Top > English DH2012 Keynote 20120729
Embracing a Distant View of the Digital Humanities †
Masahiro SHIMODA (The University of Tokyo)
ver. 20120729 -> ver. 20120804
1. Introduction: Difference of Diversity †
Prologue: Diversity and Transformation of DH †
It is a genuine honor and extreme pleasure for me to be given this precious opportunity — all the more so since this is an occasion placed at the pinnacle of a wonderful array of a full week of cutting-edge presentations in the digital humanities. I would like to express my wholehearted congratulations on the great success of this conference and would like to offer my special thanks to Prof. Jan-Christoph Meister and Dr. Katrin Schönert as local organizers; Dr. Paul Spence, chair of the program committee; and Prof. Ray Siemens, chair of ADHO.
Among the numerous notable points of this conference, what has attracted my attention most is the remarkable diversity of the presentations in terms of discipline, method, and subject, such as culture and language. And this is precisely what the conference theme of DH 2012 points to. To the best of my knowledge, (which is admittedly quite limited, however) there has never yet been a conference comparable to DH 2012 in terms of its extent in encompassing almost the full range of research in the humanities.
It has been noticeable as well that the digital humanities are increasingly enhancing research in the humanities by creating a format for engaging in unprecedented collaboration with natural scientists and at the same time broadening the terrain by taking advantage of the great variety of information technologies. I believe the day will come soon when digital humanities is listed amongst standard university curriculum as one of the liberal arts courses required for freshman in humanities schools and departments. We should be prepared for the near future.
Scope of this Speech: A Seamless Sequence from the Humanities to DH †
In contrast to the broad scope of topics covered in this conference, I would like to restrict the focus of my speech within the confines of textual studies with a specific desire to clarify the relationship between the digital humanities and the humanities by shedding light on the issue from the perspective of the humanities of the East.
The reason I am taking up this subject is very simple. All of us here would agree that the humanities and the digital humanities have a purpose in common, which is to properly transmit cultural heritage.
The transmission of cultural information, ideally, would be an uninterrupted sequence between different generations or different cultures. To that end, the relationship of each culture or generation to another should be made clear. This should hold true between the humanities and the digital humanities.
However, there seems to be a rift between these two disciplines, which is widening as the digital humanities develop. The prospects of the digital humanities are being obscured behind the wall of the cloudy relationship that exists between these two fields. With this difficult situation in mind, I would like to suggest here a distant view of the digital humanities over the long history of the humanities.
It is true that all of the issues we digital humanists have at hand are pressing and what we need is a close, clear view with which we can cope with the issues. However, at the same time, the undertaking of the digital humanities is so profound that it can be seen as equivalent to the entire pursuit of the humanities to date. In discussing the digital humanities, it is crucial to keep a balance between the two dimensions of the issue, one requiring immediate reaction and microscopic precision, the other a long-termed response and telescopic perspective.
From the Agent-oriented to the Action-oriented Viewpoint †
My conclusion on this issue is, again, very simple. In my view, the respective histories of the humanities and the digital humanities constitute an unbroken sequence, a sequence in which some part of the humanities will be replaced by the digital humanities, and increasingly so as time passes. There is nothing new about this view.
However, this outlook has more important implications than it appears to initially, which becomes clear when rephrased into a more general formula as follows: "How should cultures transmit what they believe to be of vital importance from their own culture in its period of decline to another culture on the rise?"
This is a question raised as a challenge to historians by the eminent historian Romila Thapar. It is a formula that functions adeptly in discussing the significance of the digital humanities in relation to the humanities in an age of media transformation from the following two perspectives.
One perspective is the scale of the period in which the event is taking place. The transformation in medium from non-digital to digital is undoubtedly in a scale measured by millennia, and it deserves to be dealt with in the timescale of the transmission of cultures.
