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Debates in the Digital Humanities

Debates in the Digital Humanities

Matthew K. Gold EDITOR
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 532
Stable URL:
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  • Book Info
    Debates in the Digital Humanities
    Book Description:

    Debates in the Digital Humanities brings together leading figures in the field to explore its theories, methods, and practices and to clarify its multiple possibilities and tensions. Together, the essays—which will be published later as an ongoing, open-access website—suggest that the digital humanities is uniquely positioned to contribute to the revival of the humanities and academic life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8144-0
    Subjects: Education
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction The Digital Humanities Moment (pp. ix-xvi)

    Recent coverage of the digital humanities (DH) in popular publications such as theNew York Times,Nature, theBoston Globe, theChronicle of Higher Education, andInside Higher Edhas confirmed that the digital humanities is not just “the next big thing,” as theChronicleclaimed in 2009, but simply “the Thing,” as the same publication noted in 2011 (Pannapacker). At a time when many academic institutions are facing austerity budgets, department closings, and staffing shortages, the digital humanities experienced a banner year that saw cluster hires at multiple universities, the establishment of new digital humanities centers and initiatives across...

  4. PART I Defining the Digital Humanities
    • Chapter 1 What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments? (pp. 3-11)

      What is (or are) the “digital humanities” (DH), also known as “humanities computing”? It’s tempting to say that whoever asks the question has not gone looking very hard for an answer. “What is digital humanities?” essays like this one are already genre pieces. Willard McCarty has been contributing papers on the subject for years (a monograph, too). Under the earlier appellation, John Unsworth has advised us on “What Is Humanities Computing and What Is Not.” Most recently Patrik Svensson has been publishing a series of well-documented articles on multiple aspects of the topic, including the lexical shift from humanities computing...

    • Chapter 2 The Humanities, Done Digitally (pp. 12-15)

      A few months back, I gave a lunchtime talk called “Digital Humanities: Singular or Plural?” My title was in part a weak joke driven primarily by brain exhaustion. As I sat at the computer putting together my remarks, which were intended to introduce the field, I’d initially decided to title them “What Is Digital Humanities?” But then I thought “What Is the Digital Humanities?” sounded better, and I stared at the screen for a minute trying to decide if it should be “What Are the Digital Humanities?” In my precoffee, underslept haze, I honestly couldn’t tell which one was correct....

    • Chapter 3 “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities (pp. 16-35)

      Even as the digital humanities (DH) is being hailed as the “next big thing,” members of the DH community have been debating what counts as digital humanities and what does not, who is in and who is out, and whether DH is about making or theorizing, computation or communication, practice or politics. Soon after William Pannapacker declared the arrival of digital humanities at the Modern Languages Association (MLA) conference in 2009 (Pannapacker, “The MLA and the Digital Humanities”), David Parry wrote a much-debated blog post insisting that DH should aim to “challenge and change scholarship” rather than “us[e] computers to...

    • Chapter 4 Beyond the Big Tent (pp. 36-72)

      “Big Tent Digital Humanities” is the theme of the Digital Humanities 2011 conference at Stanford University. It is a well-chosen conference topic given the current, often fairly intense debate about the scope and direction of the digital humanities, one also exemplified by the Modern Language Association (MLA) 2011 panel on “The History and Future of the Digital Humanities” as well as a number of concurrent online discussions. This debate has a disciplinary, historical, and institutional basis and is backdropped by considerable interest in the digital humanities from universities, funding agencies, scholars, and others. Moreover, there is a basic tension between...

  5. PART II Theorizing the Digital Humanities
    • Chapter 5 Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities (pp. 75-84)

      Leave any forum on digital humanities sufficiently open, and those gathered will inevitably—and almost immediately—turn to issues surrounding credit for digital work.

      It can sometimes be difficult to determine precisely what “digital work” means in the humanities, and the context in which that term is being applied can differ between scholarly but nonprofessorial positions (“alternate academic,” as it is sometimes called) and the normative concerns of tenure and promotion. Yet despite this, it is clear that the object of anxiety is becoming more focused as time goes by. There might have been a time when study of “the...

    • Chapter 6 Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship (pp. 85-95)

      Digital humanists have seen themselves within the longer tradition of the humanities, suggesting that the main value of their work resides in the creation, migration, or preservation of cultural materials (McGann). Using new platforms and networked environments, humanists entering the digital arena learned a great deal from the encounter. Expressed succinctly, the tasks of creating metadata, doing markup, and making classification schemes or information architectures forced humanists to make explicit many assumptions often left implicit in our work. Humanities content met digital methods and created projects in which the terms of production were, necessarily, set by technological restraints. (The forms...

