Critiquing and Reflecting on Digital Humanities

In this week’s readings and media posts, I recognized multiple themes. These consisted of different methods of thinking, biases and awareness in big data, as well as technology representing a reflection of society, and critical thinking. Ultimately, I learned that we need to be constantly adapting and thinking critically to be successful. Society is full of biases and the first step to correcting that is to be aware of them. We can approach this through the use of digital humanities techniques.

There are two types of thinking that were discussed in “Digital Creativity as Critical Material Thinking: The Disruptive Potential of Electronic Literature,” which consisted of gnosis and poiesis. Gnosis is considered conceptual thinking whereas poiesis is active thinking, i.e., building or constructing as a method to learn. In digital humanities, the central focus is on gnosis. In all of our exercises this semester and readings/media that have been shown by other digital humanists, we have worked with techniques where we build models to represent thoughts and ideas. This is an effective way not only to learn, but to spread awareness.

As a society, we are biased. This has been shown in many findings, from Safia Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism – Chapter 1: A Society, Searching, to The era of blind faith in big data must end | Cathy O’Neil, an essential point they address is that we need to not only be aware that these biases are happening, but try to correct for them. Algorithms are not fool proof. Cathy O’Neill discussed how algorithms are trained by our past, they hide ugly truths and present them as success. We need to have an understanding of how these algorithms are formed so we can audit them. We need to take these biases into account and check them for fairness. Safia Noble found that the autosuggestions in google searches were extremely racist, sexist, and demeaning. The algorithm used to make these autosuggestions represents the way of thinking of our society still. This should be recognized as a check-point in which we need to follow O’Neill’s advice and interrogate this algorithm. In Digital transformation – a revolution in the humanities?, it was discussed how technology itself is neutral. We have to get to the root of the problem, which is not technology, but our society itself. A great place to start searching for biases would be through digital archives. In many of our readings/media (Digital transformation – a revolution in the humanities?, “Can Digital Humanities Mean Transformative Critique?,” and Digital transformation – a revolution in the humanities?) it was discussed how digital archives are key practices of digital humanities production. They provide insight into historical processes and power structures in our past as well as knowledge of scale. We are living in a time where we have instant access to information, so a method we should be utilizing in digital humanities is monitoring the pace and time of human affairs.

When we are working with building models and sharing ideas and media, it is crucial to be constantly criticizing. As discussed in Digital Humanities: Knowledge and Critique in a Digital Age Chapter 8 “Towards a Critical Digital Humanities”,” it is an ongoing process and critically assessing work may take longer to do, but it is worth doing because the end result will be more substantial and meaningful. We need to think critically about all things that are presented to us. We cannot assume that just because an algorithm is presented that it is right or that it cannot be changed or audited. Digital humanities is constantly changing and to be successful, we need to be assessing and critiquing everything along the way. Although there is so much opportunity to represent data and show material in different ways with digital humanities, one of the obstacles that was described in Is a Critical Digital Humanities Possible?| Roopika Risam is that not all information can be used. There are people who do not want their information digitized, i.e., heritage or culturally sensitive information. Even though digital humanities presents a great opportunity to allow people to think in new ways, there are obstacles that we must think about when approaching the best way to utilize digital humanities techniques.

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