I had a twitter account for long. After faint hearted attempts at tweeting (“Going for lunch”, “Really appreciated my week-end in Paris”), I just gave up. What is this service for?
Developing an interest in digital humanities changed my opinion. It is not quite a field yet: I am not aware of established journals devoted to digital humanities, or of international societies with annual meetings. But it is certainly a community of interest. The trouble for this community is that they come from widely different backgrounds: history, demography, philology, but also machine learning and software developing, to mention just a few. How do they get to know and learn from each other?
Twitter happens to be a very convenient space for this purpose. It is commonly used by computing scientists, who tweet furiously about their ideas, results, and the events they organize. And some social scientists started participating in the discussion. They are very few for now, but the principle of twitter is that each “tweet” can quote links and keywords which can then be followed (and re-tweeted, etc.) So that their voices are amplified, and at the end one gets quite a broad view of social sciences in the digital humanities.
For instance, what triggered the writing of this post was reading a fascinating blog post by a Princeton scholar on the design of databases for historians, which I discovered by following a link on twitter (http://sappingattention.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-historians-dont-know-about.html). The point I want to make is that, instead of following the work of this Princeton guy in particular (even if in this case that might be a good idea!), it might be actually a better idea to use twitter and take advantage of its “echo chamber” effect, which will bring you a view on his work when he gets referred in links, and a much vaster view of the digital humanities in general by simply tracking a few keywords and individuals.
If you are tempted, here are a few of my favorites to follow on twitter:
#nltk (for textual analysis)
#sna (for social network analysis)
@jonathantray (a professional journalist and a computer scientist, works now for AP, the news agency)
@wmijnhardt (an exec at my univ, tweets a lot about science management)
He does not tweet, but gets cited a lot in the chatter: Elijah Meeks from Stanford – another fine scholar in the digital humanities.
[EDIT: again following a link on twitter, I found this contribution by Anthony Grafton, worrying about the conspicuous absence of historians in one large Harvard history project in digital humanities ("culturomics"): http://www.historians.org/Perspectives/issues/2011/1103/1103pre1.cfm]
Time for historians to make a move!]