Experience in Digital Humanities prepares learners for an uncertain future: Prof David J Wrisley
David Joseph Wrisley is Professor of Digital Humanities at New York University Abu Dhabi. His research interests include comparative approaches to medieval literature in European languages and Arabic, digital spatial approaches to corpora, neural methods for handwritten text recognition across writing systems, and open knowledge community building in the Middle East where he has lived and researched since 2002. One of the speakers at Intersections-International Conference on Digital Humanities (IICDH), to be held in UPES Dehradun on December 15-16, he shares his insights on the importance of DH research in helping learners develop a critical approach to the changing technological landscape.
What is the scope of Digital Humanities in the present day and age? What are its practical applications? How can it help Humanities students and researchers?
Digital Humanities, once the subject of research and teaching in a limited number of countries, have experienced significant global development in recent years. Since Digital Humanities often have a dual focus – both employing technology to study elements of the human record and bringing critical perspectives to the general developments of digital culture – this means necessarily that local traditions of the study of the Humanities, as well as uses of media and the digital have everything to do with how DH take shape. DH are fundamental in the cultural sector and creative industries for the dissemination of research and programming as well as for shaping public memory in the present age.
How can Digital Humanities prepare students for the workplace of tomorrow?
Conversations about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of work often express uncertainties about what the workplace of tomorrow will look like and what we will do there. Experience in Digital Humanities and attendant technologies is an excellent preparation for that uncertain future. DH research and inquiry encourage students to be flexible and to work in teams toward common goals, all the while developing a critical approach to the changing technological landscape in our societies.
Is Digital Humanities widening its breadth and scope to include a study and analysis of new-age technologies like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Data Science?
Digital Humanities have kept up with cutting-edge technologies like ML/AI and in some cases have joined forces with fields like Data Science. DH allow us to look at the past through wider lenses and to formulate questions which may never have been asked, or found to be askable, by individual researchers. Moreover, important critiques of the claims of ML/AI proponents to enrich human life have emerged from DH. In particular, critics have asked how ML/AI came to embody forms of bias and discrimination which run counter to the general aims of society.
How has digitization impacted Humanities research?
Digitization of archival documents has impacted Humanities research in profound ways. Documents of the human record have become available to so many more people and in so many more places than ever before. It can be said that digitization closes an important access gap. It is important to underscore, however, that not everything in the world has been digitized and archives which are already digitized end up garnering a disproportionate amount of attention among researchers. Another process, the digitalization of humanities research, is also worth mentioning. What is meant by that is that the tools of humanities research (catalogues, methods of access, and analysis) have also undergone significant digital transformation. Digitization and digitalization go hand in hand, although they do not always move forward at the same speed.
What are your thoughts on UPES School of Liberal Studies and its transdisciplinary approach to learning?
My own educational and professional experiences have been at liberal arts institutions favouring a broad-based education. I am a strong proponent of forward-looking, research-led teaching – a pedagogical approach I champion at my own institution in Abu Dhabi. I recognize that this kind of education requires long-term, unflagging institutional support as well as mechanisms that reward risk-taking. I look forward to learning more from your approach to transdisciplinary learning and how student and faculty experiences of it intersect.