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Theorizing DH: A Medley of Opinions

While doing this week’s assigned readings, I was bombarded with diverse opinions from DH scholars regarding the topic of DH and theory. Of all of the brief essays I read from these scholars, only two really piqued my interest: When Digital Humanities Was In Vogue by Natalia Cecire andTheory Firstby Benjamin M. Schmidt. Both essays tend to note the growing significance of DH yet at the same time criticize the field for lacking a defined theory as well as for DHers acting before thinking while doing DH work (“more hack, less yack”). However, interestingly enough, Cecire uses an example outside of the Digital Humanities as a way to help present her argument.

In When Digital Humanities Was In Vogue, Cecire mentions the various mediums through which interest in DH has been widely expressed, including THATCamps, new grant opportunities, and new digital humanities centers. Yet she also states that DHers tend to do mainly “digital” work and skip the “humanities” work since the latter work has been worked on and developed for generations. Cecire relates this current issue with an issue that famed American poet Langston Hughes had with his fellow colleagues during the Harlem Renaissance.  In Hughes’ case, these people meant to use “vogue” (fads and fashions) to convey their views on race in early 20th century America, yet instead “vogue” caused the hard work of black artists of the Renaissance to be improperly viewed and misinterpreted by mainstream America.

In Theory First, Schmidt gives specific reasons as to why DH is in need of a solid theory. One of these reasons is that without a theory, DH would basically rewrite our cultural heritage and forgo categories of the past for categories of the present. It is also interesting how in his essay, Schmidt states that those who use theories in their disciplines are the losers because they need new perspectives to change their way of seeing from the rest of the world’s way of seeing. He then adds that the good that humanities has ever done has largely consisted of providing assistance to the losers.

In conclusion, there are many DH scholars who have been demanding for the field to take on a solid theory. However, as of right now, nobody has taken on the big task. Who will create a coherent theory for DH? What will this theory consist of? When will this theory finally be published to the DH community? Sadly, only time will tell…

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