Digital Humanities; the Electric Icebox of the MLA

If you can’t code, can critique produce new knowledge in digital humanities? Like the PowerPoint templates that emulate chalkboards, or the 3.5-inch diskette that often still decorates the “save” button in apps used by people who never touch floppy disks, the very term “digital humanities” exemplifies the debate. It’s a transitory term, like “electric icebox,” or “horseless carriage,” terms that were most useful when ice and horses were the dominant technology.

Not too long ago, the scholarly work of creating a concordance was so labor intensive work that people got tenure for it. But since we can now just search digital texts ourselves, the fact that it’s possible to buy a concordance someone else created with a computer becomes less relevant. Searching a text for words becomes another tool in the careful reader’s toolbox, and deciding when and how to search becomes a core strategy when interpreting complex texts.

Ian goes meta all over the “digital humanistic” debate at MLA, wondering just what there is to debate, when there are so many new kinds of knowledge we could be researching.

When I lived in Los Angeles and worked in the entertainment industry, I remember coming to a realization: a great deal of Hollywood entertainment is about the entertainment industry. Think about it. Fame, Barton Fink, Super 8, Tropic Thunder, Party Down, Adaptation, Full Frontal, Peeping Tom, Ed Wood, The Truman Show, Sunset Blvd., The Barefoot Contessa, Somewhere, Hollywood Ending, Seinfeld. I guess it makes sense. Write what you know, the aphorism goes. At first, that means heartbreak or black heartedness, but eventually, with success, what one knows is what one does. And currently, what one does in the humanities is talk about the humanities. This is particularly true of the digital humanities, some of whose proponents are actually using computers to do new kinds of humanistic scholarly work in breaks between debates about the potential to use computers for new kinds of humanistic scholarly work. —Ian Bogost – This is a Blog Post about the Digital Humanities.

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