Greetings from Toronto, Canada, and welcome to a day in the life of Ryerson University’s Centre for Digital Humanities!
Over the course of the day, this blog will feature the projects and ideas of CDH members. I have the honour of starting the conversation, so here we go . . .
I’m Alison Hedley, a CDH student research fellow and PhD candidate in the Communication and Culture program jointly held by Ryerson and York. I specialize in late-Victorian and Edwardian print media. At the CDH, I’m the lead researcher on The Yellow Nineties Personography, a biographical database of contributors to four avant-garde British magazines published in the 1890s: The Yellow Book, The Savoy, The Pagan Review, and The Evergreen. In this blog post, I’d like to briefly unpack how I define DH and what I, as a digital humanist, do.
I define DH as humanities in an age of digitally mediated and remediated cultural records. Digital media and methods shape everything from my day-to-day workflow to my perspective, following J. McGann, on historical print objects as non-identical interpretive environments that condition the horizons of meaning-making. Digital tools make my dissertation and CDH research possible. Online databases have their limitations, but they make their chosen information accessible on an unprecedented scale. Digital media theory—including digital humanities theory informs my research in surprising ways. For example, Willard McCarty’s distinction between models for and models of knowledge in DH has benefited the personography project. Lorraine Janzen Kooistra (the project’s primary investigator) and I have come to view the Y90s Personography as not a model of biographical data, but a model for feminist and queer historical research. N. Katherine Hayles’ work on hyper reading helps me theorize the active nature of Victorian and Edwardian magazine engagement: turn-of-the-century readers actively skimmed, parsed, and juxtaposed periodical contents and materials, rather than passively and linearly consuming them.
I’d never heard the term “digital humanities” before I started an MA in English at the University of Victoria, but by the end of my studies there, I had begun thinking about Victorian periodicals as agents in digital media’s material history. I do not consider myself expert in coding, visualization, text analysis, or data mining, but I have some knowledge of some of these practices. What I have learned so far has helped me better situate humanities-based critical thinking at the intersection of contemporary digital media and historical print media. DH thought has also given me new pedagogical impetus, because I strongly believe that twenty-first century humans benefit from being able to recognize every algorithm as an interpretive act.