Blog Post

Is the global possible in DH?

I'm currently enrolled in a course called "Doing Digital Humanities" where we're learning about the field and practicing with the tools associated with it.  Our major project is an exciting venture where we will be creating a platform to showcase DH projects from around the world: 80 projects will be selected, and 1 project per day will be posted with a short blurb describing it.  I think this will be really useful and meaningful to the field, but I do have some broader questions that I've been thinking about.  

My first pause comes from anytime someone uses the thought of “global” when dealing with language-based practices (e.g. a site that provides “blurbs” about DH projects).  Assuming English as the lingua franca obviously has its benefits and makes sense, but how will we negotiate non-native English prose on our site?  Will we just leave everything up to Google Translate, or will we be explicit about the varied use of languages (and “types of Englishes” used around the world)?  I’m drawn to the idea of reading “through” another language—say clicking through a Japanese or Russian blurb—in order to get to a translated version on the blurb.  I’m not exactly sure how to say this, but there’s something about honoring native languages by at least acknowledging them before defaulting to English.  

To me, DH projects as a global enterprise is very exciting, but it could perpetuate the “currency” that English has—I guess this could be seen in positive or negative ways, but there is a sense of elitism and power that comes with the English language due to globalization, neoliberalism, etc.  Are these concerns of the DH field?  Or is it really like an “anything goes/you’re all invited in” type of field that it seems to claim on the outside?

Related to these ideas is that of translation: if we come across a project from Argentina, I assume the blurb will be translated from Spanish by someone from the original project.  Do we edit these translations to meet a standard of English?  Do we leave them as is?  Do we come up with a list of certain “mistakes” that are ok to edit?  You’d probably guess that I’d lean towards the idea that language is dynamic and constantly shifting, and we should “honor” how different parts of the world use English… but, then again, as a professional site dedicated to showcasing DH projects, maybe we value things like grammar and academic standards of English? 

My last pause has to do with access.  The word “inclusiveness” was used to describe this project.  As we're starting with a pool of 3-400 projects, I’m very curious about where they will come from, and, also importantly, where they will not come from.  There are scholars in the world that struggle with access to paper, let alone an internet connection (see A. Suresh Canagarajah’s A Geopolitics of Academic Writing).  Am I wrong to say that there is something fundamentally “privileged” about DH?  That maybe the global isn’t possible in DH?  That the global isn’t possible in DH… yet? 

So I fully admit that I am new to the field of Digital Humanities, but I've been lurking around it for about 4 months now.  My HASTAC experience has actually been overwhelming because it's so easy to get caught up in reading blog posts and discussions that I run out of time to even start working on something of my own.  Since I'm only taking one course this semester, I feel much more inclined to spend the time on this website and make the most out of my time here by stalking you all more--especially those in Rhetoric and Composition!  


1 comment

Hi Kristi,

Thanks for the great post. You raise a number of important, and often overlooked, questions. One thing I would add to the issues of translation and access is that most of the software developed use Roman language characters. From my studies in Arabic, it's only in the last few years that things like domain names can even use Arabic characters.  While you're right to question the truly global nature of DH, perhaps a crucial step towards making technologies more 'inclusive' is not only spreading infrastructure but opening up the possibility for non-roman character based software (something that goes far beyond my very basic knowledge of html).