digital humanities as quilting

Last week, Dean Rehberger, Director of MATRIX at Michigan State University was on campus to talk about digital humanities. Though I’m a librarian interested in new technology, I hadn’t yet jumped on the digital humanities bandwagon.

This is mostly because there is a lack of definition for digital humanities (sometimes broadened to digital scholarship or digital pedagogy) or how it’s fundamentally different from humanities (is it new because now we have computers?).

As an artist, I didn’t see a place for me within the trend. I don’t relate to historians or religion scholars. I don’t get excited about text mining. But, in his lunchtime lecture, Rehberger provided an analogy that is making me think twice about digital humanities.

He said the digital humanities is a lot like quilt making. The only art practice closer to my heart than quilt making is weaving, so he had my attention. Digital humanities and quilt making both:

~ require many hands (the quilting bee is similar to the MATRIX collaborative model)

~ foster making & building (small pieces joined together to create a whole)

~ are devalued (quilting is women’s work and still isn’t appreciated as art; technology in the humanities seems to confront traditional scholarship)

~ can be remixed (in quilting, recycling old clothing and linens is common; technology remixes history)

~ are both an art and a science (if my math skills were better, I’d be a better quilter; the humanities are an art, but the lens of technology to examine the humanities requires a scientific eye)

~ are public, transformative projects (if quilting wasn’t devalued, the social history would be well-known as transformative)

This was the first time digital humanities had been presented to me without talk of metadata or software or scanning archival papers. Comparing digital humanities to one of the fiber arts that grounded my art graduate practice was the exact entrance I needed into the DH scholarship. I may just find a second home there.