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Digital Humanities, or: The Broken Record of Everything

Gengnagel, Tessa

A video essay by Tessa Gengnagel (University of Cologne), made for the Colloquium "Phenomenology of the Digital Humanities" at the FU Berlin, winter semester 2021/22, and the DH Colloquium of the University of Cologne, summer semester 2022.


There are several definitions of the Digital Humanities that shift the focal point of their activities (towards humanities computing or computational humanities; public humanities; new media studies; or the digitality of the humanities in general). Most of them are premised, in one way or another, on the digitization of the ‘record’ of human history and culture. This source material which has served as the systematically indexed base of analysis and study in the humanities since their modern-day manifestation in the 19th century may be referred to as ‘artefacts’, ‘documents’, ‘monuments’ or similar and is a crucial component in research. It is not, however, and never has been, the sole subject of the humanities in and of itself.

The video essay examines several aspects that arise in the context of digitizing said material, such as the documentary paradigm of the digital humanities, the complexity of description, the loss of information, and the challenge of virtual recreations of a time and place in the past. The essay proposes that 'the record' (or rather, the notion of 'the record') is broken because not everything was recorded, not everything that was recorded has survived, and not everything that was recorded and has survived has been digitized or may ever been digitized; to name but a few qualifications.

Some questions for further investigation would be: How can the digital humanities enter into other areas of humanistic knowledge production? How can the digital reproduction of knowledges and extant assumptions about said material account for the silences, contradictions and factual inaccuracies in their “facsimile narratives” (Fafinski 2021)? And how will the digital humanities, as an academic discipline, navigate demands for more immersive simulative experiences which seek to extrapolate an imagined cultural memory from ‘the record’?

The video is best viewed on Youtube, where it contains chapter divisions and further information:
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