Intersections between Digital Humanities & Media Studies: Attempts At A Primer

The time is now ripe to join the insights of decades of film and media studies with the new modes of information management, visualization, and dissemination that digital technologies are enabling. Who better to reimagine the relationship of scholarly form to content than those who have devoted their careers to studying narrative structure, representation and meaning, or the aesthetics of visuality?

Tara McPherson, Cinema Journal 48.2

This term I’m taking the course Digital Humanities: Introduction to the Field with Prof. Alan Liu. The course brings in people from a variety of fields, and as a reflection of such, one of the things we will work on is to think through the intersections between our discipline and the field of digital humanities, and write blog posts on them. Since I am taking the class with two fellow media studies colleagues, I figured as a start I would collect as many cases of media studies projects that fall under the umbrella of digital humanities, as well as what others have said about the relationship between these two fields, in order to help us get a sense of these intersections and depart from there.

The above quote from Tara McPherson nicely illustrates the sentiment fueling many of the recent conversations on media studies and digital humanities. If we media scholars are dedicated to study some of the tools being used by digital humanists, why are we not using them ourselves? Or, if we are, why are we not thinking of them as such?

As a point of departure, I’ll point to the recent mediacommons discussion thread “What are the differentiations and intersections of media studies and the digital humanities?”. It includes not only ways of thinking about the two fields together and in contrast, but also concludes with a very nice Prezi summarizing the different approaches into the categories of scholarship, theory, and praxis. Similar concerns were also brought up by the scholars participating in the FLOW conference roundtable “Media Studies and the Digital Humanities Movement” last year.

In the same vein is this year’s SCMS workshop organized by Miriam Posner and Jason Mittel, where participants presented a variety of projects including the building of social network graphs to supplement textual analysis in critiques of race representation, the development of databases to explore national television production, and the creation of visual forms of scholarship. Furthermore, the questions raised by the participants and the audience touches on many concerns in DH at large, including funding, evaluation of scholarship, and acquisition of technical knowledge.

In terms of projects, including the ones already mentioned in the discussions above, I can think of the Scalar project for media-rich scholarly publishing, Kevin Hamilton’s and Neil O’Gorman’s interface for viewing nuclear film archives from the Department of Defense, the Media History Digital Library of classic media periodicals, the Cinemetrics tool for movie measurement and study, the Audiovisualcy forum for videographic film studies, and Michael Casey’s and Mark Williams’s Audio-visual Cinematic Toolbox for Interaction, Organization, and Navigation (ACTION) to develop analysis routines for the sound and images of feature films.

Digitization initiatives also play a key role in digital humanities research. In this regard, important resources for media studies include the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theory’s translation project, which archives translations of historical and theoretical writings on film from around the world; the Canadian Educational, Sponsored, and Industrial Film Archive, a growing database of Canadian-produced titles in the broadly defined genres of educational, sponsored, and industrial films; and even databases such as UbuWeb Film or online torrent sharing sites.

Of course, I am probably missing a lot of projects, and just as many compelling discussions about how digital humanities and media studies can interact, so the final purpose of this post is a call for crowdsourcing. If you have any other examples of media studies scholars using digital humanities tools, or ways you think media studies scholars should be engaging with the digital humanities, I encourage you to post them in the comments. It’ll be our job to parse and think through them, and hopefully, add something meaningful to the ongoing dialogue between our fields.

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