Debates in the Digital Humanities
Publication Year: 2012
Encompassing new technologies, research methods, and opportunities for collaborative scholarship and open-source peer review, as well as innovative ways of sharing knowledge and teaching, the digital humanities promises to transform the liberal arts—and perhaps the university itself. Indeed, at a time when many academic institutions are facing austerity budgets, digital humanities programs have been able to hire new faculty, establish new centers and initiatives, and attract multimillion-dollar grants.
Clearly the digital humanities has reached a significant moment in its brief history. But what sort of moment is it? Debates in the Digital Humanities brings together leading figures in the field to explore its theories, methods, and practices and to clarify its multiple possibilities and tensions. From defining what a digital humanist is and determining whether the field has (or needs) theoretical grounding, to discussions of coding as scholarship and trends in data-driven research, this cutting-edge volume delineates the current state of the digital humanities and envisions potential futures and challenges. At the same time, several essays aim pointed critiques at the field for its lack of attention to race, gender, class, and sexuality; the inadequate level of diversity among its practitioners; its absence of political commitment; and its preference for research over teaching.
Together, the essays in Debates in the Digital Humanities—which will be published both as a printed book and later as an ongoing, open-access website—suggest that the digital humanities is uniquely positioned to contribute to the revival of the humanities and academic life.
Contributors: Bryan Alexander, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education; Rafael Alvarado, U of Virginia; Jamie “Skye” Bianco, U of Pittsburgh; Ian Bogost, Georgia Institute of Technology; Stephen Brier, CUNY Graduate Center; Daniel J. Cohen, George Mason U; Cathy N. Davidson, Duke U; Rebecca Frost Davis, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education; Johanna Drucker, U of California, Los Angeles; Amy E. Earhart, Texas A&M U; Charlie Edwards; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Pomona College; Julia Flanders, Brown U; Neil Fraistat, U of Maryland; Paul Fyfe, Florida State U; Michael Gavin, Rice U; David Greetham, CUNY Graduate Center; Jim Groom, U of Mary Washington; Gary Hall, Coventry U, UK; Mills Kelly, George Mason U; Matthew Kirschenbaum, U of Maryland; Alan Liu, U of California, Santa Barbara; Elizabeth Losh, U of California, San Diego; Lev Manovich, U of California, San Diego; Willard McCarty, King’s College London; Tara McPherson, U of Southern California; Bethany Nowviskie, U of Virginia; Trevor Owens, Library of Congress; William Pannapacker, Hope College; Dave Parry, U of Texas at Dallas; Stephen Ramsay, U of Nebraska, Lincoln; Alexander Reid, SUNY at Buffalo; Geoffrey Rockwell, Canadian Institute for Research Computing in the Arts; Mark L. Sample, George Mason U; Tom Scheinfeldt, George Mason U; Kathleen Marie Smith; Lisa Spiro, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education; Patrik Svensson, Umeå U; Luke Waltzer, Baruch College; Matthew Wilkens, U of Notre Dame; George H. Williams, U of South Carolina Upstate; Michael Witmore, Folger Shakespeare Library.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
INTRODUCTION: The Digital Humanities Moment
Recent coverage of the digital humanities (DH) in popular publications such as the New York Times, Nature, the Boston Globe, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed has confirmed that the digital humani-ties is not just “the next big thing,” as the Chronicle claimed in 2009, but simply “the Thing,” as the same publication noted in 2011 (Pannapacker). At a time when many academic institutions are facing austerity budgets, department closings, and staffing shortages, the digital humanities experienced a banner year that saw clus-...
PART I: Defining the Digital Humanities
1 What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?
W hat is (or are) the “digital humanities” (DH), also known as “humanities computing”? It’s tempting to say that whoever asks the question has not gone looking very hard for an answer. “What is digital humanities?” essays like this one are already genre pieces. Willard McCarty has been contributing papers on the subject for years (a monograph, too). Under the earlier appellation, John Unsworth has advised us on “What Is Humanities Computing and What Is Not.” Most recently...
