So far I find that I spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to come to my own conclusion about, “Is Digital Humanities a legitimate field, and if it is, then what is it?”
Looking back on what we’ve read so far I feel competent to say what it is I agree with and don’t agree with. I certainly don’t feel that I am the final authority on answering my question, although it would be easier if the DH community imbued me with that privilege so that I could sort everything out once and for all. Even so, I want to share what I think are the high points of the argument for DH, and what I think is left to be answered.
DH is related to the humanities. To embrace the non-reductionist spirit of the humanities, as posed by Crane, we should possibly avoid reductionist definitions of DH.
… Unless we consider this mathematically. For example, graphing the area under the curve of 1/x^2 from 1 to infinity gives us infinite area, but then making a conic section of that curve gives us a finite volume of 1. This suggests to me that depending on how we look at DH there could be a reducible set of practices (at least at a thematic level) that deal with a non-reducible set of information to which those methodologies are applied.
Definitions of the form, “the intersection of humanities and computers” seem too ambiguous to be of much value to me. Which half is digital and which half is humanities? Or does it matter? (hint: I think that it does) Would a study of cultures using GIS methods, and a study of historical computing practices using analog methods both be considered DH?
I think that the role of the digital device needs to be accounted for. Merely making the digital be the object of study, or only doing word processing doesn’t seem substantial enough to be considered DH. Thinking about the function that computing is performing in order to augment or enrich the humanistic discipline is where to look.
Does DH need to be its own academic discipline? Probably from a funding and jobs perspective it is more attractive for it to be, but it feels to cohere better as a practice/methodology/philosophy rather than a wholly independent field. This is reinforced by the very interdisciplinary nature on DH, and also seems more amenable to the many different pathways that involve or wind up in the DH realm. The attraction of this way of looking at it is that it also might allow us to avoid subsequent conversations about, “How do we develop a top to bottom curriculum for DH?” - which to me seems impossible because you’ll have as many opinions about it as you have opinions about the humanities themselves.
At the same time, a DH curriculum isn’t impossible so long as it builds off of the twin foundations of humanities and digital scholarship, rather than try to establish either of those foundations itself.
I’m going to continue with the readings and then contribute more to this. Right now I’m trying to map out what is it that is important to DHists, and what should be important to them. I think the biggest challenge right now arises from the fact that so many of the people involved in DH have so many unique experiences that have lead them to DH, and so tend to think of DH within that context that they know.
by Matthew L Belskie
Updated September 18, 2011 at 9:36 PM.