Making in the Humanities – Some Questions and Conflicts

The following is an abstract for a proposed chapter on 'making' in the humanities, which has been accepted for publication in a volume titled 'Making Humanities Matter'. This is part of a new book series titled 'Debates in the Digital Humanities 2015' to be published by University of Minnesota Press (http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/cfps/cfp_2015_mhm). The first draft of the chapter will be shared by mid-August 2015.

 

The object of enquiry in the humanities has traditionally been defined in the form of text, audio-visual or other kinds of ‘objects’ or cultural artifacts. With the growth of information and communication technologies, and the advent of the digital, the emergence of a ‘digital object’, as ambiguous as the term may sound, in the last couple of decades, has led to a rethinking of the conventional notion of research objects as well as modes of questioning, with larger consequences for the production and dissemination of knowledge. The rise of fields like ‘humanities computing’, ‘digital humanities’ and ‘cultural analytics’, suggest a combining of two separate domains, or polarized binaries (such as old and new media), and point to the availability of new objects of study, and therefore the need for new methods to study them. A large part of the discourse around these objects however, in trying to read them closely, obfuscates the processes by which they are constituted, which are often as novel and innovative as the artifacts themselves.

 

This paper will attempt to explore the processes of ‘making’ of these digital objects in the context of several sites of recent humanities scholarship in India that mobilise digital techniques as key methods. These will include two online video archival initiatives (Indiancine.ma and Pad.ma), a digital variorum of Rabindranath Tagore's literary works (Bichitra) developed at the University of Jadavpur, Kolkata, and curatorial work undertaken by the Centre for Public History, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru. Film, text and archival objects acquire several nuances as they are ‘made’ into digital objects, which are also reflected in the methods of working with and studying them. At the same time, problems of authorship, authenticity, accessibility, and a lack of adequate methods to study these objects are some challenges faced across disciplines. The objective of the study is to outline some of the questions related to form and methods that emerge with the digital object, and in the process undertake a critical reading of the politics of making in the humanities. What is the role of ‘making’ in the humanities? Where does humanities research using digital technologies intersect with art and creative practices? How is this research manifested in new forms or objects and methods, and to what effects on the humanities? The paper will aim to respond to some of these questions through a discussion of the initiatives mentioned above.

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Author

Puthiya Purayil Sneha

Sneha is a Programme Manager at CIS, and co-leads the [email protected] programme. She is engaged in a mapping of the emergent field of Digital Humanities in India, and is also interested in questions on the nature of textuality, reading, and writing practices in the digital sphere. She can be reached at sneha[at]cis-india[dot]org.