2 The Humanities, Done Digitally
A few months back, I gave a lunchtime talk called “Digital Humanities: Singular or Plural?” My title was in part a weak joke driven primarily by brain exhaustion. As I sat at the computer putting together my remarks, which were intended to introduce the field, I’d initially decided to title them “What Is Dig-ital Humanities?” But then I thought “What Is the Digital Humanities?” sounded better, and I stared at the screen for a minute trying to decide if it should be “What Are the Digital Humanities?” In my precoffee, underslept haze, I honestly couldn’t ...
3 “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities
Even as the digital humanities (DH) is being hailed as the “next big thing,” members of the DH community have been debating what counts as digital humanities and what does not, who is in and who is out, and whether DH is about making or theorizing, computation or communication, practice or politics. Soon after William Pannapacker declared the arrival of digital humanities at the Modern Languages Association (MLA) conference in 2009 (Pannapacker, “The MLA and the Digital Humanities”), David Parry wrote a much- debated blog post insisting ...
4 Beyond the Big Tent
Big Tent Digital Humanities” is the theme of the Digital Humanities 2011 conference at Stanford University. It is a well- chosen conference topic given the current, often fairly intense debate about the scope and direction of the digital humanities, one also exemplified by the Modern Language Association (MLA) 2011 panel on “The History and Future of the Digital Humanities” as well as a number of concurrent online discussions. This debate has a disciplinary, his-torical, and institutional basis and is backdropped by considerable interest in the ...
The Digital Humanities Situation
Let’s be honest— there is no definition of digital humanities, if by definition we mean a consistent set of theoretical concerns and research methods that might be aligned with a given discipline, whether one of the established fields or an emerging, transdisciplinary one. The category denotes no set of widely shared computational methods that contributes to the work of interpretation, no agreed upon norms ...
Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?
The criticism most frequently leveled at digital humanities is what I like to call the “Where’s the beef?” question— that is, what questions does digital humanities answer that can’t be answered without it? What humanities arguments does digital Concern over the apparent lack of argument in digital humanities comes not only from outside our young discipline. Many practicing digital humanists are con-...
Why Digital Humanities Is “Nice”
One of the things that people often notice when they enter the field of digital humanities is how nice everybody is. This can be in stark contrast to other (unnamed) disciplines where suspicion, envy, and territoriality sometimes seem to rule. By contrast, our most commonly used bywords are “collegiality,” “openness,” and “collabora-tion.” We welcome new practitioners easily, and we don’t seem to get in lots of ...
An Interview with Brett Bobley
HASTAC, or the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory, is an interdisciplinary consortium committed to exploring the collaborative potential of the digital era. In February 2009, HASTAC scholars Kathleen Marie Smith and Michael Gavin asked Brett Bobley, director of the Office of the Digital Humanities for the National Endowment for the Humanities, his thoughts about ...
Day of DH: Defining the Digital Humanities
A Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities (Day of DH) is a community publica-tion project sponsored by the University of Alberta under the direction of Geoffrey Rockwell. Each year, it brings together digital humanists from around the world to document what they do on one day, March 18. The goal of the project is to create a website that weaves together the journals of the participants into a picture that ...
PART II: Theorizing the Digital Humanities
5 Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities
6 Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship
Digital humanists have seen themselves within the longer tradition of the humanities, suggesting that the main value of their work resides in the cre-ation, migration, or preservation of cultural materials (McGann). Using new platforms and networked environments, humanists entering the digital arena learned a great deal from the encounter. Expressed succinctly, the tasks of creating metadata, doing markup, and making classification schemes or information archi-tectures forced humanists to make explicit many assumptions often left implicit in ...
7 This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One
Critical theory, I mean, let’s be honest, what did it ever do politically? While historians continued to ponder the pros and cons of quantitative methods and while the profession increasingly turned to cultural studies, or took the “linguistic turn,” as some have called the move toward the textual and French theory, computer scientists were hammering out a common language ...
