Hope for the Future: Critiquing DH

It is easy, in the context of our program, to lose sight of the larger trends in Digital Humanities. For these few weeks over the summer I am focused on producing good scholarship and researching well. The issues of the larger world of DH do not seem so important when I have tools to learn and books to comb through.

However, the purpose of this program is not to simply create a work of DH. It is meant to educate fellows about DH and give them tools to debate and engage with the community. I have sadly neglected that in my work this summer.

Reading “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities” forced me to consider our program and the future of DH. The article argues that DH is essentially killing creativity in favor of tangible results and technological innovators. Digital Humanities has favored the digital over the humanities in its attempt to restructure academic circles. It paints “Digital Humanities as social and institutional movement is a reactionary force in literary studies, pushing the discipline toward post-interpretative, non-suspicious, technocratic, conservative, managerial, lab-based practice.”

While those skills are important, they are not the heart of DH that I have come to know. I am lucky, as I am involved in DH on a small campus where we are encouraged to think critically in our projects and produce transformative work. This program has produced projects that deal with political action on campus, women’s history at the college, and has encouraged us to examine our own biases. During the first weeks last year, we delayed a lesson to discuss the idea of digital imperialism and whether or not we were contributors. This program has expanded thinking, not narrowed it.

The authors of the article acknowledge that the DH they are talking about may not be the DH all people experience. Yet they argue that their view is not one of outsiders, that they themselves have experience as digital researchers, and that the DH community itself shares in their critiques. I cannot disagree with that statement, as critique is a key component of this very program. Their warnings that DH avoid the model of Silicon Valley, which prizes disruption and success over diversity and critique, are valid and need to be addressed.

My issue with this article is that it seems to regard these issues as irreparable. The article gives example after example of the failings of DH. While the last few paragraphs somewhat advocate for the transformation of DH into what it was promised to be, it has a pessimistic tone, doubtful that any transformative proposals could be truly implemented.

While I do not refute that the issues laid out in the article have an impact on DH, I will argue that they are not representative of DH. Programs like ours give agency to students to create critical works and engage with the issues facing the community. We have not sold our soul or sacrificed our integrity.  Other digital humanists have criticized this article for being pessimistic and focusing on the problems with DH instead of striving for improvement.

It is easy to look at the negatives and feel useless. I do not know if I can do anything that will increase diversity in DH or encourage transformative work. But that does not mean that DH is beyond hope. The article is reductive and casts all DH as irreparably flawed. I contest that DH is still being formed and will continue to change as new scholars, technologies, and ideologies gain support. DH is not dead yet, and our program is proof that it can change for the better.


ILE Reflection #5

From my understanding, the main purpose of digital humanities is to create an open access understanding of topics that are 1.) uncommon or 2.) costly. As the weeks go on and I look for tools to incorporate into my project the more I realize that I have to go without some tools or settle with a free, semi-functional tool.  Creating my website logo opened my eyes to this aspect of digital humanities; many websites state that their tools are “free” however they are not. Users have free access to the tool, but the product has to be bought or abandoned. The sites usually cost over $10 a month – no options to pay for one day use.

Last week was another revealing week in terms of the limitation that accompanies digital humanities – honestly, my bias and direct access to the tools bought by the college really limited my understanding of “free” access.  During lunches, the cohort is reminded of our Sites pages, but it did not hit me right away that I have access because I am a college student here at Gettysburg. After reading the article and reading more on neo-liberalism, I began searching these tools without connecting to any Gettysburg account. WordPress is not free (https://wordpress.com/pricing/?sgmt=gb&utm_source=adwords&utm_campaign=Google_WPcom_Search_Brand_Desktop_US_en&utm_medium=cpc&keyword=wordpress&creative=277412335400&campaignid=998785131&adgroupid=53026924047&matchtype=e&device=c&network=g&targetid=kwd-295456403946&locationid=9006728&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_I7qtYKS3AIVSj0MCh0S1gkSEAAYASADEgIKAvD_BwE). To have a nice, functioning website the starting price is $48 a year – users can choose to update their plan which only increases the price. The plan includes domains without wordpress.com  after a unique site name.

Deresiewicz argues that colleges sell their soul to the market – which makes sense. I cannot image it is possible for an institution to not join the market. Both, public and private colleges and universities, cost large sums of money that contribute to: maintenance; access to online and in-person texts and tools; income of employees; and whatever else institutions use money on. After searching the internet myself for these tools, I have realized that colleges have no option other than to join the market. Open access rarely exists outside of institutions in education and/or business. Public libraries are around, but library card do not provide users with access to tools like WordPress or Sites; a library card only grants access to print and online materials in the library’s possession.

Academics are able to build or pay to have someone build an online presence because funding is typically part of the process. I hope to go on to graduate school and into a position as a college administrator which will – hopefully – continue to give me access to these tools. Individuals will have a harder time joining the digital humanities without proper funding or access to some tools. I can confidently say that without funding from DSSF I  would not be able to complete my project. Not only are costs for the tools and sites I am using out of my price range, but I would also have to consider the time that I am spending creating a project. Time is money – as a low income student, I cannot afford to waste my time lollygagging. Digital humanities fits into my life right now because I am an undergraduate student with funding to complete a project I am passionate about. If I had paid more attention to the benefits of DSSF, I would have joined last year because I am learning more and gaining access to tools that I might not have by next May.

Institutions continue benefit from exploitation. As much as we want to believe it , nothing is ever free or benefits those that need it the most.

