Monthly Archives: September 2015

Diminishing Returns on Tactical Terms? Plus a Very Derivative and Reductive Quiz.

In “What is ‘Digital Humanities’ And Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?” Matthew Kirschenbaum quotes Rita Raley’s articulation of “digital humanities” as a “discursive construction” (3). Later, he describes it as a “term of tactical convenience” (4) that is “unabashedly employed to get things done” (4). For Kirschenbaum, it seems, the construct is a limiting one: “To indulge digital humanities only ever as a construct and a site of contest is also thus to give in to a world view that seems to me precisely neoliberal, precisely zero sum and agonistic—disembodied, desocialized, and evacuated of materiality or material history” (7). This limitation is partly a symptom of the constructs discursive nature; its aim is to define and then include (or rather, exclude), set the boundaries (10), but because it is purely discursive, it also distracts from the fact that digital humanities is, above all else, “work, somebody’s work, somewhere, some thing, always” (16). He pushes us to “talk about this work, in action, this actually existing work” (16), to return a sense of materiality to the conversation and move beyond the purely discursive construct. Ramsay echoes this sentiment, a sort of elevated “Less talk, more action” in “Why I’m In It,” ending the piece with a self-admonition that he should perhaps “go make something new” rather than write a book, manifesto, or blog post (1).


I can certainly understand the frustration and the desire to root the conversation in tangibility—this is something I was thinking about in a previous post, since I had trouble during earlier readings in visualizing DH or concretizing what its practices could be without tangible examples—without seeking my definitions through real work. At the same time, though—are there moments in which constructs, even purely discursive ones, are useful for disciplines that are still in moments of self-definition? Even if they are useful only in the fact that they can serve as a gateway to or a means of obtaining material support for projects that might not yet have tailor made spaces and infrastructures?

I’m thinking specifically of Svensson’s article on humanistiscope. Svensson uses the “humanistiscope” as a “thought piece” (339), a “rhetorical device that can help us conceptualize” (348) and a “tool to help us think about and enact a humanities infrastructure” (348, emphasis mine). As a rhetorical device, Svensson sees the “humanististicope” as a means of articulating something that has not yet been articulated, that can’t adopt previous models because of its specific and unique goals: “For one thing, there is not necessarily a name for the kind of things under discussion here (existing or possible humanistic infrastructures), and the notion of the humanistiscope gives us a way of packaging and imagining humanities infrastructure without being locked into a current vocabulary and infrastructures” (339). That “way of imagining” is also a way to enact, a means of achieving necessary material structures tailored to DH needs.

This strikes me as the possible value (or at least past value) of a construct like the term “digital humanities”: even as a purely discursive stand-in, it is a means of achieving non-discursive results, be they financial, infrastructural, concerned with evaluation practices, etc.
In Svensson’s case, the use of a new term, a tactical term, is partially driven by the inability of previous infrastructural models to meet the specific needs of the digital humanities; the danger of imitating already existing models that are geared toward established disciplines (often scientific) is also articulated by Earhart. There is a danger, for both of them, in adopting rather than tailoring these models, largely because the humanities are much more multimodal, even commons-like, in their projects. As Svensson says, “a particularity of humanities infrastructure is that it is likely to be multiplex to accommodate different scholarly and educational needs. Major science infrastructure, in contrast, tends to be seen as more specific in terms of relating to certain projects, questions, or even certain problems” (351). A construct like humanistiscope is useful in that it allows for an imagining of an infrastructure not yet in place, tailored to humanities goals and free from the “clear risk…of adopting a science and engineering based model for humanities infrastructure in such a way that the model significantly constrains and shapes possible research enterprises and directions” (346). For Earhart, too, “It is crucial that we tailor the existing science laboratory model to meet best practices in the digital humanities.” (396).

The “work”, the projects that scholars produce does not happen in a vacuum; it is often produced through and catalyzed by conversation; tools are often developed because conversation and construct (imaginings) dictate the need. Structures, be they infrastructural, methodological, even spatial, also have an effect on the work that comes out of them, not just in how that work develops, but extending to what kinds of projects are conceived of in the first place. Do some constructs allow us to develop structures (labs, infrastructure, departments, centers, funding opportunities, etc.) that are particular to DH and don’t fall into the trap of purely mimicking scientific models? Has the “digital humanities” construct been useful in the past in allowing for the development of a discipline that is not wholly contained by either the purely scientific or the purely humanistic (if such categories even exist)? And even if the term has been useful in the past, has the constant rearticulation and reification of it outlived its value? Perhaps the large construct was useful in the past, but, as Kirschenbaum says, it is time to focus on the work. Earhart’s focus on labs and Svensson’s focus on infrastructure don’t focus on specific projects, but are certainly more rooted in materiality than the “Who’s in, Who’s out” conversations and “What is DH” conversations that have dominated in the past.

