just to enjoy it.

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