DH buzz

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but we never got a chance to discuss the set of readings mentioned. I wanted to post it just to have the log.


In 733 we are still grappling with definitions of DH (although I honestly feel disingenuous saying “still” since I reckon that we can debate its definition throughout the entire course). A few weeks ago I ended a post by asking whether or not there is an honest disciplinarity to DH or the term was just a buzzword. If there was something in common in this next set of readings, then, it was to take up that question more or less head on.

For Wendell Piez it meant asking of what value DH could bring students. Acknowledging full well that DH is the “smoked salmon, sour cream, capers and dill of the English Department smorgasbord,” he gradually gives DH due, arguing that the field affords what the humanities always has: “a world view that is not only critical, but tolerant of criticism and therefore capable of vitality, creativity and growth” (para 11). The piece seems to narrate this come-to-jesus moment.

For Oya Rieger, DH enthusiasm is more buzz than substance, seeing how more than 80% of Cornell’s fellows for the Society for the Humanities (n=45) didn’t know what the phrase even meant (she cites Hayles, who claims only 10% of humanists seriously participate in research that require digital tools). While she does call it a catchphrase, essential to the term is its evolution (Rieger calls it a “moving target”). DH is not easily defined because it is always changing.

Patrik Svensson agrees, arguing that the “territory of the DH is currently under negotiation” and that “these ongoing negotiations occur on multiple levels, from an individual graduate student and local institutions to national funding agencies and international institutional networking.” Svensson’s approach is comprehensive in that it examines DH at various modes of engagement: via literature review and four concrete encounters (i.e. visits at DH centers in North America).

One of the implications that both Rieger and Svensson draw from their work is that there needs to be a sustained investment in the DH. Rieger claims that one reason the numbers are low in the humanities is because the academy needs “service frameworks”: labs, software, services, professional development opportunities, etc. Svensson calls this “cyberinfrastructure.” Like writing centers, DH projects are, as McGann argues, “born into poverty” (qtd. in Rieger).

What confuses me though, is the difference between “humanities computing” and “digital humanities.” So while both Rieger and Svensson claim that DH is emergent, Piez feels that the former “no longer serves in an era when the computer club has become an in-group: the rule of identity politics seems to be that for one’s old identity to become fashionable, you need a new name for it” (para 3).

Oya Y. Rieger. “Framing digital humanities: The role of new media in humanities scholarship.” First Monday. Oct. 2010. 14 Sep. 2011.

Piez, Wendell. “Something Called ‘Digital Humanities’.” Digital Humanities Quarterly. Summer 2008. 14 Sep. 2011.

Svensson, Patrik. “The Landscape of Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly. Summer 2010. 14 Sep. 2011.