What is DH

Text-based studies and disciplines formed the backbone of the humanities for centuries. The modern university as a repository of knowledge with an avowed function of creation, preservation and dissemination of knowledge also has its origin in this tradition. However, since World War II, these functions are increasingly being taken over by organizations other than universities. This shift has been further accelerated by the dot com revolution that is characterized by the migration of cultural material to digital networks. Today, we are witnessing ‘a watershed moment in the history of civilization in which our relation to knowledge and information is radically changing’ (Svensson, Patrik). The source of Digital Humanities (DH) as a field of studies lies in these developments.

The humanities’ engagement with computation began in late 1940’s and the first wave gained momentum, in the 1980’s, with the efforts to mobilize the search and retrieval powers of the database. These efforts, though transforming fields like corpus studies, were mainly quantitative. The second wave that began with the turn of the century is ‘qualitative, interpretive, experiential and generative in character’ (Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0). Though the adjective ‘digital’ is invested with game-changing implications the noun ‘humanities’ constitutes the core of DH. It is against this backdrop that we witness the flourishing of DH Projects and Centers culminating into the DH becoming a ‘free-floating signifier’ (Kirschenbaum, Matthew). The following events can be considered significant landmarks in this journey: 1. the publication of the book ‘A Companion to Digital Humanities’ in the year 2005, 2. the creation of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) in the same year, and 3. The 2009 MLA Annual Convention during which the DH became big news. Today, thousands of scholars and researchers in humanities take pride in calling themselves DHers.

Born of the encounter between traditional humanities and computational methods, DH is seen as ‘an array of convergent practices that explore human environment in which print is no longer the normative medium of production and dissemination of knowledge’ (Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0). DH culture values interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship and open access. DH is particularly interested in envisioning collaboration between the Sciences and Humanities. This multi-purposing and multiple channeling of humanistic knowledge involve changes in language, practice, methodology, pedagogy, theory and scholarship. Over the decades, diverse groups of individuals, organizations and projects have built the field of DH as it exists today.

The fact that most of these developments are witnessed in North America and Europe speaks to the digital divide and the need to bridge the gap. It is with this motivation that the Forum for Innovation and Transformation has launched the Center for Digital Humanities in collaboration with the Institute of Advanced Studies in English, Pune. While the institutional history outlined here mainly references the origins of DH in the United States, we hope to explore how the Humanities in India have engaged with digital technologies and foster a local digital humanities informed by local needs and concerns.

Forum for Innovation and Transformation is a registered Trust founded by senior academicians mainly for undertaking innovative academic programs and activities. Institute of Advanced Studies in English is a self-financed research institute in English, affiliated to the University of Pune. These two bodies have been collaborating in most of their academic endeavors, like publication of international journals and organizing International Conferences in the field of humanities. The past work and initiatives have helped these organizations develop a network of people, mainly from the humanities discipline, all over India and in several Asian countries.

Efforts are being taken to connect the CDH to similar DH initiatives through relevant scholars and university departments inside and outside India. Some of the collaborations are likely to be concretized in the near future.

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