The Many Tales of DH

In this week’s readings, the focus is on practicing the Digital Humanities and DH’s role in academia. I found these readings to be thought-provoking and interesting. Overall, I believed I ended the readings with a comprehensive understanding of how DH factors into the university realm today. What I thought was most interesting and what I ended thinking about was the fact that the moment I stopped reading the text, there was probably some change or evolution occurring in DH at that very same moment. It’s a fascinating concept to me, since my English education at the collegiate level was so canonized and traditional. DH is constantly adjusting to its role at the university level, and though the authors did an excellent job of conveying their own interpretation of DH’s role, I couldn’t help but think that there are thousands of other ways that DH affects a university. This chapter was just a small, savory taste.

In Matthew Wilkens’s “Canons, Close Reading, and the Evolution of Method,” he argues that canons exist (which is argued to be detrimental to authors of color in Amy E. Earhart’s “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon”), and DH can be a solution to an overwhelming amount of information being studied. He points out that canons are negative, and something should be done about them; this results in him asking the question “Why do we still have canons?” Simply put, Wilkens’s states that “[w]e don’t read any faster than we ever did, even as the quantity of text produced grows larger by the year.” Unlike early-history scholars, we are faced with the challenge of reading texts in the canon and contemporary texts. As Wilkens suggests, we are simply incapable of reading what is necessary to read. Scholars studying specific areas in time are limited to how much they are capable of reading. Wilkens argues that close reading needs to take a back seat to data driven analysis. Now, we have discussed close reading versus data analysis when we read Macroanalysis. And though the lit major in me could never fathom a world without close reading, the benefits of data analysis and text mining described by Wilkens is clear. He even suggests that interpreting the data may result a change in the way we look at literary history, specifically American regionalism. Wilkens really makes the connection between close reading and data analysis when he says, “Though we’re not used to framing our work in terms of rapid hypothesis testing and feature extraction, the process isn’t radically different from what we already do on a much smaller scale.” By comparing the two, Wilkens points out the processes’ similarities, making data driven analysis not so alien. Not that I agree with Wilkens’s suggestion that “we’ll almost certainly become worse close readers,” but his points do highlight the benefits of text mining. Along with that, Wilkens points out that it’s important to direct funding toward DH projects in order achieve what he suggests.

Wilkens’s piece transitions nicely to Paul Fyfe’s “Electronic Errata: Digital Publishing, Open, Review, and the Futures of Correction,” discussing the evolution of editing and Fyfe’s predictions on editing scholarly articles. Fyfe suggests that the types of publication of DH pieces need to be reconsidered; it is starting to become necessary for other types of publications, such as blogs, to be considered as scholarly by the academic world. What is more important to Fyfe is that changes are starting to occur in the digital print world, and they need attention. Overall, he argues that, in this ever-changing world, clearer plans need to be established when it comes to academic correction. With software like auto-correct, Fyfe questions whether or not editing will be necessary in the future. Various types of review have been introduced in place of typical review processes, which Fyfe reports stimulates a stronger engagement with the text, eliminating editing all together. So, what does this say about future academic scholarship? Do Fyfe’s ideas suggest that expectations for academia are diminishing? Will scholarly articles that we have studied become things of the past? Later in the unit, Daniel Cohen addresses this idea in “The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing.” He believes DHers are limited by the qualifications needed for publication. He gives the example of Twitter and following other DHers; he declares he learns more in this forum than in any other. Not only that, he believes these kinds of forums, as opposed to scholarly journals, are much more accessible to others outside of the DH world. Could these changes begin to happen in other areas of study? Are we seeing some of these changes already?

