Future of DH Musings

This week’s readings were particularly interesting to me as we begin to wrap up this course. I’ve been thinking lately about how much I will reflect on Digital Humanities as I continue my degree program, in my current role as a teacher, and in my intended future role as a writer. As we’ve discussed ad nauseum this semester, the reach of DH and its uses are vast. As such, it is often difficult to tell exactly what DH is and how it impacts our lives as students, professionals, and consumers of information. As the final section of Debates in Digital Humanities focused on the future of Digital Humanities, I wonder what all of you see the role of DH in your lives being once this course is over. I’d love to hear your reflections!


The rest of my ideas on this week’s readings are various and sundry and many seem to lack any connectivity one to another, still, I find them worth posing to the group, so bear with me as I work through my thoughts, and I hope at least some of my musings spark conversation!

The introductory section from Matthew Kirschenbaum appeared to be more of the same we’ve read in other sections. Rather than really crafting an argument or vision for the future of DH, I feel like Kirschenbaum focused on again defining and defending Digital Humanities. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I can certainly see the need for this definition and defense of this field of study, but in a section that was posturing DH in the future, it seems only to hold back the progression of the field. I’ve also mentioned before, and think it’s worth repeating given this section by Kirschenbaum, that if DH must be constantly defined and defended to prove its relevancy, it doesn’t seem like the field would be long lasting since the bulk of the intellectual power won’t be in developing new programs and ideas, but rather in the endless cycle of proving its worth.


I was really struck by the example of the photograph and its relationship to artwork, however. As I’ve spent almost an entire semester now trying to understand Digital Humanities and its importance, I really connected to the comparison drawn here. The question was posed as to not how the photograph changes or challenges the definition of art, but what it does for art. How does it change our appreciation and understanding of art. To me, this really summarizes the point of Digital Humanities and its future. Digital Humanities won’t change the definition or core of humanities, but instead, it offers a new, technologically relevant, way of exploring the humanities. Digital Humanities doesn’t challenge us to look at the humanities any differently than we always would have, but now provides us an easier way to look for a lot of the same things, and even maybe more things just as photography didn’t change the way we analyze and appreciate art, but made the production of it simpler in many ways while creating new ways to evaluate the medium like angles, lighting, aperture, etc.
Lastly, I was very intrigued by the essay on Digital Humanities 1.0 and Digital Humanities 2.0. Dividing the popularity and usage of the internet in two waves, 1.0 and 2.0, it was easy to see a strong delineation in the way in which the internet is used, especially in regards to DH. One thing I realized contributes to my struggle in understanding Digital Humanities is my lack of experience in research in the first half of this dichotomy. When the internet was becoming more accessible and homes and schools, I was still too young to conduct much, if any, research. As such, it’s unfamiliar to me to not have digital texts and analyses of texts easily accessible through something as simple as a Google search. Reading about the differences of Digital Humanities 1.0 and 2.0 really shed more of a light on what DH is and can do. One main idea in this section that stood out to me as being of particular importance is the concept of data collection as data selection. As someone who has never had to conduct research outside of a predominantly digital platform, I had not considered the power one has in their own research when they do all of the heavy lifting of curating information rather than simply relying on what is already digitized. The responsibility DHers have to the consumers of information is huge given that they essentially become the gatekeepers for what information we keep and deem relevant and accessible as a society and what we simply allow to stay inaccessible/ in print only.   I think this difference is important for understanding the future of Digital Humanities and the possibilities this approach can and will have on the study of the humanities.

4 thoughts on “Future of DH Musings”

  1. “if DH must be constantly defined and defended to prove its relevancy, it doesn’t seem like the field would be long lasting since the bulk of the intellectual power won’t be in developing new programs and ideas, but rather in the endless cycle of proving its worth.” I completely agree, Cassie. As I stated in another reply, I was annoyed that this week’s readings started off as more of the same. As a reader, I’m not sure I would continue reading articles like Kirschenbaum’s if I had to wade through the same debate over and over. I would either skip the section, or skip the article all together. I found this part of the debate frustrating. I like working toward a solution, and so when one isn’t to be had no matter how much I read about it the less inclined I am to continue the inquiry.

    I was also drawn to the photography as art comparison. I’m taking Visual Rhetoric this semester too, and my final project is on photography. Until I started my research I had no idea there was a debate as to whether or not photography is art. It comes down to the idea that photography is supposed to show what is there, unfiltered and unedited, which makes people think it is unartistic. (They leave out the fact that you can use different filters/lenses to alter photos, as well as edit them in both the darkroom (exposure times, for example) or editing software). The question though is what photography brings to the table for art.

  2. Maybe growing up in a digital age has made it more difficult for us to really wrap our heads around the true meaning behind Digital Humanities. Thinking about how different education has become because of technology is remarkable. Books, sources, citation, just the accessibility of information has completely changed the way students learn. With the accomplishments of Digital Humanities, it will be interesting to see how much further education will develop and how electronically driven it will become.
    You made the analogy to the photography and it really made me think about the digitization of the texts published before 1923. I think about how greatly this impacted readers. This made so many classic texts accessible to anyone interested in reading them. After those texts were placed online, I began to notice more texts being sold electronically. Now, there are many debates about whether paper books will even be a thing soon. With those thoughts in mind, I wonder how great of an impact DH will have on society and the way we live today.

  3. These are all interesting points brought up (Cassie, Katie, Kristen) about the relationship of having to defend and define the field compared to working on it. As someone who’s be observing and participating in the field for a while, and sees how it’s perceived by non-practitioners, let me comment on that a bit.

    To me, this is not an either/or proposition. Observing the field, I’d say that there is, in fact, a lot more energy going into actually making and doing things than to defining things — but the latter is much of what we’re trying to do in this course. The conversation of definition goes on implicitly in most fields, and is usually the subject or subtext of the introductory graduate course in just about any discipline. For example, just about every graduate history program begins with a course on historiography, the goal of which is to have students understand the evolution of assumptions and theoretical approaches to the field; same goes for cultural studies programs, which tend to begin with a course on cultural theory. In each of those courses, there is either the overt or perhaps subtle conversation going on about what fits in the field and what doesn’t. So while our readings may tilt to “definition” of digital humanities, we’re also doing a lot of it. That said, I can see how we might have preferred Kirschenbaum’s piece earlier in the semester.

    Also, while, again, much more energy goes into practicing DH rather than defining it and defending it, doing those activities are still, sadly, necessary. In academia, probably most merit and promotion documents still do not credit digital humanities work the way they do work in more conventional genres (articles, books). In other words, because there are only so many hours in a day, in many units at many colleges faculty are essentially penalized for dedicating time to DH rather than working on peer-reviewed articles. Another example: just last year, I was at a history conference in which a senior scholar, but someone who’s not much older than I am, gave a keynote in which he alleged, among other things, that there’s no such thing as the digital humanities. Not surprisingly, bunch of us either at the conference or following it on twitter pilloried him on twitter for that, but it shows that the attitude still exists.

    Of course, maybe it is that these are necessary activities, but that the real people who we need to be reading such pieces are that speaker and those academics out there who fundamentally don’t understand what’s going on.

    One more thing: as one of those old people who did research, and actually still must do research, in musty archives, I appreciated the contextualization of DH 1.0 and 2.0, and would argue that, just like photography and painting continue side by side, so will these varied methodologies of access and analysis.

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