The other perspective is that of the semantic structure of the question. The question lacks a "personal agent" of the action of transforming the culture. A statement in history usually requires the term "who" as the primary element. However, in this question, the subject is "culture" — an aggregation of activities — and there is no personal agent. This statement is actually referring to "the transformation of the identity of a culture."
The topic of the transformation of identity with the shift of viewpoint from agent-oriented to action-oriented, one of the key concerns of this speech, will be dealt with in the last part of this presentation.
2. Centripetal Diversity of DH †
Two Modes of Diversity in the Humanities: Object and Method †
Now, as one of the prerequisites for obtaining a distant view of the digital humanities, let me first draw your attention to the different nature of diversity found between the humanities and the digital humanities.
To begin with, the humanities as a whole is a diverse field and has become all the more so in the burgeoning of transdisciplinary research. However, this diversity is quite different from that of the digital humanities, and this difference has an important implication for understanding the unique mission of the digital humanities.
Let us first pay attention to the nature of the diversity of the humanities. The humanities, roughly speaking, have two modes of diversity. One is concerned with "the object of research," and the other is related to "the method of research."
The first mode of diversity concerned with "the object of research" originates in the difference in the languages and cultures of human beings. There are thousands of differences in languages on the earth. Given that a culture is formulated in essential connection to the structure and function of the language a society adopts, there would appear, in theory, to be the same number of different cultures as the number of languages. Given that the humanities have the mission of describing the gamut of activities of human beings as manifested in each culture, they would necessarily be diversified.
Diversity in Method: Three Approaches in the Humanities †
The humanities have another mode of diversity. This derives from the difference in methods adopted for the comprehension of human activities. This difference, in my analysis, can be classified into the following three approaches.
One approach is to reconstruct a relationship between a documented discourse and an external affair or a fact, in the frame of reference of a chronological sequence of cause and effect. This method is called “history,” the most predominant method in the humanities.
Another approach is to highlight the structure and function of the language of a text by relativizing the significance of the framework of absolute chronology as something external to the language of the text. This method is exemplified in the disciplines of "philosophy" or "literature."
The other approach is, in contrast to these two, to keep a distance from the function of the language, and, instead, to place primary emphasis on human behaviors outside of verbal texts. This can be seen typically in “behavioral sciences” such as sociology or psychology.
These differences in method in the humanities derive from the differing distances between existence, consciousness, and language, the three axes that construct the cognitive space of a science. These diversities in method, when applied to the aforementioned diversities of the objects of research, produce an enormous amount of diversity in the humanities as a whole.
Efforts of Integration into Further Dispersions †
Herein, we should take note of another origin of diversity in the humanities, which paradoxically comes from an effort to overcome existing diversities.
When the diversity of a certain field of study has reached a saturation point, there appears in relevant related fields an effort to integrate the hitherto dispersed research endeavors by reaching across the gaps in object and method existing in the relevant fields.
However, this effort of integration, over the passage of time, is fated to add a piece of new diversity in the whole range of the humanities. An attempt at the rectification of difference ends up in the further stimulation of diversity.
In this manner, the unfolding of the humanities in the course of history is on the whole the centrifugal dispersion of research into a variety of mutually independent disciplines. This development has the tendency to imprison scholars within the confines of each discipline they have chosen for themselves, obstructing their mutual communication.
Two Modes of Diversity in DH as “Fidelity” †
On the other hand, the diversity seen in the realm of the digital humanities is considerably different. There are two modes of diversity in the digital humanities in terms of its origin. One mode derives from the aforementioned diversity of research in the humanities, and the other is caused by ceaseless innovations in technology. In either case, the diversification is not engendered by the digital humanities themselves. Here we can see a stark contrast to the humanities.
What the digital humanities are doing is, in principle, either an honest attempt at representing the diversity brought about by the humanities, or an upright confrontation with the diversity caused by technological innovations. Both of these options are honest responses to something taking place outside the digital humanities. This “fidelity” is one of the most distinctive and positive characteristics that define the quality of the digital humanities.
