Computing the Humanities

When I think of the humanities, I usually think about old, dusty books about religions, or big events, like the holocaust or the great migration. I never think about using technology to study humanities. however, that is exactly what I started doing when I got into the 340 English class, Digital Humanities.

In order for me to study the humanities, I would need information about past events. Now of course, I can go to a library and pull out whatever books I need to study, but that becomes a tedious task. I would have to sort through the library’s selection of thousands upon thousands of books just to find maybe three certain books that have to do with my topic. Even with a good organizational system, it could take hours to find the right books. This is where technology comes in to help. Nowadays, almost all libraries have all of their books mapped out through an online system. Finding a physical book can become as simple as searching certain keywords in their website and having the computer find it for you. This can make a process that usually take hours turn into only a few minutes. Now sometimes, you don’t get access to a library because maybe there’s none in your area, or maybe your library gets asbestos and closes down until 2024. Either way, that doesn’t mean that information isn’t available anymore. In fact, there’s so much information floating out in the world it becomes hard to keep track of physically. According to what James Gleick says in his book The Information: a History, a Theory, a Flood, “As the role of information grows beyond anyone’s reckoning, it grows to be too much.” With so much information out there, how do you keep it all under one library roof? Again, this is where technology comes in to help. The internet has unlimited storage, so infinite information can be stored there. Now, finding information to study the humanities is as simple as just looking up the keywords and clicking on whatever I need. That is only the beginning of digital humanities.

Another part of digital humanities doesn’t include past information of what people did or big events; a big part is the computers themselves. If you really think about it, the development of computers is a huge event for humanity. One day, when people study the humanities, they’ll be learning about the first computers, the first coders, and the super rapid advancement that all happened within a lifespan. Gleick’s book talks about the different ways people communicated. It goes through different methods like talking drums and even cuneiform. Not only are these considered languages, but it’s communication. With the introduction of computers, people can write to each other from across the world, in different languages, and the other person can read it immediately in whatever language they speak due to high speed internet and translation services. In order for technology to do this, somebody needs to code it into existence. Coding itself is a whole new language. It isn’t the language of people, but rather the language of technology. So far in this Digital Humanities class, we’ve began to learn html. html is one of the most basic computer languages, or at least it is easier than other computer languages like JavaScript or C++. So technology is obviously a large part of studying the humanities now. Not only does it include language and communication, but it also has almost all information that has ever been recorded, as long as somebody takes the time to upload it to the internet.

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