Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fooling Around with Digital Humanities

I have long been interested in ways in which modern technology can enhance what I do, as a scholar and a teacher. In the classroom I have used podcasts and wikis, and I continue to work on a digital collection of inscriptions from Israel/Palestine that date from antiquity. Only recently, however, has the surge of interest in humanities computing translated into more publicly accessible tools for interested amateurs such as me.

I have found two recent initiatives from Google particularly intriguing. One is the well reported tool by which you can analyze the use of words in Google Books, called the "Ngram Viewer." I had always been under the impression that in earlier times "Jews" were more often called "Israelite" or "Hebrew." It took me about 10 seconds to discover that I was wrong.

A second more powerful tool is Google Fusion Tables. This enables the merging and visualization of data sets. For reasons too complex and uninteresting, I began to wonder recently about the per capita presence of houses of worship in America today: I wanted to see a color coded map, like the one you see after elections. I suppose that one could do this, or something like it, on Fusion Tables, although I have not yet invested the time and energy I would need to actually figure out how. As with the Ngram viewer, I'm not positive yet how this powerful tool can be applied to the material I more typically work with, but I'm sure that the potential is ultimately enormous.


Vivian Duong said...

It's nice to see an older person using technology.

I remember trying to teach my mom how to send a text message for a whole ten minutes... she still doesn't know how to.
Oh well, it's a good thing my dad isn't technologically illiterate or else wouldn't be able to Skype.

And about technology and education: I would just like to say that technology is great but it can never replace a good teacher.

My experience applies more to Mathematics than the Humanities but I think it still applies to Humanities somewhat. I have actually learned more math from internet videos of amazing math teachers using a marker and a whiteboard-- while some other teachers have tried, in earnest, to teach me through fancy writing boards and computer programs yet failed-- sometimes miserably.
True, I wouldn't have had access to those teachers without technology but it still shows that technology can't replace good teachers.

Anonymous said...

Vivian, I didn't think Mike sounded like an "old person" on his podcasts. Dude, thanks for the tech leads...I will check em out.