Blog Post

Developing the Digital Humanities Canon

This past spring I took my first qualifying exams for my PhD in English. At my program at UCSB, which I absolutely love, we have the luxury of choosing three comprehensive lists (from about twelve offered) to be examined in, lists that will hopefully aid us in our destined scholarly path. One of my fields (in addition to the Theories of Gender and Sexuality and American Race and Ethnic Literature) was that of the Literature and Theory of Technology. Like many of you probably remember from your own exams, the exam process were grueling, but it was also very rewarding in forcing the student to sit down and read the foundational texts for this new field. To be perfectly honest, when will we ever have this opportunity again?

Well, as a survivor of that list, I was asked, along with other past exam takers, to provide input and feedback to develop the list further. Of course, being a field that changes so quickly, some of the texts are now outdated, and many fields have emerged. As much as I am honored to take part in this process, I thought I would also solicit the help and recommendations from my peers from other campuses and disciplines. My interests and strengths are specific, and I know there are things I will overlook and leave out. So my question to you, my fellow HASTAC scholars and friends, in adding your two cents about the development of this ever-changing Digital Humanities canon*, what recommendations would you offer?

Here are specific questions I've been asking myself and my friends to focus our discussions that my be helpful:


  • -If we were to break up the reading list (which now is incredibly varied with texts about the history of orality, writing and print, to Hayles's "flickering signifier") thematically and group readings accordingly, what themes would they be? (i.e. History of the book; New Media and Digital Literature; Identity/Nation/Citizenship/Culture; etc...)
  • -What recent (in the past 5-10 years) texts do you feel add greatly to this field and should be read by other scholars in it? 
  • -What are the weaknesses of the current canon? (For me the list seemed very eurocentric and neglected and the issues of the digital divide, racialized experiences on the web, citizenship in an era of borderless social computing, etc. were not well-represented. For another friend it was video gaming that was ignored.) And what can we add to fill these holes?


Of course this is just a starting point, and this is a discussion that will go on for a long time yet, but I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. 



*Now, I know the word "canon" is a contested word. How can we ever have a "canon" when the field and the technologies that inspire it are changing on a daily basis? Even so, there are texts, theories, authors, films, etc., that we should hopefully be familiar with when working in specific areas of this field. I can't claim to be an expert on any field at all within Digital Humanities, but I'm sure there are those of you out there who are very well-read in your own fields, and it is you guys that I'm hope to get some help from. 



It'd be helpful if you could post the existing list -- I'd be interested to see what's on it.


I've gotten a couple of messages about what the actual reading list looks like, but unfortunately our list is too long to place here. If you're interested in seeing it, it's available online at UCSB's English Department site, among the PhD reading lists.