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.


One Reply to “Yet Another Examination of DH”

  1. I am fascinated about how polarizing DH can be … and yet how it can bring us together at the same time. Thanks for your continuing thoughts on what DH is and can be. And certainly, digital may be dropped … but there is always room for different approaches for what methodologies are used in the humanities. In some ways, I hope that DH and “Humanities” can retain some sort of tension (but also balance) between each other, and all scholars can value the variety of ways we can do research and present it.

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