8 A Telescope for the Mind?
As to those for whom to work hard, to begin and begin again, to attempt and be mistaken, to go back and rework everything from top to bottom, and still find reason to hesitate from one step to the next— as to those, in short, for whom to work in the midst of uncertainty and apprehension is tantamount to failure, all I The phrase in my title is Margaret Masterman’s; the question mark is mine. Writing in 1962 for Freeing the Mind, a series in the Times Literary Supplement,1 she used the phrase to suggest computing’s potential to transform our ...
Sunset for Ideology, Sunrise for Methodology?
Sometimes friends in other disciplines ask me, “So what are the big ideas in history these days?” I then proceed to fumble around for a few minutes trying to put my finger on some new ism or competing isms to describe and define today’s historical discourse. Invariably, I come up short. Growing up in the second half of the twentieth century, we are prone to think about our world in ...
Has Critical Theory Run Out of Time for Data-Driven Scholarship?
Certainly, something that is particularly noticeable about many instances of this turn to data- driven scholarship— especially after decades when the humanities have been heavily marked by a variety of critical theories (Marxist, psychoanalytic, post-colonialist, post- Marxist)— is just how difficult they find it to understand computing and the digital as much more than tools, techniques, and resources and thus how ...
There Are No Digital Humanities
Building on the work of Jean- François Lyotard and Gilles Deleuze in The Postmodern Condition and “Postscript on Societies of Control,” respectively, let us pursue a little further the hypothesis that the externalization of knowledge onto computers, databases, and more recently mobile media environments, networked servers, and the cloud is involved in the constitution of a different form of society and human ...
PART III: Critiquing the Digital Humanities
9 Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation
In mid- October 2008, the American Studies Association (ASA) hosted its annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to its website, the ASA “is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Over the past two decades, the ASA conference has emerged as a leading venue for vibrant discussions about race, ethnicity, transnationalism, gender, and sexuality. While the ASA represents scholars with a diverse array of methodological approaches from a variety of disciplines, the society is a ...
10 Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University
On June 16, 2009, Professor Cathy Davidson of Duke University posted an entry on the blog for the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) called “Drinking the HASTAC Kool- Aid,” which focused on soliciting applications for a new program coordinator for the organization. In her recruitment effort, she describes HASTAC as a “voluntary network” of scholars whose work reaches beyond academia to expand what the digital humanities could and should be. In doing so, Davidson defines HASTAC’s ...
11 Unseen and Unremarked On: Don DeLillo and the Failure of the Digital Humanities
This professorship deals with events that almost took place, events that definitely took place but remained unseen and unremarked on . . . and events that probably took place but were definitely not chronicled. Potential events are often more — Morehouse Professor of Latent History, in Great Jones StreetLike Don DeLillo’s professor of latent history, presented only half- mockingly in Great Jones Street, DeLillo’s third novel— and perhaps his most Pynchon-esque, a meditation upon language, celebrity, and paranoia— let us consider ...
12 Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities
Over the last several decades, scholars have developed standards for how best to create, organize, present, and preserve digital information so that future generations of teachers, students, scholars, and librarians may still use it. What has remained neglected for the most part, however, are the needs of people with disabilities. As a result, many of the otherwise most valuable digital resources are useless for people who are— for example— deaf or hard of hearing, as well as for people who are blind, have low vision, or have difficulty distinguishing particu-...
13 The Digital Humanities and Its Users
In her poignant and piercing intervention, “Eternal September of the Digital Humanities,” Bethany Nowviskie reflects on how “our daily voicing of the practice of digital humanities (and not just on special days— every day) helps to shape and delimit and advance it.” She continues, “That voicing operates whole-heartedly to welcome people and fresh ideas in, if sometimes to press uncom-fortably (one intends, salutarily) against the inevitable changes they will bring.” Recently, though, the voices of digital humanities (DH) have been discordant, talk-...
