Preface Digital Humanities at a political turn? Geoffrey Rockwell
- X – The new version of this book is current, accessible, and argues that humanists need to engage in not only the development of online content but also with ethical issues around computing, especially issues around language, search engines, open access and censorship.
- The Digital Humanist is a work of five chapters, introduction, and a conclusion that is designed to introduce humanists to the digital, its human history and the cultural challenges that concern us.
- Xi – This ethical-political turn is perhaps one of the features of The Digital Humanist that differentiates it from the more enthusiastic discourse around the digital humanities in the English-speaking world which tends to concentrate on modeling knowledge outside the political.8 The Digital Humanist addresses an audience concerned with cultural issues that still believes in political action and still believes the humanities are caretakers of a body of knowledge with political value.
- Layers of Digital Textuality.The authors present a typology of digital texts that illustrates just how difficult it is to talk about digital textuality. The typology starts from what we typically call the Text In Itself (email, blog entries, wiki pages). They then shift to the Coded Text (ASCII, HTML, XML) that underlies the text itself, but, of course, is also a text we write. Then they move to the Processed Text like that text generated by Google when you query it or texts mashed up through social media. Finally they move to the Text Which Writes Us (credit cards, debit cards, text games) and draw our attention to the ways in which we are defined by texts from our credit rating to the interactive games we play. The authors are aware of the limits to this layered typology, but it serves well to break open our idea of exactly what a text is on the computer. One could add other layers like the Inscribed Text, which would be the material ways a text is written on a hard drive or CD-ROM.
- Time and Space of Writing. Starting with section 3.5 there is a very interesting discussion of the shift from the temporality of modern narrative writing to the ways in which the Web (which is, after all, mostly writing) is seen spatially. For the authors this shift in metaphor is important to understanding online textuality. They follow this up by describing how in web-writing it is the paratext, microtexts, and metatexts that are important — more important, and stand in for the text itself. It is the metadata keywords you provide for a page that Google uses, it is the headings that people read, and it is all the navigating text that people use to understand what your site is about. The point is that if you look at web-writing advice it isn’t really any more the old rhetorical advice about how to write your paragraphs – it is about how to contextualize your text and make it easy to navigate.
- Xi-xii – Usability and Ethnography.The reflections on the importance of the paratext lead to an argument that the interface is the new face of text and therefore usability is the new metric for studying the interface/text. This leads to a discussion of the place of ethnography as a method for digital humanists who are studying digital textuality as they write it. There is a future in the digital humanities for the way of doing philology which operates as an interface to our cultural identity
- Xiii – It is worth noting that the title is not about the “digital humanities,” but the “digital humanist.” It is about the formation of a new and engaged humanist. This is a work calling for and about the formation of a new persona in the tradition of the humanities. It tries to convince humanities students that they need to engage the digital and then provides a tour through what they need to know from the history of computing and the human to the importance of search engines. It calls them to question the digital infrastructure being built—infrastructure which, to someone outside the English-speaking world, is biased. We need digital humanists who don’t just use what is at hand, but inquire critically into what is in their hands. We need humanists that ask about how it might bias the representation, conservation and interpretation of the cultural record.
- Xiii-xiv – Above all, we need forms of innovation which are not of the bigger and even bigger kind. The authors call for innovation from the periphery and for the periphery rather than the dominant centralized variety characterized by large centers and mega-projects. The Digital Humanist itself comes from outside the loop of Englishspeaking centres, though I’m not sure I would call Italy a periphery. It imagines a way of doing digital work which doesn’t necessarily involve grants. What could we do with the resources at hand? How could we imagine philological projects that could be adapted by others, whatever their resources and wherever they are?
- As the title says, this book is an attempt to describe and examine critically the main concepts and practices of Digital Humanities. Indeed, such a critical examination, taken from a certain distance, seems to be needed more than ever. The project “Around dh in 80 days,”1 which gathers links and resources from around the world, reveals some surprises in the relationship between the center and peripheries of dh, and raises many doubts about the ability of dh to document itself.
- 17 – The question of methodology is connected to all of the above, even if it demands an additional self-reflection (and probably self-criticism). Everyone has to deal with standards, instruments and resources, which influence and inform research and teaching. But the engagement of digital humanists with the instruments they use is more or less passive. To seek to have influence over the process of constructing such instruments and resources is vital to guarantee not only their efficacy but also to avoid the application of those same resources against the interests of democracy and social equality. This is not just a reference to the digital divide, but also to the related problem of information literacy, and the need for teaching digital literacy in all countries, including the affluent ones
- 18 – If these are the challenges, what is the current situation? And doesn’t what has just been said make the crisis in the humanities into a perfect obstacle course? The answer, at first, does not seem very encouraging. Humanists, with few exceptions, do not appear to be so much at the center of the process of diffusion of culture, neither as managers, nor as producers or designers. Certainly the crisis in the studia humanitatis has other more distant causes, and it cannot be summarized here in a few lines. However, this crisis is also an opportunity.