DH as Shared Language in the Humanities †
Let us examine in some detail the first mode of diversity of the digital humanities coming from the diversity of the humanities.
One of the missions of the digital humanities, as represented by the endeavor of the TEI, lies in the attempt of representing the transmitted texts combined with their related research in the new context of digital media with the research processes taken in the history of the humanities preserved unscathed, to the greatest degree possible.
This is an undertaking to integrate into the domain of digital media the hitherto developed diversities stored in the codex or the book in either an implicit or explicit fashion. In this sense, the digital humanities are proceeding in the direction of constraining the diversification of the humanities, showing a centripetal development in contrast to the humanities of centrifugal dispersion.
This centripetal tendency of the digital humanities has been put forward with sufficient discretion so as to make apparently incompatible presentation systems harmoniously coexist in a single context of digital media by means of laying down common rules among different disciplines at a meta-language level.
The issue of language sharing within a field of study has long been solved in the natural sciences, which conduct research by virtue of numerals and symbols. At the advent of digital media, this theme has become an urgent need in the field of the humanities, a form of study being conducted on the basis of a variety of "natural languages." In this sense, the digital humanities may well be regarded as taking a role similar to that of "mathematics," which has served as a shared language in the natural sciences.
Diversity of DH in Technological Innovations †
Now, let us turn our attention to the second mode of diversity of the digital humanities, namely, the diversity produced by technological innovations.
The digital humanities are based on the digital medium, an unprecedented working environment for scholars of the humanities. This medium has been transforming, and will continue to transform, at a bewildering pace. This will unavoidably require the digital humanities to diversify over a relatively short period of time.
This diversity, however, seen from another continent populated by traditional humanities scholars believing themselves to be of unchanging identity may appear as a situation of chaos brought about by “digital humanities scholars” with the aim of furthering their own private goals.
The reality is completely opposite to this, I believe. The digital humanities have been making strenuous efforts to enable research in the humanities to be sustainable by providing proper navigation in the vast ocean of the digital medium to prevent humanities scholars from drowning under the repeated strikes of the wave of technological innovations.
Indeed, sustainability in the midst of the ceaseless transformation of technology is one of the most challenging responsibilities with which scholars of the digital humanities are always burdened. Were it not for the effort by digital humanists to directly confront and steadfastly prepare for the ceaseless innovation of computational technologies, a significant amount of the knowledge of the humanities transmitted up to date would be destroyed or simply vanish.
3. The Modern Humanities in World History †
Advent of the Modern Humanities †
I will now move on to the next topic in the issue of the background for the distant view of the digital humanities, that is, the history of the humanities.
The history of the humanities as represented by the history of philosophy has been recorded to date mostly within Western discourse, starting with ancient Greece and ending with contemporary times. It is true that there are many advantages to this viewpoint, for the reason that the idea of the “humanities” and their related concepts that elucidate the entirety of the activities within the humanities had been developed in the West, producing abundant insightful discussions. This strand will continue further to form the framework of the discussion of the humanities.
However, in the aim of exploring the potentials for the digital humanities in regard to future-oriented quality, it is preferable to liberate ourselves for a while from this framework to adjust the focus on the history of the humanities in modern times that has managed to catch sight of the humanities in the East.
As Europeans in the age of the Renaissance found their cultural origins in ancient Greece, so did the late 18th to early 19th century Europe discover its distant roots in the existence of one of the Indo-Iranian languages, namely, Sanskrit.
The discovery of this ancient language and the recognition of the East ushered in the advent of the humanities of modern times, radically broadening the perspective of the humanities to a global scale and increasingly assimilating humanistic knowledge in the East to the Western tradition of the humanities. Here, I would like to call this newly emerging type of humanities "the modern humanities."
