Although not initiated or developed in comparative literature, the digital humanities offers a paradigm shift in comparative studies, as the digital format not only modifies the structure of the text, but also creates new comparative structures. In consequence, there are now many strategies where frameworks of and approaches to networking with the literary text allow new venues to write, read, and disseminate the text for a globalized audience. In comparative literature Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek argued in 1996 that the use of the digital "has become, for instance, obvious in pedagogy where the use of hypertext as a tool has much to offer … if the readership of literature is undergoing profound changes as to how literature is read and processed in Western society, the study of literature and literary theory will also undergo significant alteration" ("The Impact" 199-205). Today, the digital is embraced in all disciplines and fields of the humanities including comparative literature—although not by all: "few comparativists call themselves digital" (Tenen). Thus digital humanities represent an as yet only partially realized opportunity for a paradigm shift, as several contributors to this suggest (e.g., Abel; Edmond; Finney; Pressman).

The discipline of comparative literature and its adjacent fields world literature(s) and (comparative) cultural studies—which we understand as "comparative humanities"—are like vessels arriving at a port seeking to trade cargo before setting sail again after a gathering. In the digital world, the voyage is brisk and dynamic. Travel time is abridged so the preparation for engagement in the study of literature is abbreviated. The study of literature in original languages continues to be an objective of comparative literature, but the tools of navigation have changed considerably. With the advent of the widespread use of the world wide web in global communication, a sense of urgency permeates university pedagogy and research by approaching to a myriad of "ports." The speed of exchanges and the use of mediated venues have multiplied exponentially, as has the use of translation. In short, in our age of the digital the study of literatures and cultures comparatively has been impacted by new media and technology which operate on the call of urgency facilitating access to information, whether in scholarship, teaching, or the archival of the digital (see Abel; Edmond).

Digital media impact directly the study of literature across different national and linguistic frameworks to propagate and register literary work and navigate the transnational space, creating closeness between the reader and the text read, even as texts circulate in competition with many other media forms which impress simultaneously different messages to the reader, thus creating a unique contextualization of the literary text not known until the digital text came into existence. Each reading of the text performed in places distant from each other and from the place of "publication" potentially contributes a literary dialogue nested in cultural dialogues which partake in a global context. The literary event is not isolated, but participates in a multivocal expression of a global community. Varied linguistic frameworks offer also the possibility to engage the literary text from distinct and diverse literary contexts of each region of the world. Hardware platforms, software applications, and social media not only facilitate the dissemination of ideas, but also stimulate immediate and delayed responses that can create enriching dialogues, endless possibilities of communicating across different national and linguistic frameworks. When it comes to the choice of language, writers can now produce their work digitally in any number of languages ands scripts, but writers can also make a pragmatic decision dictated by the linguistic profile of a global reader who reads in a language different from his/her native tongue. The writer then needs to strengthen the clarity, use illustrations and examples which help the reader identify himself/herself with the message of the text. In this case the text is conceived with a comparative perspective, written for a readership that will read in a second language, thus perpetuating the comparative approach enhanced by the reading of the text. The accessibility to the original and/or the translated text in digital form offers the reader the opportunity of looking at the text from different perspectives, thus enriching not only the understanding of the text, but also opening up the perception of the reader to multiple venues, multiple interpretations, and the use of multiple languages. In this "linguistic fan" the absence or limited availability of some languages is more noticeable, and it could prompt readers and writers to work on translating the text into those languages not present in the current "linguistic fan." The inclusion of these texts into national literary fields enriches them while prompting readers and writers to continue the dialogue that the original text started.

Another area of interest and that contributes to this paradigm shift is the merging of the text with images and sound, thus creating a new comparative scenario where the text deploys the literary message in unison with other artistic forms. Here too, pedagogy is enriched by the multimedia presentation that reinforces the comparative nature and behavior of the text. In consequence the digital offers more choices for the writer and the reader who share a "global perspective," leading to the possibility to exert new levels of manipulation of the texts in format as well as in meaning.

