Week 2: Question 3: Overspecialization
  • McPherson critiques the “overspecialization” of the university. Has this overspecialization begun to affect the digital humanities?
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  • I was struck by a sentence towards the end of the piece (and picked up in a way in the comments of the piece by Jean Bauer):

    We need new practices and new modes of collaboration; we need to be literate in emerging scientific and technological methodologies but also in theories of race, globalization, and gender. We’ll gain that literacy at least partially through an intellectual generosity or curiosity toward colleagues whose practices are not our own.

    I think one of the elements that has emerged because of the falling levels of funding, as well as the general competitiveness, is that we have lost that "intellectual generosity or curiosity" towards those who do not practice what we do (and that goes to both sides of the board). I think we call it overspecialization, but I think it represents a real unwillingness to talk to one another (rather than over, around, or through). And how do we decide what is important in the realm of overspecialization? I know this week's conversation is about race, but I always like to think about language as well; I always found it odd the people who "did" French theory but couldn't read French, and were thus relying on other people's translations (not to mention what was available in English versus what wasn't). And showed absolutely no interest in learning the language either.

    However, it goes also remind of one of those Xtranormal cartoons about a PhD student in Philosophy who wants to just get her dissertation done, but is now being required to learn German in order to be able to read EVERYTHING. On the one hand, I get where some people in DH are coming from when they say, you can't code (knowing the, or at least one, language) then you can't claim to be "doing" DH. On the other hand, at a certain point, there is only so much we can know and learn within a given time-frame. 

    And even talking about race can be linguistically challenging. My background in French and being educated in Canada (Quebec, specifically) has immersed me in theories of "negritude" and "creolisation" which aren't as dominant within the American (heck, even in the English-Canadian) setting. Coming back to the original quote about curiosity and being generous, we could all stand to be a little more of both, as academics more generally, but in particular when it comes to those of us who are coming to DH late; we come with our own set of skills, which are not the same as yours. 

    Which, isn't that the point? 

  • @ReadyWriting, thank you for your post. Great to know that you disccuss creolisation"
    and "negritude". My life here in France make think about that when I
    was reading this text. I think that authors like Jean Benoist with his
    article "La SpellCheckPlus.com vérifie les textes en anglais. Si vous cherchez un correcteur pour les textes en français, essayez www.BonPatron.com">créolisation : locale ou mondiale ?" or "La SpellCheckPlus.com vérifie les textes en anglais. Si vous cherchez un correcteur pour les textes en français, essayez www.BonPatron.com">créolisation selon Saint-John per se (which means “by itself”).">Perse" wrote by André Claverie give us, as you said a new point of view, a new vision, and of course,point the "language" as a very important instrument for understanding these "racial" théories...I think that this texte makes us think about that, about the H and the D of DH more specifically as a two symbolic letters (as Roland Barthes will say)....
  • I'm going to raise a different kind of overspecialization..... is #dhpoco an example of overspecialization? By bringing in the term "postcolonial," which has its own history, lexicon, set of concerns, are we overspecializing DH?  Are we succumbing to what McPherson identifies as the "logics of modularity" within the academy? I want to say, "Of course it's not." After all, @adelinekoh and I, along with others who share our interests, are deeply invested in communicating ideas in forms of language (and languages) that don't alienate people who aren't conversant in postcolonial studies proper. As our comrade @elotroalex put it, there's an element of "guerilla DH" to what we're doing - an interest in liberating DH from those very logics of modularity. To me, the term "postcolonial digital humanities" isn't intended to create a DH subgenre so much as it's to provide a bridge between the political concerns of postcolonial studies (globalization, imperialism, migrancy, colonial histories, language, diaspora, etc.) insofar as they are relevant to DH (and they are very relevant to DH!). Yet, unlike a group like #transformDH, we've chosen to use a very specific humanities sub-field name, which may seem like (thinking of last week) an instrumental move. I tend to think of #dhpoco as a shorthand for those political concerns above, but in light of the question that @nayradebordeaux raised about overspecialization, it's worth interrogating ourselves and our own motives in relation to DH.   
  • @roopikarisam funny you should ask that because finding out about the #dhpoco comic strip, all I could think about was how this initiative would help revive postcolonial studies, an area of specialization which I love and in which I am trained, but which my grad students had come to view as somehow "done." Your question made me reflect on McPherson's observation that most American Studies scholars are either deeply suspicious of DH or are ambivalent about its potential to enhance the kind of cultural and political critique they already do. I would add poco scholars to that mix and for similar reasons: they are equally suspicious about how DH might duplicate rather than challenge historical power imbalances, continue exploitation of labor and intellectual property, and/or perpetuate silence through intimidation (I guess because of the seemingly high barrier to entry). Like @ReadyWriting, I think creolisation and negritude are apt concepts to import into this discussion because both are useful strategies for functioning within a network of uneven distribution of knowledge--whether we forge alliances based on shared identities as members of this or the other academic sub specialty (academia standing in for the African motherland in this example), or else novices, pedagogues, and hackers all try to learn for one another as we stake our individual claims on the DH territory, the point is that the undertaking you and @adelinekoh began with this summer school is open, communal and transparent, so it can't really be accused of being too narrow.
  • I see things from the almost exact opposite of overspecialization.   I see Dh as push into meta generalization with all of us meant to have all skills. As Liana mentions the whole idea that there is hack v yack divide implicit is that we should all hack & yack!  I think the best collaborations harnass specialized skills of all participants, like my fab one with Heather Froehlich.  I don't need to be a linguist, and she doesn't need to be a historian.  We each bring our specialties to the joint endeavors
  • I appreciate rrisam's sentiments: "To me, the term "postcolonial digital humanities" isn't intended to
    create a DH subgenre so much as it's to provide a bridge between the
    political concerns of postcolonial studies (globalization, imperialism,
    migrancy, colonial histories, language, diaspora, etc.) insofar as they
    are relevant to DH (and they are very relevant to DH!)." and professmoravec's "I see things from the almost exact opposite of overspecialization.   I
    see Dh as push into meta generalization with all of us meant to have all