The next section of the unit transitions to Digital Humanities on campus and staffing. Neil Fraistat paints an informative picture of his campus’s digital humanities center in “The Function of Digital Humanities Centers at the Present Time.” He reveals that the competitiveness of the various digital humanities centers around the globe lack collaboration due to competition for grant money and funding. But he asserts centers’ importance by describing what takes place on a typical day in his DH atmosphere. His explanation made me wonder if I were to travel to another DH center, how different would the process be? My hope is that they would be very different because, as Fraistat states, the goals are limitless as long as centers serve as “an agent of change.” Julie Flanders is just as enlightening by explaining the track DH employees may encounter in “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work.” Like Fraistat, I couldn’t help but wonder how diverse are the paths of other DHers? Digital Humanities is such a complex and evolving system, I’m sure there are so many other stories to tell!

5 thoughts on “The Many Tales of DH”

  1. Hi, Sarah! Thanks for your insightful perspective this week!

    Like you, I was very drawn by the essays on the canon and on electronic publishing. I think of all of the things we’ve read this semester, these essays were the easiest for me to comprehend because they were most closely associated with my career.

    As a classroom teacher, I long ago abandoned teaching from the canon, and it is a decision that I constantly wrestle with. When I made the decision to abandon the canon, I did so with a similar thought process to Matthew Wilkens– at the collegiate level, it is impossible to have an expectation for students to have read all of the works in the literary canon, so focusing on teaching them seems to be useless; students connect better to contemporary literature; developing close and distant reading skills are more important than the texts themselves, etc. etc. However, I often question that logic given the importance of common reads in a culture. Wilkins sort of proved my thinking when he illustrated just how impossible it is for us to read the volume of works that are published each year. I think the idea of using meta data to help us with reading for academia this production volume is interesting, and probably very helpful, but just as I felt when reading Macroanalysis it’s hard to think about using meta data as a means to determine the canon, especially for texts that should be taught and discussed at the collegiate level, but it does make the means of literary analysis much easier, especially as a starting point.

    I disagree with the idea that this method would make us worse close-readers because close reading would still have to occur, but I do worry it would make the canon broader for the sake of broadening it without broadening it to include texts that are meaningful for humanities in ways the current canon isn’t with its limited diversity.

  2. The readings for this week were interesting to me as well since I am too a classroom teacher. I can focus on the readings better when they are associated with my career. In today’s technology driven world, I agree with the fact that we should produce more electronic readings as kids are constantly on their computers, phones and tablets. However I see two down sides to this, and it could just be the current setting I am in, which is inner city Toledo. But for instance I do not have much technology in my school, for me as a Social Studies teacher, to have the students read thing electronically would be a great challenge since I do not have access to laptops or Ipads for each student in all of my 4 classes. The other issue is that no matter what they are reading, textbook or digital if they can not read it won’t matter. I have kids in my 6th and 7th grade classes that read well below their grade level. So either way, they are still not getting the required information they need to go onto high school and college.

    1. Sarah,

      This is a little unrelated, but I can really relate to your students’ reading abilities. Have you read Book Love by Penny Kittle? That book really shifted my teaching pedagogy and has not only made my teaching much more enjoyable, but has significantly improved the literacy skills of my students. 🙂

  3. I enjoyed this weeks readings. I found them easier to focus on and I had a better understanding of the benefits of DH. I very much see the value in DH when I think about teaching culture associated with a novel, character, or time period. I think about discussions that can be started all over the world to find how a book is interpreted differently based on where it is taught. I am very fortunate and I do teach in a classroom where every student has access to technology-whether it be a phone, ipad, or laptop. The problem is that my students take advantage of the situation.They quickly turn to playing, texting, searching, etc. Anything to be distracted. I feel like it is too available so they don’t take it seriously. Giving high school students frequent access changes the dynamic of a classroom, and sometimes it is good while others it is bad.
    I also found frustration in what Fyfe said. My administration believes that because we have spell check and Microsoft word, students no longer need to be taught proper grammar and punctuation. This frustrates me so obviously I automatically read what Fyfe said with apprehension and frustration. I do understand and acknowledge that Word and Autocorrect helps, but it isn’t a teacher or a permanent fix. While there is also a place for technology in the classroom, it is also important to balance the need and value.

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