Perhaps one answer is that constructs can be useful, can expand our conceptions of what is possible and therefore move toward enacting specific, tailored systems that foster DH work instead of work based on previous models—as long as we renew them as the conversation develops. There is no final answer to “What is the Digital Humanities?” and, as Kirschenbaum says, this may be because “we don’t want to know nor is it useful for us to know” (11). But the answer, the “what” doesn’t seem to me to be the “end” for which such a construct is a useful means. Like a utopian imaginary, the construct “digital humanities” expands our notions of what can be done beyond current models. It allows us to detach from limiting connotations in the same way that humanistiscope frees DH infrastructure from science models. If we keep trying to use it as a means to a single answer, though, instead of following the new paths that are opened up by the discursive construction, the construct becomes limiting. If it is a tool, let it be a tool, and then move on.

Because this is the end of Part One, which seemed to be largely about defining, delineating, articulating, and categorizing, I created an example of a completely limiting, useless form of discussing DH – the Buzzfeed archetypal Personality quiz.

Buzzfeed Quiz

So click the link below to find out the single answer to the singular question, “What Kind of DHer Are You?”

Please note: descriptions and quiz elements do not reflect my actual opinions but are meant to be exaggerated versions of possible opinions within the DH community. It’s just for fun :).


Post 4 Kirtz: In is the New Out or is Out the New In?/ HUMlab Specific.

Initial Reactions

Perhaps I am writing this due to the face that I am siting in a coffee shop, eating a croissant, and listening to Quebecois artists Arcade Fire, reminding me of the past several years I spent in Montreal. During this time there was heavy unrest between the schools, students and educators resulting with over 185,000 students “striking” over rising education costs as well as the bureaucracy and lack of proper infrastructure present in the Canadian higher education system. But perhaps it’s also because throughout all the articles, this sense of uneasiness permeated. Many that associate with digital humanities are dissatisfied with the institutional structure; however their approaches are problematized by their very compliance to exist within the university system itself. As Matthew Kirschenbaum so succinctly states scholars within the digital humanities or “”DHers are themselves solutionists, pretenders who arrive to fix the ills of the present-day academy with tools, apps, and the rhetorical equivalent of TED talks, all driven by a naïve (and duplicitous) agenda that has its roots if not (yet) in an IPO then in the academic currency of jobs, funding, and tenure” (8). Within the student movement in Quebec it was reported as an issue with tuition that had students unified. As someone who was “on the ground” I can tell you it was much more complex than that. There was a sense of frustration with university administrators who spent more money on a  Lexus car directly from the university budget than on an entire department’s funding. But students still wanted to learn, and classes were unofficially held in bars and coffee shops providing alternative means to education. Furthermore the strike resulted from months of tension and ultimately students realized that they could not fix their problems within the university. Does DH suffer the same fate? Can it exist within the university and still be resistant? Secondly, are we hypocrites for using DH within the university?


As illuminated in the previous paragraph, the tension between inside and outside, between corporation and freedom is something that troubles all of this week’s authors. Ramsay describes the complexities associated with using technology for subversive means that originates from corporations, such as infrastructure stemming from Google or Apple (“Why I’m In It”). In Emerson’s book, Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound, she describes the controlling mechanisms of the Apple app store and the limitations it places on subversive art projects. Some projects do “push back” against the means of production, such as Jorg Piringer’s abcdefghijklmopqrstuwxyz which allows the user to “flick any or all letters of the alphabet onto a simulated white canvas” (Emerson). This subverts the reader’s typical expectations of poetry and sound/visual experience of language on an iPad; however it still functions within Apple’s sanctions. Many other projects have had to find homes outside of the institutional boundaries due to strict regulations. This type of desire to be accessible through highly visible technology, such as iPad, yet deeply rooted issues with the commodification of aesthetics and labour that it encourages is emergent in the trends of DH’s social media. Kirschenbaum too addresses this, as well as the associated problem of access: while DH claims or wants to be accessible though using publically visible sites such as Twitter, only through following the right scholars and threads is access to the discussion available (6).

What to do?

Svensson argues for an infrastructure that serves both the needs of research and education; he also calls for a global and local initiative  (345). As Ramsay states a DIY type of initative is needed, embodied in the statement: “Frustrated with business-as-usual in university press publishing? Let’s create new ways to do it” (“Why I’m In It”). But building from nothing is a tall order, and while requiring some material form of infrastructure, Svensson notes the tendency to adopt existing structures from engineering and sciences; for example, infrastructures that support big data (346). However, Ramsay would argue (and I would agree) that we should make our own tools, databases and infrastructure that is uniquely attuned to the needs of the project or humanities field.  Svensson suggests using the “humanistiscope” to think of how this type of infrastructure could be created, ultimately designing infrastructures for humanities needs and challenges (349).


The HUMlab is a creative space at Umeå University that encourages artistic investigation as well as scholarly research in “fields such as interactive architecture, religious rituals in online environments, 3D modelling, the study of movement and flow in physical and digital spaces through using game technology, geographical information systems, and making cultural heritage accessible through interpretative tool sets” (“About”). In looking through the current and completed projects page, the space acts through enabling these different projects by providing technology, infrastructure and physical space to display as well as research funding and opportunities. An example I found that addressed the call for DH to produce its own infrastructure was in the “Digital Rock Carvings” project, which digitized rock carvings and other archaeological data from Nämforsen and created an accessible database tailored to the needs of the archaeological findings (“Digital Rock Carvings”). This database isn’t organized by chronological development but rather uses the characteristics of the digital, in particular the medium of web based platforms, to create an adaptable model for interaction. For example, in order to find a specific carving users can search by subject matter (what), location (where), print type (how) and even slope direction as well as combinations of these factors (“Rock Carvings at Nämforsen”). Rather than using a preset database that organizes images by date and time, as is used by many library and engineering factions, building infrastructure for the specific needs of the digital humanities allows for a more interactive and ultimately pedagogically grounded approach.

