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Digitization and its Role in the Humanities

Digitization is a tool for Digital Humanities scholars. However, there are limitations when using digitization. Melissa Terras, who is the author of “Digitization and Digital Resources in the Humanities,” provided content discussing the importance of digitization, its benefits, and its issues. The importance of digitization can be seen through the explanation as to why digitization is necessary within the field of the humanities. Terras said that this is because those who participate within the field of humanities do not gather information and research in the same way. Terras described this as, “Humanities users continue to need printed materials and physical objects, as well as electronic resources, which by their nature may imply a much greater range of materials than those used by scientists.” Through this context laid out by Terras, we can evaluate what digitization includes and how it can impact our understanding of certain items.
According to Terras, we often digitize certain images, significant documents, and cultural artifacts. Authors Paul Conway and Laura Putnam offer insight on the impact of working with digitized materials. Due to these items being significant enough to put into a digital collection, it is important to understand the repercussions that occur when interacting with digitized representation. Paul Conway’s article, “Building Meaning in a Digitized Photographs” focused on how meaning is portrayed in a digitized image and how the digitizer can control this meaning through their choice of method. Conway described how digitizers often have to edit an image for it to match its originality better. These edits include adjusting the color, tone, blemish removal, and cropping. However, these alterations can affect the meaning of the digitized image. The digitizer can then alter the meaning of a certain image by using these tools to their advantages, such as cropping a picture too much to exclude a person or object. Laura Putnam’s essay, “The Transnational and the Text: Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast, explained this issue further. The main issue illustrated by Putnam concerned how the internet can manipulate these tools and alter the meaning of digitized items. “It opens shortcuts that enable ignorance as well as knowledge.” Although there can be issues with the digitization of certain images, digitization can also be a useful and educational tool that can help deepen our understanding of a certain time period or culture.

Terras, Melissa.”Digitization and Digital Resources in the Humanities,”In Digital Humanities in Practice, edited by Claire Warwick, Melissa Terras, and Julianne Nyhan. Facet Publishing, 2012, pg. 8.

Conway, Paul. “Building Meaning in Digitized Photographs.” Journal of the Chicago Colloquium of Digital Humanities and Computer Science 1, no. 1 (2009), pgs. 1, 12-16.

Putnam, Laura. The American Historical Review, “The Transnational and the Text: Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast Volume 121, Issue 2, April 2016, pgs. 1, 16.

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