Defining DH*

This semester, I have the privilege of taking Rhetoric, Composition and Digital Humanities with Collin G. Brooke. We’re beginning class with defining DH, drawing from the following texts:

Matthew Berry, “Introduction” Understanding Digital Humanities (PDF)
Anne Burdick, et al., “A Short Guide to the Digital Humanities,” from Digital_Humanities (PDF)
Alan Liu, “The Meaning of Digital Humanities,” PMLA 128.2 (March 2013): 409–423.
(Alex Reid discussing Liu in “Digital Nonhumanities“)
Willard McCarty, “The Future of Digital Humanities is a Matter of Words.” from A Companion to New Media Dynamics (PDF)
Part I of Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Defining the Digital Humanities” (available online)
Staci Stutsman, “Digital Humanities vs New Media: A Matter of Pedagogy
Part III of Debates in the Digital Humanities, “Critiquing the Digital Humanities”

Planting My Feet, or At Least Putting a Toe in a Direction

I began with Staci Stutsman, a doctoral student at SU studying film, new media, and popular culture, who through collected syllabi, works to look at the differences and similarities between DH and new media. I found this as a fruitful starting place to me as not only a doctoral student, but someone who, if I had any exposure to DH, I felt it would have come from my interests in new media. Stutsman (with the use of data visualization in the form of bar graphs) distinguishes the two (and this is a redux on my part):

DH: primarily hosted in English departments; looks to a small collective of theorists (scholar figure, see: Franco Moretti); defines itself through its methods; and works through distant reading and visualization approaches

new media: spread across departments (from Journalism to Education); casts its net further in terms of scholarly influence (scholar figure, see: Henry Jenkins); defines itself through its theory; and works through cultural studies approaches

The two, however, are compatible with overlapping interest areas. I was left with the impression that new media could develop through more tool based approaches, while DH could turn outward to other disciplines for topic content.

What is the Stuff of DH?

From my limited knowledge, I tend to think of DH as method focused—a way of doing that makes visible a question or pattern instead of starting from a point of inquiry. What is considered of significance to study closely (or distantly) I don’t feel can be answered, but Matthew Berry’s introduction, which works to understand DH through a computational turn that is still considerate of the human(ities), along with William McCarty’s careful exploration of future trajectory of DH as resonance (a metaphor that isn’t overly deterministic) made visible the complexity in the balance of who as the what—the delicate conversations about the (im)balance of human and nonhuman in DH work. When Berry poses the question of “what is human about computational sciences?” (patterns in data still require narrative to be understood – usable computation), I asked back, what is nonhuman about the humanities?

Digital (Non)Humanities

Reading Alan Liu along with Alex Reid helped articulate a space that I have neither the history nor the vocabulary to explain fully—what existed as a hesitation to label myself as a member of digital humanities because of the weight that humanities carries/d. Liu works to reveal the humanities core at digital humanities research as the “residual yearnings for spirit, humanity, and self—or, as we now say, identity and subjectivity.”; a sort of humanities 2.0 with slick new tools. Reid argues that DH might not only be troubling the tension that has existed between human and nonhuman (man and machine) but a new ontology abolishes the divide between humans and nonhumans as ontologically and epistemologically separate— “Regardless of whether one is convinced by such are argument about literary history, it is evidence that the controversy the digital humanities presents lies not in its assertion of the ontological divide between humans and nonhumans, or more precisely in its preference for the measurement of machines over the interpretation of humans, but rather in its erasure of that divide.”

I wonder if the what of DH is also the who and the how; and if DH has subdisciplines or factions as do other spaces in the field.

*I cannot define DH. I find myself still questioning the boundaries to discipline, field, method, theory.


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