While reading Latour & Woolgar’s Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts, I experienced a few epiphanies regarding the humanities, science, and the position of the digital humanities – something that I did not at all expect going into this reading. Latour & Woolgar point out that although our culture tends to view the scientific process as very straightforward, this is often not the case: “We argue that both scientists and observers are routinely confronted by a seething mass of alternative interpretations. Despite participants’ well-ordered reconstructions and rationalizations, actual scientific practice entails the confrontations and negotiations of utter confusion” (36). It is a common societal belief that while the humanities generally deal with interpretations that can easily be countered, science fields deal strictly with data and the straightforward conclusions that are subsequently drawn from that data. Is anyone else having flashbacks to C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures? Latour & Woolgar suggest that the line that society draws between science and humanities may not be so easily drawn.
Additionally, Latour & Woolgar point out the “currently widespread acceptance of the methods and achievements of science in the culture of which we are part” (39). While this book was originally written in the 1970s, this statement still rings true nearly thirty years later. It’s totally true; society loves science and the humanities don’t receive nearly that level of respect, which is probably why I am met with blank stares and confusion when I tell people I am pursuing a master’s in English. So that got me thinking – digital humanities seems to be the next big thing. Doing DH seems to garner more respect than just the plain old humanities in this day and age. Why is that? Could this be because DH takes the humanities and turns it scientific? Then I had a horrifying realization: is DH just the annoying, wannabe, little sister of science?
I may just be extra sensitive because I was a biology major for my first year of undergrad and that clearly didn’t pan out. But it seems to me that the reason we love DH so much may be because it takes the humanities and brings it several steps closer to science, the discipline that society loves and respects. Of course, I’m playing devil’s advocate here and I know that DH carries much more value than just being a wannabe science field. But I think Latour & Woolgar bring up some points about our culture’s view of science and humanities that have importance implications on the place of DH.
Latour, Bruno and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1986. Web.