Digital Humanities Triumphant?
Last year when I blogged about the Modern Language Association (MLA), I said that the digital humanities seems like the “next big thing,” and quite naturally, the digital humanists were indignant because they’ve been doing their thing for more At a standing- room only session I attended yesterday, “The History and Future of the Digital Humanities,” one panelist noted that there has been some defen-...
What Do Girls Dig?
...“Has data- mining in the humanities emerged as a gentleman’s sport? Two and a half conversations about gender, language, and the ‘Digging into Data Challenge.’”A two- day conference has been announced, associated with an international funding program, rightly (I think) hailed as transformative for the humanities.I was excited. I clicked the link. I scrolled down. I did a double take, which means ...
The Turtlenecked Hairshirt
In a reflection on all the recent hubbub about the sordid state of the humanities and the recently proposed possibility of a cure in the form of the digital humani-When I think of what the humanities offer . . . it is astonishing to me (and tragic) that we are not central. We are very, very good at blaming others for our marginalization. I truly believe that most universities would be entirely grateful for ...
Eternal September of the Digital Humanities
Here’s where I am. It’s nearly Halloween, and kids have settled into school routines. I have little ones in my own house and big ones in the Scholars’ Lab1— the young-est of whom are newly, this year, exactly half my age. Other2 kids3 are dead,4 and it’s still bothering me a good deal. Mornings in Virginia feel cold now, and acorns are It’s October 2010 in the social scene of the digital humanities, and (yes, I’m feel-...
PART IV: Practicing the Digital Humanities
14 Canons, Close Reading, and the Evolution of Method
I have a point from which to start: canons exist, and we should do something about them. The digital humanities offer a potential solution to this problem, but only if we are willing to reconsider our priorities for digital work in ways that emphasize quantitative methods and the large corpora on which they depend.I wouldn’t have thought the first proposition, concerning canons and the need to work around them, was a dicey claim until I was scolded recently by a senior colleague who told me that I was thirty years out of date for making it. The idea being ...
15 Electronic Errata: Digital Publishing, Open Review, and the Futures of Correction
It is hardly possible to write a history of information separately from a history of — Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High CapitalismIn writing about mid- nineteenth century newspapers, Walter Benjamin notes the prevalence of the réclame, a paid publisher’s advertisement printed instead as an editorial notice and hidden within the miscellany of the page. For Benjamin, this “corruption of the press” was so widespread as to necessarily inform any “history of information” (28). But Benjamin’s insight can also apply by corrupting the ...
16 The Function of Digital Humanities Centers at the Present Time
The emergence of the digital humanities as a coherent field was accompanied by and partially a result of the evolution of the Humanities Computing Center as an institution, as could be found in such exemplary early centers in the United States as Princeton and Rutgers’ Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (1991), the University of Virginia’s Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities (1993), and Brown University’s Scholarly Technology Group (1994). They and other earlier centers at such places as Oxford and King’s College ...
17 Time, Labor, and “Alternate Careers” in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work
The quick transition of “#alt- ac” from Twitter hashtag to term of art has been an index of its evident utility: as a rubric for discussing a topic that has long been in need of a name, a terminology, and an agenda. The alternativeness of careers in digital humanities has in fact been a subject of long debate and much concern; many early researchers in what was then termed “humanities com-puting” were located in liminal and academically precarious institutional spaces such as newly created instructional technology support units and grant- funded ...
18 Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon
In the 1990s, the rallying cry of proponents of the Internet was the democratization of knowledge made possible by the developing technological infrastructure. Lost or excluded texts began to be published on the net, some developed by scholars, others by fans, and still others by libraries and museums. I remember the possibilities that these materials offered for the literary scholar. I could create a web-site for students that linked the recovered e- text of Harriet Wilson’s Our Nig, period images of slaves, and the variety of African American cultural and historical docu-...
