Area Studies and the Challenges of the Digital Era - Online Discussion
Prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting constraints on scholarship and teaching practices, the debate on the role and place of digitalization in the humanities and social sciences has gathered momentum in Germany and elsewhere. Researchers, archivists, librarians and higher education teachers were already facing demands to adapt to digitization, and these have only intensified in the wake of Covid-19.
This discussion will examine what the advent of the digital era, with a growing role for digital technologies and methods, could mean for Area Studies. Some key questions include:
- What opportunities and challenges does the field face, on the one hand, in producing thorough knowledge on world regions and, on the other, in making supra-regional, transnational comparisons?
- Are digital methods auxiliary for the field, supplementing the themes explored and perspectives adopted?
- Or could digitization result in a major paradigm shift and a radical reconfiguration of spatial relations?
Contributions from across the disciplinary spectrum – including history, ethnography, political science, media studies, and digital humanities – will provide a broad range of perspectives.
With the availability of digital resources, local specificities have become more accessible, making museums, regional media and public archives more easily searchable and better represented online. At the same time, while opportunities to bring peripheral or marginal experiences, stories, sources to light multiply, there is a risk that ease of access could result in superficial understanding, lack of in-depth analysis or uneven representation. Asymmetries in the availability of resources to pursue digitization might exacerbate inequalities in visibility.
Digitization has also facilitated cross-institutional, international collaboration and teamwork in the humanities. This is certainly an asset for Area Studies, where comparative and transregional perspectives are increasingly combining in-depth understanding of different regions, language proficiency, and broad methodological and theoretical frameworks. However, it is necessary to consider how such collaboration can function when academic institutions from around the world with different levels of digital literacy and technological equipment are involved.
These questions will serve as a point of departure to debate the digital turn in area studies in the third online meeting of the series “Area Studies under Discussion”.
Program of short presentations
Daria Gritsenko (Aleksanteri Institute, Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science, University of Helsinki)
The Palgrave Handbook of Digital Russian Studies: How it was conceived and created
Andreas Sudmann (Center for International and Transnational Area Studies – CITAS, University of Regensburg)
Artificial Intelligence and Area Studies
Martin Bauch (GWZO, Leipzig)
Digital Humanities and the Black Death
Stefan Trajković Filipović (International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture, Justus Liebig University Giessen / HIRA Herder Institute Research Academy)
Digital Heritage in ex-Yugoslav Space
Thalia Prokopiou & Vita Zelenska (Leibniz ScienceCampus Europe and America, Regensburg); Karen Silva Torres & Lara Saadi (Graduate School Global and Area Studies, University of Leipzig)
Digital Ethnography and Media Ethnography
- Tatsiana Astrouskaya (Herder Institute, Marburg)
- Corinne Geering (GWZO, Leipzig)
- Paul Vickers (CITAS/ Leibniz ScienceCampus Europe and America, Regensburg)
 Among the most recent publications are Cord Arendes, Karoline Döring, Claudia Kemper et al. Geschichtswissenschaft im 21. Jahrhundert. Interventionen zu aktuellen Debatten (De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2020); Silke Schwandt, ed. Digital Methods in the Humanities. Challenges, Ideas, Perspectives (Transcript, 2020). Skulmowski, Alexander; Rey, Günter Daniel (2020): COVID-19 as an accelerator for digitalization at a German university: Establishing hybrid campuses in times of crisis. In: Human behavior and emerging technologies. DOI: 10.1002/hbe2.20