We are pleased to introduce the Digital Modern Languages Section Launch Issue.
The issue explores both digital transformations in the study of modern languages and cultures, and the role of multilingual and transcultural perspectives in making sense of digitally mediated methods, platforms and spaces. The guest editors of the collection, Paul Spence (King’s College London) and Naomi Wells (School of Advanced Study, University of London), joined us for a Q&A to explain how the issue came about and what it aims to achieve.
Firstly, could you tell us a little about the launch issue, the topics covered seem to be broad-ranging, do you feel that this is reflective of the field of Digital Modern Languages?
Our intention was precisely to reflect the broad range of topics and approaches that could be encompassed within an expansive understanding of Digital Modern Languages research. With this Section and the associated seminar series we launched in 2019, we felt it was important to adopt an inclusive approach to research in this area, both in terms of areas of research and in relation to different linguistic and cultural expertise. While we believe openness to different research approaches and perspectives is valuable in all fields, it is in our view a defining feature of Modern Languages and the Digital Humanities, due to the multiplicity of disciplinary frameworks and approaches that researchers in these areas draw on. A particular priority was also to include pedagogical research alongside more literary or cultural studies based research as we felt that while those working in Modern Languages and Cultures departments are in practice engaged in both areas, there has been a tendency for these to become siloed in research outputs and networks.
What are the aims of the issue and how do you see research in this area progressing?
Our aim was to give a sense of the new and exciting digital research being conducted by Modern Languages researchers in ways that we hope inspire others in the field to further research in this area. We also hope it forges stronger connections across different approaches to digital research in ways that build a stronger sense of a community of digital Modern Languages researchers, and of a more coherent, if heterogenous, body of research. We hope the Collection can contribute to dramatically expanding research in this area by giving those working in Modern Languages a deeper understanding of the wide range of digital approaches and texts or objects of study they could incorporate into their own future research and, in particular, to which they could contribute their own distinct perspectives. We also hope it gives those working outside of Modern Languages, and particularly those working in research cultures dominated by anglophone texts and approaches, an understanding of the much broader range of perspectives and approaches to digital research conducted through and about languages other than English. As with digital media and technologies themselves, it is hard to predict exactly how this research area may progress, but it is vital that the field is open and responsive to the new research opportunities that technological change will inevitably bring.
How has the landscape of modern languages and cultures study been changed by digital technologies?
There are areas of languages research, particularly in relation to pedagogy, that have adapted rapidly to the potential of digital media and technologies to transform how we learn and teach languages, recognising in particular the importance of developing students’ critical digital literacies in ways that complement and further their linguistic and cultural competencies. There are also a number of important digital resources, editions and databases created and curated by Modern Languages researchers that have used digital technologies to make historical texts, images or objects available in ways that have created previously unforeseen research and teaching opportunities. Nevertheless, the study of digital culture, particularly in relation to the web and social media, remains a relatively marginal focus of research, as highlighted by Blackwood in this Collection in relation to French Studies. Our own sense is that there is a potential for the Modern Languages and Cultures landscape to engage much more widely with the valuable transformations digital media and technologies can have in relation to both what and how we research.
How has the pandemic impacted on this area of study and the topics that the issue explores?
The most obvious area in which the pandemic has impacted on Digital Modern Languages research is in relation to language learning and pedagogical research, particularly with the rapid shift to online learning during the pandemic which is an area that we hope to explore further in future Collections. Potentially less widely discussed and addressed, at least in Modern Languages, are the ways lockdowns across the world saw many more people increasingly dependent on digital media and technologies for communication and forms of cultural expression both within and across different language communities. Many researchers dependent on physical archival visits or fieldwork have also been forced to adapt their research in the face of travel and social distancing restrictions in ways that have inevitably encouraged a greater engagement with some of the digital methods and approaches discussed in this Collection. This has inevitably been challenging, particularly in the face of intense time and funding pressures, and as with any research or teaching approach there are inevitable limitations, but as we move forward we hope there is the opportunity to better reflect on how these have changed our understanding of and approaches to digital media and technologies in Modern Languages teaching and research.
How do you believe Digital Modern Languages research in the UK connects with the wider international community?
Modern Languages researchers have always had strong connections to the wider international community, particularly beyond the anglophone world. This applies equally to digital research, with digital Modern Languages researchers not only bringing greater attention to a wider range of linguistic and cultural texts in their research, but also through their citation practices and research networks bringing attention to research and theorists that take us beyond a solely anglophone body of digital research. Several articles in this Collection also more directly address the value and potential of international, and in particular cross-languages, collaborations in relation to both research and teaching, and in doing so highlight the new insights, ideas and digital tools and resources that can be generated through a greater exchange of knowledge and experiences across different linguistic and cultural contexts.