Week 5 Reflection

I was doing an interview for my project a few weeks ago where my professor, an alum of the college, told me how different students were. He said that this new email fad where students add all of their titles under their name is so new. Beyond that, we discussed how resume oriented everyone seems to be. I think that new fad proves that there is some truth to Daniel Allington, Sarah Brouillette, and David Golumbia’s article.

They argue that digital humanities “is, instead, about the promotion of project-based learning and lab-based research over reading and writing, the rebranding of insecure campus employment as an empowering “alt-ac” career choice, and the redefinition of technical expertise as a form (indeed, the superior form) of humanist knowledge.” And I don’t think they are wrong. There is something to be said about the amount of time that I have caught one of us saying, “well at least I can say I learned this tool.” But is that really true?

We have learned all of these tools to serve our purposes, but we haven’t really worked all of these tools. The idea of project-based learning is somewhat in line with the way we were taught to write essays.  Is learning just enough WordPress to turn out a website really any different than writing an essay in the 11th hour for a grade?

Can I really say that I can create a digital humanities project after this? I can say I created this one. But there is really no telling if the next time I do this it will take any less time. I think it would be slightly ignorant for any of us to think that we have really conquered the heart of some of these tools.

And then, there is the funding. The article argues that “[t]he work that the NEH and the Mellon Foundation tend to fund remains largely confined to the “tools and archives” paradigm that many in Digital Humanities claim to have surpassed, but that continues to drive the institutional expansion of Digital Humanities through its likely receipt of major research grants. This is no coincidence. Digital Humanities enabled the creation of new pools of funding specifically devoted to an entirely new conception of the humanities that was promulgated by a small minority within English departments.” The concept that we are being paid to do what we are doing, while very nice, makes me question the worth of what I am doing.

Realistically, I don’t think my work is going to positively or negatively affect anyone, other than myself. It seems a tad ridiculous that foundations are funding these programs instead of putting that money to a more worthy cause.

However, I don’t think this is the fault of the digital humanities ideology. I think it is the fault of the ideology of higher education. We have, as a society, turned higher education into training epicenters for white collar jobs. We all pride ourselves as being so open-ended in our learning processes, but we are just as goal oriented as a vocational school.

We can all do better to think of the real-life effects of what why are doing way up in the ivory tower. We need to fix this privileged ideology of education for the sake of education. There is so much that needs fixing in this world, and if we are among the privileged few that get to receive a higher education, we owe to ourselves, and the rest of the world to create a system that breeds altruistic intellectuals, rather than resume-obsessed ladder-climbers.

#Transform DH and My Project

When I think about the transformative nature of my project, it is a bit difficult to see anything overtly transformative at the start. You have only to go to my philosopher bio page and scroll down to notice something a little disconcerting. All of the philosophers are white men. At first it may seem like there’s no way to bring about a transformative project when the ideas I’m using are based off of those of people steeped in the patriarchy, but I think that my project can be transformative in subtler ways.

Many of the ideas that these white male philosophers have are ones that most people would not encounter unless they were to take a course on them in a school. Of course you can find their ideas online, but often the writing is confusing and difficult to understand even for a scholar. One of the aims of my project is to avoid the scholarly type of writing that I so often encounter in my own research. I try to write the ideas in a way that makes sense. The ideas are still complex and may have to be ruminated on for a while, but at least it shouldn’t take reading it five times through to understand what’s going on.

I also chose to focus a great deal on certain publications that are not academically or scholarly inclined. They are protest publications, written by students who found that they did not fit in with the typical college academic. I will be talking about publications such as Black Awareness, EASTIT, Acid Express, and Junto. The first was a publication meant to discuss the experience of people of color both at Gettysburg and in the larger community. EASTIT was a publication that was very critical of the institution and aimed at un-clouding the idealistic minds of the first years. Acid Express was written to help the Gettysburg community understand the positive effects of mind-opening drugs. And Junto was a magazine that was put out by the Christian Association which often spoke of issues of social justice. These were not the mainstream publications put out and supported by the administration. Some of these publications were of concern for the higher up individuals in the college because the messages ran counter to all that the college was trying to teach. But the writers thought that their messages were important enough that they had to put them out into the world. Celebrating the bravery of these writers, (many of them anonymous) and discussing their words brings voice to communities outside the mainstream.

In the last section of my project, I use an online publication called SURGE. This is a contemporary website in which students share their stories and experiences on topics such as race, gender, sexuality, social justice etc. Many of the writers are anonymous, but they are all trying to further discussions of social justice and expose what is wrong in our society.

White male philosophers may have written about these ideas and spread them in their classrooms, but it was these marginalized groups that took these ideas and used them in a call to action to transform the world. My project is not about celebrating the philosophers. It is about taking those ideas out of the stuffy classroom and analyzing how they affected the real, living, breathing, changing world. It’s important as Digital Humanists to always think about where the ideas that we work with come from, how the white and patriarchal world has affected them, and what we can do to fight against it.

Week Five Reflective Essay

Scholarship is not apolitical. Indeed, nothing is. The dizzying, eternally reproducing, mise-en-abyme-inducing fact is that statements to propose neutrality are self-defeating because they too propose a particular stance. Every attempt I have made to further explain my thoughts on DH has dragged me further into the paradox of the situation, so I hesitate to try again.

I have said in previous blog posts that DH appeals to me because it allows for accessibility in new ways, but the fact that it is linked to private institutions means there are still bars to access that ought to be addressed. Rather than continue to articulate this, I want to be devoting my time to making those beliefs manifest in my project and other scholarly work I do.