    • Chapter 7 This Digital Humanities Which Is Not One (pp. 96-112)

      I offer these three quotations in order to frame a set of problems; and, to be clear, the authors of these three synecdochal snippets do not share much in common beyond a particular advocacy for what is now ubiquitously termedthedigital humanities.¹

      The first citation, taken from an informal conversation with a senior colleague who self-defines as a computational humanist within a literary specialization, marks what might be thought of as two mutated legacies reemerging in contemporary digital humanities discourse: first, a tendency to treat cultural objects as enclosed, rational systems that may be fully transcoded computationally and, second,...

    • Chapter 8 A Telescope for the Mind? (pp. 113-136)

      The phrase in my title is Margaret Masterman’s; the question mark is mine. Writing in 1962 for Freeing the Mind, a series in theTimes Literary Supplement,¹ she used the phrase to suggest computing’s potential to transform our conception of the human world just as in the seventeenth century the optical telescope set in motion a fundamental rethink of our relation to the physical one. The question mark denotes my own and others’ anxious interrogation of research in the digital humanities for signs that her vision, or something like it, is being realized or that demonstrable progress has been made....

  6. PART III Critiquing the Digital Humanities
    • Chapter 9 Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation (pp. 139-160)

      In mid-October 2008, the American Studies Association (ASA) hosted its annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to its website, the ASA “is the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Over the past two decades, the ASA conference has emerged as a leading venue for vibrant discussions about race, ethnicity, transnationalism, gender, and sexuality. While the ASA represents scholars with a diverse array of methodological approaches from a variety of disciplines, the society is a welcome home to academics whose work is interpretative and theoretical. During the meeting, I attended a...

    • Chapter 10 Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University (pp. 161-186)

      On June 16, 2009, Professor Cathy Davidson of Duke University posted an entry on the blog for the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) called “Drinking the HASTAC Kool-Aid,” which focused on soliciting applications for a new program coordinator for the organization. In her recruitment effort, she describes HASTAC as a “voluntary network” of scholars whose work reaches beyond academia to expand what the digital humanities could and should be. In doing so, Davidson defines HASTAC’s sphere of influence in moral and ethical terms:

      It’s not only “digital humanities” in the traditional sense (although the impressive and creative...

    • Chapter 11 Unseen and Unremarked On: Don DeLillo and the Failure of the Digital Humanities (pp. 187-201)

      Like Don DeLillo’s professor of latent history, presented only half-mockingly inGreat Jones Street, DeLillo’s third novel—and perhaps his most Pynchonesque, a meditation upon language, celebrity, and paranoia—let us consider the unchronicled and potential events of DeLillo’s own publishing history, the events that remain unseen and unremarked on. Unseen and unremarked on by literary scholars and humanists in general but, more to the point, unseen and unremarked on by the digital humanities.

      That is, what have the digital humanities failed to notice about Don DeLillo? Or, to broaden the question and absolve the humanities of any wrongdoing, in...

    • Chapter 12 Disability, Universal Design, and the Digital Humanities (pp. 202-212)

      Over the last several decades, scholars have developed standards for how best to create, organize, present, and preserve digital information so that future generations of teachers, students, scholars, and librarians may still use it. What has remained neglected for the most part, however, are the needs of people with disabilities. As a result, many of the otherwise most valuable digital resources are useless for people who are—for example—deaf or hard of hearing, as well as for people who are blind, have low vision, or have difficulty distinguishing particular colors. While professionals working in educational technology and commercial web...

    • Chapter 13 The Digital Humanities and Its Users (pp. 213-246)

      In her poignant and piercing intervention, “Eternal September of the Digital Humanities,” Bethany Nowviskie reflects on how “our daily voicing of the practice of digital humanities (and not just on special days—every day) helps to shape and delimit and advance it.” She continues, “That voicing operates wholeheartedly to welcome people and fresh ideas in, if sometimes to press uncomfortably (one intends, salutarily) against the inevitable changes they will bring.” Recently, though, the voices of digital humanities (DH) have been discordant, talking of pioneers and parvenus, makers and tweeters, workers and lurkers. Others—notoriously—have figured themselves as the out-group...

  7. PART IV Practicing the Digital Humanities
    • Chapter 14 Canons, Close Reading, and the Evolution of Method (pp. 249-258)

      I have a point from which to start: canons exist, and we should do something about them. The digital humanities offer a potential solution to this problem, but only if we are willing to reconsider our priorities for digital work in ways that emphasize quantitative methods and the large corpora on which they depend.