Part of this approach derives from the lab’s thoughts on digital humanities as the webpage states that the “digital humanities is what is between humanities and the digital. The digital is a tool, study object and medium” (“Frequently Asked Questions”). By engaging with the digital humanities as a tool through web based platforms as new development and study object, i.e. understanding how the digitization of the rock carving are affecting the viewers as well as addressing the restrictions and potential of the medium this approach utilizing and perhaps confronts the tensions aforementioned.

HUMlab hosts a research project on the Virgin Mary, as Svensson mentions in his article, as well as “building new infrastructure by using “Facetted Browsing”, for example. This is a platform for complex research data, such as environmental archaeological data and demographic data, developed at the lab” (“Research at HUMlab”). The HUMlab is also home to another important project that questions technology and infrastructure, the Media Spaces project, which looks at screens and the spaces of interactions between the physical and digital. Som questions asked of the section on screens are: “ How can screens be used as construction materials? How do they affect human communication? How do people interact with screens? How can we understand this emergence in historical terms?” (“Screenscapes”) “Screens are in some ways an interface to a computationally inflected world. They hold historical, material and cultural significance (just consider windows, paintings or medieval churches, or the number of computer and mobile screens used in cafés). Screens can also be integrated with various kinds of interaction technology.” (“Frequently Asked Questions”)  This approach again exemplifies that by looking at the digital as a tool, study object and medium, the tensions between the outside and inside of the academy can be negated in certain sense as the HUMlab reaches past the confines of the typical institution.

Works Cited

“About.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

“Digital Rock Carvings.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

Emerson, Lori. Reading Writing Interfaces: From the Digital to the Bookbound. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. Kindle AZW File.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is “Digital Humanities” and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” differences (2014): 1-17. Web. 25 Sept 2015.

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

“Research at HUMlab.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

“Screenscapes.” HUMlab. Umeå University, n.d. Web. 26 Sept 2015.

Svensson, Patrik. “The Humanistiscope—Exploring the Situatedness of Humanities Infrastructure.” Between Humanities and the Digital. Ed. Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015. 337-353. Print.

presentation guidelines

A couple of you have asked for clarifications on the presentations for our class, so here are the guidelines I went over on the first day of class. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Think of your presentation as an opportunity for you to demonstrate what you’ve learned on a different register – a verbal, spoken register – and for you each to contribute to the semester long project of building an intellectual community that’s our class.

The way you’ll accomplish both things is by a) providing an overview on one or more of the readings; b) making it clear what’s at stake in these readings for what field or fields and/or whether the reading change our sense of what literary studies is about – does it broaden the horizons for Digital Humanities or media studies or both?; c) discussing whether there are any useful connections or departures in the reading from other reading we’ve done; d) and finally, generating lively class discussion either on these three points or on some other points you’d like to work through.

Roopika Risam

Here is to the link to Risam’s lecture about C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures and Digital Humanities:

Furthermore here is a course she offers on De/Post/Digital Humanities:

Ingraham Week 5

Mitch Ingraham

20 September 2015

ENGL 5529

Dr. Emerson

Week 5 Blog Post

Interrogating the Digital Humanities: Institutional Politics and the Polemics of Practice

Given the heated controversy and highly contested uses of the term perhaps we should instead refer to DH as digital inhumanities . . . sheesh. Moving forward: I’d like to highlight some of the overarching themes, issues, and recurring questions that emerged across this week’s collection of essays that I noticed in an effort to trace, what I perceive to be, some threads of continuity (and discontinuity) within ongoing debates surrounding the Digital Humanities (w/r/t their definition, purpose, and role in relation to other fields within the humanities). Although, admittedly, I didn’t make it through the entire book, I did manage to read several essays from each section and here’s what I gleaned:

  1. The importance of drawing a distinction between digital humanities as an academic field (or subfield) and its subsequent methodologies versus treating it as an abstraction: a concept, idea, or even ideology.
  2. The question of inclusion and exclusion: how inclusive? (i.e. Stephen Ramsay’s controversial “Who’s in and Who’s Out”) which prompts us to ask: what counts as ‘doing’ DH? In other words, in their attempt to address the question of authenticity several of these essays pose the question of inclusion and, at least to me, this essentially becomes a question of scale and scope.
  3. The problematics of applying a Procrustean, homogenizing term to, what is inherently, a heterogeneous array of practices that occur along a spectrum (or, as Hall would phrase it: a “continuum”).

As you might surmise, these topics are obviously interrelated and there is a substantial degree of overlap between and among them; which, I think, is indicative of the variegated perspectives represented in this volume and only further testifies to the ambiguous (if not vertiginous) lack of consensus as to what, exactly, digital humanities is, does, and should be.

