From tablet to tablet – what’s behind the buzzwords?

18 Jul From tablet to tablet – what’s behind the buzzwords?

Digital has changed everything.

The digital revolution has brought about a paradigm shift in the realms of cultural heritage and academia. It has ushered in new methods and approaches through which we think about and discuss our culture and our past. It has forever changed the (academic) world.

But has it, really?

Or, have we just simplified the research process by making accessible an ever growing pool of digital sources, which – if the project gets it right and there are usable search functions – save us a few (or many) trips to the library or archive reading room? Has the digital turn merely created a super hard working research assistant for us who presents to us relevant material in unprecedented amounts?

Are we being blinded by the shiny toys of digital humanities projects? Is there any substance behind the  buzz words? Are we actually doing anything meaningful with the data presented by breathtaking data visualization tools? Is the field of digital humanities taking up more scholarly attention, time and funding than it actually deserves, depriving “real research” of the best minds and the largest pools of money?

If you think these are relevant questions, bear with me – there are more regarding our own field.

If we accept that the digital turn has created something more than a research assistant with superpowers, what does it all mean for Jewish Studies?  Does the digital approach hold a promise to “remedy” some of the central issues of Jewish heritage? Can we finally overcome the challenges of a globally scattered documentary legacy, a cultural corpus fragmented by many languages or the Israel-Galut dichotomy?

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once said Judaism was born through a revolution of information technology: the invention of the alphabet. So can the most recent information revolution begin a new chapter in Jewish (cultural) history by unifying scattered heritage and by bringing Israel and the diaspora closer to each other?

If it can, then how can we promote this – what are the major challenges and how can we (academia and funders) tackle them? How can we effectively transfer our heritage – as Amos and Fania Oz put it in their remarkable Jews and Words – from tablet to tablet and scroll to scroll?

If digital is the future of Jewish Studies, are we ready to embrace it?

We have posed these and other questions to several scholars working in the intersection of digital humanities and Jewish Studies. From tomorrow, we will post a question and their answers each day for five days. So stay tuned. And, of course, let us know what you think.