The Projector

Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski

Book/Marks: The Digital Humanities Meets the Public Humanities

In one of my last posts, I shared a few videos on the Gutenberg press and letterpress printing for a class that’s now underway.  I like this approach of sharing bookmarks, notes to myself documenting where I’ve been, where I’m going and where I’m returning.  I’ve now taught (or am teaching) the history and future of the book from a range of disciplines: History, English, and now the Visual Arts.  At some point, I’d like to reflect on these courses and my approaches to each.  It’s something that’s been on my mind for quite some time, this distinction in disciplines, the criticism that I occasionally hear from colleagues who attempt to clarify or solidify these distinctions, “That’s not ______ (fill in the field of study)” or “We don’t discuss those topics or use those approaches in ______.”  Ultimately, I hold a different approach to the subject, one that’s slowly coming together in my research and future courses in publishing. It is an approach that blends, or blurs, these Arts & Humanities fields with Communication, Journalism, Public Policy, Information Technology (IT), and Business.  An extensive or comprehensive curriculum on where we’ve been and where we could go. . .

This post, however, is much more limited in scope. It is just another book-mark. Another little reminder for myself on a possible topic for a future course: civic engagement and advocacy.

A few years ago now, I constructed a series of workshops that introduced students, faculty, and administrators to a broad range of projects, tools, platforms, and organizations working in the Digital Humanities in an effort to ultimately demonstrate the value of building or investing DH programs and encourage interdisciplinary collaborations and community partnerships.

[Since that time the Digital Humanities and Civic Engagement have become buzz words in the academy . . . almost void of any clear meaning.

My original pitch to administrators borrowed from the article “Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World,” in which authors Bryan Alexander and Rebecca Frost Davis argue,

In the liberal arts tradition, helping students become active citizens engaged in civic life is a longstanding good, supported by nondigital programs like service learning (Schneider). Perhaps this sector’s digital humanities approach keys into that outcome, developing a capacity for new forms of citizenship in a networked world. It may specifically help bridge the widening gap between academic humanities and broader American culture. Further, the liberal arts emphasis on lifelong learning could nudge some graduates to play a digital humanities advocacy role for decades to come.

It also pinched data from the Pew Research Center that showed that Internet users—bloggers, gamers, those who post/share videos, etc. on social media—are equally invested in more traditional modes of participation (political and non-political) and that this Internet work is directly related to their interests and activities in the “real world.”

Taking this a step further, in his Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, Henry Jenkins notes,

A participatory culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they created).

This is the very goal of my assignments in the classroom: students find the relevance of this work to both their professional goals and personal lives and that they take responsibility for and initiative in experimentation their work… That is, they care…]

Besides noting innovative books/publishers, journals, and academic groups/forums, etc., I shared a number projects initiated by non-profits and advocacy groups.  These included a billboard created by the ANAR Foundation, a Spanish child-advocacy organization, that was built to send different messages to children and adults.  Using lenticular printing, the billboard displayed two unique messages and images.  Anyone under about 4’3″ sees a child’s bruised face, along with ANAR’s hotline number and copy that reads, “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help you.” People taller than that—i.e., most parents—simply see the child without the bruise and the line, “Sometimes child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.”  The metaphor embodied in the display is apt—the figurative differences in perception between abuser and abused here become literal.

FAST FORWARD. . . (and rewind)

Several weeks ago now, I discovered the a news article on The Drinkable Book.


In partnership with Dr. Theresa Dankovich from Carnegie Mellon, WATERisLIFE introduced The Drinkable Book, the first-ever manual that provides safe water, sanitation and hygiene education and serves as a tool to kill deadly waterborne diseases by providing the reader with an opportunity to create clean, drinkable water from each page.  In their own words:

We are working on a variety of languages, teaching methods and ways to share the message through training, storytelling and discussions in communities and schools worldwide where there is a desperate need. Each book can provide a user with clean water for up to four years.

WATERisLIFE has introduced a campaign to move into full production of The Drinkable Book™, and with your help, we can distribute the books as part of WATERisLIFE’s integrated water, sanitation and hygiene program to save lives and transform communities, as well as make the books available for global partner distribution.

The hardcover book (seen above) contains pages that are infused with bacteria-killing silver nanoparticles that acts as a filter / water purification system.  The pages of The Drinkable Book are embedded with these particles, which in field tests in five different countries eliminated nearly 100 percent of bacteria that causes waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and E. coli. But they are also stamped with brief messages about water safety.

I’m still thinking about how this work will fit into courses, but I’ll certainly be thinking about issues of science/technology, design, materiality, and advocacy. These projects adds new dimension to and should be included in Humanities curricula including the History of the Book and the Digital Humanities, as well those in the hard and social sciences.  In the meantime, as you comfortably take a sip of water at home or work, consider those who struggling to find clean water resources (and those who die due to the lack there of) and how you can contribute!



For Further Reading

Gold, Matthew K., ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

Hirsch, Brett D., ed. Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics. Cambridge: OpenBook Publishers, 2012. Print.

Jenkins, Henry. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. Print.

Clean Water Advocates & Non-Profits

Clean Water Action




Pure Madi

Three Avocados

Water is Life

The Water Project


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