120: Just What Is Digital Humanities?

One of the BIG THINGS these days are the ‘Digital Humanities’—a set of approaches that bring the power of computers to traditional humanistic questions. I was asked to present an introductory talk about Digital Humanities: here is a version of that talk.

The problem is that people aren’t really sure just what the Digital Humanities are. The joke is that every conference, talk, meet-up or working group about DH begins with the question “Just what is Digital Humanities.” I think that’s because there are two different views of what DH should be.

First is the ‘soft’ view—DH is just a ‘big tent’ designation for whatever it is that humanists do when they get access to computers.

Second is the ‘hard’ view—DH is a fundamentally different way of doing scholarship, that might not even be particularly humanistic.

A lot of detractors of Digital Humanities take the hard view. They say that DH is a con-game. Practitioners say that it’s just a collection of methods, but really it’s a sneaky trick of the neoliberal establishment to replace politically radical humanistic scholarship with merely useful computer tricks.

I think that BOTH the hard view and the soft view are true. DH is confusing because it is a method-led scholarly project, rather than a theory-led project. The past generation really got the most wind in its sails from theories—new theoretical orientations that let them see their subject in new lights, and make new claims. And so they look at DH and wonder where the theory is. But DH is firstly a bunch of methods. What both camps kinda miss out on is that eventually the new methods WILL lead to new theoretical orientations, new projects, and new problems. It’s just that we don’t know EXACTLY what those are.

Here’s a rough collection of tools, papers and syllabi.

121: Interview With Peter Zinoman

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