Here’s a thought experiment by way of hypothetical example– premise: the digital humanities have been and continue to be the subject of scrutiny within the academy. Yet, if we relegate DH to just another academic fad or trend,[1] are we at risk of committing a hypocritical dismissal of an entire and polyvalent approach to literary studies? To put it another way: it seems perfectly acceptable to critique a theoretical or philosophical apparatus (such as Marxism, Feminism, or Psychoanalysis, etc.) but who would ever dare direct their critical gaze at an entire field of specialization (such as Romanticism, Early Modernism, or Victorianism)? Is DH a movement, a field, a theoretical framework or, perhaps, something else entirely? Thus, Dave Parry is able to ask (taking his queue from Raymond Carver): “what do we talk about when we talk about digital humanities?”[2] Parry’s line of inquiry is guided by his meta-analytical approach of tracking word usage/frequency within contemporary digital humanities discourse. The most incisive and compelling rhetorical move Parry makes is to draw the distinction between DH as claiming to do something different or new and DH as something that is doing things differently. Parry goes on to invoke Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in order to demonstrate that the real, meaningful, underlying question is not “what is the digital humanities?” but, instead, “what [does the digital do] to our concept of humanities and, by extension, even our concept of the human?” This shifts the focus of inquiry from a semantic rabbit hole (ad nauseam/ad infinitum) toward a more productive, ontological line of investigation.

Another issue that resurfaced throughout the readings was how some view DH as a panacea that will miraculously revive/resuscitate/rescue (pick one) the humanities from its seemingly ineluctable demise (“rebooting” the humanities?), while others harbor the misconception that DH is somehow incompatible with or even inimical to traditional literary scholarship. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Matthew Jockers who, incidentally, along with Glen Worthey, helped organize and host the “Big Tent” themed Digital Humanities conference held at Stanford University in 2011. In our interview, Dr. Jockers expressed some reluctance to adhere to or self-apply a title that carries such connotative (often negative) freight.

Again, paraphrasing Jockers: DH has achieved a considerable amount of cultural cachet (or, should I say, cashe?) such that, for some, it renders the title meaningless and, therefore, to a certain extent, useless. In his book, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History, Jockers draws an analogical correlation between the macroeconomic approach to analysis and, what he terms, a “macroanalytic” approach to studying literary history (25). To wit: if we can all somehow agree that DH is collaborative and inclusive– to what extent? (no pun intended). Svensson discusses the backlash generated by Yale’s adoption of digital humanities into their curriculum; namely, Amanda Gailey’s response to Yale’s induction of the Digital Humanities as a “watershed moment” (referring to Willard McCarty’s declaration): a threat to those who, as she phrased it, “professionally defined ourselves as digital humanists before it became an MLA buzzword.” This evinces a certain apprehension and tension about the territoriality and “gatekeeping” that can/has (take your pick) infiltrated DH. Svensson asks, “whether the tent can naturally be taken to include critical work construing the digital as an object of inquiry rather than as a tool.” As an alternative, Svensson proposes “a ‘no tent’ approach” that is, instead, a “trading zone” and/or “meeting place.” Or, as Davidson puts it: “Perhaps we need to see technology and the humanities not as a binary but as two sides of a necessarily interdependent, conjoined, and mutually constitutive set of intellectual, educational, social, political, and economic practices” (“Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions”)

Takeaway point: at the end of the day (in DH) it seems like a futile attempt to corral the digital humanities and force it/them into an ossified definition: a metonymic oversimplification of an irreducible and dynamic set of practices, beliefs, and methods. Any attempt to subsume DH under one totalizing heading is an insurmountable and misguided effort. However, there is an upshot of uncertainty: if the digital humanities can’t be defined, then that allows for it to be continually redefined: perhaps the future of the digital humanities resides in the very liminality that ensures its livelihood.[i]

Works Cited

Jockers, Matthew L. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois P, 2013. Print.

­––––. Personal Interview. 17 Sep 2015.

Parry, Dave. “The Digital Humanities or a Digital Humanism.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2012. Web. 19 Sep 2015.

Svensson, Patrik. “Beyond the Big Tent.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2012. Web. 19 Sep 2015.

[1] As some have claimed (see: William Deresiewicz’s “Professing Literature in 2008: Why Is the Intellectual Agenda of English Departments Being Set by Teenagers?” The Nation. (March 11, 2008).

[2] “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories. New York: Vintage, 1989.

[i] Final thought: Bringing it back to our class’s specific emphasis on “doing”– making/creating vs. using: I’m reminded of Barthes’ “users” vs. “creators.”[i] This, for me, seems to be a central question that pervades DH discourse (alas, the jury’s still out on this one . . .)

Debating Digital Humanities: What is it really?

We’ve only had three weeks of reading for this class so far, and, already, I can see that Kathleen Fitzpatrick seems to be on the money when she writes that “every ‘What is Digital Humanities?’ panel aimed at explaining the field to other scholars winds up uncovering more differences of opinion among it practitioners.” I find these various perspectives about what constitutes DH (and what doesn’t) both interesting and thought-provoking. What is/are digital humanities, really?

