What the Digital Humanities Are and What They Might Become.
Inaugural lecture by Professor Andrew Prescott, Head of the Department of Digital Humanities, to mark the merger of the Centre for e-Research with the Department of Digital Humanities and the appointment of Professor Prescott as Head of the Department of Digital Humanities.
The title of this lecture, ‘An Electric Current of the Imagination’, is taken from the Untam’d Wing, a collection of poems by the scholar of the Romantic period, Jeffrey C. Robinson. In this volume, Robinson uses experimental techniques to transform and deform the great monuments of Romantic poetry on which he has worked as a scholar. He creates from the poems of authors such as Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats startling ‘found verse’ which makes us see these familiar works in a new light. Robinson is fascinated by this meeting of old and new, by the way in which ‘an electric current of the imagination (as the Romantics might put it) causes transformations that constitute a real thing in the world’.
We might express a hope that the fledgling activity of digital humanities will similarly act as a transformative current. Yet too often the formal study of the digital humanities has become preoccupied with such dry matters as the interchangeability of information, technical standards, on searchability, rushing through the text more quickly, reducing its evanescent character to an information flow. Can and should the digital humanities be more than this? This lecture will argue that there is a cultural imperative for the digital humanities to articulate a wider intellectual agenda, and will seek to suggest what the future digital humanities might look like.