Discourse in the Digital Humanities


In the popular print and online journal The Chronicle of Higher Education, Kathleen Fitzpatrick describes 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...ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies" (click). That was 2010. The scope of Digital Humanities has changed dramatically since then and lively discussion about Digital Humanities' viability, goals, and place amidst the current academic and curricular landscape continue in earnest in numerous print publications as well as across the blogosphere and twitterverse, as #dhdebates will attest.

This space is intended to present some of the ongoing issues under discussion with the hopes of expanding to a more interactive interface in the near future.


To digital or not to digital? That is the False Dichotomy.

A recent Los Angeles Times Book Review editorial by Stephen Marche titled Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities has, quite naturally, piqued the interest of Digital Humanists. Ernesto Priego has offered a thoughtful rebuttal in My Discipline is Bigger than Yours: Digital Humanities and the Conflict of the Faculties. As Priego says, it is encumbant upon "those of us engaged in digital humanities communities to work harder at communicating better and more widely what it is that the digital humanities do." This may be the only way in which we can begin to alleviate the misplaced belief that the underlying motivation of digital humanities is to supplant or replace traditional scholarship.

Digital Scholarship in an Academic Career

The place of digital scholarship in academic promotion and tenure is one of the most significant issues facing digital humanists. Digital Humanities scholars can find it challenging to describe effectively and receive appropriate academic credit for projects containing technical components that may be well outside the area of expertise of even the most eminent of scholars in one's field. It has been more than a decade since the MLA first released its Guidelines for Evaluating Work with Digital Media and Guidelines for Institutional Support of and Access to IT for Faculty Members and Students. In 2007, the MLA released its report on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion. Still, the humanities are struggling with how to consider digital projects and their inherent technical, typically pan-disciplinary and often intensely and broadly collaborative aspects as well as the best ways to provide access to and support for the ever-increasing number of tools available.

Recently, Profession—an MLA publication that "carries articles that focus on the fields of modern languages and literatures as a profession" (mla.org), released a series of articles solicited in order to "contribute to this continuing dialogue about recognizing and appropriately rewarding new types of scholarly investigation and communication made possible by digital media" (Professions, 2011). Links to the individual works follow.

Introduction Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen
On the Evaluation of Digital Scholarship Geoffrey Rockwell
Engaging Digital Scholarship:
 Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship
Steve Anderson and Tara McPherson
Where Credit is Due: Preconditions for
 the Evaluation of Collaborative Digital Scholarship
Bethany Nowviskie
On Creating a Usable Future Jerome McGann
Peer Review, Judgement, and Reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Matthew K. Gold recently continued to prod this issue at the 2012 MLA convention as part of the Debates in the Digital Humanities panel and followed up in his blog titled Whose Revolution? Towards a More Equitable Digital Humanities. The ideas have been carried even further by Adeline Koh in her ProfHacker piece titled The Challenges of Digital Scholarship. Clearly, this issue continues to be at the forefront in the minds of academicians in the humanities.


A Modest Proposal

Bethany Nowviskie raised some eyebrows with her recent blog post discussing "creating a generation of knowledge workers prepared not only to teach, research, and communicate in 21st-century modes, but to govern 21st-century institutions." The discussion starts here and continues in Shawn Moore's blog on HASTAC.


DH in the Popular Press

Digital Humanities has been an increasingly visible presence in the popular press. The New York Times has offered a number of pieces on various DH projects. Recently, noted scholar Stanley Fish offered the NYT Opinionator his view on DH in a hotly debated trilogy first here, then here and finally here. As one might imagine, this sparked quite a bit of discussion, including a piece on Openness and Trust by Lee Bassette, an analysis of the Areopagitica's "veritable orgy of consonance and alliteration" suggested by Fish, and a more recent piece by Northwestern University's Martin Mueller found here.