Are search engines and the Internet hurting human memory?

Are search engines and the Internet hurting human memory?

This article from Slate Magazine explores the changes search engines are producing in our memories. According to it, they are not reducing our capacity to memorise. Instead, they are changing communication (some about it is mentioned in my previous post); while in the past we used to ask our relatives, friends, mates for information, we now ask our gadgets. 

Digital Humanities: An Undefined Term

Now and then a (to some extent rhetorical) question is raised in classes, meetings and conferences: “What is Digital Humanities?” Its rhetorical nature lies on the fact that DH, whether as a method, a system or an end on itself, is a plural, interdisciplinary and nonstop evolutionary entity.

Beginning the discussion about the definition of DH the first day of class, the readings for this week has included a lecture by Unsworth, an article by McCarty, the second version of DH Manifesto, a short guide by Burdick, Drucker, Lunenfeld, and Presner, and two debates by Kirschenbaum and Alvarado, all framed on the term Manifestos. What all of them have in common is an effort to describe Humanities Computing or Digital Humanities and its implications towards the Humanities discipline. Besides, all of them seem to argue in favour of the need of using technologies in humanistic projects in our era, arguing against those who think that using computers would be detrimental in a field such a literary analysis. Furthermore, they try to persuade humanists  to have computational knowledge in order to create more useful projects.

Regarding this last note, Unsworth, in his “What is Humanities Computing and what is not?” tries to separate real digital practices from charlatans. For if HC is “a practice of representation […] a way of reason and a set of ontological commitment,” there has to be a clear cut consensus on how to make everyone participate on projects with tools such as search engines. These have to allow interaction between scholars, creators, and users, in order to meet one of the main goals of DH: easy access to sources of the human record, opening up investigations to collaboration between different scholars or anyone interested in the subject. In his opinion, human communication is the basis of DH, especially now that it is so easy to communicate via the Internet.

It is McCarty who addresses the evolution of computing in the humanities and its advantages nowadays by writing an attempted historiography of the field and creating a conceptual map. I say attempted for he points out, again, the difficulty of closing the boundaries of “the role of calculating machines” in humanities since they are “also symbol-manipulation devices.”  His revision through history serves as a good example of the transformation on DH and, hence, its need for a continuos exploration of the question “what is humanities computing?.” It is important to note that the first attempt to leave the traditional annotation of texts was Roberto Busa‘s work on the Index Thomisticus by Thomas Aquinas – as early as 1940s the Jesuit scholar wrote a concordance using computers. Museologists were the next to join the new method, and by 1966 the Computers and the Humanities journal was founded. Thanks to ALLC in 1972 and ACH in 1987, a sense of community began to emerge. The problem of communication was vanquished soon with the World Wide Web and the Internet, email systems, and hypermedia. In his conclusion he addresses the need of focusing analysis on the data rather than the subject itself, creating a brand new laboratory that is inclusive to humanities, and making the specialist take part in conversations about the nature of their research – addressing Unsworth notion.

I believe that the Manifesto 2.0 shows the idea of communication and collaboration quite clearly:

Digital Humanities have a utopian core […] it affirms the value of the open, the infinite, the expansive, the university/museum/archive/library without walls, the democratization of culture and scholarship […] Digital Humanities = Co-creation  […] teamwork […] actively engaged in the task of creating an audience –even a mass audience– for humanistic learning (3-5)

It is interesting how in the introduction to the chapter “Provocations,” Burdick addresses the need of a real shape of DH, with criticism and experimentation in the field, rather than just using digital tools within the Humanities, for the fact that technology is now naturalized on our lives, has made implications about its use “invisible” (102). Also, this text is aware of the danger of leading DH to its fall, if they don’t serve the same models of knowledge as Humanities do: questioning of the world. It also explores the difference between printed and digital texts because DH allows a manipulation of the item that was not possible before. Hand in hand with that manipulation comes the flourishing of a more “fluid, iterative, and distributive” (109) notion of information, changing the way departments or disciplines treat their subjects.

