This year, for the first time, I participated in Day of Digital Humanities, an event where digital humanists around the world create a blog post describing what they do for one day. Though I’m still feeling my way through what it means for me to take on the label “digital humanist,” I wanted to take part for several reasons. Being public about anything regarding my personal life is great way to make myself feel uncomfortable, so participating felt like a daring thing to do. Another challenge was how to make my relatively uneventful life sound interesting, since mostly what I do is work on my dissertation. To be sure, no matter how interesting one’s life might be, it’s easy to lapse into one’s dark, linty navel in a venue such as this one. I’m not sure if I found the right balance, but I’m glad I did it anyway. Click here to see my Day of DH post.
In creating their blogs at Day of DH 2012, many people focused only on activities related to their work in the digital humanities. My blog ventured beyond those specific activities. I believe that all our experiences are complementary to each other, whether academic, leisure, or the mundane. Though the lecture at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum had little to do with the digital humanities, it nonetheless presented me with an idea for a future digital mapping project I might pursue (one needs a lot of backup plans in a dismal job market).
In the book Einstein in Love, Dennis Overbye makes the important point that in order to understand science and scientists, we cannot isolate scientists (such as Einstein) and their methods from their personal lives. It is true for anyone that personal experience and circumstance impacts one’s creativity, motivation, and ability to be persistent when working on something, even if it’s not as complex as figuring a theory such as relativity. The more one has exposure to a variety of experiences and emotions, the better chance one has to be loosened from habits of perception and interpretation and to engage in what Einstein called the free play of the imagination.1 It’s important to know, for example, that before he came up with the theory of special relativity, Einstein worked at a patent office at a time when people were submitting patents for inventions related to timekeeping. That he took long walks with his friend Michel Besso and discussed his work. That his wife got on his nerves, and she was depressed. All these personal details surround the time he spent working on the theory of relativity and played a role in his thought process. If Einstein were participating in “Day of Working on the Special Theory of Relativity 1904,” I would consider these details as important as the time he spent working out some calculations with a pencil and paper.
Though posting my swim workout for the day or mentioning a bike ride to a bakery on my “Day of DH” might seem like a non sequitor since it has nothing to do with “doing” digital humanities work, I argue that it, like everything else, is connected to whatever I do. It’s part of the human element in the equation “digital humanities.” We live in a networked world, and I don’t believe that network exists solely online, or is only a valid network if it spills out a screen. Part of my digital humanities life on that day was to create a blog about my life (with as little lint attached as possible) on that particular day.
1For more on Einstein’s free play of the imagination, see Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions, p. 202.