Alumni & Friends

Support Woodsworth

Alumni News

Posted August 03, 2017

Learning More About Digital Humanities

We sat down with prof. Alexandra Bolintineanu to discuss the new field of Digital Humanities

With the exciting new development of the Digital Humanities at Woodsworth, we wanted to chat with the person behind the two courses, professor Alexandra Bolintineanu. Alexandra  is a medieval digital studies specialist cross appointed to the Centre for Medieval Studies and the College.  Her current project, Technologies of Unknowing, is a study of medieval wonders in digital environments.  With Digital Humanities, students will be engaged in the study of human culture – art, literature, history, geography, religion – using computational tools and methodologies. We asked her some questions students may have regarding the courses:

1. What is Digital Humanities and why is it beneficial for students to take?

 Digital Humanities is an emerging discipline; humanities research through computing methods and tools. To really know the meaning of what digital humanities is about, is to look at specific projects. With digital humanities, you can build digital archives and study different texts and artifacts that live somewhere else. Before, if I wanted to see a medieval manuscript I would have to travel to England and sketch it. Now you can access that exact manuscript online. I still have notebooks showing my bad sketches, but now I can just pull it up on England Library Online and get an accurate image. At UofT we have the earliest English dictionary because every word has been digitized, every text of old English. Scholars can now look at every instance of a word in question. We can build digital archives of books that have been forbidden. We can also build digital maps of historical cities. Objects that are too tiny and fragile to take apart, we can scan them through MRI technologies and build Virtual Realities that allow us to walk through these tiny artifacts.

 There are three reasons this course is beneficial, one being the guest lectures and field trips. This allows you to be in contact with cutting edge humanities research. Number two, students learn skills and technologies like digital mapping, encoding text, building digital exhibits etc., without prior knowledge of coding or web development, everything is learnt in class. The third reason, being the employability factor. Data visualization on pulled up over 40 jobs that say they require not only a bachelor’s degree but also training in that particular area. These skills you will learn can be taken as a foot in the door for a variety of workplaces.

2. Do the two Digital Humanities courses apply to a degree program?

 Students are given a tasting menu of Digital Humanities with these courses. They are open to all students of any discipline. In the past, I have had classes with literature students, historians, social scientists, business students, computer sciences and even life science students. At the end of our final class we went around the table, everyone found a way to link what they were learning to their field of study. From computer science students who practiced critical thinking around digital representation, to literature students who got a kick out of digitally mapping stories and historical artifacts.

3. Digital Humanities seems like a very modern field, will students only be learning about digital technologies or will there also be learning of past technological advances?

 Yes! Students will learn a lot about digital technologies, not just how to do a bunch of things, but what difference the digital makes. How do these digital tools change the research landscape? How do they allow us to collaborate in new ways? Communicate our findings in new ways? What are the environmental or ethical impacts of these new forms of research? For example we look at 3D printing, where we can take a digital object and literally transform it to be a physical object. We look at older technologies of knowledge production, like old and rare manuscripts, and see what happens when we take those older forms and examine them through digital surrogates.

4. How hands on are these courses and what are the field trips like?

 They are very hands on. The philosophy is learning by making. Courses take place in a computer lab, so we can digitally build things. Maybe a digital map, maybe a digital exhibit. One of the things we will do is go to the Rare Book library. Students will get to handle books, manuscripts and then will learn how books are imaged. They will get a chance to do this all themselves on the rare book scanner. Then, they will get to write as it were the life story of a book in a digital exhibit. Students will also take field trips to the 3D printing lab, get certified and print their own artifact. Throughout the course we will also go to conservation labs, digital research labs and studios on campus.


 To enroll in the exciting new courses go to ACORN and for any more questions you can contact Alexandra.