This essay situates the rise of the so-called digital humanities within earlier theoretical trends and methodologies. Taking as its focus the impact of digital techniques on literary studies, the essay argues that advocates for the new digital methods often lapse into an uncritical positivism at the moment that they espouse an apparently critical historicism. In assessing the shortcomings of the confluence of digital and historical approaches, the author outlines an alternative critical epistemology of the humanities through an engagement with the writings of Louis Althusser, gesturing toward a renewed, "speculative" formalism that may account for the mutabilities of form and history alike.