For Michael K. Gold, DH “contributes to the sustenance of academic life as we know it, even as (and perhaps because) it upends academic life as we know it.” This certainly seems to be true of DH as a theory—as we from the debates of the aptly named book for this week’s reading. And, as Gold notes, Stephan Ramsay believes the its about “building things” and that “if you are not making anything, you are not a digital humanist.” I think most projects (of those I’m aware of) that label themselves as DH adhere to this standard. For instance, the Stainforth Library of Women’s Writing Project (SLWWP) is building a database of women authors dating from the fifteenth to nineteenth century. Kirchenbaum, offering another opinion, writes that DH is “about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed […] bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, […] collaborative and depend[s] on networks of people and […]live an active, 24-7 life online.” The SLWWP has a team of people (from different departments and universities) making a private, manuscript database available online—so this definition also fits. Fitzpatrick raises the question of whether DH can be interpreting as well as making. The SLWWP interprets data that can further lead to interpretations about the culture of women’s writing in the nineteenth century. And, finally, Rafael C. Alvara argues that “digital humanists are simply humanists […] who have embraced digital media and who have a more or less deep conviction that digital media can play a crucial, indeed transformative, role in the work of interpretation, broadly conceived,” and the SLWWP is arguably doing this work.

Of course using a strong DH project to test the definitions of DH itself may be slightly unfair; but I think it also goes to show that perhaps some of these definitions have more in common than all these debates might suggest.


A number of the contributors to Matthew K. Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities recognize the field’s ongoing preference toward research and tool-making, with Stephen Brier writing that “teaching and learning are something of an afterthought for many digital humanists.” Even when prioritized, DH pedagogical strategies have largely been aimed at preparing staff, faculty, and graduate students for specific work as future digital humanists.

However, one of the most exciting opportunities we are faced with is the fact that DH can aid curriculum development at the undergraduate and high school levels by supporting the general learning outcomes of humanities education. In fact, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I state that DH should be integrated into all humanities classrooms. We live in a media-intensive culture where students’ primary information and entertainment sources are screens. Despite having crossed over into many educational disciplines, skills from digital learning and recreational activities have not been well-integrated into humanities classrooms. Policy makers should be asking questions such as how we can convert increased day-to-day digital reading into increased literacy levels at school. However, Luke Walter recognizes that even at the tertiary level, “most curricula have not adjusted to the natural realities of the college experience, where the vast majority of students lead lives that are exponentially more digital and networked than they were when those curricula were designed.”

This is not to say that the current outlook is bleak for DH and pedagogy. Melissa has posted about the presentation by visiting lecturer Dr. Jeff McClurken, “Claiming DH for Undergraduates: Learning, Knowledge Production, and Digital Identity,” in which he discussed the University of Mary Washington’s Department of History’s fantastic teaching goals. The Department actively trains undergraduates to be adaptable knowledge producers as well as reflective consumers, with the specific goals of teaching skills in writing, speaking, perspectives on self and society, and digital literacy. In classes such as “History of American Culture and Technology” and “Adventures in Digital History,” McClurken requires students to undertake DH projects that include building websites and creating multimedia such as visual infographics. Furthermore (I was gobsmacked!) UMW as an institution provides domain names and web hosting space to all their members, particularly encouraging students to develop their digital identities and web skills.

Therefore, it is clear that scholars and teachers are thinking creatively about ways to incorporate new learning styles in higher education,[1] although I am unsure about examples of DH practices in high school curricula. Integrating DH into assigned student projects does not need to be a weighty task; the public course blogs championed by Trevor Owens (of which our ‘Doing Digital Humanities’ class WordPress blog is a great example) could happily replace the restricted access that characterizes traditional ‘Blackboard’ and ‘D2L’ discussion boards. Certainly, I was a little wary about the ramifications of posting my academic work on the Web, but this plays into Jeff McClurken’s mantra that humanities students (and staff and faculty!) should be “uncomfortably challenged, but not paralyzed” by DH practices. And the benefits of public scholarly discussion are obvious; students can take ownership of their work, build reputation, invite collaboration, and of course disseminate knowledge and receive feedback to/from a wider community. It’s safe to say, then, that writing, building, and designing are all valuable methods of inquiry for the humanities, as long as the affordances of such knowledge models offer rich and productive learning experiences for our students!

[1] It’s important to acknowledge Katherine Harris’ claim that teachers who engage in such pedagogical practices are not valued as much as DH researchers and tool-makers, again pointing to the imbalance between DH doing and teaching.

Works Cited:

Brier, Stephen. “Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities.” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Harris, Katherine. “Failure? DHC 2011 Kerfuffle.” Triproftri. March 2, 2011.

McClurken, Jeffrey. “Claiming DH for Undergraduates: Learning, Knowledge Production, and Digital Identity.” Exploring Digital Humanities Speaker Series, University of Colorado at Boulder. 17 September 2015.

