This is where it all begins—but every beginning has a story, some kind of activation energy that got things moving in the first place. Let me tell you a bit of mine, and lay down a bit of context for this little corner of the blogosphere I’ve newly carved out for myself.
I am Joshua D. Savage, newly started in the Masters programme at Maynooth University in Ireland, working on earning my MA in Digital Humanities. When I tell most people this, the very next question (accompanied by a blank stare) is usually, “What in the world is Digital Humanities?” The short answer is that the field seeks to put art, literature, and history on computers, but the reality is much more complicated than that. In this blog, I will explore various aspects and challenges of the field, test a few boundaries, and perhaps raise a few new questions.
But I digress—we were talking about backstory.
Mine, like most people’s, is complicated: it’s a tapestry consisting of a number of unlikely interwoven threads, pulled from all manner of placed. The first thread is the work I did while earning my undergraduate degree in Psychology and East Asian Studies from Harvard University, and while there are a number of stories (both good and appalling) to tell about those years, one important thread for our purposes is the appreciation I gained for how involved research is, and how difficult it can be to find helpful materials—one experience that left a significant impression was wandering through the labyrinthine depths of the university’s largest library to find a journal article for a professor, all during a period when the library was under construction, meaning that most of the lights were not working and several of the aisles were cordoned off (I went into the library at 3PM, and by the time I left, it was dark outside).
Another is a love of history, cultivated not only through my courses in East Asian Studies, but also, even more so, by a core course (a sort of pseudo-elective) entitled “Inventing New England” taught by a brilliant historian named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, which was my first experience of seeing history as a living, breathing concept, ever subject to interpretation and rediscovery in every subsequent person and age, rather than as a dead collection of names and dates. I had spent most of my middle school years heavily involved with the history of maritime Salem, thanks in no small part to the (successful) efforts of my middle school, the Phoenix School, to spearhead a movement to get a replica of the East Indiaman Friendship built in Salem Harbor, and the new perspective cast by “Inventing New England” caused my entire experience of that segment of history to explode in vibrant possibility.
Yet another thread is the seven years I spent living and teaching in Japan, seeing the culture there firsthand, seeing national treasures (both buildings and people) whom I had read about in books standing before me in living color, where just about every historical site of note is older than the country where I grew up. Shortly before I left, for example, one of my favorite cities in the country, Nara, celebrated its 1300th anniversary.
Still another thread is the work I have done as an educational consultant, writer, and designer since coming home, helping a startup client in the educational software industry establish a digital footprint, and then plant that digital foot in the door at a number of schools throughout the United States. Working there let me see a piece of digital academia from all sides, from the outermost user interface to the innermost guts of its code, and gave me the opportunity to dirty my hands working on every level.
And through it all, I have a lifelong love of computers, and in particular a love of video games. This might not, on the surface, look like it has a great deal of overlap with history, but in fact many of the issues faced by people who view video games as Art, rather than simply entertainment, are similar to the ones faced by Digital Humanists, particularly when it comes to preservation. As a born digital medium—meaning one that exists only in digital form from the point of its creation—keeping old video games in accessible form is a daunting task, in part because they so often exist in proprietary formats. This topic deserves an entire post on its own, which is exactly what it will get.
And finally, there is my own interest in digital preservation. What with moving home from Japan, moving back out on my own, dating, getting married, and coming to Ireland, I have moved quite a bit in the last three years, and particularly moved essentially four times in 2013-2014 alone. For a bookworm and a collector, that means potentially having an awful lot of stuff to lug around, especially a lot of out-of-print books that I brought home with me from Japan. Thus, most of the first half of 2014 found me heavily invested in digitizing my own library, making use of both a book-scanning service in the States and a document camera that I invested in on my own. The process was slow and painful (and somewhat expensive), and there is still a great deal that was left behind, but I now have a significant library on a little digital drive. I was surprised to learn after coming here how many of the challenges I faced in digitizing my own collection are ones that are shared by the Digital Humanities department here.
So, those are the threads. If you want to see how they all weave together, find me here at Humanities.exe, creating my own born-digital tapestry, a record of one person’s life as a fledgling Digital Humanist at Maynooth University.