      I wouldn’t have thought the first proposition, concerning canons and the need to work around them, was a dicey claim until I was scolded recently by a senior colleague who told me that I was thirty years out of date for making it. The idea being...

    • Chapter 15 Electronic Errata: Digital Publishing, Open Review, and the Futures of Correction (pp. 259-280)

      In writing about mid-nineteenth century newspapers, Walter Benjamin notes the prevalence of the réclame, a paid publisher’s advertisement printed instead as an editorial notice and hidden within the miscellany of the page. For Benjamin, this “corruption of the press” was so widespread as to necessarily inform any “history of information” (28). But Benjamin’s insight can also apply by corrupting the very word “corrupt” to mean something like “error.” As bibliographers and textual critics well know, it is hardly possible to write the history of information without attention to errors, accidents, variants, and changes—the dynamics of corruption and correction that...

    • Chapter 16 The Function of Digital Humanities Centers at the Present Time (pp. 281-291)

      The emergence of the digital humanities as a coherent field was accompanied by and partially a result of the evolution of the Humanities Computing Center as an institution, as could be found in such exemplary early centers in the United States as Princeton and Rutgers’ Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (1991), the University of Virginia’s Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities (1993), and Brown University’s Scholarly Technology Group (1994). They and other earlier centers at such places as Oxford and King’s College London became important laboratories for the application of information technology to the humanities; powerful advocates...

    • Chapter 17 Time, Labor, and “Alternate Careers” in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work (pp. 292-308)

      The quick transition of “#alt-ac” from Twitter hashtag to term of art has been an index of its evident utility: as a rubric for discussing a topic that has long been in need of a name, a terminology, and an agenda. The alternativeness of careers in digital humanities has in fact been a subject of long debate and much concern; many early researchers in what was then termed “humanities computing” were located in liminal and academically precarious institutional spaces such as newly created instructional technology support units and grant-funded research groups. Much energy was devoted—then as now—to discussion...

    • Chapter 18 Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon (pp. 309-332)

      In the 1990s, the rallying cry of proponents of the Internet was the democratization of knowledge made possible by the developing technological infrastructure. Lost or excluded texts began to be published on the net, some developed by scholars, others by fans, and still others by libraries and museums. I remember the possibilities that these materials offered for the literary scholar. I could create a website for students that linked the recovered e-text of Harriet Wilson’sOur Nig, period images of slaves, and the variety of African American cultural and historical documents found on the then-fledgling Schomburg Research Center website. The...

  8. PART V Teaching the Digital Humanities
    • Chapter 19 Digital Humanities and the “Ugly Stepchildren” of American Higher Education (pp. 335-349)

      For the past three decades, the humanities in American public higher education have suffered recurrent crises. In moments of general fiscal austerity, class sizes in the humanities have risen, departments and programs have been threatened or eliminated, and searches for open faculty positions have been abandoned. Even in times of stable budgets, tenure-track positions have remained elusive, and resources available to those scholars doing work in the humanities have been scarce. This context has been so persistent that it has taken on an air of permanence.

      The general implications for instruction and pedagogical innovation in the humanities from this “new...

    • Chapter 20 Graduate Education and the Ethics of the Digital Humanities (pp. 350-367)

      Among the many challenges and opportunities that are emerging from the rapid expansion of, and growing interest in, the digital humanities is the question of how to prepare graduate students for academic careers in the humanities (to say nothing of potential nonacademic or para-academic professional opportunities that might arise in the context of digital humanities). According to a Modern Language Association (MLA) study of 2007 through 2008 doctoral recipients in English and foreign languages, the median time from a Bachelor’s degree to a PhD is ten to eleven years (2). As such, graduate students entering doctoral programs in 2011 will...

    • Chapter 21 Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World (pp. 368-389)

      This is a boom time for the digital humanities. As this chapter is being written, projects proliferate while dialogue around the movement grows, as marked by online discussion, conference presence, articles, and books. Academic instantiations of digital humanities are building, even in a recession, from individual courses to faculty positions to academic programs to digital humanities centers. The movement’s influence has been felt outside the walls of academia, as 2010 saw Google funding digital humanities projects around the Google Books collection and Patricia Cohen publishing her Humanities 2.0 series of articles in theNew York Timesabout digital methodologies in...