The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing
When Roy Rosenzweig and I finished writing a full draft of our book Digital History, we sat down at a table and looked at the stack of printouts.“So, what now?” I said to Roy naively. “Couldn’t we just publish what we have on the web with the click of a button? What value does the gap between this stack and the finished product have? Isn’t it 95 percent done? What’s the last five percent for?”...
Introducing Digital Humanities Now
Do the digital humanities need journals? Although I’m very supportive of the new journals that have launched in the last year and although I plan to write for them from time to time, there’s something discordant about a nascent field— one so steeped in new technology and new methods of scholarly communication— adopting a format that is struggling in the face of digital media....
Text: A Massively Addressable Object
At the Working Group for Digital Inquiry at Wisconsin, we’ve just begun our first experiment with a new order of magnitude of texts. Jonathan Hope and I started working with thirty- six items about six years ago when we began to study Shakespeare’s First Folio plays (Witmore and Hope). Last year, we expanded to three- hundred and twenty items with the help of Martin Mueller ...
The Ancestral Text
In this post I want to understand the consequences of “massive addressability” (Witmore) for “philosophies of access”— philosophies that assert that all beings exist only as correlates of our own consciousness. The term “philosophy of access” is used by members of the speculative realist school: it seems to have been coined largely as a means of rejecting everything the term names. Members of this school dismiss the ...
PART V: Teaching the Digital Humanities
19 Digital Humanities and the “Ugly Stepchildren” of American Higher Education
For the past three decades, the humanities in American public higher education have suffered recurrent crises. In moments of general fiscal austerity, class sizes in the humanities have risen, departments and programs have been threatened or eliminated, and searches for open faculty positions have been abandoned. Even in times of stable budgets, tenure- track positions have remained elusive, and resources available to those scholars doing work in the humanities have been scarce. This context has been so persistent that it has taken on an air of permanence....
20 Graduate Education and the Ethics of the Digital Humanities
Among the many challenges and opportunities that are emerging from the rapid expansion of, and growing interest in, the digital humanities is the question of how to prepare graduate students for academic careers in the humanities (to say nothing of potential nonacademic or para- academic professional opportunities that might arise in the context of digital humanities). According to a Modern Language Association (MLA) study of 2007 through 2008 doctoral recipients in English and foreign languages, the median time from a Bachelor’s ...
21 Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World
This is a boom time for the digital humanities. As this chapter is being written, projects proliferate while dialogue around the movement grows, as marked by online discussion, conference presence, articles, and books. Academic instantiations of digital humanities are building, even in a recession, from individual courses to faculty positions to academic programs to digital humanities cen-ters. The movement’s influence has been felt outside the walls of academia, as 2010 saw Google funding digital humanities projects around the Google Books collec-...
22 Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities
The digital humanities (DH) has experienced impressive growth over the past three or four years, sweeping across a number of academic fields and, in the process, helping to reshape and reframe discussion and debate about the nature of scholarly research, peer review and publication, and academic promotion and tenure. “Digital humanities” already generates more than four- hundred thousand unique results in a Google search. The print and online pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, that reliable bellwether of all trends academic, document the ...
Visualizing Millions of Words
One of the very first posts I wrote for this blog was about visualizing information and some of the new online tools that had cropped up to make it a little easier to think about the relationships between data—words, people, and so on (Kelly). Inter-esting as they were, those tools were all very limited in their scope and application, especially when compared to Google’s newly rolled out Ngram viewer.1 This new ...
What’s Wrong with Writing Essays
As a professor invested in critical thinking— that is, in difficult thinking— I have become increasingly disillusioned with the traditional student paper. Just as the only thing a standardized test measures is how well a student can take a standardized test, the only thing an essay measures is how well a student can conform to the rigid thesis/defense model that, in the hands of novice scholars, eliminates complex-...
Looking for Whitman: A Grand, Aggregated Experiment
In the spring of 2009, students from four universities converged on a single website in a collaborative effort to research and explore the poetry of Walt Whitman. Conceived of as a multicampus experiment in digital pedagogy seeking to break through the institutional barriers that, even in the age of the Internet, so often divide one university classroom from another, “Looking for Whitman: The Poetry of Place in ...
