Image: Ray Pun
Image: Ray Pun

Ray Pun is a reference and research services librarian at New York University (NYU) Shanghai, a new portal campus in NYU’s Global Network. He supports reference, research, outreach, and digital and instructional services for NYU’s global community.

What does the future hold for the digital humanities (DH)? As the scope of DH initiatives and technology to support them continue to evolve and grow, scholars and librarians, often working side-by-side, are surfacing innovative possibilities for the field. In the process, humanities scholars and librarians are steadily advancing their skills in computing, data visualization, and web design in order to effectively bring humanistic study to life online and to incorporate DH knowledge into humanities course curricula.

For Ray Pun, reference and research services librarian at NYU Shanghai, now is an exciting time to be working in the library and supporting students and faculty in the creation of new DH projects. Pun, who has experience working in DH in both public and university library settings, took the time to share some details about the DH projects he’s been involved in, how he sees DH concepts being incorporated into classes at NYU campuses, and his thoughts on how DH methodologies and delivery will progress over time.

Q&A with Ray Pun

What kinds of DH projects have you worked on and how have you supported faculty and students?

RP: My involvement with DH varies. Before coming to NYU I was at the New York Public Library where there were many digital projects coming out from our collections. I was able to pilot some of them and offer feedback before they were launched to the public. I think those experiences allowed me to understand how to “open” up collections in a way that engages users effectively. For example, there is a project called “What’s On the Menu?” that uses crowdsourcing method where patrons can transcribe menus online for the library. This is a unique way to engage with patrons online but to also support the library’s collections.

Currently, I meet with [NYU] instructors who are interested in DH projects. We discuss open source tools to support their needs such as Wordpress, Scalar, Omeka, and other sites. We usually create a site and then discuss how we would expand the project for their research interests. For anything more sophisticated, I would refer scholars to NYU’s Digital Scholarship Services unit in New York. So far, I’ve also been designing LibGuides with examples of DH projects in Chinese history and cultural studies. It’s been fascinating to discover these resources and share them with colleagues.

Do you think DH will become a part of liberal arts/humanities students’ coursework in college? Do NYU professors incorporate DH into their classes?

RP: I do see that DH will become more and more integrated into the liberal arts/humanities curriculum. One reason is because DH relies heavily on digital content and skills. When you create a DH project, you need to also know computer basics and web design elements too. It requires a level of patience, creativity, and vision to make DH projects relevant and helpful. We see many programs are now offering DH classes and seminars where students learn the technical skills and the theoretical components of DH. This allows students to have a more marketable background after they graduate because they’ve developed important digital skills in addition to the traditional ones like critical and analytical thinking, writing, etc. Some NYU Shanghai professors are incorporating digital media, digital storytelling and geographic information system (GIS) into their curriculums. I think those are all excellent ways to engage with students differently and utilize online content effectively.

How do you think DH is changing how humanities scholars approach their work? Do you think the humanities in particular is becoming more data-driven?

RP: I think scholars are becoming more and more aware of the importance of data in their research. Scholars in the humanities are finding that there are so many ways to quantify and qualify data through many software programs and digital tools. DH has been allowing scholars to see their work differently by drawing on various nexus and connections through data that they may not have seen before. Visualizing and contextualizing data is an important aspect too. For example, scholars in history may be able to create a map of the Asian or Armenian Diasporas and upload resources such as manuscripts, archives, maps, and ephemera, etc. to teach the public, via the online world, how to understand and contextualize the histories of these migrant groups. They may unveil new directions of research or new sources that were not seen before. I think it’s exciting to include data-driven projects in the humanities because they really can open up a lot of interesting questions regarding research that has already been done and research that needs further investigation. Again, every DH project is different but I see that scholars who are interested in DH may need to pick up additional technical and digital skills to get a sense of how they are going to present their research creatively online.

Do you think we will see more DH scholarly journals in the future or do you think scholars will create new publishing venues for DH projects? How do you think the DH discipline will expand and evolve over time?

I’ve been seeing more and more open access journals in the DH world. That does not surprise me. In fact, I think that makes more sense since DH is a very open, emerging and interdisciplinary field. Scholars may find that open access resources may also hold the key to support their DH projects since many open access resources are already cleared from copyright. It’s a bit difficult to utilize copyrighted materials and show them online due to restrictions.

I think the DH discipline will continue to evolve over time and will be treated differently based on the discipline. Not every discipline will treat DH the same way. For example, in the social sciences, anthropologists or sociologists may do fieldwork and ethnography, they may incorporate these research findings into their DH projects while historians and literary scholars may utilize texts, archives and manuscripts instead. I think the research methodologies will continue to shape the DH discipline in different directions. It’s going to be exciting to see how DH will change over time.

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
Tales from the Trenches