Debates in DH

Debates in DH

Since beginning this course, I have been thinking about digital works (essays, articles, blogs, etc.) and wondering about how one author can be identified as the writer or originator of the idea. Much of the reading we have done so far has been to answer the question, “what is DH?” and I found it interesting that the Modern Language Association had many quotes within our book. In the reading this week, I discovered that my question was simple compared to the questions posed by Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell and the questions being asked to DH scholars.

Ramsay and Rockwell discussed and compared literary theory to writing code. And honestly, the argument makes sense. Again, I compare it to school because it is my life, but when I ask students to theorize about the theme, they are going to either write or discuss. Their discussion is really a professional argument where students are expressing their understanding of the reading and defending their beliefs about it. The authors are stating that code theory or “building” code can arguably be an example of the coder writing an argumentative discussion of the code. My first experience with coding was last week so I feel like I am speaking a different language, but I understand where they are coming from. To have my students better understand an idea I have them write. If a DH scholar is trying to explain a code theory, they will build code to show their understanding. A problem that is facing DH scholars is they are struggling to receive proper validation for their works. So, the question proposed is, what does count as scholarship? Can building code be compared to literary theory?

In schools, all achievement is measured by data. How can they draw data to support that the building of code is high level?

Gary Hall makes extremely valid statements about STEM programs in, Has Critical Theory Run Out of Time for Data-Driven Scholarship? DH is being disregarded by scholars because of the lack of achievement, something that doesn’t happen over night. But, STEM programs and subjects are receiving a lot of attention. STEM has a focus on “experimenting with the new kinds of knowledge, tools, methods, materials, and modes of working and thinking that digital media technologies create and make possible”(Hall). So, STEM is being praised academically for doing many of the same things as DH.

Is DH like the STEM of literature, comprehension, and theory? Is it not receiving the respect it has earned by scholars because of the pressure for science and math?

The reading this week really made me feel that DH is the underdog in this fast moving world that is education. It gave me more of a connection to this course and its subject. I felt the arguments about writing were valid, and especially the statements made about STEM programs. I am interested to hear how all of you felt about the reading and the statements comparing building code to literary theory, especially because my knowledge of building code is incredibly limited.

12 thoughts on “Debates in DH”

  1. Kristen,
    I feel the debate will never stop with new technologies and innovations. In the one article it brought up the hushed research of computers and how not everything could be revealed for fear of disturbing the population (my interpretation of course). Ironically I watched two movies this weekend that deal with these topics of acceptance and development. The first one that applies more directly to this readings is “Ex Machina”. It is up for an oscar and is one of those movies that leaves you shocked. I can’t stop thinking about how it ended. I won’t spoil it, but it deals with a lot of historic and contemporary themes related to ethics of creation and existence (again my opinion). I think the premise of this movie allows for us to rethink and maybe empathize with topics that are neglected or under appreciated. Unfortunately we must walk on egg shells if we don’t want to disturb the population.

    The second movie I watched was “Steve Jobs”. Whether completely true or not, it made me think about the humanities portion of technological innovations. Those same themes continue today.

    Another thing that kept popping up as I read all the articles was the struggle between quantitative and qualitative. This has to be the most wore out debate related to academia. The connections between this research and DH opens up a whole new can of worms.

  2. I think it’s an interesting debate, that many fields encounter in order to “stay relevant.” As you pointed out, the question is can digital humanities, or if you add theory, digital rhetoric be considered scholarly? I think you’re right when you say achievement doesn’t happen overnight. There was a time when psychology was a new field of study and not taken seriously, but now many fields look to theorists and scholars who came out of psychology when it was newly formed. I think we will see the same thing in digital humanities.

  3. Good points, all. One issue that various professional academic organizations have been trying to solve, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Historical Association (AHA), and individual academic units in colleges and universities have also struggled with, is not necessarily whether DH activities constitute scholarship, but rather how to evaluate that scholarship. For funded DH projects, the grant process provides at least some evaluation (people get credit for winning grants), but that’s at the point of the proposal, rather than necessarily an evaluation of the finished product. There are a number of obstacles here, some of which are detailed in the introduction to our own Evaluating DH assignment. Just as problematic as the lack of criteria are the lack of practitioners with enough expertise to provide an informed evaluation, a lack of standards in terms of how projects are documented, and the difficulty in evaluating the individual contributions of projects that can involve many collaborators. So it’s going to be a challenge for a long time.

    1. I feel like, as technology progresses, it’s going to become even more complicated. Do you see any future in any types of standards being created? This reminds me of recent events at our high school: our guidance counselors now have standards. I know this sounds strange, but I see such a parallel between the idea of guidance counselors having standards and DH having standards.

      Our counselors think they are such a joke because it doesn’t even cover the spectrum of what they accomplish on a daily basis, let alone a year. The standards don’t factor emotional support, scheduling, and testing areas, frustrating my colleagues.

      I guess I’m trying to say that if standards were ever created for DH, I think there would be a similar reaction. A lot of anger, frustration and dissatisfaction.

      1. You make a good point about standards being met with negative responses. I remember when the Common Core was instituted there was an uproar among many different groups. The good, and the bad, of creating standards is that they become “set in stone.” While they do give groups focus, they also, whether intentional or not, deem other topics not worthy of attention. As a result, people got angry about the Common Core leaving out some basic skills like cursive writing. To a certain extent, standards are a necessary evil for things like public education, but when it comes to fields of study like DH, they may be dangerous. How do you determine standards for a field of study without stifling creativity and scholarship?

