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?

DH – Who’s In? Who’s Out?

The common thread through all the essays in Part III of Debates in Digital Humanities goes beyond the question of who is or isn’t in the dh, and it asks questions about who should be included but isn’t. After these readings, one might see a picture of dh that is white, male, and ableist, which runs contrary to the themes of social justice and activism. This isn’t meant to be an accusation so much as it’s an observation that, given that dh attracts personality types who care about social justice and activism, it’s interesting to me that lack of diversity and other social issues need to be solved within dh, while dh-ers are also working on them within general society. I don’t know – maybe it’s a naïve assumption that many people share that issues would be solved within a community if the members’ attention is directed outside.

In the tradition of “language shapes reality,” the overall theme of this section was “computing shapes reality.” I struggled most with Tara McPherson’s “Why Are Digital Humanities So White?” I didn’t struggle with the need for more racial diversity in dh – I was completely on board with her on that issue the whole time. The struggle for me came with the comparison of “modular” coding to segregation. At the end of the essay, it’s clear that she doesn’t mean that coders are making the world racist; rather, that a compartmentalized, modular world view is reflected in both things. Again, I don’t disagree, but for me, it was harder to concentrate on her larger point when the thought of, “But…modular code that lets computers run smooth and reliably and that’s a GOOD thing! Everyone likes it when their machines run well, no matter who they are!” kept intruding. I had to let go of the good/bad judgment for a bit, realizing that a racist would argue that a “modular” (segregated) society makes things run more smoothly (at least for them). I’m not advocating bloated, clunky code any more than McPherson is saying that writing modular code creates racial problems; rather, I had to remove myself from “good/bad” subjectivity in order to keep following. This will likely be an essay I revisit as I contemplate the ideas of computing shaping our experience.

The essay I found most interesting is “What do Girls Dig?” by Bethany Nowviskie. Following the flow of the tweets, particularly when people were telling Brett Bobley to invite women in data mining to the conference by name, vaguely reminded me of the #WheresRey hash tag in the wake of the strong, central female character being absent from much of the merchandising tied in with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This association was especially strong in my mind when the tweets in the essay turned to “Boys & unicorns & SPARKLES!” Similar conversations ensued among Star Wars fans who wondered why they’ve been left out as a target demographic when they’ve been active consumers of Star Wars and its merchandise since 1977 – and furthermore, why would they undermine the strong, self-reliant lead character by excluding her? While the data mining conversation didn’t result in the same occasional vitriol and tone-deaf defenses of why such an exclusion would occur, both situations identify a need to examine why women are participating in some activities and not others.

Much to digest in this section – almost too much to cover in a single blog post – but these are the things that stuck with me the most after reading.

Evaluating Digital Humanities

Evaluating Digital Humanities has proven to be a difficult undertaking for me. As we’ve read about Digital Humanities for the past few weeks, I think we all have seen how ambiguous and nebulous the field is. I think this is due in part to the relative infancy of the field in comparison to other realms of the humanities, and I think this ambiguity and vaguery is freeing to the field as it allows for the field to take on many different shapes rather than be tethered to one singular set of standards, it also makes the process of legitimizing and evaluating products of the field to be somewhat of an arduous task.


One reason this is such a difficult task, as  Dr. Schocket mentioned, is the myriad of Digital Humanities projects that exist. As I began reviewing the lists of DH projects to evaluate, there seemed to be a little bit of everything listed from things I have familiarity with like EverNote and Tumblr, to things I had never heard of (but wish I had!) such as Cornell Notes PDF Generator and QuarkXPress. While all of these products are very unique, useful for humanities in a variety of ways, promote and illustrate the scholarship of their creators, and have some connection to politics, or social power of users and creators– just some of the categories for DH as discussed in Debates in Digital Humanities— these projects are so widely different it’s difficult to be comparative of them with any objectivity to truly and fairly evaluate them.

Continue reading “Evaluating Digital Humanities”