Kirschenbaum’s work is a representative case of what Digital Humanities can offer if they are inclusive of all the notions discussed by the authors already mentioned. First of all, the digital edition of the Debates has a nice visual interface that allows the user to interact with the text easily. But its contribution consists on his overview about the social, networking, shared research, and collaborative essence of the field. He writes about the project of the Companion to Digital Humanities, the consolidation of the ACH, ALLC, and ADHO, or events such as the Day of Digital Humanities. Most importantly, he pays attention to the success of DH during the MLA Convention in 2009. Thanks to Twitter, real-time commentaries on the panels through the tag #mla09 allowed many people to engage in a simultaneous conversation and build networks od DHers. To conclude, he points out the significance of using the words “digital humanities” in debates around open-access, since DH is about having research divulged in a public manner, with explicit infrastructures and depending upon online social networks.

Finally, “The Digital Humanities Situation” by Alvarado serves as a conclusion to the discussed articles. His view of DH is that of a social category that is on constant movement since the community encloses traditional and new humanists. This prevents a sole definition since it involves “as many methods and tools as there are intersections between texts and technologies.” Nonetheless, there is a clear awareness of the possibilities that DH offers towards crossing disciplines and the creation of new discourses.

To a student that wants to learn how to use digital tools to analyse literature in the future these Manifests can be both enlightening and subversive. The sustained notion of the third culture (humanism+science) can provide vehicles that are rather convenient as it enables a cross-examination on unstudied objects, even change the way we thought about the familiar ones; or else, it can make a muck of your perception about humanities and their methodologies. In any case, these readings show that Digital Humanities is not going to overtake printed material or traditional criticism of literature. Rather, they are to help in the circulation of information, contributing to, and at the same time changing, the learning of the humanistic disciplines thanks to the many new possibilities they can offer. In sum, is there really a need of a single definition?


Alvarado, Rafael. “The Digital Humanities Situation,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities. Edited by Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Burdick, Anne, et al., “Short Guide to the Digital Humanities,” in Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities. Edited by Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Lunenfeld, Peter, et al. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto Version 2.0.” Accessed August 26, 2013.

McCarthy, Willard. “Humanities Computing,” in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2003.

Unsworth, John. “What Is Humanities Computing and What Is Not?.” University of Munich, 2002. Lecture. Accessed August 27, 2013.

Diferenciar biblioteca electrónica, digital y virtual

Desde que se tiene conciencia de la importancia de la cultura, las diferentes civilizaciones se han ocupado de almacenar el saber para más tarde poderlo compartir (pinturas rupestres, la escritura, imprenta, dispositivos para almacenar audio, vídeo, etc.). La llegada de las nuevas tecnologías ha contribuído a dicho almacenaje en nuevos tipos de bibliotecas, pero sobretodo, al hecho de poder compartir el saber de una forma diferente a la biblioteca tradicional.

Con el avance tecnológico han surgido las bibliotecas electrónicas, las bibliotecas digitales y las bibliotecas virtuales. Este artículo trata de aclarar las diferencias, por medio de definiciones, entre los tres tipos de biblioteca, ya que la mayoría de los usuarios quizá no las conozcan.

En primer lugar, la biblioteca electrónica es aquella que “cuenta con sistemas de automatización que le permiten una ágil y correcta administración de los materiales que resguarda, principalmente en papel. Así mismo, cuenta con sistemas de telecomunicaciones que le permitirán acceder a su información, en formato electrónico, de manera remota o local. Proporciona principalmente catálogos y listas de las colecciones que se encuentran físicamente dentro de un edificio.” Puede estar compuesta de por ejemplo: bases de datos, libros y revistas electrónicas y guías temáticas.