  4. Kristen:

    Before I read this week’s assignment, I paged through your post. I won’t lie, my first reaction was “Uh, no, writing code is NOT like literary theory!” I mean, how can DOING something – as a skill – be the same as ANALYZING IT – like the result of that skill? But after reading, especially Ramsay’s portion, I have softened on that stance. While I think that performing skills and analyzing results have their separate place in humanities, I do see how DH can be a kind of theoretical practice. I especially liked the comparison of theory to prototypes. He’s totally right: prototypes are, in essence, the physical manifestation of theory. A prototype may be right the first time, but it most likely won’t be, and will require several alterations and new attempts at forward movement – just like a theory under scrutiny of the scientific method.

    Later on in your post, you ask “Is DH like the STEM of literature, comprehension, and theory?” Here I would argue no, it is not, but rather the opposite: DH is to STEM as literature, theory, and comprehension are to the general humanities. Think about it for a moment … when explaining to someone your studies of literary theory and various literatures, is the practical application/benefit of those studies likely to be immediately apparent to the listener when that audience isn’t already familiar with the ins and outs of English study? Might they assume (at first, anyway) that such studies are useless when the arguments and hypotheses (so to speak) of those areas have already been long established? That’s how I feel DH is viewed in the eyes of the STEM community: why see coding, building, or the development of any technical skill as something to be rehashed or theorized – why not just DO it? That’s why I think DH gets a bad rap of sorts – it doesn’t immediately imply any form of value; it is only over time that the benefit of revisiting theory, expanding it, and performing trial and error on those expansions can really come to light.

    In most things in life, “good things come to those who wait” – or, in this case, those who look back and ask “what if?” Problem is, in this day in age, nobody seems to have time for that. And if there’s no time for it, it’s not valuable – forward is the only practical movement.

  5. Kristen,

    One of the parts of Gary Hall’s Critical Theory article that interested me was his discussion of critical theory in the context of Scheinfeldt’s claim that theory’s problem is a matter of scale and timing. The argument is that the theory of DH is being compared to humanities scholarship as a whole, which is to expect every scholar to contribute a theoretical advancement to the field. Indeed, it is seen in the historical field, as well. New books, articles, essays, and presentations are all looking to produce a new idea or new way of looking at an old idea. There is, seemingly, little to no benefit for rehashing the ideas that had already been produced, albeit with a slight tweak. However, it seems that DH is new enough that there is still much to learn in terms of theory. In this sense, it seems much more common to see someone produce a work that is built upon rather than having a new work constructed that refutes the original.

  6. I guess for me, I need DH to be black and white. Even after a few weeks in the class, I am still very confused as to what DH is, and what falls into the category of DH. The coding activity last week was like asking me to speak a whole different language, that I knew nothing about. It was very confusing, and frustrating. So I am reaching out for help to all of you to help me in better understanding what DH actually is.

    I liked Sara’s post about having standards. As a middle school teacher we not only have state and national standards but we have standards set by the company that owns our charter school. I think if DH had standards and could break it down into categories that people would better understand it would help some, but also confuse some. For me, seeing what I need to teach, and the time frame I need to teach it in is way more helpful than sending me in to teach something with no guidelines or deadlines.

    Right now I feel that DH is a huge category, with all these little sub categories because no one really knows that to include in DH and what not to which is even more confusing for me…
    From the Debates Part II, I basically took away that research is core to understanding what DH really is, and that technology will just continue to improve. Because of that we have to stay up to date on the latest trends.

    1. I’m with you, Sarah. I still feel like I don’t have a firm grasp on what DH is, especially since I got a cold this week and I’m not sure how much of the reading I was able to absorb. Having standards would be helpful, but I can also see where it might add to the confusion.

      I thought I understood HTML and CSS since I took a web design course in my undergrad, but I had no idea how nuanced it was. My professor didn’t really teach us much CSS because she thought it made design too complicated. It does seem like a completely different language. I found during some of it I was trying to make a guess about commands, thinking it was following a particular pattern, but like the shortcut commands on a keyboard, it follows a pattern until it doesn’t. Maybe there is a parallel for DH in there somewhere.

    2. Sarah,

      I agree with you, but almost in the opposite way. I still have no clear idea what Digital Humanities is, but I also really like that. It seems like a very nebulous concept that allows for fluidity in definition but also in product from the subject. I’m thinking really anything that would have previously be considered to fall into the category of “humanities” that has a digital arena for it would be considered DH. I like this line of thinking because very clear and defined boundaries still create an area of gray for me. However, I’m waiting for someone to pull the rug out from underneath me so to speak in these blogs and tell me I’ve been interpreting it all wrong!

    3. Sorry! I hit post too soon without having finished my thought. So let me finish now…

      So, while I might not be able to better help you understand DH, take comfort in knowing your not alone! The HTML/CSS is/em> an entirely different language than what you’re used to, and even though I had done some before, it was frustrating for me, too. I think DH is more about exploring a new/emerging field and establishing those boundaries and the definition than it is about understanding it in black and white terms.

  7. Kristen,

    Just getting caught up here. In your first paragraph you say that your question “was simple compared to the questions posed by Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell and the questions being asked to DH scholars.” I taught first-year writing for two years, and I’ve always looked for ways to integrate technology into my students’ practices – not for the sake of doing so, but with an eye toward using the technologies’ affordances to accomplish things that traditional assignments can’t. That said, your statement resonated with me in that before this class began, I felt that I could answer the question, “What is DH?” for the sheer fact that I have been immersed in DH all this time – but the questions raised by the readings have troubled my understanding (in a good way) of what “digital humanities” means. I think, as Dr. Schocket said prior to the beginning of the class, that answering that question will be an ongoing journey versus a final destination.

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