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New Contexts and Sites of Humanities Practice in the Digital (Paper)

The ubiquitous presence of the ‘digital’ over the couple of decades has brought with it several important changes in interdisciplinary forms of research and knowledge production. Particularly in the arts and humanities, the role of digital technologies and internet has always been a rather contentious one, with more debate spurred now due to the growth of fields like humanities computing, digital humanities (henceforth DH) and cultural analytics. Even as these fields signal several shifts in scholarship, pedagogy and practice, portending a futuristic imagination of the role of technology in academia and practice on the one hand, they also reflect continuing challenges related to the digital divide, and more specifically politics around the growth and sustenance of the humanities disciplines. A specific criticism within more recent debates around the origin story of DH in fact, has been its Anglo-American framing, drawing upon a history in humanities computing and textual studies, and located within a larger neoliberal imagination of the university and academia. While this has been met with resistance from across different spaces, thus calling for more diversity and representation in the discourse, it is also reflective of the need to trace and contextualize more local forms of practice and pedagogy in the digital as efforts to address these global concerns. This essay by Puthiya Purayil Sneha draws upon excerpts from a study on the field of DH and related practices in India, to outline the diverse contexts of humanities practice with the advent of the digital and explore the developing discourse around DH in the Indian context.

 

This essay was published in Vol 22 No 1 (2016): SummerHill, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Edited by Dr. Bindu Menon. Download the essay here (PDF).


Abstract

The last couple of decades have seen an increasing prevalence of digital technologies and internet in the study and practice of arts and humanities. With the growth of fields like humanities computing, digital humanities (henceforth DH) and cultural analytics, there has been a renewed interest in the increasing role of the ‘digital’ in interdisciplinary forms of research and knowledge production. DH in particular has become a field of much interest and debate in different parts of the world, including in India. Globally, in the last two decades, there have been several efforts to organize the discourse around this field which seeks to explore various intersections between humanities and digital methods, spaces and tools1. But DH also continues to remain a bone of contention, with several perspectives on what exactly constitutes its methodology and scope, and most importantly its epistemological stake.

A specific criticism has been the Anglo-American framing of DH, located within a larger neoliberal imagination of the university and the higher education system at large. As a result, the connection of these two threads—a history of DH located in humanities computing and textual studies and its contextualization within the American university—is often represented as the history of DH. This has been met with resistance from several scholars and practitioners across the world calling for more global perspectives on the field. Drawing upon excerpts from a recently completed study on mapping the field of DH and related practices in India, this essay will attempt to outline the diverse contexts of humanities practice emerging with the digital turn, along with a reading of some of the global debates around DH to understand the discourse around the field in the Indian context.

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Author

Puthiya Purayil Sneha

Sneha is the Programme Manager of the [email protected] ([email protected]) programme at CIS. 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.