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

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Matt Younglove

Hey guys, I know I’m late to the party in this discussion, but I want to start by addressing this question raised by Daniel’s discussion with a colleague: “And, most importantly, how can we use DH to interrogate issues of race, class, and gender in modern academic work?” Is this really most important? It seems like these are today’s buzzwords, but I’m not sure “most important” is accurate in humanities work. There are lots of questions that can be answered, and to limit what DH is capable of to issues of race, class, and gender as being the most important seems rather reductive. Additionally, what better place to find the answers to these questions, than in the digital sphere, where the vast majority of our communication as a species is currently happening? All we need are the right data mining algorithms and we can answer the gamut of questions regarding race, class, and gender in regards to how we as a nation of English-speaking internet-users see fit (I make this specification because text based algorithms are language specific).

In reaction to McPherson’s question about the Digital Humanities being so white, I state that the digital humanities started in the most logical place, the digital world. This lends itself to programmers video gamers, of which McPherson stated was the subject of some of the first research. This means the scholarship was started by people affluent enough to gain a high level of education while simultaneously having enough time to play a large number of video games. I don’t have the statistics, but this points to suburban, white America. I’m not saying this is where the scholarship should be, but it is evidently where it is rooted. As the field grows, it is important to think about bigger, more important questions than video games, but we shouldn’t shun the video game researchers for not being ethnic enough. Hopefully the field will become more inclusive, and maybe this should be the new challenge for the field. The more diverse the players of the game are, the more diverse the wide array of research interests will become. Issues of demographic and race aren’t quite the same as issues of sports fandom, but they stem from issues related to identity, which can be observed via the digital realm in facebook. Take this map of baseball fandom in the US by county, as evidenced by people’s ‘likes’ on facebook ( I do think McPherson’s concluding suggestions about the direction that digital humanities can go is particularly spot on, and I find the potential in studying how computational systems developed and operate through various lenses like new media theory and linguistic theories could be potentially enlightening. I especially like her call for needing hybrid practitioners, as I see myself as an ‘artist-scholar.’

On another, perhaps more comical note, Pannapacker’s justification of existence that the Digital Humanities is a real thing by citing it’s Wikipedia article isn’t very convincing. The reason I say this is because those who are familiar with DH are already using Wikipedia daily and already know its value, and those that don’t know what DH is or argue against it as a means of scholarship are the same people who would argue against using Wikipedia for any academic function. I do agree with his point however, that soon DH will just be, ‘the humanities,’ which will happen when the generation of digital natives becomes the generation of researchers in academia.