Prepatory to anything else, I have to thank Bethany Nowviskie of the Scholars' Lab at the University of Virginia. The Scholars' Lab, and the wonderful people there, provides a consistently exciting intellectual community.
And now to introduce myself.
Or maybe not. In introducing yourself, you inevitably assume the coherence of your categories and treat them as though they were meaningful and self-evident. Even if you are able to avoid the worst perils of the genre (the bragging, the narcissism, the faux humility), the genre of the self-introduction (the professional autobiography in a paragraph or less) still seems too static, too much a self-report, to really engage an interesting response.
So rather than introduce myself, let me try introducing you. Well, maybe that is too clever a way of putting (didn't I say these introductions are dreadful genre?). What I'd like to do is locate myself by trying to simply answer the question, what is the "digital humanities"? In trying to introduce the perspective from which I am speaking, the gaps in my perspective and the assumptions I am making (both consciously & inadvertently) will, I hope, be more obvious—more open to discussion and conversation.
This is another equally well trod genre: the "What is the digital humanities?" (a paltry 5 google results) or "What are the digital humanities?" (127,000 results). Claire Ross, in her introductory post alludes to the seemingly interminable & inevitable question of defining the digital humanities. I think the best single thing to read on the broad question of "what are the digital humanities?" is Patrik Svensson's recent The Landscape of Digital Humanities; in addressing this question here (a question so basic, I've heard some express frustration that we're still hung up on it), I'm just continuing—repeating—some of what has already been said here).
Well-trod or not, this basic question nevertheless continues to ellicit some disagreement. In this blog post, Tanner Higgin suggests that the valuable, and frequently heard, talk of "collaboration" in the "digital humanities" "often becomes an uncritical stand-in for an empty politics of access and equity." From Higgin's point of view, important issues of cultural politics are insufficiently addressed in DH, leading him to make this recommendation: "I would like THATCamp and all of DH to expand and clarify what it is we do and to embrace a vigorous politics of inclusion and provocation." Two requests: clarify what we do (who? me?); and in the future, do it in a more politically inclusive and provactive way.
The substance of Higgin's post merits consideration. But I want to contrast it with the very short comment it elicited from Craig Bellamy: "Thanks for your post but I am not sure I understand how you are using the term 'Digital Humanities.' You actually don’t need to use the term at all." And then, somewhat cryptically, the comment recommends, "Read this entry about Roberto Busa" (I assume this comment iss gesturing to what I'll list as 1 below). This degree of disagreement seems interesting.
I find something similar when speaking to my colleagues and peers (or at least those of them who I don't regularly bump into at the Scholars' Lab). When I say I am interested in the "digital humanities" they are always very polite. That is the thing "where you use computers." ("That's funny, though; I don't see an Apple logo on your laptop...")
The confusion is tracable, I think, to the capaciousness of the term "digital humanities" (itself, not doubt, a function of that strange term the "humanities"; maybe that's the problem), a capaciousness celebrated in the Digital Humanities 2011 conference theme: "Big Tent Digital Humanities." This definition, from Kathleen Fitzpatrick has been repeated elsewhere; Fitzpatrick defines the digital humanities as:
a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or, as is more true of my own work, who ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies
There isn't anything there I'd disagree with. But I'm not sure it would help my colleageus really understand what DH folks do. So were I forced to try to explain exactly what is going on under that big tent, based on the glimpses I've had, I might split the circus into these four rings. (Recall, my point in offering this division is as much to reveal where I stand, how things look from where I am, than to offer a genuine taxonomy.)
- Direct, Practical, Uses of Computational Methods for Research: Here are your dyed-in-the-wool "humanities computing" projects. Things like (one of my favoritie subjects) statistically grounded, computer-enabled authorship study, text mining, etc. I think I'll have something to say about this sort of work (which I done—enthusiasticallly) and the unfortunate antagonism which has emerged between it and more "theoretically" grounded humanities (on the division between theory, or "ideology" and methodology, see Tom Scheinfeldt's post on ideology vs. methodology, about which I hope to say something in the future too). Another vein here, no doubt would be folks associated with TEI markup, and the question of how to best represent texts digitally, or (another of my favorites) text visualization.
- Media Studies folks studying "New" Media: I think this is the position which Tanner Higgin, in the post I linked to above, is coming from. I take his points there to be reasonable and his method to be recognizable to any academic in the humanities: political critique. But it is his object of study (in that post at least) that is "digital" rather than, say, his method. (There is no sense of Scheinfeldt's "sunset for ideology" in Higgin's post, for example).
- Using Technology in the Classroom: The concern for how various technologies change pedagogy has been written about by Brian Croxall here (among other places). And it isn't coincidental that Brian's very next post is about the state of adjunct teachers. Concern with pedagogy brings with it the political situation of teachers. And anyone interested in pedagogy comes up against the complicated politics of the relationship between teaching & research within university culture. (By calling it "complicated," à la a Facebook update, I get to just walk away, right?)
- The way new technology is reshaping research and the profession: Here I am thinking of Kathleen Fitzpatrick's work on academic publishing as well as Bethany Nowviskie's posts on alternative academic career paths. Here the "digital" in the digital humanities is not a method, so much as an event happening to the humanities, something humanistic scholarship is undergoing, and which opens up new avenues even as it presents certain challenges.
These borders are hardly absolute, and there is plenty of room for permeability between them. Cutting a chicken, though, requires knowing where the joints are. This, though, is how I would cut up that thing, neither truly flesh nor fowl, that is the "digital humanities."
So, I'm Chris. I'm happy to be a HASTAC scholar this year. Where am I wrong? What I have left out? I'm here to learn.