Considering Unsworth’s Conflicting Definitions

Reading John Unsworth’s “What is Humanities Computing What is Not?,” I find myself conflicted by his argument. To claim that humanities computing is “a practice of representation, a form of modeling” as well as “a way of reasoning and a set of ontological commitments” and that it is “shaped by the need for efficient computation on the one hand, and for human communication on the other” seems to be a pretty solid definition—even if a little heavily theoretical. But I take issue with his idea that work “may be computer-based (for example, it may be published on the Web), and it may present very engaging content, but if it doesn’t have a way to be wrong, if one can’t say whether it does or doesn’t work, whether it is or isn’t internally consistent and logically coherent, then it’s something other than humanities computing.” I don’t believe this is the definition of what humanities computing is not, or that this type of work makes one a charlatan.

Given Unsworth’s definition of what HC is, can we really say any work that attempts to be HC/DH isn’t? For instance, I’m using D2L discussion boards as a platform for my students to write, think, and talk about our readings in a digital space. There’s nothing right or wrong about that; internal consistency and logical coherence don’t really apply. But I am modeling scholarly dialogues that participate in reasoning, etc. So, am I participating in DH or am I charlatan?

In my reading, Unsworth’s definitions of “is” and “is not” are not mutually exclusive. He broadly defines HC, but then restricts what qualifies based on what he considers important enough. I would argue instead that not all DH work is equally rigorous—perhaps not even equally important—but if it attempts to be DH, and I don’t really see how it can fail.

Work Cited:

Unsworth, John. 2002. What is Humanities Computing and What is Not? Accessed August 30, 2015.

One thought on “Considering Unsworth’s Conflicting Definitions

  1. I agree, I felt as though the article oscillated between DH being wildly exclusive and inclusive


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