Digital humanities lecture teaches not to fear failure

Dr. Kelani Craig, co-director of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University Bloomington, gives a lecture on learning from failure on Monday in Moody Library. Matthew Muir | Multimedia Journalist.

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

Showing a willingness to fail and to learn from failure is Dr. Kalani Craig’s key to the unique study of digital humanities.

Craig, co-director of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University Bloomington, presented a lecture on digital humanities and the role failure plays in the field Monday afternoon in Moody Library.

Digital humanities exists at the crossroads of technology and liberal arts, and it draws from the strengths of both fields. The institute serves as the “hub” for humanities and digital arts at IU, and Craig said the department utilizes its blend by using “nerdy tools to explore humanities questions.”

“We already [bring technical and humanities fields together] in our everyday lives; if you read email in your phone, you’re already doing that,” Craig said. “One of the things that we want to do is do it more critically, train more people how to do it and think more carefully about how to prepare people…to operate in a world where those two things are increasingly tied together.”

In blending these disparate backgrounds, failure can be both frequent and inevitable. Craig said being willing to make mistakes and learn from them rather than trying to avoid them completely is a key to success.

“Technology surrounds us, and if you are going to use an iPhone or an Android, you need to understand how it works and be willing to engage with it,” Craig said. “But it’s also hard to do that because so many of us are brought up to think about technology as a problem. ‘Oh, my computer crashed, I hate it when it does that. If I do this again it’s going to crash again and I don’t want to be a failure.’ So, [we should be] training people…to think about failure as a metric of success.”

Though we constantly blur the lines between the humanities and tech, applying it in academia is uncommon. This hybridization is rare, Craig said, because these interactions generally fly under the radar.

“It’s transparent. One of the things that happens as we use Google Maps to help us drive around, as we play on our phones, as we take selfies, is that all of that becomes everyday normal quotidian life,” Craig said. “We don’t question it, we don’t think about it, we don’t think about all the interactional processes that happen.”

One way to visualize this transparent process is to use real-world analogs of digital processes. Craig gave the example of using Post-it notes to analyze word structures in literature.

“You read a page, you write a bunch of concepts on Post-it notes. You read another page, you write another set of concepts on Post-it notes. Then you can stick them on the wall and find word patterns. That’s one way computers do computational analysis and look at word patterns,” Craig said. “So, once you understand that basic word-clustering structure, then there are computational tools that can apply it to really big, big chunks of data that are too big for any one person to manage.”

Jill Owen, a Baylor lecturer of French, attended Craig’s lecture. Owen said she was seeking new ways to engage her field of expertise with digital humanities.

Knowing that these tools are out there and seeing this opportunity [shows] what resources Baylor offers for professors to incorporate more digital humanities into their classroom,” Owen said. “[There is a] need for cross-disciplinarity between departments, between disciplines, and engaging the humanities digitally and also our digital technologies in a humanistic way.”

The benefits don’t apply solely to professors. Craig said students can take it upon themselves to engage with the digital humanities.

“The biggest thing is to, again, pick up your computer and try something new,” Craig said. “I’m making 3-D rendered dice right now because I can….where do computers come to play a role in your hobbies, and then how can you use what you learned…in the classroom to make you a better student, to make you better at whatever it is you want to do when you graduate.”