Owens, Trever. “The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course that Never Ends.” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Waltz, Luke. “Digital Humanities and the ‘Ugly Stepchildren’ of American Higher Education.” Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Debates in Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Gilmer Post 3: “Alt-Ac”: Concretizing Plan B

Although this week’s readings cover a wide array of material, I’d like to focus on Julia Flanders’ “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work”–an essay which tackles some of the questions I’ve been encountering personally this semester. I was struck by a mirrored epiphany we had:  

“[F]aculty positions make up only about 30 percent of all full-time employees at Brown, whereas 45 percent are some other kind of professional: technical, administrative, legal, executive, and managerial. Thus on the basis of pure statistics (and even allowing for my apparent level of education and socioeconomic positioning), I am much more likely to be anything but a faculty member.”

It’s all summed up in that last sentence: I could be a genius, or the hardest working person in the world, but the statistics simply aren’t on my side. And should my studies continue, I can expect more discouraging figures to appear on the horizon. As a graduate teaching fellow, Flanders’ “pretax income for the academic year was $12,500.” Granted, that was in 1991, so let’s account for inflation: in 2015, the number rises to $21,871.88. Embarrassingly, my first thought upon seeing this figure was “Hey, that’s pretty good!” This brings up another question, one raised often by academics–how willing are we to undercut ourselves to fulfill institutional expectations? Flanders notes that a common side effect of academic life is an “erosion of [the] boundary between the professional and personal space,” a symptom I’m certain we’ve all experienced. So where do we draw the line? How much time, money, and personal sacrifice can we invest before the balance tips?

For me, these questions are not defeating, but inspiring. I need to refocus, broaden my research, and rethink the term “Plan B.” Flanders’ career trajectory, while not traditional by any means, “mediat[es] usefully between purely technical information on the one hand (which did not address her conceptual questions) and purely philosophical information on the other (which failed to address the practicalities of typesetting and work flow).” Ideally, I’d love to do the same–it sounds so nice in writing–but I’m thinking back to the obsession with pragmatics saturating academic scholarship. After all, in 2012, Flanders herself had been an adjunct for 7 years. If that’s the idyllic future of interdisciplinary study, then count me out. And really, this is the concept I’m getting at: from a practical standpoint, where are these mythical interdisciplinary jobs, how much do they pay, and what do I need on my CV to land them? Maybe I’ll take Flanders’ advice and embrace “a truly alternative career: becoming a goat farmer.”

(By the way–I shared this on FB, but in case we aren’t friends yet, I’ll repost here. Take a look at this Alt-Ac careers article, courtesy of Dr. Emerson:


Flanders, Julia. “Time, Labor, and ‘Alternate Careers’ in Digital Humanities Knowledge Work.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. By Matthew Gold. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota, 2012. N. pag. Print.

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.

Jones Post 3: Thinking About Values and Technology

Debates on Digital Humanities offers varying theories on the discourses taking place about DH. A few of those discussions were particularly interesting: creating a set of values to unify the DH community, and using technology to create and build. I feel that these two issues converge on the subject: what is the responsibility of digital humanities? Or, what should we expect from DH? I think this is a point of convergence because although DH is trying to define itself, DH is tied to technology and technology is evolving rapidly. From the readings it appears that many scholars are still not entirely sure what DH or technology is fully capable of and that question may never fully be answered as technology continues to change. During this constant state of transition, DH should be subject to critical critiques and attempts to define it, but DH may be a field that should be allowed to exist in some state of uncertainty and experimentation.

I thought that the blog post “Where’s the Beef?” articulates this issue well, but does not entirely acknowledge that technology is not static.[1] Scholars should be allowed time to understand their tools, but with computing, this may never be fully possible. There’s always a new language or innovation. Although DH is scrutinized and questioned on its ability and scope, the changing landscape of technology appears to create misunderstanding and anxieties that splinter the DH community.[2] Spiro appears to offer a type of salve by realizing that technology is often an abstraction in flux, and that the field may instead require the drawing of values and goals. Technology’s changing presence has plagued the Luddites and even scholars now, it constantly creates “growing pains.”[3] We’ve discussed the binary of technology as tool or object, but this is a temporal designation. As technology expands and improves, technology may do more that is unknown now. Spiro’s focus on values then becomes essential as any field on the edge of development involving technology will continually transform into newer forms.

Having flexible values and aims in humanities and computing  leaves space for using nascent methods of research. This construction of values may offer the ability to unify the community, but may also allow space for expansion into bold new opportunities.  What more is coming down the line? Technology is capable of more operations since humanities computing’s beginnings. This means that scholars in DH should remain flexible while always remembering those values delineated by Spiro “Openness”, “collaboration”, “collegiality”, “connectedness” “diversity’ and “experimentation”.[4] This would also allow for the time to “articulate” the tools.[5]

I mention this need for time and Scheinfledt’s post because it reminded me of my interview with Professor Radcliffe from the CATH lab.  In the interview, Radcliffe mentioned that before the labs were discussing theory, they were practicing technolog0y by building and creating. It was experimentation that created a field to question and observe. The theories then started to follow the work. Perhaps in the value of “openness” DH scholars should be allowed the flexibility to see what technology is capable of, publish theories and findings and that work can then be evaluated and critiqued. From here scholars will inevitably return to the drawing board to reinvigorate the humanities, but this is a process over time.  This practice acknowledges the way that the future is unknown and could also encourage further research to explode the field open again and again, allowing the humanities to be a field that can be renewed or transformed, while adhering to the values and goals of the humanities.

