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Shane Snyder

The following reflects the incredible migraine I have somehow managed to give myself while sifting through all of the digital humanities tools on offer. In my quest to find the perfect tool to discuss, I realized that I was using a digital humanities tool to find a digital humanities tool. Analogies to introductory biology come to mind: Domain, Kingdom, Order, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. The digital humanist can find a tool like the Department of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) that she found on a digital humanities tool browser like Bamboo Dirt that she Googled with her internet browser. Eventually there will come a species of tool that the digital humanist can use to produce countless other tools like it.

So I will begin with the tool Bamboo Dirt, a site that collects together smaller tools for the budding digital humanist. Some of these tools are open-access databases like DOAJ. Others link back to larger-scale (and familiar) browsers like Google Scholar and Firefox. In any case, the site breaks down each tool by category. Some categories include “blog,” “collect data,” “visualize data,” and “stay current with research.” Click on one of the categories and a list appears in the next window that includes links that fall under that umbrella.

This raises a couple of pertinent questions that get at the heart of the digital humanities debate: What is a digital humanities tool? What criteria qualifies something as a digital humanities tool? If Google Books, Google Scholar, and even something as broad and wide-ranging and disorganized as a browser like Firefox classifies as a tool, then DH is in need of a sort of long-overdue tool taxonomy (something like binomial nomenclature, to bring the biology analogy full circle), a collection of the digitized databases, a tool for tools that browse for other tools. The universe of tools expands and becomes other universes. Maybe a more harrowing, still relevant question is this: is there a point to organizing the information at all?

There is. It seems to me that part of the job of the digital humanist is to sift through sites like Bamboo Dirt and to critique it for its lax classification system, its lazy criteria. For if Google and Firefox are themselves tools for the user wanting in their way to produce a digital project (tool) that, by all rights, will get submerged under the countless other projects like it, then maybe everything digital is a tool.

Having said that, Bamboo Dirt has an intuitive, easily searchable database of other tools. On each tool page, a detailed description of the tool sits atop the link to the tool’s page. The DOAJ, a website that collects (as its name suggests) open access journals from all over the web, attests to the importance of a search engine like Bamboo Dirt. Websites like DOAJ require this type of exposure. It creates an argument that humanists (and even scientists) have long neglected–open-access is the future, particularly in a culture so intimate with information that to disconnect from it would yield profoundly painful withdrawals. With digital work becoming so salient in academic discourse, it behooves us all to determine what makes something a digital humanities tool.