Reply To: Critical Digital Humanities? Or Digital Humanities Criticism?

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Becky Jenkins

My contribution to the library is Alan Liu’s “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” The article is the final section of the final chapter (Part VI. Envisioning the Future of the Digital Humanities) of the Jocker book we’ve been reading, and from what I’ve read, Liu seems to be a superstar in the world of DH.

The difference between Liu’s argument and the others that we read for this week is that Liu looks at cultural criticism with a wider aperture on his lens; instead of critiquing race theory in DH, gender inequality in DH, the feeling of exclusivity (“the cool kids’ table) to the field, or even user theory (is that a thing? if not, I totally just made a thing!) – (the idea that DH is elitist because tools aren’t properly shared or distributed, or only available to certain people) – Liu is making the wider argument that critical cultural analysis is missing from the Digital Humanities (as compared to regular, boring Humanities) as a whole. He writes that it is his “fear that this lack will stunt the growth of our field.”

He asks what will DH contribute (methodologically) to the wider Humanities field – and argues that the gap between the two won’t be closed until we can move “seamlessly” between text analysis and cultural analysis. As partners, though, Liu also argues that the two fields can benefit from each other – with so many humanities departments on the fiscal chopping blocks, DH can bring new functionality and new work to these fields, bridging a gap between traditional scholarship and more interdisciplinary, technical, exploratory, or experimental DH work. (“The digital humanities can transcend their “servant” role in the humanities through leadership in advocating for the humanities.”) He says this could be DH’s “unique value” to the academy.

He concludes with “Ultimately, the greatest service that the digital humanities can contribute to the humanities is to practice instrumentalism in a way that demonstrates the necessity of breaking down the artificial divide of the “two cultures” to show that the humanities are needed alongside the sciences to solve the intricately interwoven natural, technological, economic, social, political, and cultural problems of the global age.”

I think this article does an excellent job of summing up a major role of DH and DH’ers within the wider context of Humanities. I also think Jocker’s inclusion of this piece as the final chapter of the book of DH debates positions it as a look forward to what is to come for DH – full integration of Digital Humanities into the academy, as a partner to many fields, from traditional humanities to science and biology to engineering and technology. To become more than a field-within-a-field, DH will have to expand its sights.

Our conversations over the semester and these readings especially have convinced me that every DHer must know some coding to be successful. The Digital Humanities are born of both traditional humanities and computing science – to understand the field, one must understand how the building process works. I’m still not convinced that every DHer should be fluent in a dozen different coding languages, but I think an important part of any DH education should be programming theory and several basic languages. I think there is plenty of room for both beginner and expert level coders, and also beginner and expert level cultural thinkers. If the field is to remain truly interdisciplinary, we’re going to need many different voices guiding the way.

  • This reply was modified 8 years, 5 months ago by Becky Jenkins.