Week 1: Recommended Reading Discussion
  • If you have thoughts on the recommended readings for Week 1, please post them here.
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  • I guess I want to address a number of the questions asked by exploring another question: What "counts" in/as Digital Humanities? 

    I think this is an important question to interrogate as we explore these questions because more than anything, as we work our way through the academy, but also the DH community, this answer will inevitably shape how we behave, what we choose to study, and how we choose to study it. 

    I was struck when reading one of the latest "intro" books, Digital_Humanities (PDF), how the authors claim the utopian view of DH as being "a modality of radically opening discourse to participation for everyone" (and it takes them until page 94 to get there), but then also talks about how merely "using" DH tools is not enough to count as "doing" DH (122); one must built to do DH. How, then, can these two sentiments exist together? How can DH at once be radically inclusive and yet exclude anyone who can't "build". And what is building? Tools? Archives? Resources?  

    (I talk about this here on my blog)

    My instinct is that DH as a discipline is moving quickly, leaving many people behind (which I think is, in itself, a cultural criticism). What was perhaps 10 years ago acceptable in DH (or counted) is now considered passé; the discipline has already moved on to the next thing. But of course, that leaves behind the scholars who are just starting in DH, but also the materials that have yet to be digitized or made accessible to more robust or advanced techno-readings/emulations/interactions. 

    Will Alan Liu's call for more locally-based, small-scale DH happen? I'm not sure because I think it depends if it will eventually "count" either by academia or by DH at large. I work at a regional, rural, State institution. We don't have any money (or time) to develop tools, much less implement them, but I can see potential projects everywhere: local oral history and folktales, folkart, local history and geography, mapping the quilt patterns (seriously a big deal here), etc, etc, etc. There is the "cultural" expertise both within and outside of the university, and our center for regional engagement ensures that we work with our communities. But it is quite analogue. If we were to do digital projects inspired by the analogue resources we had, we would be using and borrowing tools that already exist. That would "exclude" us from the definition provided, but also probably not count towards tenure here as the existing definitions are pretty traditional. 

    I'm going to leave it at that for now. I have a lot more to say, but I want to see where this conversation heads. 
  • Lee, I think this ties in well to one of the questions that I raised about institutional affiliations in Alan's article. In part, my query about the relationship between institutional affiliations and advocacy for mainstream humanities is a slightly skeptical one because certain institutions, geographical regions, elite names have cultural capital AND economic and human labor resources that other institutions don't. Case in point, if my state university put out a report about the value of the humanities, it wouldn't be making the rounds like the Harvard report. 

    Your question also ties in to Alan's points about instrumentalism in DH - both the fear of too much instrumentalism and the Stephen Ramsay-style argument that bespeaks an anxiety about the lack of instrumentalism in DH. Alan is correct in identifying the relationship between these fears and anxieties and those in the humanities writ large. It seems to me his answer to "what counts?" is implied in the essay - that DH's broader mission (creating and using tools AND theorizing - developing the intellectual infrastructure) all needs to "count." 

    I must admit, I'm resistant to the "what counts" question because it seems like the policing of DH is a common response that tries to evade the cultural criticism/cultural studies question. Just see our open thread: http://dhpoco.org/blog/2013/05/10/open-thread-the-digital-humanities-as-a-historical-refuge-from-raceclassgendersexualitydisability/. I know that's not what you're doing (obviously!) but it's a complete quagmire - and so typically academic. 

    But it makes me think, for example, of every theoretical postcolonial text that first has to go through the "What do I mean by 'postcolonial'?" section before proceeding. It seems to me that any emerging or changing field necessarily has to address these questions - and to foreground them in the literature. This may be overly optimistic but it seems to me that instead of debating "what counts?" we might be better served by making the work we do count - staking the ground within DH to identify the places where our work fits and extends the mission of DH. 

    Nonetheless, I am sympathetic to your comments because it wasn't too long ago that I wasn't sure whether it was okay to call myself a DH-er because of the "what counts?" debates. I said as much on Twitter, and the response was to just claim it. So I did, and the world hasn't stopped turning and the wrath of DH has not fallen on my head. Maybe that's what needs to happen with our work too.
  • Lee and Roopsi, I think your points raise a thorny issue that is at the heart of these debates. A lot of the projects that Lee refers to may not "count" because they are not technically innovative. IOW, right now, "mere" digitization isn't technically innovative enough to merit much DH funding (see for example the NEH ODH guidelines on what they'd fund). 

    This viewpoint on what "deserves" DH funding is an interesting one. *Does* something that is technically innovative deserve funding over, say, a digitization effort that has a more traditionally humanistic outlook (for example, a project on the digitization of minority literatures in the US that does not do much more outside of digitize these texts)? In thinking through this, I'm reminded of Alan's critique that: 

    "It is as if, when the order comes down from the funding agencies, university administrations, and other bodies mediating today’s dominant socioeconomic and political beliefs, digital humanists just concentrate on pushing the “execute” button on projects that amass the most data for the greatest number, process that data most efficiently and flexibly (flexible efficiency being the hallmark of postindustrialism), and manage the whole through ever “smarter” standards, protocols, schema, templates, and databases uplifting Frederick Winslow Taylor’s original scientific industrialism into ultraflexible postindustrial content management systems camouflaged as digital editions, libraries, and archives—all without pausing to reflect on the relation of the whole digital juggernaut to the new world order."

    Alan's critique is saying to me that when we fund pure innovation without attention to larger humanities concerns, we may be falling into an important techno-myth of salvation: that just moving onwards towards "progress" without thinking through its cultural ramnifications--how culture is both changed by and changes technology--is one way in which we're falling once again into the trap of making the humanities the "handmaiden" to the rest of the humanities. Or, in a more extreme sense, we run risk of neglecting the "humanities" side of the digital humanities.

