Armstrong, Blog Post Week 6: Ramsay and #DHPOCO and eLit

“I want a break with the past. I want a new, revivified humanities that resists current attempts at its destruction. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, but I also don’t care if this new humanities looks like some kind of mashup between computer science and English. I don’t see why protecting the humanities means protecting the Department of French Literature as it has been since the Second World War. I don’t see why History must “remain a book-based discipline.” I don’t see why the classroom has to be what the German Pietists said it should be three hundred years ago. Big theory was a grenade (that completely altered my intellectual universe), but I want a new blast pattern. Theology (as Stanley Fish alleged)? Whatever.”

Ramsay’s article, “Why I’m In It” addresses a need in DH to avoid conforming to traditional power structures in the university system, and beyond that as individuals/groups identifying as Digital Humanists. “Gaps in the archive? Let’s fill them. Co-opted by Apple and Google? Let’s find ways to get out. Frustrated with business-as-usual in university press publishing? Let’s create new ways to do it. Big tent? Better be.” This opens up more discussion for the need of #DHPOCO and the necessity to do more than be self-aware and focuses on the importance of action.

He says in the comment section in reply to *Adeline Koh, “As a technologist yourself, you are undoubtedly aware of how hard it is to imagine things outside of what already exists. Once upon a time, though, *there was no such thing as a blog*. Once upon a time, *there was no such thing as Twitter*. Someone (more likely, a group of people) had to sit down and think that stuff up, in part, out of thin air. I don’t mean to suggest that either of these things were without precedent, but they represented *enormous* feats of invention and lateral thinking. We need to have those sessions, and we need to know how to put the results of those discussions into action. I think that’s ultimately what I mean by “learning to code.” I think it is only partly to do with “learning Ruby” or “learning Javascript” — neither of those things might be relevant at all. I think it just means being open to gaining whatever skills we need to turn our complaints and frustrations into (forgive me for using another industry buzzword) ‘solutions.’”

With this new definition of “learning to code” we can open more doorways for interesting and diversive forms of communication and scholarship. Ramsay is trying to promote more communication and interaction between DHers, “I suppose I’m challenging us (and myself) to create genuinely new forms of representation, communication, and affordance.”

eLit, something along the lines of Jennifer Egan’s Black Box, a book released on Twitter, or the poetry site, Cellpoems, which distributes poems via SMS text messaging and Twitter only, seems to be worlds ahead of more traditional DH practices which are still conforming to power structures. I think what Ramsay is trying to aim/call for here is something that eLit has been doing for a long time. In fact, Ramsay says, “I think we are way behind them [eLit] in doing the same thing for non-fiction genres. Can you imagine if the products of our work as scholars — the media we create to convey our messages and ideas, whether textual or not — were as varied and creative as what we see coming from the eLit folks? I think it would be a complete revolution” (my addition).

While I think that Ramsay is talking more about the technological possibilities for DH as discipline than he is speaking directly towards a necessity in the humanities to decolonize, it can’t be ignored that his ideas lend themselves to this.

In some ways, I wonder how far Ramsay’s action goes. Does he mean technologically only? He discusses the ideas of “access” but more along the lines of a need to break away from these ideas because of the lack of responsibilty to do anything other than talk. Right now, as much as it is a call to action, the article is still only talking without much doing. He said, “I don’t think I’ll ever live down “Who’s In and Who’s Out,” which now seems an utterly divisive and counterproductive thing to have said.” I’m not sure, but I think that his willingness to expand and reflect on his original ideas as probelematic is a good start, but I want to know what he plans to do.

*Adeline Koh runs Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’, and speaks about the need to Decolonize the Archive

Ramsay, Stephen. “Why I’m In It.” Sitewide ATOM. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2015.

One thought on “Armstrong, Blog Post Week 6: Ramsay and #DHPOCO and eLit

  1. rjones2155 says:

    I’m also curious if Ramsay’s revolution/”new blast” includes only technological changes or advances and how deep will those changes be implemented in academia? This proposal for new theories and new technologies are always exciting, but it’s also vague and uncertain. This also reminds me that if such a change is undertaken, then there’s always the social/cultural/decolonizing pieces that should be considered and included, who will have access to this new DH model? How can access be expanded or will it be easier? Definitely important pieces that will require extensive research and discussion.


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