The Modern Humanities and Orientalism †
Given that the globalization of research in the humanities in the East was more or less the westernization of the Eastern traditional knowledge, this theme could be dealt with from the viewpoint of colonialism or nationalism culminating in orientalism. However, as I will touch on later, the nature of the digital humanities is potentially free from the faults of orientalism.
The significance of the globalization of the humanities resides in the fact that a common stage was prepared for the first time for the East and the West, which had been separated from each other since the beginning of their histories. We should not pay excessive attention to the fact that it was the West that prepared the stage.
To understand what happened in the encounter between the East and the West in as constructive a manner as possible, we should rid ourselves of the agent-oriented phrasing of questions such as, "who prepared for whom," and replace this with an action-oriented phrasing such as, "what happened in what circumstances," as is exactly shown by the question put forth by the historian.
Attitude of the Humanities toward Truth †
Once we do this, a much more important factor will come into our sight that shows a beneficial affinity with the modern humanities that have discovered the East. This is concerned with the distinctive disposition of scholars of the humanities "toward the discovery of truth."
As represented by the sense of truth found in religions, humanities scholars tend to think that the truth is not something to be created anew but something that was once discovered in the past and has been hidden somewhere in the entire legacy of knowledge transmitted up to the present.
The mission of the humanities is, therefore, to rediscover the truth that is embedded in a particular form of knowledge and to reveal it in a proper manner in the present context. Therefore, the wealth of the humanities is dependent on the width and depth of the total amount of knowledge handed down from the past.
At the time that a common stage of modern humanities was established, the newfound awareness that cultures in the East in such spheres as India or China were present in far greater quantity and from a much earlier period than that of ancient Greece understandably came to attract scholarly attention, initiating a change in the direction of the humanities.
This stands in contrast to the natural sciences, where it is believed that research consists in discovering new findings one after another. (Here, I consciously avoid delving into the distinction between truth and reality, a distinction most likely to have been derived from the productions of natural sciences.) In fact, this has something to do with the digital humanities, which make use of the digital medium, a product of the natural sciences. We will come back to this point at the end of this speech.
Establishment of a Vast Cognitive Space †
Another crucial characteristic inherent in the globalization of the humanities starting with the Western discovery of Sanskrit should be added here.
The most distinctive difference between the sentiment in the Renaissance era that acknowledged the foundation for European culture in the Greek age and the sentiment in the modern humanities that assumes European origins in Indo-Iranian language consists in the extensiveness and the abstractness of the cognitive space.
The endeavors of scholars in the Renaissance was a sort of retrieval of lost knowledge from their origins in the space of their living experience, whereas the modernist discovery was a purely idealistic venture to set up an origin in a world alien to their immediate living experience.
The affirmation of the origin of Europe in the archaic form of Indo-Iranian language enabled the establishment of an idealistic space of cognition distanced from the living experience that had long been intrinsic to the traditional humanities. This awareness brought about a far broader context than ever before in which to compare different histories, languages, and cultures to attain a deeper understanding of them.
4. Discovery of the Orient †
Indology and Buddhist Studies †
In the 19th century, the mountain of traditional knowledge accumulated in the East came into the sight of European intellectuals. Interestingly enough, it was Indology that took the leadership of forming the new stage for the modern humanities, whereas it was Buddhism that was relocated on the stage of the modern humanities prepared by Indology.
Indology and Buddhology, a pair of studies in a sibling relationship, can be exemplars for considering the implications in “the modern humanities,” from the side of the West and the East respectively.
Indology, producing religious studies and promoting linguistics in 19th century Europe, encapsulated the birth of the modern humanities in the West. For European intellectuals, Indology was certainly different from the humanities of previous ages in respect to the object of research being outside the European-Christian world, but it was at the same time closer to the humanities of Europe than any other fields of study in terms of the linguistic affinity of Sanskrit to Greek and Latin.
