AHEAD – DOR: Digital Humanities Lab

Education in a technological age has meant that traditional disciplinary boundaries are continuously being eroded. An emergent trend in these developments has been the field of Digital Humanities. It is no longer regarded as a “specific subfield that grew out of humanities computing but rather [as] the changes that digital technologies are producing across the many fields of humanist inquiry” (Fitzpatrick, 2012, p.13).

The Department of English, University of Colombo, is particularly invested in researching the interface of digital humanities and English Studies because of its history of teaching and international research collaborations that include work with the digital. The Department has been commended for its use of digital technology in the classroom and blended learning approaches, including the use of the Learning Management System, digital video materials, blogs, and social media platforms. Since the early 2000s, dissertations have been completed at undergraduate level on the interface of literature and linguistics and digital cinema/video, social media, etc. The Department has also offered a course on Digital Cultures at MA level since 2014. It has also been a key partner in an international research collaboration with Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany, on the ICE-SL online corpus.

Students of the Dept. of English, University of Colombo are routinely invited, therefore, to reflect upon and critically analyze how the digital as a medium mediates content and form – whether of online discussion platforms, corpora (e.g., ICE-SL and SAVE), theatre productions, digital performance installations and film. In doing so, inevitably, how one “reads”, interprets and critically analyzes digital content and form are conducted pretty much on the same lines as students are taught to read books and “see” plays or films.

As Fitzpatrick notes, tension has emerged between those who argue for the digital as primarily a database/archive or tool, and those who want to center the digital for an understanding of how it enables critical interpretation (pp.12-13). Very little theory and pedagogical understanding has been developed in the Sri Lankan context of what happens when the digital is centered in the study of the humanities. This would mean understanding the digital as a disciplinary field in its own right, including its histories of production and use, that calls for a fresh interpretation of topics which are of interest to the humanities.

The objective of this research project is to establish a Digital Humanities-English Studies research laboratory that will provide regular opportunities for the Principal Researchers and students of the Dept. of English, University of Colombo to produce work that combines and re-combines English and the digital humanities; develops skills in the use of digital technology, builds a linguistic corpus and produces knowledge on the interface of English and the digital in the context of Sri Lanka that will necessarily vernacularize and contextualize the theory and practice on digital humanities learned from elsewhere.

Our research project, therefore, attempts to answer the following:

  1. What knowledge would a Digital Humanities-English Studies Research Lab produce on the interdependence of the digital, the humanities, and English Studies in a Sri Lankan context?
  2. What collocational and thematic analyses can emerge from the Sri Lanka English Newspaper Corpus (SLENC)?
  3. How has the digital, as a site, tool, concept and a methodology, transformed digital storytelling, archiving, performance and spectatorship in contemporary Sri Lanka, and to what effect?
  4. What pedagogies can be developed through the study of the creative interventions and outputs of a Research Lab?

This research project is supported by the Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development (AHEAD) Operation of the Ministry of Higher Education funded by the World Bank.