Looking at the impact of the digital versus the printed word in teaching and research, the key factor is not necessarily time, but the perception of time as it shapes the same text into different formats. Texts migrating to digital formats respond to the demand to have the widest range of materials available to a broader audience in the most efficient and expedient way. However, many university faculty experience a sense of being hurried by the digital that exceeds their comfort zone. This situation often creates suspicion that the content of the digital work rather than the format is being subject to manipulation. The development of hardware, software, and online platforms and the use of digital tools for research, the dissemination of knowledge, and for teaching too often lead to the result  that while university administrators recognize the value and importance of the digital, humanities faculty remain suspicious (see e.g. Schreibman and Hanlon). In this atmosphere of suspicion, digital texts still remain in a position secondary to print texts. In our view, the processes of dissemination should respond to a protocol of verification of the information provided independently of the format, and in this way the resistance to employ new media technology would ease. It could be the case that this opposition is owing to a resistance based in a fear that migrating to a new venue will end up replacing traditional sources,  and this complex and transitional circumstance surrounds the pedagogical work of university faculty in the humanities in general (see e.g. Burgess and Hamming). Yet if equipped with good mechanisms of verification, digital comparative studies can achieve their goals in a much shorter time than via traditional print means (see e.g. King, Dawson, Batmaz, Rothberg). That is why rather than dismissing the digital in teaching and research, scholars in comparative humanities should assign mechanisms which act as controls of the circulation of knowledge creating hubs with regulations for the dissemination of knowledge and the implementation of technology assisted education.

Educators strive to present materials in a dialogic, communicational format through which materials are discovered in a mutually enriching exchange. In the field of literature, these challenges reinforce the premise that literature is both a communicational venue and a mode of artistic expression. In the dialogic mode, the educator conveys knowledge and receives feedback that is enriched and redirected to students, thereby creating full cycles of exchange. While this often challenges teaching, because each student chooses the approach to learning that suits his/her personal preference or need, technology in all of its forms has become an integral part of students' lives, and they expect to find it in their learning process. Thus the inclusion of technology in curricula is not a choice, but a necessity. Further, emphasis on teacher assessment drives pedagogy to focus on results and to select effective teaching tools in order to assist each step of the educational process (see Boruszko; also Aesaert et al.; Burdick, et al.; Bartscherer and Coover; Mohamed, et al.; Starostenko et al.).

We understand the arguments presented above within the following definition and practice of digital humanities:

Digital humanities … is about … the negotiation of culture(s)—in theory and application—and how cultural practices shape the use of (new) media and their social significance. The processing, production, and marketing of cultural products such as music, film, radio, television programs, books, journals, and newspapers determine that today almost all aspects of production and distribution are digitized. Culture today is multimodal as it makes use of technology, as well as symbolic forms … Hence the relevance of the study of intermediality and digitality in various humanities and social sciences disciplines and fields … digital humanities is (an emerging) field of study both with regard to the construction of theoretical frameworks and their application in the study of culture and the application of new media technology including pedagogy, the publication of scholarship, etc. At a time when many disciplines and fields in the humanities and social sciences are defined as processes of multi-, inter-, and trans-medial construction, interaction, and practice, the development and study of their encounters take on a primary relevance to scholarship and this perspective is a primary point of departure … Discursive practices including visualities form a complex (inter)medial network of signifying practices which construct realities rather than simple representations of them. Socially constructed meaning or what we call and practice as "culture" take place through processes of the negotiation of stories, images, and meanings; that is, through constructed and contextual agreements, power relations, and their authorization and legitimation of social positions and loci. Therefore, the ways (inter)medial discursive practices are produced, processed, and transmitted are relevant for research and practice and this occurs in digital humanities. (Tötösy de Zepetnek et al.; Tötösy de Zepetnek, "Introduction" 1; see also Tötösy de Zepetnek and Vasvári and for a bibliography of work in digital humanities Tötösy de Zepetnek, "Bibliography").

Another outcome of the widespread use of the digital is the development of open-access sources which present the academic community with the task of evaluating them. We argue that parallel to the invention of print, which changed the world by allowing for a wider dissemination of knowledge, today's academia needs to reorganize itself in order to evaluate online sources rather than disregard such as a "secondary" level of scholarship (at best). While there are many and increasing numbers of subscription-based electronic journals and a few open-access ones, they failed to change the economics of the [academic publishing] industry because they are not viewed in the same class as print journals in terms of quality and prestige. Especially in the humanities senior and tenured scholars tend to treat open-access publication as complements rather than substitutes to the publication of their work in print journals. This problem is exacerbated by what we term as the 'prestige multiplier effect' which leads to other issues like the high price in elasticity of demand and the savings from subscription to electronic journals not being passed onto consumers. However, as prices continue rising and the demographics shift with more tech-savvy individuals, electronic journals will begin to be viewed as substitutes rather than complements. (Tötösy de Zepetnek and Jia).