Here, another unexpected stroke of good luck came, namely, the "discovery" by the West of Buddhism, one of the major world religions, having its origin in ancient India. Availing itself of this discovery, Indology expanded its scope of activity to Buddhism, involving Sinology, Tibetology, Japanology, and so forth.
On the other hand, Buddhism, which had existed delimited by the distinct cultural and regional spheres of South Asia, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and East Asia, began to be integrated into a new form of knowledge to play on the same stage of the modern humanities. Different traditions of Buddhism that had been centrifugally dispersed in their course of development were reunited here.
The Emergence of the Buddhist Canon in the Modern Humanities †
As might be imagined, it was at the level of the text that the reunion of different lineages of Buddhism by the modern humanities was successfully accomplished.
The transformation of traditional Buddhism into the medium of the book was a necessary condition for initiating Buddhist studies in the newly emerging space of cognition in the modern humanities. The pervasion of the printed book by typography was of pivotal significance in the establishment and dissemination of this new space of cognition in the 19th and 20th century in both the East and the West.
The continuous sustenance of a specific cognitive state requires technologies and media to externalize the cognition. Newly created cognition is able to be externalized in actuality, if and only if provided with an appropriate medium. Particularly, the publication of the corpus of Buddhist scriptures that had been preserved as complete canon written in Pali language, a sort of dialect of Sanskrit, became the primary concern of European scholars.
The Pali Text Society was established in London in 1881, and a corpus of the Pali texts started to be published on the basis of strict editorial principles of philology used in Biblical Criticism, encompassing the traditions of Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia.
Indeed, the publication of scriptures of a religion in a complete corpus is equivalent, in significance, to the emergence of the entire religion as such. The publication of this Pali library was a stunning accomplishment for the Buddhist countries in East Asia, particularly for Japan, a country that had achieved leadership status in Asia in terms of the modernization of its academic structure.
Response from the East: The Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō †
In fact, however, there exists a Buddhist canon in the form of Chinese translations, which is far greater in size, and which includes more ancient and diverse content than that of the Pali canon. In response to this situation, the revealing of a Buddhist world that had been completely invisible to the West was taken as a pressing issue by Japanese scholars.
For that purpose, the transformation of the Chinese Buddhist canon preserved in the form of codices of woodblock printing or manuscripts into the readily distributable form of the modern book was inevitable. However, the creation of printed books through metal typography of the Buddhist canon comprised of more than 27,000 kinds of Chinese characters was an undertaking of incredible proportions — probably unimaginable to Westerners who had long been making books composed of 26 or so characters.
It was Takakusu Junjirō, the first professor at the Department of Sanskrit Literature of Tokyo Imperial University, who took on this responsibility and brought it into completion under the name of Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō (Great Collection of Scriptures Newly Edited in the Taishō Period). This corpus is composed of 100 million characters and 7 million lines in 85 volumes.
The conditions for this sort of entrepreneurial endeavor at that time was no less severe than today. Takakusu needed to start with setting up a publishing company solely for the aim of the publication and distribution of this canon. Among other things, he had to overcome the devastating obstacle of the Great Tokyo Earthquake in 1923 that had completely destroyed the typesetting and drafts that had been completed up to that point. In the end, however, the world of Eastern Buddhism was made visible and accessible to the West, and this critically edited grand corpus has become the common base of research for Buddhist scholars transcending boundaries between the East and West.
5. Significance of Digitization †
Span of Life of the Book in the East †
Here we have finally come to the good part. It was only 60 years from the time the canon had been transfigured into moveable type print when a Japanese project called SAT began digitizing it in collaboration with projects and companies in Taiwan, Korea and China — a surprisingly short period of time!
In Japan, Buddhist scriptures had existed in the forms of manually scribed or wood printed codices for more than 1400 years by the end of the 19th century, serving as a foundation of the high rate of literacy. In contrast to the West, which experienced a dramatic impact from the advent of the Gutenberg Bible in the 15th century, the period during which the typographical printed book monopolized the intellectual market in Japan was astonishingly brief.