  • And it becomes a vicious cycle of the rich getting richer. 

    I think I want to come back to Roopika's question: What does a postcolonial DH mean? And, should we be asking the question in another way: how do we de-colonize DH? 

    There are lots of ways to think about postcolonial studies, but in the face of technological neo-colonialism, what does a postcolonial or de-colonized DH look like/imply/mean? 

    To refer to Enesto's great post, there is something to be said about asking, can the sub-altern tweet? Should we embrace English as the de-facto language of DH (I lean towards no, but that's my bias)? I saw a tweet the other day about the digital divide being about not using twitter "properly" but this to me even stinks of paternalistic attitudes towards digital tools, like there is one way to use them "correctly" and there are winners and losers therein. 

    Or, as Adeline put it, we keep neglecting the humanities side of DH. 
  • As someone who moved from a tenure track position in the US to an ivy league in India, I will answer the second part of your comment: English cannot be the de-facto language of DH, if it does become that, it will alienate potential DH scholars from many Postcolonial languages. It will in effect repeat the mistake postcolonial studies as a discipline had made and is only now rectifying in small measure.

    Now, to the question of "what can a POCO DH look like?" I think ReadyWriting's first post is very relevant. We have to include ways of engaging with DH that may seem outdated for the pioneers n the field. It is equally important to develop more innovative projects that are multilingual. I am trying to do that here in my univ, still a work in progress so cannot discuss much in terms of details.

    N
  • @Nim, I agree that we can't accept English as a de-facto language. That is why the work of groups like Global Outlook::Digital Humanities (http://www.globaloutlookdh.org/) is so important. I do think you're right that reliance on English alone will alienate groups of scholars and also worry that it replicates colonial dynamics of which English language and literature have played a part. 

    Lately, I have heard more about scholars working on grants for multilingual projects, but much of what I am hearing is in the early stages (working on grant proposals to get started). I hope that in a few years, we will have new projects to discuss. 

    This question of pioneers and innovation is an important one and it relates back to Alan's article as well. There's something about pioneers and innovation that seem to imply that progress is related to technological/tool development. Yet, Alan seems to be suggesting that there is room within DH for intellectual pioneers and intellectual innovation. To me, multilingual projects fit very well into the latter form of pioneering/innovation. 
  • I realize that the discussion has turned a bit, but I wanted to respond to adelinekoh's comment about funding for "mere" digitization projects.  Yes, it's correct that the NEH's Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants do not fund "projects that mainly involve digitization, unless the applicant is proposing an innovative method for digitization", but later in that same section of the guidelines, we note, 

    "Applicants seeking to build or digitize collections, create general-use archives, or develop reference resources like dictionaries and encyclopedias should consider the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR) program. Applicants in the planning stages of their projects should especially consider the HCRR Foundations subset of this grant category."  

    So, NEH's ODH doesn't support digitization projects because another grant program in the NEH's Division of Preservation and Access does.  We (I'm a member of the NEH's Office of Digital Humanities staff) try to complement and not duplicate existing NEH grant programs as we consider how to shape our grant offerings. We try very hard to listen to field, through discussions such as these ones taking place during #dhpoco Summer School and elsewhere, to understand how our grant programs can best respond to the diverse needs of digital humanities practitioners (a large universe).  

    I would argue that many, many digital humanities projects are funded throughout the NEH and to only count those funded by the ODH as DH is a disservice to those funded projects.  For example, in this funded of recently funded projects in the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources category, you see a wide range of digitization efforts.  

    The Collaborative Research Program of the NEH's Division of Research Program also supports DH projects and I hope those scholarly efforts would count too. For example, in this list of recent Collaborative Research awards, you'll see the Archive of Haitian Religion and Culture project from Benjamin Hebblethwaite (Univ of Florida) and Laurent Marc Dubois (Duke Univ).  The project is included in the Digital Library of Caribbean that is discussed elsewhere in these forums. 

    My point is that DH scholarly projects have a number of different avenues for NEH funding and those seeking support shouldn't just limit themselves to the grant programs offered by the Office of Digital Humanities, as flexible and wide-ranging as they are. We also work with other US funding agencies as well as our fellow funding agencies outside of the United States. So we might be able to suggest sources of support in addition to NEH grant programs. ODH staff members would be pleased to discuss various opportunities with you.  It's our job.

  • This is really helpful, Jen, and thank you for weighing in here. What I wonder though, is how the NEH ODH decides what constitutes a "DH" project. Although I very much agree that these other projects should count as DH projects, it may appear to a more general audience that they may not be "cutting-edge" DH as they are not being funded out of the ODH. 

    For example, in the example you cite above, the ODH does not fund "projects that mainly involve digitization, unless the applicant is proposing an innovative method for digitization," because it does not want to duplicate existing resources available at other branches of the NEH--a very fair point.
    But, again, what seems to be prized is "an innovative method for digitization"--implying that new methods/tools are prized as true "DH" work--which brings us back to the "building" and DH controversy that we're all familiar with. Will someone who is hired into a "DH" TT position get imaginary points taken off for doing digital work which is funded by other NEH offices, because these are not perceived to be the cutting-edge arbiters of what "DH" means?

    This will change, of course, quickly, once the "digital" part of DH becomes redundant--when all forms of the humanities have to engage with the digital (some argue this is already happening). But for current purposes, particularly in relation to hiring, promotion and tenure, I wonder if you and others feel that the ODH does connote a marker of DH prestige that other branches might not have, and how we can best mitigate this. How can can make clear to those on assessment committees that although not funded by the ODH, these projects do indeed make important contributions to DH? Do "innovative method[s] for digitization" fall under what Steve Ramsay has called DH One, and digitization and preservation fall under DH Two

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