    I see both dh and dhpoco as bridge building between communities across disciplines, broadening the possibilities for collaborations and conversations. I am often concerned with 'overspecialization' in the academy, but dh can empower us to work in teams, across disciplines, and develop new ways of working, new ways of thinking, and new types of scholarly communication. My hope is that we can push the 'system' to reward these types of collaborations and types of projects to help us achieve new ways of knowing/working.
  • I wonder if the emphasis on "yacking" versus "hacking" is an example of that overspecialization, the focus on creating things (or on there being one way of doing DH). And that brings me to @readywriting's comment above about being generous and curious: does overspecialization not allow for that curiosity to bloom? I don't think so, at least not in novices. (I'm also coming to this question from the angle of someone who's learning about digital humanities after leaving grad school, so a lot of what i'm learning about DH is on the fly, bits and pieces from conversations and articles and blog posts.)
  • @rrisam...I asked this question beacause for us in this "French-speaking" world, we will like not to get into "another" overspecialization (we have enougth problems with the . We wants to create the real sens of DH that is to combine the methodologies, the theories, the uses and the reflexions from humanities and social disciplines. That's why your anwswers will give us a great point of view of "your" own "overspecialization" if there is one. I think DH are creating a new "paradigm" that we should go futher...this article is showing us this "paradigm"...

  • @vivianhalloran I think #dhpoco aims to offer critiques to address the very suspicions you mention about DH. We perceived a gap in those critical concerns and figured that would be a place where we could bring our training in postcolonial studies to conversations in DH. It's interesting to hear your students feel like poco is "done," since there's still so much interesting, innovative work to be done - and being done. Here is where it seems the genealogies of postcolonial studies (in the Bhabha vein) might be working against it. When we position figures like Bhabha at the center of what postcolonial studies is, I very much feel like it's dated or that it overly relies on poststructuralism. But if we consider alternate genealogies of postcolonial studies (taking it back to Fanon, Cesaire, Memmi - or as my current project is doing, W.E.B. Du Bois), we can foreground important work that's deeply concerned with materialist histories - work that is far from "done."
  • This is a great discussion, and makes me think of another way that DH can reinscribe institutional modularities. Until very recently, DH was largely considered the domain of the R1 university since the projects were so large and so resource-intensive. But as many of us in this group demonstrate, DH is happening at all sizes and types of schools. In fact, I'd argue that SLACs offer an important antidote to the overspecialization question. I cannot be overspecialized in my teaching, since my department is so small. In addition, my school requires that students take interdisciplinary team taught courses, which means that I regularly co-teach with colleagues in various disciplines, from psychology to art to math. Now I realize that the small size and resource poverty of my institution promote work across disciplines in ways I'd never experience at large universities where I wouldn't even know colleagues in other departments or divisions.
  • Profren, funny you should mention this--I just posted an open thread on Profhacker today on what DH outside the research university should look like. http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/open-thread-dh-outside-of-the-research-university/50919
  • Hah! Fantastic post on Profhacker, @adelinekoh. Thanks for initiating this--and so many--good conversations. I'll definitely be signing your Google doc.
  • @vivanhalloran @roopikarisam I have noticed a similar trend with my students whenever we talk about women's studies. One possible reason is overspecialization: since women's studies, ethnic studies, queer studies are all separate areas of study, they often don't receive as much critical attention. As a result, many students may sweep these issues under the rug, thinking that they aren't central (because they do not hold a central place in academia).

    I am not necessarily advocating that we move these fields to the center since that would negate the marginalization upon which we are founded, but I do think there needs to be stronger bloodlines between gender/ethnic/postcolonial studies and the rest of the humanities. DH is one possible way  to address this issue, but only if our research and theory is grounded in something that is not, as Cecire puts it, raceless/genderless/sexless. That is why I have such an appreciated of dhpoco.This is one significant way to address the issues of overspecialization.

    I also really like @profrehn's comment about SLACs. While I am currently finishing my PhD at a private R1, it is very likely that I will end up teaching at a private institution. I think by integrating the DH into these schools, there will, by necessity, be cross over between the DH and other fields of study because faculty are expected to serve many different functions. I also think that SLACs, at times, are more supportive of the humanities, so they could help to foster growth in the "H" of DH.

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