With regard to the other East Asian countries, suffice it to say that they made the transition to the new mode of publication and distribution later than Japan. The printing technology in East Asia demands the manipulation of tens of thousands of complex Chinese movable type components and requires highly skilled workers. This situation is less conducive for mass production. It is therefore natural that this technology would tend to readily give way with the appearance of a new technology that can handle the task more easily and cheaply.
The Encounter of Buddhism with the West and the Potentials of DH †
As I have noted above, the primary significance of the advent of the modern humanities is primarily concerned with the establishment of a new platform on which to consolidate the knowledge and culture of the East and West. This in fact suggests the promising potentials of the digital humanities.
In almost all the aspects of the humanities such as the preservation, presentation, and exchange of transmitted knowledge, with perhaps the only exception of intensive reading, the digital format is most likely to excel over the potentials of the printed book. No one would deny the growing likelihood that the digital medium will take over the printing technology, inviting the digital humanities to the leading role.
Acute Need of DH in the East (in Buddhist Studies) †
In fact, as far as Buddhist studies are concerned, the digital humanities are now undoubtedly in acute need. The history of Buddhism of 2,500 years can be seen as a process of relocating the transmitted knowledge into the technological progress. Every time a development in technology or a media transformation took place, as in transitions from oral to written language, manuscript to woodblock, block to typography, and typography to digital text, Buddhist scholarly monks and modern scholars posed there to retrieve an overall picture of the transmitted knowledge, tracing back to the past, finding hidden things therein, and integrating all the findings to take forward into the future.
As a consequence, the content of Buddhist knowledge has become increasingly prosperous and complicated. In particular, Buddhism rarely shows a linear transmission of authority, in which a single entity is replaced by another newly appearing single entity, thus forming a single lineage of transmission. By contrast, Buddhism allows the coexistence of different lineages, which, when combined, will form a plane, not a line, of transmission composed of a variety of contemporary entities. In addition, Buddhism has been richly realized in a variety of cultures of the wide range of the Asian region, and recorded in a variety of languages
Furthermore, since the introduction of the modern humanities in the late 19th century, Buddhist studies have shown an unprecedented scale of development, having produced a vastly greater volume of research than ever before.
All of these are vital for understanding Buddhism since they are ramifications from the whole of Buddhism. To attain a proper understanding of this vast network of knowledge, gaining a bird’s-eye view is indispensable. Apparently, we have now reached a point where no proper centripetal integration could be attained without the help of the technology of new media and the new form of the humanities, that is, the digital humanities.
6. Missions of DH †
Vanishing of Boundaries and the Transformation of Identity †
As the last topic of this speech, I would like to refer to the distinctive aspect that the digital humanities are shedding light on with the introduction of the digital medium into the humanities. This is the subject of "transformation of identity."
As far as textual studies are concerned, this subject can be narrowed down into the following two characteristics: first, the vanishing of the boundary of texts and second, the challenge of the emergence of the digital dimension to the humanities.
First, it is no exaggeration to say that it is the digital humanities that are prepared for dealing with the specific nature of Buddhist scriptures in terms of the disappearance of the boundaries of texts.
Buddhist scriptures of ancient India show distinct characteristics that cannot be neatly classified in any modern concept of text. Each scripture usually has several different titles and the same title is, in not a few cases, applied to completely different texts. Among other things, scriptures have transformed their identities in the course of their development.
The difficulty of identification of a text by means of the title holds true to authorship as well. Scriptures, called sutras, which were produced over a period spanning more than a thousand years and which reached voluminous amounts in quantity, are all ascribed to the Buddha. This means, in point of fact, that the authors of the scriptures were consciously made to be anonymous.
Commentaries on the scriptures divulge the names of authors, but many of them are legendary or even mythical figures, some of whom are said to have lived for more than several centuries — a situation which renders attributed authorship useless in the work of identifying texts.
