To study Philosophy, History or Literature was long considered synonymous of prestige, but it was also considered necessary. Reading the classics, speaking Latin or ancient Greek was synonymous of high culture. Everything else went to the prosaic sphere.
Enormous libraries with thousands of volumes were the paradise of any humanist or intellectual who prized him/herself of such. The great universities measured their prestige by the size of their libraries.
To ponder about the problems and anguishes of us human beings, our many weaknesses and our uncertain future was indispensable in any meeting of cultured people. The Humanities: an exclusive club that not everyone could enter.
Few people could boast of discussing the theses of the German philosophers as opposed to those of the French. Reading for very long hours the novels of Balzac, Dumas or Proust was only admissible if you already had read all the works of Shakespeare and twice Cervantes’ Don Quixote.
Universities prepared a lot of people to read. The Humanities involved, above all, reading. The thought followed the reading and the reading stimulated the thought. Oh, what times were those in which every intellectual, therefore, needed his glasses without fail!
The new Humanities
Today we talk about Digital Humanities to differentiate them from those old ones that were trapped in a regular library, with books of hundreds of pages of unique smell and beautiful covers with golden letters. The so-called Digital Humanities are another thing for certain.
Some people define them as the cross between traditional Humanities and Digital Technology.
At first glance, this looks too obvious and too simple. If it were that way an ebook would be a product of the Digital Humanities and it is not, although Plato surely would love to have on his iPad his complete collection of manuscripts.
On one hand, we must make it clear that Digital Humanities are not a discipline, but a field of study. Those who have leaned towards them focus on digital intellectual products, that is, from videos to digital files. But they also use digital technology to study the intellectual production of society.
It is likely to be somewhat complicated to understand what is going on here. But this is only because we try to do it from the model of the traditional Humanities. Digital Humanities are very much like a network. Yes, a network. In this interconnected world it could not be otherwise.
What is it about Digital Humanities?
They are a network that synthesizes the traditional Humanities and Digital Technology, reaching points that previously could never have been connected. They do not seek to replace the wonderful congregation of knowledge that we have accumulated over many centuries and that is still fundamental to us (probably always will be).
Digital Humanities have their own identity, however, still under construction. Let's take an example: the management of Big Data is essential today and its analysis, interpretation and ordering is the work of the Digital Humanities at very broad levels of comprehension. Without the current technology or the traditional tools from the Humanities, Big Data's analysis would be impossible.
In this sense, when we talk about databases, data visualization, information interpretation, data mining, etc., we are not talking about cryptic methods, but about Digital Humanities. History, Philosophy, Art History, Archeology, Sociology, Anthropology, just to mention a few, have all joined today in this new way of conceiving the Humanities.
The relationship between Digital Humanities and AI
It is still too early to know how much AI will impact Digital Humanities, or Humanities in general for that matter. Catastrophe prophets seems to be very agitated these days. They augur that AI will do incalculable harm to humanity, that this technology should be stopped.
Any kind of technology is potentially harmful. Even Gutenberg printing press was dangerous, because it helped spread all kind of ideas --good and bad. Of course AI could be dangerous. Isn't nuclear energy? AI need regulation, as do weapons like AR15 rifles. But that is an issue for another post.
In terms of Digital Humanities, AI promises a to get faster to the bone of data that the human brain would take decades to process. That would help us get a better understanding of migratory movements, cultural and artistic production, uses of language or political trends throughout history, just to brush the surface of the benefits.
The management of Big Data is, certainly, a good thing that is coming along AI. The network Digital Humanities need to exist in widened and deepened by AI. It is easier to find connections between demographic changes and the changes in youth jargon, for example. Which makes it easier to understand and study.
AI cannot do everything our brain does. It is a fallacy to state otherwise. AI helps us to smooth out our thinking process, to go around obstacles that would have takes us years and years of work, and to gather more relevant information in a very efficient way.
Instead of seeing AI as the monster that will exterminate us all, let's look at it as the ticket to a better understanding of our human nature, and what it is capable of in the hands of Digital Humanities.