“Doing”: An Inclusive Look at DH

Last week, I wrote about defining digital humanities; this week, I find myself still interested this topic. More specifically, I’m interested in Kirschenbaum’s definition and—what I see as—his defense of DH: “[…] do some thing that is sufficiently noteworthy that reasonable people who themselves do similar things must account for your work, your thing, as part of the progression of a shared field of interest. That is what being a digital humanist is; it is almost all of what being a digital humanist is” (11).

Here, Kirschenbaum points out that Digital Humanities really is doing. However, it’s not really different from any other kinds of doing. Perhaps doing really is the most important word in understanding DH. As our readings have demonstrated, naming this field has been a process of sorts. We’ve discussed dropping the “D,” considered dropping the “H,” and questioned what to call the work of underrepresented people. But the one common denominator amongst DHers, DH theorists, librarians, literary scholars (what are we called anyway?), and we blogging DH graduate students is that we’re all doing some thing.

That doing may look different, but I think it matches up with Kirschenbaum’s definition across fields. DHers do all kinds of things. One of my personal favorite examples is the Mapping Emotions in Victorian London (MEVL) project, which gathers data from literature to generate maps that reveal the emotional geography of London in the nineteenth-century. Moreover, as a crowdsourcing project, MEVL is also getting other people to participate in this doing. DH theorists like Stephen Ramsay—despite not having a “project”—are building theoretical frameworks that help us conceive of the field, its possibilities, and its limitations. Librarians and literary scholars alike are doing archival research. Each time we write a blog post, we are also doing something that adds to this discussion of the field and many of us will be doing building (to use Ramsay’s word) of our own projects at the end of the semester.

Maybe I’m just an optimist or not as critical as a scholar should be, but I like Kirschenbaum’s definition. I like it because it’s broad enough to include a variety of things that are expanding and creating knowledge—and isn’t that the point of all of this?

2 thoughts on ““Doing”: An Inclusive Look at DH

  1. feralroots says:

    I really like your attitude towards “doing” here. I’ve been pretty resistant to Ramsay’s approach to “doing,” which seemed rather prescriptive, projecting a “you’re in or you’re out” mentality that didn’t really take into account issues of accessibility to the field. Also, his attitude (still going off of the intro to “Debates in the Digital Humanities”) is so centered around being able to “code” as a contribution, that I feel very resistant to him.

    You’re statement, that we literary scholars and writers contribute in a different way, in a meaningful way that should count as much as coding (maybe I’m projecting here) really struck me. I hadn’t considered that what we contribute still has an equitable place in this system, even if we can’t “build” via code per se. Digging it!


  2. I’m also curious about the concept of doing and rather that’s actually doing enough. I agree with your post completely, but I am wondering how this “doing” translates? Is there a chart somewhere where a blog post equals 1 point of doing on a scale from 1-100? I feel like there are critics out there who may view doing in such a quantative/qualitative way. And how can we grow out of that place and into a new one that allows for this expanding and creation of knowledge? However, I’m on board with you! Great stuff!


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