Blog Post

You should know what I'm talking about

I've noticed a really bad habit among digital humanities scholars, and it's started popping up in every digital humanities environment I've been engaged in.  I saw it at DAC, I saw it at SSHA, I've seen it on-line, and it's even here at Stanford.

"I don't really know what you're talking about."  It's often delivered by a more senior digital humanities scholar or someone from a prestigious (or, maybe, established is the right word, I don't think we've quite gotten to the prestigious point) program and it tends to be directed toward a younger scholar or one from a less prestigious program.  It invariably follows a long description of theoretical and technical elements and I think the only reason why it occurs is because many digital humanities scholars allow their enthusiasm to overrun their theoretical or technical knowledge thus exposing themselves to this kind of pat dismissal.

I know I'm being vague, and so my explanation is suffering, but the last thing I want to do is enumerate the roughly dozen times I've seen this happen in the last six months, in a variety of situations.  Frankly, the only reason I feel comfortable bringing it up is because the time it happened to me was in a situation where I very much did know what I was talking about, to the chagrin of the person making the statement.

I think it's not only bad form (because it provides no purchase whatsoever for the person to engage with the criticism, other than to painfully establish through first principles their entire point again), but terribly damaging to our ability to develop standards for peer review.  As it stands, there isn't enough formal criticism of scholarly digital media and yet, simultaneously, there is this and other casual critical remarks that seem fit only to establish an informal hierarchy among the nascent community of experts.

I grant that my exposure to this and the variations of this situation may be a bad sample, and that perhaps it has only happened a dozen times and I had the dumb luck of being around to see it/read it, but I have a feeling it's more pervasive, given that this is a field occupied by people in unaccustomed theoretical and technical surroundings, who are putting forth honest effort trying to blaze new paths and, thus, are eminently likely to step a bit beyond their expertise.

 

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