A Critique of the Digital Humanities Movement

This essay starts with the title “Stop Calling it Digital Humanities,” a response to the fact that Liberal Arts colleges feel left out of the conversation (and have much to add).  I see his point, but I don’t agree.  Sure, other Liberal Arts disciplines can engage in important digital projects, but what makes these projects significant is the ways they’re applied to the Humanities.  I don’t think DH has to build a tent for all comers–a better solution would be for disciplines should create and brand their own digital movements.   DH works for the Humanities–no need to destroy something that functions well.

Reblogged from the Chronicle of Higher Education

A persistent criticism of the digital-humanities movement is that it is elitist and exclusive because it requires the resources of a major university (faculty, infrastructure, money), and is thus more suited to campuses with a research focus. Academics and administrators at small liberal-arts colleges may read about DH and, however exciting it sounds, decide that it ill suits their teaching mission.

In fact, teaching-focused colleges have significant advantages over research universities in pursuing the digital humanities.

With shallower administrative hierarchies and less institutional inertia, liberal-arts colleges can innovate relatively rapidly and at lower cost. They usually have more collegiality across disciplines and divisions, and between faculty and staff members. It’s easier to build coalitions and to organize project teams at small colleges.

Because of their teaching focus, they have lighter expectations for faculty research: Faculty members are more likely to be able to experiment with projects that may not lead to traditional scholarly publications. Some liberal-arts colleges even have a culture of faculty-student collaborative research, which translates perfectly into the project-building methods of the digital humanities. And the great variety of missions among liberal-arts colleges allows each of them to develop projects serving communities that might otherwise be neglected. All in all, participating in DH is not more difficult at liberal-arts colleges than at research universities; it simply presents a different set of challenges and opportunities.

Since 2008 I’ve been part of an effort, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to build a DH program at a liberal-arts college in the Midwest, and have found all of the advantages I’ve just mentioned to be real. While I would not say that our situation is applicable to every college in our sector, I’d like to offer some casual suggestions for program building in this emerging field.

Stop calling it “digital humanities.” Or worse, “DH,” with a knowing air. The backlash against the field has already arrived. The DH’ers have always known that their work is interdisciplinary (or metadisciplinary), but many academics who are not humanists think they’re excluded from it.

As an umbrella term for many kinds of technologically enhanced scholarly work, DH has built up a lot of brand visibility, especially at research universities. But in the context in which I work, it seems more inclusive to call it digital liberal arts (DLA) with the assumption that we’ll lose the “digital” within a few years, once practices that seem innovative today become the ordinary methods of scholarship.

Read the rest of this article here.


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