The values of DH should then be open to critiques. This theoretical process can help to try and prevent hierarchies from developing. In the article by Johanna Drucker, she quotes another scholar, Berry: “If code and software are to become objects of research for the humanities and social sciences, including philosophy, we will need to grasp both the ontic and ontological dimensions of computer code.”[6] I believe this could be taken even further, as Drucker suggests. While flexibility should be given to experimentation, the theories of experimentation or the language of technology should always be subject to social, cultural, gender, racial, (and more) critiques. Is there a hierarchy to technology and DH? If so, how can this be constructed to allow for Spiro’s “diversity?” These questions will always be relevant, even as scholars are trying to find ways to “articulate” the phenomena of technology.


Alvarado, Rafael C. 2012. “The Digital Humanities Situation.” In Debates In the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Drucker, Johanna. 2012. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Ramsay, Stephen and Rockwell Geoffrey. “Developing Things: Notes toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities. In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 16-35. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Scheinfledt, Tom. 2012. “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.

Spiro, Lisa. 2012. “”This is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 16-35. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015.



[1] Scheinfledt, Tom. 2012. “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015

[2] Spiro, Lisa. 2012. “”This is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold, 16-35. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 16.

[3] Alvarado, Rafael C. 2012. “The Digital Humanities Situation.” In Debates In the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 51.

[4] Spiro, Lisa. “This is Why We Fight”, 24-28

[5] Scheinfledt, Tom. 2012. “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 56.

[6] Drucker, Johanna. 2012. “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K Gold. The University of Minnesota Press. Accessed September 20, 2015, 100.


Armstrong, Blog Post Week 3: Earhart and the Problem of the Object


“For scholars interested in reinserting writers of color into critical discussions, the recovery efforts were a boon. We imagined that the free access to materials on the web would allow those previously cut off from intellectual capital to gain materials and knowledge that might be leveraged to change the social position of people of color. The new space of the Internet would allow those who had been silenced to have a voice.”

Amy E. Earhart touches on many crucial subjects in her article, “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon”, not the least of which is the importance of the inclusion of race, gender, class, etc. factors in DH. I agree that DH needs to factor in these issues, but I think that Earhart is leaving something out.

The object.

When I say the object, I of course mean the actual computer, the vessel of the technology.

The inclusion of racial, gender, class, etc. factors (particularly class and space in rural areas) needs to factor in availability of access. In the article Earhart mentions, “Advocates of the free web were interested in three ideas: “1) Access to computers should be unlimited and total; 2) All information should be free; 3) Mistrust authority and promote decentralization,” all designed to allow “bubbles” of information to rise from the bottom, sowing “seeds of revolutionary change” (“Battle for the Soul of the Internet”).”

This first part is great in theory, but unfortunately it is only that right now.

The amount of people in rural regions of Appalachia and the South–– focusing here on a study of rural Appalachian Ohio as of 2011–– without access to the internet on a regular basis is “Approximately 124,000 adult Ohioans living in rural Appalachia” whom “cannot get broadband service, or they cannot get service that is fast enough to meet their needs.”

How can we discuss the importance of the inclusion of excluded groups without also speaking about who it is with the access to the information to begin with? Shouldn’t we also look into the object itself and what it is representing? How can we give those who were silenced a voice if they do not have access to the space?

Works Cited

Earhart, Amy E. “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Web.

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McGehee Post 3: Academic Colonization and Digital Humanities

As I read through piles of Digital Humanities scholarship week by week, the issue of accessibility and who controls the conversation in academic scholarship constantly plagues me. There is much to focus on in this week’s reading, but one article in particular resonated with me on this subject. Amy E. Earhart’s, “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon,” tackles these insidious issues of academic discourse.

In the introduction to Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold states:

“Indeed, fault lines have emerged within the DH community between those who use new digital tools to aid relatively traditional scholarly projects and those who believe that DH is most powerful as a disruptive political force that has the potential to reshape fundamental aspects of academic practice” (Gold).

I, of course, fall into the disruptive-political-force camp. As a writer, activist, graduate student, and teacher, my submersion into higher education has been chaotic, bumpy, and full of questions regarding the actual, you know, humanity in the humanities.


The cannon of which Earhart speaks is something I have questioned throughout my academic career, even more so in the past 2-3 years as I’ve delved further into feminist theories.

Coming from the state of Louisiana, one of the bottom five in education, I found theory, at first, completely inaccessible, even with a bachelors in English, and there are still times where I find classroom discourse not only inaccessible, but indulgent and inapplicable to my relations with people outside of school. For instance, trying to explain theory to my mother, a sales clerk at Home Depot with a high-school education, feels beyond patronizing and more importantly, inane.

Watching my freshmen students of color internalize racism, feels hard to address in a way that actually reaches them and typically fails to abstain from the frequent whitesplaining that accompanies a predominately white, campus, especially when the required syllabus material tokenizes them frequently.

As I read through some of my classmates posts on Digital Humanities, the utter distance from which they write, the disengagement from the reader, reinforces in my mind how far we have to go in terms of accessibility. Even now, talking about my personal relations and views without evidential support feels like a political action deviating from academic standards and thus illegitimate.