The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends
This is the digital footprint of my digital history seminar, the first course I ever taught. In designing it, I did what came naturally to me: I bought the domain name Dighist.org and set up a public course blog. This blog served as a common place for us to think aloud and work together publicly; it also played a valuable role in the face- to- face class, and it will continue to serve a valuable role in the future. The ...
PART VI: Envisioning the Future of the Digital Humanities
23 Digital Humanities As/Is a Tactical Term
...2011, tools, quarterly, victoria, now, jobs, projects, startup grant, companion, blogIn a previous essay, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” I suggested that for those seeking to define digital humanities, the then- current Wikipedia definition (and top Google hit) served about as well as any and could save a lot of headache and, second, that the term “digital humani-...
24 The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism
We should all probably start by admitting that none of us really knows what digital humanities is or, more precisely, that none of us is fully in control of what digital humanities (DH) is. As with so many disciplinary practices, the answer to the “what is” question is likely to be legion. And as Matthew Kirschenbaum has noted in a recent ADE Bulletin article, defining DH has become something of a genre essay. But contrary to any suggestion that the definition is settled or has been fully explored, the rising number of conference presenta-...
25 The Resistance to Digital Humanities
This essay is a perhaps foreseeable follow- up to an earlier piece on “The Resistance to Philology” (Greetham),1 published in the collection The Margins of the Text. That volume dealt not just with those parts of a text that typically were relegated to the bibliographical margins (titles, annotations, marginalia, etc.) but also with those features of textual discourse (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, among others) that had been marginalized in discussions of textual scholar-ship. The collection had been prompted by the discovery that in some otherwise ...
26 Beyond Metrics: Community Authorization and Open Peer Review
I originally began writing about peer review— its history, its present status, and its digital future— a couple of years ago, as it became increasingly clear that addressing the question of digital scholarship required a prior reckoning with the issue. I hadn’t ever really intended to give it that much of my attention; but, as my colleagues and I worked on the development of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons, it kept crowding in, as it has for many digital humanities projects: at every meeting, conference presentation, panel discussion, or other venue where ...
27 Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data
Today, the term “big data” is often used in popular media, business, computer science, and the computer industry. For instance, in June 2008, Wired magazine opened its special section on “The Petabyte Age” by stating, “Our ability to capture, warehouse, and understand massive amounts of data is changing science, medicine, business, and technology. As our collection of facts and figures grows, so will the opportunity to find answers to fundamental questions.” In February 2010, The Economist started its special report “Data, Data Everywhere” with the phrase ...
28 Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions
There has never been a great age of science and technology without a corresponding flourishing of the arts and humanities. In any time or place of rapid technological advance, those creatures we would now call humanists— literary commentators; historians; philosophers; logicians; theologians; linguists; scholars of the arts; and all manner of writers, musicians, and artists— have also had a field day. Perhaps that generalization is actually a tautology. Great ages of science are great ages of the humanities because an age isn’t a historical period but a con-...
29 Where Is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?
As the cue for a thesis I wish to offer about the future of the digital humanities, I start by confessing to a lie I inserted in the last paragraph of the mission statement of 4Humanities. 4Humanities is an initiative I helped cofound with other digital humanists in November 2010 to advocate for the humanities at a time when economic retrenchment has accelerated a long- term decline in the perceived value of the humanities.1 It serves as a platform for advocacy statements and campaigns, international news on the state of the humanities, showcase examples of ...
Every book is a product of many hands, a commonplace that is especially true for an edited collection of the size and scope of Debates in the Digital Humanities. And thus, first and foremost, I would like to thank the authors who contributed their work to this book. They persevered through a series of extremely tight deadlines, took part in a demanding peer- to- peer review process, and turned around revi-...
Page Count: 504
Publication Year: 2012
OCLC Number: 833584701
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Debates in the Digital Humanities