Anxieties and Articulation in Debates In The Digital Humanities

NOTE: All quotes from Debates in Digital Humanities


It seems that a lot of scholars writing in the DH field have been constrained technologically and fill in their own gaps with critiques that, while warranted, expose a level of disappointment with accessible canons of text:


If we do not theorize our technological approaches with a mind toward cultural constructions, we will continue to exclude certain materials from digitization (Earhart, 315).


Those that have made an effort to champion what has been done in the digital facets of humanities study for the last few decades, notably proponents of university centers for DH, seem to also communicate a set of anxieties about shaky futures for some of the infrastructure that has been the most essential:


If digital humanities centers are successful in fomenting such change, would they still be necessary?  Are they a ‘transitional model,’ helping to produce their own obsolescence?  As more and more humanities centers incorporate and welcome the digital, will there still be a need for stand alone digital humanities centers…Many of these same questions are now being asked about the digital humanities itself as a field. (Fraistat, 290)


I don’t believe it is merely “new” concentrations (or at least concentrations perceived as new) that are feeling anxiety about how their work can exude relevance and function within the framing of the academy both in its present and oncoming states.  I feel that what the fourth section of Debates in Digital Humanities exposes is that there is definitely a need for a more advanced form of interdisiplinarity in the humanities, by the beginning of the book’s Fifth Section this implication gains even more traction:


In moments of general fiscal austerity, class sizes in the humanities have risen, departments and programs have been threatened or eliminated, and searches for open faculty positions have been abandoned (335, Waltzer).


…it (work in Digital Humanities) has not yet done enough to show  how the values and lessons at the core of the field might reshape the role of the humanities in the university of the future.  What’s troubling is that it could (336, Waltzer).


While interdisciplinary study isn’t always cited outright as a solution, it seems apparent to me that while it is not much of an issue to provide scholarly texts in the humanities for the kinds of critique that have been “working” for most of the field’s history, we have now reached a point where scholars necessitate more information about the technologies and digital framework through which their own work is being shared, displayed, and critiqued… I would say this is too often done through shallow wading upon antiquated software or through front end media fetishism with a few backend projects that are lauded as more impressive than perhaps they really should be.


Returning to my belief that many of these “debates in DH” are begging for a new kind of disciplinarily: one that allows scholars of philosophy, of history, of literature… ways for these scholars to comfortably approach programming, machine intelligence, and statistical analysis… An interdisciplinary opportunity that in some academy-locales seems to be shrinking instead of growing.  This seems especially frustrating when looking at the way this country’s politicians and media outlets are ready to lambast teachers and harp on the necessity to grow STEM areas of academia, and yet there are plenty of scholars willing to educate themselves within the digital space, but these scholars need to be introduced to the landscape through a different type of conversation.  Do humanities scholars not deserve to approach programming, data analysis, or Von Nuemann machines on their own terms?  To me this seems to be what Digital Humanities is truly struggling to articulate.  In most cases we have not been granted intellectual access to the digital space beyond graphs, maps, and trees, beyond hyperlinks and video embeds… but strides are being made in at least illustrating how these initial steps are viable ones, and soon it seems the DH community will eventually go beyond these steps and establish a more solid footing, if for no other reason than the field’s passion to do so seems immediate, and it seems sincere.

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