Johanna Drucker sees a future with a humanities that becomes increasingly digital
Johanna Drucker is one of the leading researchers in the field of Digital humanities. During the course of her long career as a researcher, she has studied the history of the alphabet, typography, the history of graphical design and experimental poetry, among other things. She is also a well-known artist and works with books as art objects. She is currently planning for continued studies of visual knowledge theory, where one of the things she intends to investigate is what visualisations mean in humanistic research.
Johanna Drucker has visited HUMlab on several occasions, which has been very valuable as regards the development of creative environments at UCLA.
“I’m a great fan of HUMlab’s design. When we renovated our own premises, I showed pictures of HUMlab as inspiration. Scandinavian countries are generally very good at light design, something that we could be better at in the US,” she says. The collaboration between the two institutions is far-going and has involved postdoctoral fellows, small development projects and residencies.
Creative environments require effort
In her research, Johanna Drucker has studied the importance of aesthetics as regarding our understanding of a certain phenomenon; the design of the alphabet can, for example, influence our perception of a text. This has led to her also developing an interest in digital aesthetics, particularly in relation to humanistic research and visualisations of research findings. In connection with her interest in aesthetics and knowledge, she has also followed development where more and more creative pedagogical environments are being constructed at universities around the world.
“I don’t believe that we can build creativity by means of advanced architecture alone. Being cynical for a moment, it is naturally better to build beautiful workplaces where people are happy and can meet than to do nothing at all. I think that creative environments can promote creation and innovation, but it takes a great deal of effort to initiate creative processes. Creative work environments must have a well thought out design with a balance between openness and privacy. I also believe that it is important for the users to feel that they own the place, that they have the right to be there and that they understand what they are to do there. When an environment becomes too open, no one feels that they in particular have any right to be there.”
Will humanistic researchers need to know more about digital technology in the future?
“I think so. I recently discussed this particular question with the Dean of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. We spoke about introducing a compulsory basic course in ‘Data Culture’ for all doctoral students. A basic knowledge of digital technology will in the future be fundamental for humanistic researchers. Knowing how data is structured and how to handle data is a necessity for a modern researcher,” Johanna Drucker continues.
Knowledge of digital technology opens up for new research questions
Johanna Drucker believes that an important part of the development of digital humanities will be finding new techniques and new roles between researchers and people with digital expertise.
“I believe that everyone involved in research in the digital humanities field, both researchers and experts like computer or systems scientists for example, must help each other find new research methodologies. We researchers need to learn a certain amount of basic knowledge of technology, partly to be able to understand the research that we are doing, but also because this knowledge broadens our understanding and our context, and enables us to ask new research questions. For example, moving data between different media, turning handwritten text into digital text, digitalisation of works of art, etc., mean that we can approach the material in new ways. This in itself enables us to see new research questions that should be asked,” says Johanna Drucker.
“However I remain convinced that technical expertise will be needed in the future. I also believe that humanistic research will need the help of new kinds of experts, for example people who handle information professionally, that is to say librarians, curators and others. They fill a culture gap that neither researchers nor technicians know very much about.”
Digital development affects all researchers
Digital humanities is still a young field of research and in the USA there are still only a few post-graduate programmes in the subject. The research is also characterised as being developed as a result of individual researchers at a university happening to have a strong interest in the subject, rather than as a result of digital humanities being established intentionally by that university. In the USA, Stanford, UCLA and the University of Virginia are examples of universities that have gone a step further and established DH as a field/subject, and are among the most successful.
“I believe that in the future, digital humanities will be one of many methods or directions that can be used by humanistic researchers, in the same way that phenomena can be studied from a gender or post-colonial perspective today. Some will specialise in digital humanities while others will use its methodology and theory as needed. I am still waiting for digital humanities to have a deep impact on the intellectual focus of humanistic researchers. As digital humanities matures more in fields of research, people will come to realise that it is more than a buzz-word that can be entered in applications to make it easier to get a grant. We will all be using digital technology in the future and it’s a development that’s impossible to stop. So humanistic researchers can choose to either acquire knowledge and study this development or merely accept it without understanding it,” Johanna Drucker says.