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What is DH, at MSU and in the World?

This week, I explored the various ways DH manifests and how its history has shaped perceptions of the field.

In her essay for the first Debates in the Digital Humanities, Kathleen Fitzpatrick attempts to clarify what exactly is/are the Digital Humanities. She addresses the field’s evolution from the days of humanities computing and explores the tension between scholars who work in DH who view it as being about making things versus those who utilize DH to interpret things. While as a project manager for a digital humanities center, I tended to fall into the making field—I was constantly assisting with building websites and developing content; however, since I’ve started my career as a PhD student at MSU I’ve moved more into the realm of interpreting by exploring the ways in which DH methods might be used to improve affective atmospheres in online learning. Regardless of the ways scholars engage with DH, I agree that “The particular contribution of the digital humanities, however, lies in its exploration of the difference that the digital can make to the kinds of work that we do as well as to the ways that we communicate with one another” (Fitzpatrick 15).

In the same edition, I read Rafael C. Alvarado’s blog post “The Digital Humanities Situation.” I was particularly intrigued by his argument that DH is “is a social category, not an ontological one” and therefore is nearly impossible to be define—and perhaps the way we define all disciplines in academia is inherently flawed. It seems that in many ways digital humanities is more about the tools and methods that are applied to disciplines rather than being its own. Rather, digital humanities is important as an avenue for allowing play and constantly finding ways to rework representations of things in a variety of ways to reveal new meaning.

Hockey’s essay “The History of Humanities Computing” provided interesting context for how DH has become what it is today by tracing the development of key projects, publications, tools, and conferences since 1949. In this article, Hockey argues that TEI is the single most important advances in the history of DH. Although I study literature and TEI is undoubtedly a major development, I agree with Sharon Leon’s argument in “Complicating a ‘Great Man’ Narrative of Digital History in the United States” that Hockey’s approach to documenting the history of humanities computing is preoccupied with textual focused projects and tools.

Although I am not a historian and cannot speak to the role of women in digital history/public history projects, I feel that Leon’s description of how the work of women is overlooked in digital history is perhaps representative of wider issues in DH. In particular, the discussion of who gets grants and university buy-in was reflective of my experience as a project manager for a digital humanities center. Like Leon mentions, at this university staff members could not receive PI credit and in order for the administration to buy into some of our (female) core faculty’s grant projects we had to first write and complete a grant project for a male colleague. I feel that the mentioned “Collaborator’s Bill of Rights” is a particularly intriguing document, and it makes me curious about how to make universities subscribe to the outlined guidelines. When digital humanists are already constantly trying to justify and define their field for tenure/promotion/funding reasons, how do they convince administrators to fundamentally change their ways of thinking in regard to producing scholarship and sharing credit?

If anything, this week made me consider the ways in which DH—even though it has come so far—needs to continue to evolve in order to create a more equitable field. Following this week, I’m hoping to explore readings that more specifically speak to the history of and experience of BIPOC scholars in DH (off the top of my head, I’m thinking of revisiting the rest of Bodies of Information and and other Debates in the Digital Humanities essays such as Tara McPherson’s “Why Are the Digital Humanities so White?”). I feel the theme of this week merits a call to further action, so I end with a quote from Dr. Leon’s conclusion:

“All practitioners must work purposefully to recognize the contributions of the underrepresented—those whose work is masked by inequity. Then, all members of field must consciously revise our origin stories to be inclusive of these individuals and their influence” (358)

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