Carlson Post 3: Why can’t all DH-ers just get along?

This week’s reading selection brought up several issues within the Digital Humanities that have not yet been discussed at length. Matthew K. Gold’s introduction included a pretty inclusive list of issues: “a lack of attention to issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality; a preference for research-driven projects over pedagogical ones; an absence of political commitment; an inadequate level of diversity among its practitioners; an inability to address texts under copyright; and an institutional concentration in well-funded research universities” (Gold). These all appear to be valid and problematic concerns for the DH community, but as I continued reading Debates in the Digital Humanities, I got the sense that there was an additional issue that should have been included, as different authors in this text repeatedly brought it up as a point of contention.

The issue I’m referring to is in regards to the definition of DH (something that seems to come up in nearly every article and class discussion we’ve encountered thus far). Specifically, there seems to be a division between the DH-ers who privilege MAKING and those who privilege INTERPRETING in their definition of DH. We’ve seen that there are many, many definitions for DH floating around, and they are generally open-ended enough to include both aspects of DH. But Debates in the Digital Humanities includes quotes from people like Stephen Ramsay, who certainly privileges MAKING over INTERPRETING. Ramsey stated, “Digital Humanities is not some airy Lyceum . . . Do you have to know how to code [to be a digital humanist]? I’m a tenured professor of digital humanities and I say ‘yes.’ . . . Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things” (Gold). While Ramsay did later take a step back from this divisive stance, he is not alone in this way of thinking which excludes DH-ers or wannabe DH-ers who (like me) do not know how to code.

I may be biased as a non-coder, but I take issue with this close-minded view of DH. That is not to say that I don’t see value in the MAKING part of DH – I think some of the most interesting work that is being done in labs and hackerspaces fits under the umbrella of MAKING. But I do think that in addition to ignoring the important work that comes from the INTERPRETING side of DH, this view fails to consider the privilege to goes along with knowing how to code. Except under unique circumstances, coding is only taught as part of a post-secondary education, which means that individuals who do not have access to a college education likely don’t have the opportunity to learn to code. While “coding boot camps” are popping up all over the world for those who want to learn to code quickly and without attending a university, these are still expensive and inaccessible for many. I’m optimistic that coding will eventually (someday) become a standard part of curriculum in middle schools and high schools, but at this point in time, excluding non-coders from DH makes DH a very privileged field.

Many of our readings and discussions seem to keep coming back to the issues that DH faces in terms of being legitimized in the eyes of traditional academia. I have to imagine that this divide between MAKERS and INTERPRETERS hinders this cause to become legitimized. It is certainly easy for me to say as an outsider (wannabe) of the DH community, but I would love to see these two sides of DH come together in order to better serve the community as a whole. While I agree with Kathleen Fitzpatrick that DH does not necessarily include “every medievalist with a website,” moving past this division and coming together through a common methodological outlook would likely serve the community much better.

Works Cited:

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen (2012). “The Humanities, Done Digitally.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gold, Matthew K. (2012). “Introduction: The Digital Humanities Moment.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


One thought on “Carlson Post 3: Why can’t all DH-ers just get along?

  1. In general, I completely agree that defining DH through one’s ability to code is not only polarizing but irresponsible on the part of humanists. And is a great site for contextualizing your point about DH’s multiple definitions (the site changes its answer every time you refresh the page). Also, while resources like now exist (and are incredibly addicting), if students don’t have a surplus of time or don’t have access to the device (as someone’s post this week points out), they’re not going to be welcome in DH. I wonder, though, if now we’re to a point where “making” could/should be expected of most humanists in academia since coding is less of a requirement when creating digital artifacts than it used to be. Knowing how to code certainly puts someone at an advantage, but doesn’t seem like the linchpin for making digital artifacts that it used to be.

    I feel the same resistance to those who make coding a requirement; and while I want there to be a space for those who code in DH, I guess my question is, why is it necessary that I do it to be a DH-er?


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