Talk session: Aesthetics and Digital Humanities

This is a very nebulous proposal indeed, but lately I’ve been feeling a bit of a dearth in DH with regard to, oh, I don’t know, beauty. Inspiration. The kind of things you get from poetry and literature, right? Not that there’s always much emphasis on beauty in non-DH literary studies, either, of course, perhaps for good reason. I thought we might sit around and shoot the breeze about whether and how digital tools can or should provide interfaces to the aesthetic properties of literature. I’m thinking here primarily of originally analog literature (“Beauty is truth” etc.), but perhaps the folks who are studying e-literature are the ones who are addressing issues of aesthetics and technology. Or perhaps the critical code studies people (including especially those responsible for 10 Print) have a lock on it by getting into the larger cultural meaning as well as the aesthetics of code.

In proposing this, I’m thinking partly of a very interesting presentation I heard at the University of Kansas DH Forum by a poet and a scholar (Katharine Coles and Julie Lein) who are working with some technologists at Oxford to treat individual poems as “big data” and to create visualizations that would reveal their numinous nature. Basically, they reported failure (which I thought was awesome of them): they haven’t yet come up with a way of visualizing an individual poem’s gorgeous complexity. I wound up thinking that perhaps it simply isn’t possible. The abstract for their paper, “A World in a Grain of Sand,” is at and their slides and a video of the presentation are at

Categories: Session Proposals, Session: Talk |

About Amanda French

(Please ask any THATCamp questions on the THATCamp forums at -- I'm no longer THATCamp Coordinator.) I am now a member of the THATCamp Council, and I am the former THATCamp Coordinator and Research Assistant Professor at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, in which capacity I provided support for THATCamp organizers and participants, maintained, traveled to some (not all!) THATCamps, and directed large-scale projects such as the Proceedings of THATCamp. Before that, I worked with the NYU Archives and Public History program on an NHPRC-funded project to create a model digital curriculum for historian-archivists. I held the Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellowship at NCSU Libraries from 2004 to 2006, and afterward taught graduate and undergraduate courses at NCSU in Victorian literature and poetry as well as in the digital humanities and in advanced academic research methods. At the University of Virginia, while earning my doctorate in English, I encoded texts in first SGML and then XML for the Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center. My 2004 dissertation was a history of the villanelle, the poetic form of Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" and Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art."

7 Responses to Talk session: Aesthetics and Digital Humanities

  1. John Rodzvilla says:

    This is something I would be interested in talking about. I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach this from a professional studies approach in our program. I teach students how to make e-books and websites so they can go out into the industry, but feel that my courses miss the opportunity to talk about an aesthetic quality that’s being ignored. The most I can do is point to some of the more concrete poems and ask how to deal with it. I’d be interested in hearing from others on what they need to do.

  2. Mary Loeffelholz says:

    Count me as interested too–I’d love to hear more about the Coles-Lein work and Amanda’s research questions. From research interests based in US poetry of the long 19th C, I’d be interested in thinking about “gorgeous complexity” as an attribute of networks of poems as well as individual poems. Looking forward, mkl

  3. Amanda Rust says:

    I’d be interested in this as well. At THATCamp New England we had a great discussion around a possibly related theme: Where are all the artists? We focused somewhat on the role of the artist / designer in digital humanities, so perhaps more on visual aesthetics than what you are thinking of here. There are great notes on that discussion from papaelia (proposer of the session) here.

  4. This sounds like a terrific conversation. As Amanda Rust intimates, there are such rich worlds of artistic practice in digital media; there’s a flourishing networked vernacular on aesthetics as well (e.g., The New Aesthetic), and the lack of connection between DH and these domains seems redressable.

  5. Patsy Baudoin says:

    As one of the 10 PRINT authors, I’m committed to reading code culturally (including mainly aesthetically and politically). I’m quite intrigued by the Coles-Lein work, which I’m just learning about (thanks to Amanda F.) and would like to continue the stimulating THATCampNE conversation Amanda R. refers to. Count me in…

  6. rybakc says:

    As someone who primarily publishes as a creative writer, I’m very interested in this. This is also pretty much the debate I had with my dept head recently, with his position being that DH dehumanizes the humanities. My personal interests are in learning to code poetic rhythm and meter as a way to widen aesthetic discussions of poetry.

  7. I’d be interested in this as well. From the perspective of film/media studies, the recent growth of video essays are a potential mode of DH productivity – within those makers, there’s a debate about whether such projects should be analytical and/or poetic, and what that means for makers & viewers. I’d love to hear similar issues from other fields.

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