New Fields of Study: Digital Humanities and Book History

As societies grow and develop it is natural for new fields of study to spring up to better understand and document the world around us. We see this in nearly every field, ranging from science to the humanities. Over my college education, I have noticed a new emphasis of study on the “deliverers” of the humanities. It is so fascinating to me. It started with my love of books, as I took a special interest in book history through the guidance of many professors, and recently that same interest has developed in digital humanities. Both fields focus on the deliverance of information, one based on the book and the other the digital.

Now, what is book history and digital humanities? Book history is “the study of books as physical objects: as devices for storing and circulating knowledge and ideas. It is also, therefore, the study of how books are produced, circulated, and received at different historical times and places” (Levy & Mole). Essentially book history is interested in every aspect of the book, from production to circulation to reception to longevity. However, for a long time, book history was defined by what it was not. As a relatively new field of study is struggled with defining itself in inclusive terms that would work with all of the fields that used it. It is truly an interdisciplinary field of study.

However, I do not think there would have been such an emphasis on book history these past few years if it were not for the emergence of the digital humanities, which in many ways is perceived as the opposite of book history. Digital Humanities is defined as “a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or, as is more true of my own work, ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies” (Fitzpatrick). Essentially it has everything to do with the digital and the humanities. These two fields work hand in had to help us understand how we interpret the humanities.

I couldn’t help but think about the interdisciplinary nature of both of these fields and how in such an interconnected world it is going to be harder and harder to keep fields of study from overlapping. Indeed, I am not an interdisciplinary humanities major, but I still understand the importance of connection. In many ways, digital humanities is the new bridge between traditional types of humanities, such as printed books and live-action theater, to modern humanities, such as films and podcasts. In our rapidly globalizing world, it will become more and more impossible to separate one humanities discipline from another, and as such, I think we will be seeing more fields that strive to connect the previously separated humanities disciplines. What new fields will turn up next?


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