INTRO – Collecting Ourselves – Katherine Bode and Paul Longley Arthur
- 1- Digital humanities has become an inﬂuential and widely adopted term only in the past decade. Beyond the rapid multiplication of associations, centres, conferences, journals, projects, blogs, and tweets frequently used to signal this emergence, if anything characterizes the ﬁeld during this time it is a concern with deﬁnition. This focus is acknowledged and reﬂected, for instance, in Matthew Gold’s 2012 edited collection, Debates in Digital Humanities . The debates surveyed are overwhelmingly deﬁnitional: ‘As digital humanities has received increasing attention and newfound cachet, its discourse has grown introspective and self-reﬂexive’ (x). Questions that Gold identiﬁes as central to and expressive of the emerging ﬁeld include: Does one need to build or make things to be part of the digital humanities? ‘Does DH need theory? Does it have a politics? Is it accessible to all members of the profession’, or only those working at elite, well-funded institutions? ‘Can it save the humanities? The university?’ (xi).
- 2 – Digital humanities has become an inﬂuential and widely adopted term only in the past decade. Beyond the rapid multiplication of associations, centres, conferences, journals, projects, blogs, and tweets frequently used to signal this emergence, if anything characterizes the ﬁeld during this time it is a concern with deﬁnition. This focus is acknowledged and reﬂected, for instance, in Matthew Gold’s 2012 edited collection, Debates in Digital Humanities . The debates surveyed are overwhelmingly deﬁnitional: ‘As digital humanities has received increasing attention and newfound cachet, its discourse has grown introspective and self-reﬂexive’ (x). Questions that Gold identiﬁes as central to and expressive of the emerging ﬁeld include: Does one need to build or make things to be part of the digital humanities? ‘Does DH need theory? Does it have a politics? Is it accessible to all members of the profession’, or only those working at elite, well-funded institutions? ‘Can it save the humanities? The university?’ (xi).
- 3 – Heralded as the ‘next big thing’ (Pannapacker 2009)—or even just ‘the thing’ (Pannapacker 2011)—by many within and outside the academy, and even put in the position of saving the humanities from its own crisis of meaning (Liu 2013), the focus on deﬁnition may be an attempt to provide something— anything— for those who look to the ﬁeld for salvation at a time of institutional and ﬁnancial pressure, and even epistemological and ontological crisis.
- 4 – The second way we endeavoured to advance digital humanities beyond deﬁnition was to request contributions that did not merely describe digital humanities projects and methods but made an original contribution to research. The result is a collection of arguments, analyses, ﬁndings, and theories of relevance and value to multiple areas of the humanities. Such research has importance far beyond what it says about digital humanities, and we end this introduction by describing some of the speciﬁc ideas and arguments presented. Collected together, these chapters clearly demonstrate (rather than describe) the capacity of digital humanities to function as a site of rich conversations between and across disciplines.
- 6 – A key reason why the chapters in this collection succeed in using building to move beyond existing ways of thinking points to another commonality: an explicitly self-conscious and critical approach to the nature and implications of collections . As Julia Flanders explores in this volume, the current remediation of our cultural heritage into digital forms provides the opportunity to interrogate our assumptions about, and approaches to, collections before they become ingrained, normalized, and ultimately invisible.
- While Prescott criticizes digital humanities as atheoretical, even antitheory, if theory is ‘a reasonably systematic reﬂection on our guiding assumptions’ (Eagleton, cited in Prescott 2011, 68) then theorizing is precisely what the authors in this collection are doing. By interrogating how the organization of knowledge shapes what and how we can think— and using this awareness to imagine new modes of organization and, hence, new modes of thought— an explicitly self-conscious approach to collections manifests a dynamic mode of theoretical work.
- Is DH simultaneously a- or anti-theoretical and a new way to think?
- 11 – In ‘Getting There from Here’, McCarty argues that the major challenge for digital humanities in the future is to realize we cannot avoid, and must instead embrace, being changed by the otherness of computing.
- By showcasing new approaches that harness not only the power of data but of our own humanity— in various forms of collectivity and ambitious generosity— this volume signals some of the ways in which digital humanities can work at this intersection, advancing discussion beyond a concern with deﬁnition to provide methodologically critical and dynamically theoretical modes of humanities research.
CHAPTER 16 – Digital Humanities Is Bigger, Better? – Peter Robinson
- 250-51 – In digital humanities, as we now have it, the answer is depressingly familiar. You need either to master a forbidding range of skills and tools, or form an alliance with someone or some group that has access to them. For most scholars, for nearly all readers, neither is possible. We are back where we were in the 1980s: the individual who wants to do useful work in the digital medium has to scratch about to ﬁnd the resources to do it. Indeed, we are worse off. We now have a huge mass of digitized material at our ﬁngertips. We could add to this, enrich it, provide links, add information, correct errors— yet, we cannot. We are spectators who could be players.
