Yet Another Examination of DH

The topic of DH definitions and its place in scholarship has been an ongoing topic of conversation this summer. While it was discussed during the 2017 program, I did not consider it as much. I was focused on learning basic skills and creating a project.

This year, I have had more time to critically examine DH and my place in the community. These past two weeks have been especially enlightening. Last week’s blog posts dealt with the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) article “Neoliberal Tools (and Archives)”, which critiqued DH for changing humanities for the worse. While I could see the basis for their arguments, I could not agree with their critique that all DH had sold its soul to the Neoliberal market.

This week, we read articles that were more in line with my thinking. The articles “Am I a Digital Humanist?” and “Digital Humanities in Other Contexts” were written as responses to the LARB article. The authors of these articles, like me, had an issue with the reduction of DH to a single stereotype that was solidly in the hands of the Neoliberal market. DH is more expansive than that. It is also not separate from Humanities like the LARB article suggests, but a new iteration of the field.

The prompt for this week asked the fellows if we could imagine the “digital” being dropped from DH. After some thought, I realized I do. DH is an aspect of humanities. As technology becomes more ubiquitous, scholars will be able to use these forms of communication to reach their audience. Education can change form with the advent of new technology. Digital humanities may fully be a part of all humanities work one day.

DH is done in many contexts. It is not just for institutions funded by grants and donors, but by small groups working to make a difference by using new tools and pathways to reach an audience. DH is not easily defined, and it will only continue to grow and become more complex. Reducing it for the sake of an argument means that other examples of DH are cut from the narrative. One of my favorite quotes from this week’s articles asks, “Am I a digital humanist? The question feels less and less relevant, to be honest.” DH is wide and varied.

The DSSF program saw how other institutions implement DH programs at a DS conference at Bryn Mawr last week. Some are like ours, with students creating individual projects using open access tools. Others are collaborative, hiring students to create digital platforms for research that stretches back years. No program was exactly alike, but all were DH.  DH cannot be judged by the success or failures of a single program. The DH community is vast, its community is growing and changing as resources change.

No matter how people view DH, their reaction is bound to be strong. People fervently defend it, vehemently criticize it, and sometimes do both in the same breath. This is because it has the ability to grow and change. As long as DH is evolving, it will be critically examined in order to make it stronger.


ILE Reflection #6

Digital humanities continues to unfold itself during this process. I have collected many definitions and seen various projects which have have led me to a state of confusion. My experience at Bryn Mawr is a good example as to why I am 1.) confused and 2.) accepting the malleable definition of DH. The digital part of DH is clear and makes sense, but this week I began questioning the digital background of digital humanists – is a background in computer science essential to make your project more valuable? I had light banter with another student at the conference about this “requirement” – their response was vastly different than mine. They argued that it added a layer of complexity and individuality to the project than someone who used a “create your own website” tool. I spent several summers learning different languages (i.e. Python, C++, Java) and I expected to major in Computer Science because I grew fond of coding – I understand the sense of accomplishment, but I never thought of starting from nothing. Unfortunately, I am also aware of the annoyance and difficult time people have looking for a self-coded website. Gettysburg College offers a platform to store the students’ websites until they graduate unless they have different plans. This platform offers a customized link that is shareable and functions. Apart from offering a site to host our projects, we have are not forced to follow a website theme. We are allowed to customize any part of out website as long as we have basic HTML skills; if we don’t, Google really helps with our questions.

Before the program began, I was well aware of the research focused project that I would turn digitally. The committee/ librarian partners emphasized the importance of research, working collaboratively, fostering our creativity, raising our confidence, and learning new tools to use during the process – which are great values. They reflect the values of an opportunity offered to students that will greatly shape them, however, our values conflict with those at other institutions. We are focused on creating an environment where we control all aspects of our project – research, website, presentation. Fellow undergraduate digital humanist are not in the same position we are. This past conference I was able to see and understand what R.C. meant by the fact that we have a unique program and that others have assignments. These students have literal assignments – from the research aspect to the contribution to the digital aspect. The projects can be described as individually collaborative. Our focus on a well-rounded program tainted my perception of digital humanities -I wish all DH programs could be as open and complete as the Gettysburg/Bucknell model. The definition of DH varies from individual to individual – I remember how controversial the definition is – at week 7, I finally understand how abstract the definition will be.

Week Six Reflective Essay

Similar to my response last week, I feel that discussions about DH as a discipline that link it to other broad topics tend to be unproductive, since each practitioner of DH tends to have different ideas of what their project contributes to the discipline as well as how their project (re)defines the discipline. In that spirit I would like to focus this reflection on how my interactions with DH have affected my specific project.

Pretty early on, I changed my vision for the way I wanted to present my project. Most of our first discussions about DH emphasized the diverse possibilities for our product. During our project management session we talked about the “log cabin in the sky” philosophy of planning, where plans are lofty but attainable, but I was inspired by many of our other sessions. Early on, while attempting to define DH, we talked about the emphasis on experimentation and the possibility that comes with it. This allowed me to make plans for my project that I wouldn’t otherwise have ventured, having no idea what attainable even was for my project and the platforms I hoped to use. Since then, I’ve been genuinely amazed at the product I’ve been able to create. I’ve never had faith in my ability to work with technology of any kind since I’ve always filed it under “math and other things I can’t do.” Although I’m by no means a tech wizard, this fellowship has really changed my views about what’s possible through DH as well as what’s possible for me. In every experience where I buckled down to make something digital although terrified of breaking it, I’ve been delighted by the result. Still, if I hadn’t been encouraged early on about the possibilities for my project, my product would have been entirely different.