With regard to comparative literature and its changing practices from the traditional comparison of two literary texts to a wider practice, Gail Finney writes that

The extent to which the two disciplines [comparative literature and cultural studies] are intermeshed is perhaps epitomized in the online journal CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, edited since its inception in 1999 by Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek and described on its masthead as a "peer-reviewed, full-text, and open-access quarterly in the humanities and social sciences [which] publishes new scholarship following tenets of the discipline of comparative literature and the field of cultural studies designated as 'comparative cultural studies'." The March 2014 issue is characteristic of the wide range of national literary traditions and authors represented in the journal, including articles on African, Irish, Turkish, French, Hungarian, American, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Persian, Italian, Romanian, and German-language writers. (Finney)

In addition to above with regard to the widening of the discipline of comparative literature and underlining the relevance of the digital, our example is the single comparative humanities journal published online that is peer reviewed, in full text, in open access, CLCWeb. Between 2007 and the end of 2013, articles from CLCWeb have been downloaded over a million times, 375.000 times in 2013 alone, in 184 countries. This is an example of the importance of open-access digital publishing as a corollary to the digital paradigm shift in comparative humanities. It is worth noting that the journal is indexed by Thomson Reuters's Arts and Humanities Citation Index (AHCI)—the latter a matter of importance in most countries in Asia and Europe where scholars do not receive credit for promotion, tenure, and funding unless publication occurs in a Thomson Reuters indexed journal. This example meshes in several ways with the view that "New electronic technologies radically change the structure of knowledge by allowing instantaneous transformations of knowledge accumulated over centuries. Every new discovery and every new invention is immediately reflected in a relevant database" (Epstein 6). In consequence, we submit that the use of new media technology in pedagogy— as well as with regard to the "colonialism of knowledge" by publishing scholarship in formats for pay—is unavoidable and digital material can no longer be ignored for use as primary sources. The question remains for individual faculty members on how to handle such a world without spending a considerable amount of time selecting sources. We propose that each discipline should state the parameters and protocols required of/for digital sources and select those which are credible and reliable. Then the texts being printed or produced digitally will have the same status, and the digital text will take the lead given the flexibility of use it offers to students as well as to faculty engaged in research.

Thus pedagogical material in digital format optimizes education as it provides a network of activities which foster connectivity to other electronic sources and promote the circulation of ideas and information, constructing the ideal scenario for learning those transferable skills which allow students to navigate cultures and literatures around the globe. Critical thinkers take the most advantage of digital texts, as they can be cited and consulted with much ease thanks to the simple fact that they already belong to a network of resources identified for the field. In this way, students are able to concentrate their efforts in sharpening critical thinking skills while minimizing time needed to retrieve sources, difficult if not impossible for many of them to access unless they are digitalized.

Nonetheless, problematic circumstances arise when publishing companies propose an online platform to universities in order to secure the selling of their products. Once a platform is adopted in an institution of higher learning, the faculty members are compelled to use the textbooks that support that particular platform. Complex scenarios arise when a professor chooses a textbook with a different platform from the one the university uses, thus introducing parallel platforms which cannot communicate with each other. This monopoly constitutes a high risk factor when faculty have to choose the teaching material according to an institutional, financial contract rather than an academic decision on the right kind of materials for the student population served. Further, faculty are held hostage to the numberless updates and changes various formats require and these updates are shaping more and more the practice of pedagogy, as technology seems to be one more constituent to serve before we consider the student as the main recipient of the pedagogical trajectory. Enthusiastic university administrators can lead faculty to adopt digital texts which might not be optimized for use in the classroom. Many a faculty member feels overwhelmed by the technological challenges as they try to incorporate them into their pedagogical routines. There is a crucial need for facilitators and for a more open communication between all constituents of higher learning and research, to combine academic disciplines with their practice in pedagogy. Faculty need to be more involved in the design and adoption processes of digital texts for pedagogical practice. The digital text is here to stay, and even if this is an area that is not at the core of current faculty interest at too many institutions of higher learning, it is to the faculty's benefit to express their need of support and involvement in new media technology. In addition, the price that publishing houses—or subscription-based learned journals—assign to digital material is too onerous even after considering the complex publication process of digital resources. There is room for improvement in order to make digital sources available without the high price.