- 254 – Here is my dream: I am sitting at home and I discover that a new manuscript of Wyatt’s ‘They Flee from Me’ has been discovered in the Bodleian Library, and a digital image of it is available online. So I make a transcription of it and put it on the Web. While I am making this transcription, someone on the other side of the world is reading a version of the poem online. A little ﬂag pops up in the browser: ‘I see you are reading Wyatt’s “They Flee from Me”. A new manuscript has just been discovered of this poem. Click here to see it.’ The reader follows the link, looks at the manuscript image on the Bodleian website. And while that reader is looking at the image, I send my transcript to the Web: a few milliseconds later, a ﬂag pops up on the Bodleian page, saying, ‘A transcription of this text is now available. Click here to see it.’ So our reader does, spotting a mistake in my transcript. The reader corrects it, and the next reader to look at this site will see the corrected version of my transcript. Along the way, digital library systems all around the world capture the image, my transcript, and the correction to it, and store it so that they will be available forever after, as long as our civilization survives; interface systems all around the world register the existence of this new manuscript and transcription— and in time, all the annotations people might provide— and offer links to it. All automatically, all without any intervention by me or my corrector. We do the scholarship; everything else is done for us.
- The great project
CHAPTER 17 – Margins, Mainstreams and the Mission of Digital Humanities – Paul Turnbull
- 258 – Drawing in part on my own experiences in creating online historical resources, I argue that we should not allow our fortunes to be held hostage to disciplinary conservatism but should focus on the development of digital humanities as an intellectually protean ‘interdiscipline’ that nonetheless strategically and critically engages with colleagues content to pursue conventional, largely print-focus modes of scholarly inquiry and publication. We cannot ignore the mainstream. Indeed, there are compelling reasons to engage with the ideas and ambitions of colleagues employing conventional critical procedures and practices to produce traditional forms of scholarly communication. But neither can we afford to be ruled by mainstream interests and assumptions.
- 263 – Digital humanities seems to me best conceived as a discipline in this second sense— as Willard McCarty has called it, an ‘interdiscipline’ that has little unanimity in the questions it asks of the human condition, or the disciplinary traditions it draws on, beyond a shared conviction that digital tools and technologies might be creatively employed to answer them.
- 267-68 – I would argue that what all of this conﬁrms is that the success of digital humanities depends on our addressing key cultural and social issues in scholarly practice. One of these issues, as previously mentioned, is the need to advance trust in the intellectual integrity of digital resources. The other is to focus on training digital humanists in the dynamics of collaboration as much as equipping them to exploit the intellectual and creative potential of killer applications.
- 269 – Prescott (2011) charges digital humanities with being preoccupied with technology at the expense of its intellectual possibilities. The charge is not without substance. An embarrassing number of projects over the past two decades have produced tools and services meeting the needs of small constituencies with specialized interests that have proved incapable of adapting to help achieve more widely shared aspirations. There have also been projects creating applications that have gathered dust on the shelf because they were conceived and built with insufﬁcient understanding of the intellectual aspirations they were intended to help scholars achieve.
CHAPTER 18 – The Big Bang of Online Reading – Alan Liu
- 276 – Second comes the realization that while the virtual is material, it also changes our very understanding of materiality. Steam, gas, and electrical machinery (all the way through the era of the mainframe computer) were associated with mass and energy effects. But today’s digital machineries are increasingly also associated with network and system effects. They witness the fact that today our idea of materiality is morphing into one of systematicity. After all, for decades, lateor post-Marxist, postmodern, and other theorists (for example, Harvey 1989; Soja 1989; Deleuze and Guattari 1987), complexity theorists in the sciences (for example, Nicolis and Prigogine 1989), and others have argued that old-fashioned ideas of materialism have been superseded by new geographies of space-time compression, ‘a thousand plateaus’, chaotic systems, and so on. Matter today is a differential substrate (like a semiconductor) on which, at nodal points, speciﬁc material intensities or knottings rise like signal from noise to mark out— and, in a sense, to fabricate— the structure of what really ‘matters’, which is a system of conﬁgurations, spacings, timings, channels, and ﬂow rates.
- 279 – The result of neurocognitive research into online reading is that we are now able to ask such questions as follows: Does the Internet constrain us to ‘shallow’ or ‘hyper’ reading? Or, instead, will new nuances of digital reading evolve to expose the limitations of metaphors like ‘shallow’ themselves? After all, the common metaphors used to debate the mental experience of digital reading— shallow versus deep, extensive versus intensive, hypertextual versus linear, focused versus distracted, or close versus distant— tend to be skeuomorphic sensory or physical tropes inherited from past ages of reading.