Sorry for the slight delay here, folks. Don’t know about you all, but my week has been CRAZY.
As I sort through all the DH criticisms highlighted in this week’s readings, I nearly started my blog post by asking “Is this for real? Are there really so many issues ALREADY?” But I had to remind myself: no, not already. DH has been around a long time, but as William Pannapacker says in “Digital Humanities Triumphant?”, DH is just now becoming the big thing. However, he contends it is not the “next” big thing, as if it will eventually phase out – DH is here to stay. So of course, even in its low-profile beginnings, DH would suffer criticisms just like any other field that reaches its peak of recognition.
The difference in this unit compared to our past units, I think, is the issue of inclusion. The question is no longer what and more who; or, to use metaphor, we care less about what the clubhouse is made of and more about who gets to come through its doors. I find this ironic because DH is a calculated method of analyzing and theorizing about aspects of humanity like history and current trends, but the debate over what earns the title of “DH” parallels the very problems of inclusion and equality found in the human history that DH scholars seek to study.
Tara McPherson dives into this concept headfirst in her essay addressing why DH currently runs on a one-track mind in terms of what DH could and should be used for. In instances where issues of race, gender, and other divisions in humanities could potentially find benefit in the use of DH analysis as well as in the integration of such issues into DH methods themselves, most people choose either one side or the other – it is far too easy and non-confrontational to avoid crossing what would be a rough river that, as many would argue, doesn’t necessarily need to be crossed (the same stance used by many who would ignore, rather than address, current social issues). As McPherson says, “very few audiences who care about one lens have much patience or tolerance for the other.”
Moving on through the readings, Charlie Edwards addresses the user community of DH application. He asks questions such as: Who is a user of DH? Should being a DH user, if it is a discipline to be learned, be an easy process? Or an honor to be earned? Edwards continues to describe how DHers develop systems with the user in mind, trying to determine the best method to make DH content accessible to the right audiences for that tool. Of course, those wanting to begin learning how to use DH for their own work try to acquaint themselves with these tools, but an unofficial rule of inclusion exists that inhibits their ability to enter and succeed in the “lab” of DH, since those who have already mastered it insist on defining what makes a DH user worthy of being labeled a DH user. As Edwards puts it: “experimentation and collaboration are there, to be sure, but it also conjures a bright pristine working environment sealed to all but the eminently qualified. To generalize, most humanists are not in the habit of breaking into laboratories.”
I think the chapter that struck me the most was “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt” by Ian Bogost, because this is the point at which a DH scholar directly addresses the flaws of humanist study in accepting what DH has to offer. Humanities can provide insight on a wide array of issues in many fields, and DH could open doors for scholars of other areas to use this insight in their work. However, humanists who use DH are inherently putting up walls around the field, trying to take ownership of DH as a “you must know the secret password” method of study. Bogost states: “Humanists work hard but at all the wrong things, the commonest of which is the fetid fester of a hypothetical socialist dream world, one that has become far more disconnected with labor and material than the neoliberalism it claims to replace.” In other (less fancy) words: in their desire to be revolutionary, humanists have used DH to put themselves on a pedestal, and only those who worship them long enough from the ground can have the honor of joining the DH society. How, then, can DH – particularly the humanities aspect – progress and earn respect as a field of those who spearhead its development are too busy “masticating on culture for the pleasure of praising our own steaming shit,” as Bogost so eloquently suggests?
I bring all this up to support my previous assertion: that DH is a mirror to the flaws in human history. Matters of embracing differences, being all-inclusive, promoting equality: all these are issues that have plagued human history as well as current human events, and they all also plague the DH field. If this isn’t already obvious to DH scholars, I wonder what would happen if they took a step back and realized DH can be a tool – a hands-on experiment in how to challenge the problems of humanism in an actual academic and technical discipline. Perhaps if DHers are able to take a step back from themselves and recognize the value of DH as a tool toward human issue resolution, DH can really begin to skyrocket into a highly regarded discipline that excludes no one, and feeds on the very differences that other fields too easily exploit as a means to exclusion and propriety.
My question to my fellow classmates is, do you think DH could have any significant value in your work outside of humanities (assuming there are those out there who do not work full-time in the humanities field)? If not, should DH remain an exclusive field, and for what kind of people? Do you feel that DH could be a tool toward increasing humanism and resolving human issues? Why or why not?