How can we expect anything but the unquestionable praise and commemoration of what we political, academic writers refer to as “old, dead, white guy lit,” when the structure for academic scholarship, and academia in general, is modeled after capitalist, hierarchal structures?

This model is the very reason why humanities scholars pre-legitimize themselves, and why we must have specified literary courses such as African-American literature. The only reason to create a course such as African-American, Chicanx [gender neutral] literature, women’s literature, etc. is because they are excluded in the regular curriculum, reflecting the value of such writers in our current academic climate.

Further writers of color must legitimize their place among white humanities scholars, and women must prove that they are as competent as any man in the classroom. Student evaluations/FCQs, riddled with racism, sexism, sizeism, and other isms, are largely viewed by higher-ups as inarguable data to determine the outcome for many collegiate teachers. “Data” expedites this. Earhart encourages us to consider what happens when we take into account “scientific data” over cultural critique/theory:

“It was as if these matters of objective and hard science provided an oasis for folks who did not want to clutter sharp, disciplined, methodical philosophy with considerations of the gender-, race-, and class-determined facts of life …Humanities computing seemed to offer a space free from all this messiness and a return to objective questions of representation”

There’s this pervading, universal idea that as we move into the future, social equality can only evolve, when in reality, we see several holes in this notion, inside and outside of the classroom, taking place.

Earhart tells us that: “To understand the current position of race and digital humanities work, we must turn to the emergence of the World Wide Web. As the web began to gain popularity in the 1990s, it was portrayed as an idealized, democratic, and free space.” The natural expectation at that time was that POC would have a voice, but she finds, through empirical evidence, that the traditional canon produced by print scholarship has merely transferred onto digital scholarship. Rather, many academics seem to be missing the point and possibilities that Afro-futurists discovered quite sometime ago. Afro-futurism, in fact, is a boundless model most academics have yet to tap into, but I digress.


When it comes to contemporary, academic scholars in the digital world, it appears that change is hard and the endless possibilities of the digital have escaped many. Earhart discusses hypertext theorist Jay David Bolter’s, “abandonment of the ideal of high culture (literature, music, the fine arts) as a unifying force. If there is no single culture, but only a network of interest groups, then there is no single favored literature or music” (233)” (Earhart). Of course, academia has yet to abandon the capitalist structures that would level discussion beyond elitist language and standards of literature and music.

Last week, we [the class] discussed the computer as a neutral tool. Earhart’s article crucially dismantles the idea of literature as a neutral field, and the canon as a neutral set of data deployed and reinforced by the university: “Without careful and systematic analysis of our digital canons, we not only reproduce antiquated understandings of the canon but also reify them through our technological imprimatur.”

In this way, “the computer” is used as a tool of colonization.


Earhart lays out the original intention for this space:

“Advocates of the free web were interested in three ideas: “1) Access to computers should be unlimited and total; 2) All information should be free; 3) Mistrust authority and promote decentralization,” all designed to allow “bubbles” of information to rise from the bottom, sowing “seeds of revolutionary change” (“Battle for the Soul of the Internet”)” (Earhart).

According to Earhart, the digital aspect of humanities allowed pursuit of lost texts to be added to the cannon, but such projects receive little to no funding, additionally, “Catherine Decker argues that the canon crops up in these projects because of their funding and institutional affiliations” (Earhart). Implying that, through the university, such important projects cannot exist without white, male, contextualization, and that white scholars show no interest in this material without this contextualization.

“While there are grants to support work on indigenous populations, African and African American materials, and Asian American materials, in addition to others, the funding of named great men of history deserves scrutiny and even, perhaps, a specific funding program to encourage recovery efforts (NEH)…We need to examine the canon that we, as digital humanists, are constructing, a canon that skews toward traditional texts and excludes crucial work by women, people of color, and the GLBTQ community. We need to reinvigorate the spirit of previous scholars who believed that textual recovery was crucial to their work, who saw the digital as a way to enact changes in the canon” (Earheart).

Well said, Earhart.

It is apparent in Earhart’s article that this is the dominate side of humanities facilitated through the university, but in my own research, I found scholarship as well as many institutes working to change this problematic aspect of digital scholarship in the humanities. I-CHASS (Institute for Computing in Humanities, Art, and Social Sciences) is one of many DH institutes facilitating projects around these controversial topics. Projects such as,  “Language Prescriptivism,” “Climate Change and Native Cultures,” “The Cartography of American Colonization Database (CACD),” and so on.

Again, I reminded of Earharts call to analyze the content behind the collected data. Such groups have a right to their own narrative, and deserve the same canonization as the old, dead, white guy scholars. Bringing attention to work by POC, women, and GLBTQ is not enough–we must engage with the humanity in digital humanities. We must assign the same value to personal narrative that we give to scholarly articles, just as we must value the humanities as much as we value the sciences. We must let people speak their truths without contextualization. We must see people the way they want to be seen. We must end this translation for purposes of capitalist digestion, production, and financial gain. We must end the removal of the human from humanities.

Works Cited:

Earhart, Amy E. (2012). “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon.” In Debates in Digital Humanities, edited by M. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.