In addition, the boundaries between scriptures and their commentaries are often very obscure. A part of a scripture in one lineage can be found in a commentary in another lineage. Furthermore, scriptures differ in size to an astonishing scale between one KB to one MB.
Thus, such traditional categories as title, author, genre, and scope — the crucial means for the identification of a text, are not viable. If we stick to the author-oriented notion of a text provided with distinct demarcation showing its rigid identity, an important part of Buddhist studies would be doomed to failure.
The digital humanities, with their characteristic of transforming the established notion of text by going beyond the boundaries of texts in the corpus and hypertextually linking them in a flexible manner, have started to bring about invaluable benefits toward the task of the analysis of Buddhist scriptures.
Appearance of the Digital Dimension as Independent of the Humanities †
Let us now move on to the second characteristic of the transformation of identity, the last topic of this speech.
The emergence of the digital medium is the emergence of a new dimension independent of and unknown to the humanities in that it is being led by the science of informatics. Up to the end of the last century, scholars of the humanities had enjoyed autonomy in their activities in the bilateral relationship between the scholars and their objects of research. This was made possible as a consequence of their success in the long-standing effort, over five hundred years, of domesticating the medium of printing technology. At present, however, the digital dimension has intervened in this stable relationship, compelling humanists to immigrate to the new domain of a trilateral relationship of scholars, their objects, and the independent media.
One of the challenging issues that has been brought to scholars of the humanities by this change is a conflict in the sense of truth between natural scientists and humanities scholars. As already mentioned, natural scientists confirm the continual progress of science by attaining consecutive new findings, whereas humanities scholars regard their discoveries as a sort of version of past knowledge. The dimension of the digital medium produced by and under the control of natural scientists reasonably shows a closer kinship to the sense of truth of the natural sciences and causes unease in humanities scholars
The sense of truth of the natural sciences started to be actualized when natural scientists succeeded from around the 17th century in separating the existence of nature from the humanistic world of existence, making it a terrain independent of natural language and its related consciousness. This sense of truth has been increasingly reinforced as the distance between these two modes of existence has widened.
However, in order to actualize the sequential transmission of cultures, the "re-humanization" of the dimension of the digital medium by retrieving the axes of natural language and its related consciousness would be crucial. What attitude should digital humanists assume for this purpose?
DH and the Transformation of Identity of the Cultures of Human Beings †
To answer this question, I would like to turn back again to the question posed by Romila Thapar, which is, "How should cultures transmit what they believe to be of vital importance from their own culture in its period of decline to another culture on the rise?"
If the modern humanities transmit methods of research they believe to be of vital importance to the digital humanities, this is a transition from the modern humanities to the digital humanities, with each type of humanities keeping its own rigid definition. But seen in a broader perspective that includes both the humanities, this may well be regarded as the transformation of identity of the humanities on a larger scale. When we succeed in grasping a phenomenon from an action-oriented perspective as something of dialectical movement taking place between different dimensions of the phenomenon, this insight will effectively work in carrying out the transformation of a culture. On the contrary, a personal agent-oriented idea on the basis of the notion of unchanging identity composed of its own rigid property, as seen in the treatment of cultural differences by orientalism, is in no way functional in this broadened perspective.
It is true that the natural sciences have been fully successful in extinguishing the personal agent from the field of research, but they have done this in the one-sidedly centrifugal development of the research field at the cost of the significance of the natural language and the related consciousness of human beings. Dealing with humanistic affairs in the domain of natural sciences is, therefore, now not even something taken under consideration.
However, the emergence of the digital dimension will work as a common platform in which the language of the humanities and that of the natural sciences encounter each other to perform the identical undertaking of preserving and transmitting the cultures of human beings. The digital humanities of a centripetal and action-oriented nature are now entrusted with an unprecedented mission to continue to elaborate a monumental scheme for properly realizing the transformation of identity of the cultures of human beings.