Puthiya Purayil Sneha and Sumandro Chattapadhyay
The Centre for Internet and Society
For us at the Centre for Internet and Society, digital humanities suggests various forms of engagement with the ‘digital’ by humanities scholars and practitioners, including developing software, creating new tools and methods for research and practice, producing and re-organising archives, building theory and rethinking pedagogy – all of which may allow one to study and work with the ‘digital’ more critically from the perspective of the humanities disciplines.
The development of new methods of research and practice is crucial, for it not only then allows us to reflect on the changes in forms and practices of humanistic enquiry with the digital turn, but also helps to create new ways of studying and understanding objects that are being made available now as a consequence of digitalisation, and for which more traditional methods of research may be inadequate. It is imperative to note ‘how’ these methods help to understand both the humanities and the digital better (if these are two separate domains at all), and what new forms of enquiry, creative practices and processes of teaching – learning they create.
Doing digital humanities in India may not only be a matter of reconfiguring humanities methods and concerns to address digital objects of study, and of making digital methods to study objects of humanities practices. It must involve a renewed engagement with the politics of humanities knowledge in India, and potentially an engagement that is attuned to the questions of ‘digital’ mediation.
Digital humanities may provide an entry point into understanding the larger changes in academia and creative practices with the digital turn; and whether indeed the emergence of such a field is also an attempt to shore up emerging scholarship and practices, which are not contained within disciplinary silos, under a common term. It would provide a better understanding of the role and functioning of universities and other knowledge institutions, ‘alternative’ or marginal practices that exist at the periphery of mainstream academia, and a rethinking of interdisciplinarity – especially in terms of integration of natural sciences, technology and humanities.
This is neither to say that humanities practice in India is not engaged with this question of politics of knowledge, or with the technological basis of production of humanities objects, but to specifically emphasise the need to /renew/ such engagements. This renewal has been made necessary by the transformation of the spheres of production, distribution, and consumption of cultural artifacts during the last two decades in India — decades marked by emergence of new and proliferating media, new economies and circulations, new actors and sites of production and consumption, new and hybrid practices of language and signification, and of course a demand, both in public and private sectors, for new pedagogies that instrumentalise humanities methods and concerns. Further, this ‘new’ landscape of humanities practice in India is marked by indifferent, intolerant, and sometimes even violent reactions by the state and various sections of the society.
Doing digital humanities in India, thus, is an opportunity to respond to this landscape, which is often not very accommodating of humanities methods and concerns, and to find and establish sites and practices for humanities scholarship. The ‘digital’ must be seen both as one of the defining characteristics of this landscape, and as a key component of the response strategy. Finally, it is crucial that we do not take the ‘university’ as the privileged site of humanities scholarship, make new spaces and opportunities, and connect with ongoing initiatives, both ‘underground’ and otherwise.