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New bytes: Digital humanities courses are becoming a hit among students

The subject is a blend of computation skills and the arts stream, which means you can get creative with technology while you delve into the humanities.

education Updated: Oct 10, 2018 18:22 IST
Dipanjan Sinha
Dipanjan Sinha
Hindustan Times
Digital humanities,Facebook,Computation skills
Students use technology and hardware applications for their culture projects.(Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology)

Imagine working on a course project on why people behave the way they do on Facebook, but studying algorithms and behavioural psychology. Or working on a map that plots the places that Ulysses travelled through James Joyce’s novel. Or building a programme that analyses handwriting to tell us more about its history. Or mapping famines in India with your classmates. Digital humanities is a growing field worldwide where computation skills and knowledge of humanities meet.

In India, the course is being taught in a few graduate institutes, and Bengaluru’s Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology offers an MDes programme. Jadavpur University (JU), Kolkata, was the first to start the course from 2013 and offers a PG diploma. Pune University started a certificate course from 2015. Koti Women’s College, Hyderabad, started a course from 2016 offering a BA in computer applications-digital humanities.

MINING DATA

“Our approach is the use of computational methods to advance humanities research,” says Padmini Ray Murray, course leader for the postgraduate programme in digital humanities at Srishti.

This, she explains, happens through use of technical tools like maps and databases. “An example of digital humanities being used for practical purpose is the journalistic stories that extensively use digital tools like data mining and interactive maps,” she says.

Murray says that the course also involves studying objects like new gadgets and their impact on society. The Google Cultural Institute, for instance, was one subject of research.

“We often don’t see that we are using digital humanities in everyday life,” points out Reesoom Pal, who completed PG diploma in digital humanities from JU in 2016, and is currently employed in the school of cultural texts and records at Jadavpur University.

“A meme generator for Shakespearean insults is digital humanities at work and so is the Partition Archive, which documents personal stories of Partition. Pal, who did a Masters in English from the university, says that she was keen to do the course during her post-graduation as she felt that this is an effective way to understand the world of today.

The course at Srishti requires students to learn how code works but they don’t need a background in it. “The students need to be open to learn how code works. But that part of the course is not so intense that a student without a background in the field will be unable to pick it up,” says Murray.

Syeda Zainab Akbar, who had Psychology and English as her graduation subjects and had no idea of coding, says it wasn’t difficult to pick up. “My final project was on why people behave the way they do on Facebook and if at all they can control public opinion,” she says. “For this, I used both my graduation knowledge of behavioural science and the understanding of algorithms I picked up during the course.”

LOOKING AHEAD

At Jadavpur University, the school of cultural texts has been digitising and conserving critically endangered records on their website, Granth South Asia, and has been built with help from students of the digital humanities course.

“When we started the course, we were the only ones in the country. Now a few other institutes have started similar courses but it is still too few,” says Amlan Dasgupta, professor of English and director, school of cultural texts and records, JU. Dasgupta points out that in the last decade, digital humanities has become a popular course in many top universities in Europe and North America. In Japan, China and Singapore, many colleges are offering digital humanities too. Murray says that exploring the power of computation to explore areas like art, literature and music, prepare students for opportunities in archiving work for museums, which are now investing in digital techniques.

Apart from that, fields like digital journalism, policy and governance that involve data or fields like game design are also great options.

First Published: Oct 10, 2018 17:35 IST