Por otro lado, la biblioteca digital se puede definir como “Una colección organizada de documentos digitales para cuya consulta se precisa de un ordenador, unos programas informáticos y, en algunos casos, de un sistema de internet. ” Los documentos son almacenados en diferentes formatos electrónicos por lo que el original en papel, en caso de existir, pierde supremacía. Generalmente, son bibliotecas pequeñas y especializadas.

Para finalizar, la biblioteca virtual es aquella que “hace uso de la realidad virtual para mostrar una interfaz y emular un ambiente que sitúe al usuario dentro de una biblioteca tradicional. Hace uso de la más alta tecnología multimedia y puede guiar al usuario a través de diferentes sistemas para encontrar colecciones en diferentes sitios, conectados a través de sistemas de cómputo y telecomunicaciones.

En conclusión, hay que diferenciar los tres términos y no usarlos indistintamente, pues cada uno define un tipo de biblioteca, que si bien necesitan de un ordenador y complementan a la tradicional, no son iguales.


Biblioteca Digital y Web Semántica. 28 Diciembre 2009, 13:26

Modelo para el Desarrollo de Bibliotecas Digitales Especializadas. 28 Diciembre 2009, 13:30

Documento Tradicional vs. Documento Digital

Cuando hablamos de documento nos referimos a cualquier unidad de información que haya sido registrada en un soporte que permita su almacenamiento y su posterior recuperación, y por tanto, que permita también una consulta ilimitada. Este tipo de documento se denomina documento tradicional y lo son los libros, las revistas, las cartas, los informes o incluso las fotografías y las películas. No importan ni la forma mediática ni el soporte en que estén regristrados.

Por otro lado tenemos el documento digital. “Una información será digital cuando información es digital cuando está codificada en el formato que puede interpretar un ordenador y suele decirse que consiste en series de ceros y de unos (0, 1).” Es decir, el soporte ya no será el papel, sino un soporte electrónico como el CD o un disco duro. Pueden ser de tres tipos:

  • Impresos digitalizados, como resultado de escanear un documento impreso, es decir, tradicional.
  • Digitales para imprimir.
  • Digitales multimediáticos, concebidos desde el principio para ser consultados en un ordenador y que aprovechan las posibilidades electrónicas como puede ser el hipertexto.

Podemos distinguir varias diferencias entre estos dos tipos de documentos:

  • La interactividad del documento digital permite que el usuario pregunte por los contenidos, ingrese comentarios, modifique o agregue contenidos, cambiar el aspecto del formato, etc. mientras que el documento tradicional obliga a realizar una lectura pasiva, exenta de cualquier comunicación entre lector y texto.
  • El carácter multimediático del documento digital permite a su creador combinar distintas formas de información: texto, imagen, sonido. Y el lector puede acceder por separado a cada presentación mediática, o percibirlas simultáneamente. Esto sería imposible con un documento tradicional puesto que el mensaje se transmite por un medio principal al que los otros complementan.
  • La hipertextualidad permite al lector o consultante navegar por un documento que construye en el acto mismo de consultarlo, en lugar de seguir la naturaleza lineal del documento tradicional, gracias a los enlaces que se establecen entre palabras.
  • En los documentos tradicionales resulta muy complicado que el lector acceda a los recursos citados por el autor de dicho documento. El carácter omniaccesible del documento digital supera esa limitación puesto permite establecer “hiperrelaciones” entre documentos ubicados en distintos sitios Web en cualquier lugar del mundo.
  • La mutabilidad facilita enormemente efectuar cambios en el documento digital sin tener que reproducirlo por entero de nuevo. Como consecuencia, los textos en línea son modificados a menudo.
  • Es igual de fácil publicar un texto digital como lo es hacerlo desaparecer. Ésto se debe a la volátilidad del documento digital.


Documentos digitales: definición y características. Retrieved: Octubre 26, 2009, 13:34 from

Sistemas de la información. Las propiedades de la información digital. Retrieved: Octubre 26, 2009, 13:46 from

el resultado de haber procesado con un “scanner” un documento originalmente impreso