To study literature and culture in the digital era is one of the most exciting approaches to learning, especially when studying in comparative humanities. The world wide web is the natural venue in which to find, to interact with, and to get to know "the other" (e.g., on electronic literature see Finney and Pressman; see also Zalbidea, Marino, López-Varela). Digital texts inhabit this interactive world, and they participate in a plethora of dialogues which cannot happen using the printed text. They migrate on demand from a source or from one reader to another, facilitating the connection in a fast-paced world. The rushing for connectivity does not imply that the critical thinking process is accelerated but rather stimulated at a higher frequency. The same amount of dedication is expected independently of the format of sources selected. More stimulating research can be accomplished by scholars including students (independently or in a cooperative mode) as they mobilize themselves. For example, summer courses that allow for travel time for faculty and students constitute a popular venue when digital texts travel with the groups and are brought together with personal photos and journaling and other kinds of documentation gathered. The Socratic method can also make good use of digital documentation as the student and the teacher engage in a search for knowledge that encompass more sources: students using critical thinking and the process of elimination are led to more reliable conclusions. Thus teaching is more accessible and easy to implement if materials are gathered in a digital format. Publishing houses offer a variety of activities and venues which can be used online, but certainly they can be updated more frequently and this is a task that continues even after the access code is sold to the student. Teachers also need to adapt to an ever-changing map of digital material (which in itself constitutes a daunting task) that can only be taken in manageable doses. Once teaching materials are established and the digital content rather than its format is updated continuously by publishing houses, faculty will be more receptive to embracing the digital text in a pedagogical context, given the fact that faculty need to continue to dedicate time to other dimensions of teaching.

Another problematic scenario is the daily inquiry of students about a new digital text found on the world wide web, and this is a valid request to the teacher to evaluate it. This is simply impossible to accomplish in many instances; however, it should not be a cause to dismiss digital resources for which proper practices and adequate indexing guarantee their integrity and scholarly value. The format is just the presentation of content that is validated not by the format itself, but by the thinking mind behind the text and the scholarship presented. The digital text might not represent the best source of income for publishing houses, but there should be a compromise between technology that should serve pedagogical objectives and the implementation of such in an accessible format and price.

It is undeniable too that digital pedagogical materials are becoming more user-friendly and are attracting faculty to implement them into their courses, increasingly incorporating the features that faculty request. More personal ways to handle pedagogical tasks are replaced by the generic provision of each competitive platform. This spares the personal negotiation that faculty might feel forced to conduct, where some elements are lost and others are considered for the first time. In any regular growing process the experience of losing something is the generator of new ways to achieve a goal, although in a messy process. Given the multiple scenarios in which teachers need to perform, an influx of instructional practices is needed in a variety of formats: one on one, in groups, and by discipline followed by proper, readily available, and friendly support in order to maximize efficiency, as well as to minimize frustration. Further, the engagement of faculty in the incorporation of new technologies in teaching as well as research should be recognized in faculty evaluation process. Also, a prudent time for transition is needed, as each faculty member finds his/her way to achieve pedagogical goals. The providers of such support start with the vendors of digital platforms and the familiarity they develop in order to interpret the faculty’s needs in order to elaborate an effective technological response. University technicians need to bridge the influx of platforms into disciplines as well as to support individual faculty, and university technicians should be able to articulate faculty responses to technical providers so that an understanding takes place, since more often than not pedagogical rhetoric and practices and technological rhetoric and practices do not coincide. They are the key characters of this play in order not to loose the audience. The college or university administration should also provide an adequate number of technicians. A successful support of the faculty guarantees IT departments a role of partnership with faculty that stimulates future partnerships.

Faculty experience frequently the frustration of pouring energy into learning new media rather than into the field of study, knowing well that more technological updates will come along the way with more and more frequency and that sometimes those "improvements" will represent in the short term the impossibility of continuing to use a pedagogical strategy that is not supported anymore. The process of learning a new technological option can be followed by the discontinuation of the use of those particular tools, implying a loss of time and energy in materials that will not be usable in the future. Administrators of institutions of higher learning need to evaluate the impact of changes on faculty and to create the proper culture of innovation that can be handled by all constituents. Such strategies play a key role for hiring and retention of faculty, since technical developments are a consideration by any faculty member looking for a position.

In conclusion, the digital humanities constitute relevant and needed possibilities in the research, publication, and teaching of literature and culture today. We can transport knowledge immediately from one source to another and it can be reproduced and formatted as desired. Teachers and students are no longer required to travel carrying physical books, as it is possible to have many books and other research material in machines of new technology. Texts can be copied and pasted into new texts with relative ease (although this of course creates the well-known problem of intentional or unintentional plagiarism and the missing of proper citations). Comparative humanities and practitioners of digital humanities and their students are tasked with the responsibility to manage and establish protocols for the best practices in using digital texts. Encouraging possibilities are opened by the use of new media technology in pedagogy: their use increases contact time with students who are involved in online activities, it decreases grading time of some activities, and faculty can concentrate on high-impact activities, critical thinking, etc. where personal feedback is needed. Thus we submit that the development, adoption, and use of digital humanities in the study and teaching of literature and culture, with the concurrent implementation of publishing humanities scholarship digitally, constitute a primary challenge in the twenty-first century.


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