Reply To: Theorizing the Digital Humanities

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Shane Snyder

I have posted this elsewhere, but it relates so completely to the ubiquitous fear of data sweeping up the traditional canon (whatever that is) and replacing it with the cold and distant stare of a scientist in a lab. It’s a little silly. Silly because Marche’s thesis is predicated on a false dilemma; namely, that by experimenting with macroanalysis (distant reading), close, context-heavy reading fades into obscurity, only to be indulged by old conservatives holed up in their university offices. I tend to reject these luddite fears that get projected onto the masses, as if technology and data weren’t inextricably linked with the quotidian.

As for the contention that traditional scholarship might get upset by humanities work shifting into other domains, the term “scholarship” takes on a lot of forms. Who determines what counts as scholarly? Does a digital exhibit qualify if it’s just a set of tagged and juxtaposed items meant to signify some relation to a bigger picture? If a scholar uses GIS to map data visually using a mostly-accurate geographic coordinate system, and the results of that project grant perspective for future scholars, then the project seems to have offered a service.

Maybe a better question is this: Who has access to the scholarship? Those who determine what counts as scholarship have a firm hand in standardizing knowledge work (which is fine, to a degree. Some things require oversight). It seems to me that the allure of digital humanities is its placing a premium on making accessible to the public sets of data heretofore only reserved for certain lofty institutions (read: intellectual elites). Now that people can access programs like Omeka and a free, open-source version of GIS (which you can find here), scholarship itself has shifted away from the large conference, peer-reviewed paper paradigm and has moved toward a more open-source model. What the university has been resisting for decades now reaches a sort of climax. The more access the public has to information afforded–it seems in part–by digital humanists, the more the university can cut through the bullshit question, “what use is the university?” The university, in short, is in the petri dish. With everybody having access to everything, the university can now determine what makes it relevant (if it’s relevant at all).

  • This reply was modified 10 years, 4 months ago by Shane Snyder.