The Digital-Humanities Bust

Dinosaurs evolved into birds. Not all of them, of course. Birds are so much a part of our environment that we barely notice them. I’ve said the same about weblogs. Monetized and platformized and app-ified, the basic functions of blogging live on — a reverse-sorted stream of posts, a mechanism to engage with visitors to your stream, and a mechanism for engaging with the authors of other streams. It is today hard to separate the digital humanities from humanities, but that sounds like a DH win to me.

“After a decade of investment and hype, what has the field accomplished?” asks the subhead to Timothy Brennan’s article in the Chronicle. “Not much.”

Only an ideologue would doubt the potential of low-cost networking for communities typically stopped by financial or cultural obstacles at the college door.

Finally, when it comes to modes of presentation — specialized library websites, text/hypertext editions of challenging canonical novels, multimedial history textbooks — the hard labor of digital humanities seems to pay off by establishing smooth or attractive delivery systems for big data.

Yet a fair assessment of the field is stymied by a basic confusion of terms: the digital in the humanities is not the digital humanities. Few humanists today are ignorant of Moodles, podcasts, auto-formatting, or deep internet research. Even Luddites are not averse to consulting the Kindle version of a novel in order to search it for phrases without having to page through a physical book. The term “DH,” then, is not about introducing digital technologies where there were none before, but about an institutional reframing. What people mean by “DH” is a program and, ultimately, an epistemology. —The Chronicle of Higher Education

For a crowdsourced rebuttal — a genre that digital humanists do very well — see the #DHimpact hashtag on Titter.