In addition to the way the presentation of my project has changed through specific conversations, the content of my project has changed as well. Coming into this program I had a fairly conservative idea for my website in that it would be a relatively simple interconnection of information that I gathered in a very traditional way. I imagined myself finding materials about each author in the same way (and from the same sources) as I would for a traditional essay. Then I imagined writing brief essays that bring together my source material, again with an emphasis on similarity to traditional essays. Since my project is primarily for use in the classroom, I assumed that the only way to make it seem validate was to replicate traditional scholarship on a digital platform. When I started my research, I definitely struggled with fitting this kind of research to the eight-week timeline because of the sheer number of authors I wanted to fully cover. As I result, I started using different sources and feeling more comfortable linking out to online sources rather than summarizing them as I would with a traditional project. In this way, the time frame of the project forced me to change my methods for my project; however, it was one of our discussions about DH that made me change my views of the project.

One of the most productive discussions — at least for me — that we’ve had about DH was our ongoing conversation about what “counts” both as DH and as scholarship. Although I have been jokingly asking “is this DH?” about seemingly minute details, the repetition of the phrase has definitely shaped how I conceive of DH, but moreover how I conceive of scholarship. If you had asked me at the beginning of this experience if I would consider linking out to sites like Wikipedia rather than writing a biography for some of these authors, I’d have told you that was a cop-out, largely because in traditional work, it would be viewed that way. At this point in the process, I recognize that the work done on Wikipedia is valuable and freely available, so not using it for the sake of presenting legitimacy is not a good option either.

Week 6 Reflection

Every week, we look at more and more Digital Humanities projects, and I find myself wondering where I will fit in. There are many times where I think about how future DSSFs will probably look at my project and critique it. I am not afraid of that, but it is just a fact.

I want them to think that it was an interesting addition to the collection of websites they review. I want them to think that it was well-executed and well-designed.

But more than just wanting them to like my project, I want to take away something from it.

I want anyone who comes across my project to consider the arguments on both sides for living history models. I want them to confront their existing opinion, or consider the ideas for the first time. I think that wanting your audience to think critically about a given topic is pretty common surrounding most published materials in academia, nonetheless, I maintain that this is something that I am heavily considering with every design decision.

I recently changed my theme to my website. It definitely set me back some, both in time devoted to looking into other options and in work put into customizing the website the first time. But I still felt as though it was important. Every day, more likely every minute, I find myself considering whether or not I would visit my own website if it was not mine.

More often than not, my answer is no. Not only do I not see myself spending a large amount of time perusing the digital humanities projects of undergrads. But my internet usage if usually based out of necessity, and not in wandering through different urls. And I think those two things are similar for many other people.

I have found myself stuck in that crisis a few times and have realized that my approach was unproductive and pretty negative. Now I ask myself: if I was to encounter my website, how long would I stay? I spend my time attempting to lengthen the time of my answer with everything I add to my site.

I more likely than not will have an audience mostly consistency of the DH community, and the friends and family I explicitly show my project. But I want them to forget the original goal of seeing my website, the goal of seeing the tools I used or appeasing their annoying friend, and experiencing what I have been experiencing for 6 weeks now. If I can get an audience to just let their guard down enough to actually read what I have to say, I will consider this a success.


DH and Philosophy

One thing that I’ve struggled with throughout this project is how exactly to make it truly digital and yet at the same time make sure that it stays within the vein of Philosophy. I have attempted to make it make sense as a digital project, but there have been times when I wonder whether this is really necessary or not. I haven’t had any examples thus far of digital projects that are Philosophy oriented and so I often feel like I’m paving this road and trying to walk it at the same time.


Philosophical topics are very different from other humanities disciplines. History pulls from primary sources such as photographs, manuscripts, artifacts. Other disciplines pull from cultural practices that can be measured. But Philosophical musings come from ideas. These ideas are often grounded in real phenomena, but they are not often tangible objects that a person can see. How do you justify making a digital project out of ideas that you can’t see?


I chose to situate this project in the trends of the modern and postmodern eras because they are so based in cultural trends that are demonstrable. I chose to use student works from the college because I wanted to take these ideas and make them more concrete by giving real examples of the changes in thought. I have had to walk the line between History, English, and Philosophy this summer while ensuring that the end product would still be considered a Philosophy project.


There are a few things that I’ve done to hopefully make this the case. I have created the page for the Philosopher Bios in order to at least honor that these ideas show up in a strong way for philosophers. I have also attempted to focus on certain themes that I think are abstract enough to be philosophical. Lastly, I have put a great deal of time into my “Where are we now?” page because I know that the arguments I make here based on the self are contemporary and appropriate, yet at the same time asking questions about the nature of our lives. This is a question that I am confident is philosophical in nature. So while I don’t think that all of this project uses Philosophy, it is building up to a philosophical argument and therefore makes sense within the discipline.


My further question, however, is how many philosophical inquests should really be done through digital projects. Because, while I am confident that mine works as such, I haven’t quite figured out if this was the absolute best format for this project. I think that part of the discipline of Philosophy is about writing in order to build up an argument slowly. I recognize that this can easily be done without using an essay format, and in fact this is what my project does. I think that if anything, the reason this functions well as a digital project is because it provides more accessibility for ideas that are rarely very accessible. I am proud that my work provides relatively simple explanations for ideas that are difficult to grasp even at high levels. However, my remaining question is what kind of person would actually care to look? Are these ideas too specific, too niche, for someone who is not already a philosopher to care about? This is the part that I really question, and it makes it difficult to feel completely confident that my project can really make any difference.