    • Chapter 22 Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities (pp. 390-412)

      The digital humanities (DH) has experienced impressive growth over the past three or four years, sweeping across a number of academic fields and, in the process, helping to reshape and reframe discussion and debate about the nature of scholarly research, peer review and publication, and academic promotion and tenure. “Digital humanities” already generates more than four-hundred thousand unique results in a Google search. The print and online pages of theChronicle of Higher Education, that reliable bellwether of all trends academic, document the impact that the digital humanities has had in and on universities and colleges, both here and abroad...

  9. PART VI Envisioning the Future of the Digital Humanities
    • Chapter 23 Digital Humanities As/Is a Tactical Term (pp. 415-428)

      Digital humanities is a tactical term.

      In a previous essay, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” I suggested that for those seeking to define digital humanities, the then-current Wikipedia definition (and top Google hit) served about as well as any and could save a lot of headache and, second, that the term “digital humanities” itself has a specific, recoverable history, originating with circumstances (which I documented) having primarily to do with marketing and uptake, and, third, that the term is now being “wielded instrumentally” by those seeking to effect change “amid the increasingly monstrous institutional...

    • Chapter 24 The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism (pp. 429-437)

      We should all probably start by admitting that none of us really knows what digital humanities is or, more precisely, that none of us is fully in control of what digital humanities (DH) is. As with so many disciplinary practices, the answer to the “what is” question is likely to be legion. And as Matthew Kirschenbaum has noted in a recent ADE Bulletin article, defining DH has become something of a genre essay. But contrary to any suggestion that the definition is settled or has been fully explored, the rising number of conference presentations along with the surplus of writings...

    • Chapter 25 The Resistance to Digital Humanities (pp. 438-451)

      This essay is a perhaps foreseeable follow-up to an earlier piece on “The Resistance to Philology” (Greetham),¹ published in the collectionThe Margins of the Text. That volume dealt not just with those parts of a text that typically were relegated to the bibliographical margins (titles, annotations, marginalia, etc.) but also with those features of textual discourse (race, gender, sexual orientation, class, among others) that had beenmarginalizedin discussions of textual scholarship. The collection had been prompted by the discovery that in some otherwise highly regarded academic institutions, a scholarly edition, bibliography, or textual study counted as only one...

    • Chapter 26 Beyond Metrics: Community Authorization and Open Peer Review (pp. 452-459)

      I originally began writing about peer review—its history, its present status, and its digital future—a couple of years ago, as it became increasingly clear that addressing the question of digital scholarship required a prior reckoning with the issue. I hadn’t ever really intended to give it that much of my attention; but, as my colleagues and I worked on the development of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons, it kept crowding in, as it has for many digital humanities projects: at every meeting, conference presentation, panel discussion, or other venue where we discussed the kinds of work we were...

    • Chapter 27 Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data (pp. 460-475)

      Today, the term “big data” is often used in popular media, business, computer science, and the computer industry. For instance, in June 2008,Wiredmagazine opened its special section on “The Petabyte Age” by stating, “Our ability to capture, warehouse, and understand massive amounts of data is changing science, medicine, business, and technology. As our collection of facts and figures grows, so will the opportunity to find answers to fundamental questions.” In February 2010,The Economiststarted its special report “Data, Data Everywhere” with the phrase “the industrial revolution of data” (coined by computer scientist Joe Hellerstein) and then went...

    • Chapter 28 Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions (pp. 476-489)

      There has never been a great age of science and technology without a corresponding flourishing of the arts and humanities. In any time or place of rapid technological advance, those creatures we would now call humanists—literary commentators; historians; philosophers; logicians; theologians; linguists; scholars of the arts; and all manner of writers, musicians, and artists—have also had a field day. Perhaps that generalization is actually a tautology. Great ages of science are great ages of the humanities because an age isn’t a historical period but a construct, and constructs are the work of humanists. Throughout history, there have been...

    • Chapter 29 Where Is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities? (pp. 490-510)
      ALAN LIU

      As the cue for a thesis I wish to offer about the future of the digital humanities, I start by confessing to a lie I inserted in the last paragraph of the mission statement of 4Humanities. 4Humanities is an initiative I helped cofound with other digital humanists in November 2010 to advocate for the humanities at a time when economic retrenchment has accelerated a long-term decline in the perceived value of the humanities.¹ It serves as a platform for advocacy statements and campaigns, international news on the state of the humanities, showcase examples of humanities work, “student voices” for the...

  10. Acknowledgments (pp. 511-512)
  11. Contributors (pp. 513-516)