Media Studies and Digital Humanities as a Mode of Scholarship


   I became a digital humanist without really knowing it or understanding how it happened.  Suddenly, I was invited to be on panels about DH or give keynote addresses on the subject or contribute to various journals or websites (like this one).  So, oddly, thanks to my multimodal scholarship and video essays, I’ve become an expert on something I don’t formally know much about.

   With that caveat, here is the most grossly oversimplified way I can express the differentiations between Media Studies and Digital Humanities in the limited space here.  My hope is that this simplified glossing can spur some discussion with others filling in more nuanced (and informed) details and examples.

   For me, Media Studies is a discipline largely concerned with mass media technologies often of a digital nature.  Particular areas of study might include mass media content, the enterprises and systems for distributing that technological content, and analysis of how audiences use media technologies and understand mass media content.  In general, Media Studies embraces traditional analytical models and appears in traditional printed forms (books, journal articles, etc.). 

   By contrast, DH for me is not a discipline, or, at least, not a discipline distinct from the Humanities.  In fact, I see DH more as an ingenious marketing or branding exercise that has successfully brought attention (and funding!) to a long-standing and traditional scholarly area that is (or perceived to be) in crisis at many colleges and universities.   Like the Humanities in general, DH is largely (and widely) concerned with understanding a variety of humanistic areas of study.  In many cases, the objects of study are books, manuscripts, or text but DH uses digital analytical tools to interrogate these objects in ways not previously possible.  On occasion, DH scholarship also appears as a multimodal work rather than a traditional scholarly article or book. 

   I personally would like to see the bond between Media Studies and DH grow stronger.  As a Film/Media Studies scholar, I welcome many of the technical tools and methodologies developed for DH research.  Moreover, I think both areas can help better develop scholarship as a multimodal form.  For a considerable time, academic work has appeared largely as text (like this essay) and largely as a particular rhetorical mode—thesis, literature review, argument, evidence, conclusion, calls for further research, etc.  Yet, the ability to produce work in a multimodal form can also prove advantageous.  First, some subjects (like film or media) lend themselves to audio/visual modes of presentation.  Put simply, it’s easier to show a film clip than to try and textually describe it.  Second, I like multimodal scholarship’s potential to widen the audience of a particular work well beyond the academy.  For Media Studies and DH, one of the challenges ahead will be figuring out a new interface for presenting scholarly work that is as stable and widespread in form and rhetoric as the traditional journal article is now. 


Image on front page by Helran and available on Flickr.


Thanks for the response. I appreciate the commentary here on digital humanities and its intersections with Humanities. Whether or not it is a promotion campaign, i wonder if it isn't necessar to introduce those outside the Humanities that what we do has changed over the last half century. In studying new media, I occasionally get the question of whether or not what I do falls into the English department. To many outside the field, the perception remains that an English scholar studies literature and/or teaches writing, both in traditional (formalist or theoretical) ways. At the very least, DH means Humanities is in conversation outside of how programs are being  underfunded and/or shut down. 

I wonder how many digital humanists have found themselves being identified that way by others before they themselves saw it that way. 

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