- To gain the benefits of their abilities, however, humanists must complete a paso doble, a double step: to rediscover the roots of their own discipline and to consider the changes necessary for its renewal. The start of this process is the realization that humanists have indeed played a role in the history of informatics. This book proposes to investigate the bonds between the two disciplines, through an epistemological vision of technology, focusing on the interdisciplinary aspects of informatics and telecommunications.
- 21 – The Web has transformed itself into a kind of huge monastery, where access to texts in the library is controlled by a series of technical instruments, among them the powerful search-ranking algorithm, whose operation is mostly secret, but upon which the retrieval of the contents entirely depends. Such a situation cannot fail to have ethical, political and social consequences, which must be confronted by the digital humanist.
- The Conclusion explores the reflections of the authors on the “global turn” of dh, indicating its principal evolutionary lines, its national paradigms, the international conglomerates and the various geopolitical tensions that exist in our community.
Chapter 1 Technology and the humanities: A history of interaction
- 25 – Rather than simply describe the history of these unique and extraordinary machines, this chapter will instead try to pursue a metaphoric, epistemic and perhaps even socio-political path: a way of looking at machines that were meant to simplify, represent, and control the production of information in ways never before imagined. It will try to look at the development of the electronic programmable machine (what we normally call a computer) as a project for the production of meaning destined to deeply influence other disciplines and our culture as a whole.
- The objective of all this is to investigate if and how the humanistic paradigm—in its broadest sense seen as a relation between philosophical anthropology and the development of human–machine interaction—may have influenced the emergence of information science. A strong case can be made that it did, in several ways. The emergence of a certain humanistic perspective can be traced from the end of the Second World War: the idea that machines should not only be able to solve equations, but could also provide a simple and unequivocal answer to any problem of representation, organization, or enhancement of knowledge.
- 34 – The main legacy of Bush, then, can be identified in the centrality of the interaction and integration between humans and machines. Technology is revolutionary only if it is perceived and defined by the relationship between people and their needs.
- 35 – To conclude, it can be seen that Bush’s project, even though he was an engineer who became a policy-maker, undoubtedly had a strong humanistic component, because he put the improvement of the conditions of mankind at the center of technological development. The focus of his Copernican revolution was not just on the management and organization of information—typically work that would be directed in any case to the humanities—but on humanity over technology.
- 46 – This chapter has tried to argue that the contribution of the humanities to the early development of the computer is far greater than is generally believed. Many of the leading theorists who shaped the design of the modern digital computer: people like Turing, von Neumann, Leibnitz, Wiener, Bush and Licklider came from very varied educational backgrounds. They were often trained either directly in the humanities or social sciences (Leibniz, Wiener, Licklider) or they consulted with a wide range of academics, including those from humanistic disciplines.
Chapter 2 Internet, or the humanistic machine
- 52 – The supercommunity of the arpanet, then, would include, alongside the technicians and engineers, creative people from other areas who were able to exploit the new communication tools for their areas of interest. Part of this community can certainly be identified with as digital humanists, together with engineers and programmers, and groups from other disciplines. All these members of the community had equal priority in the interactive information process as they followed their own research agendas.
- 55 – It is interesting to note that the idea of a computer suitable for personal use and the arpanet grew out of the development of user-oriented technology and the idea of human augmentation, rather than from a desire to replace humans with selfsufficient machines. This concept that underlay both the personal computer and the arpanet can be traced in the line of technological thinking from Bush and cybernetics to Licklider, Taylor and Engelbart, and is based on an interpretation of communication as interaction with the machine and with other human beings via properly programmed and organized mechanical devices. It was this common strategy in management and funding that produced the most remarkable achievements in terms of changing the role of technology in all sectors of society.
- Summary of intellectual history of personal computing, humanistic computing, and the internet
- 56 – Recognizing this debt in his book, the inventor of the Web also acknowledged how his project depended on Nelson’s humanistic background.
- 59 – 4 If the gap that separates two thirds of the world’s population from the Web cannot be bridged, all the effort in favor of humanity will have been wasted, and will end up bringing further discrimination. One aim of the digital humanist should therefore be to address all problems related to social and political traditions, and to help define a common ground for action.
- 67 – Before concluding this second chapter, however, it is time to take a broader view of the Internet, and to consider some of the issues that stand in the way of a more democratic and genuinely multicultural development of digital humanities. This may be termed the Digital Humanities Divide. It breaks down into five interconnected problems: 1. A digital divide may exist within or between countries, and possess different internal and external dimensions, e.g. geographical, sociological, economic, cultural, etc.; 2. the governance of digital infrastructures (from local institutions to worldwide organizations, like icann, ietf, iab, w3c, etc.); 3. the development of standards (again, from large organizations like the Unicode consortium to more focused and smaller scholarly communities like tei21); 4. the “code hegemony,” i.e. the semiotic and technical dominance of multinational private groups, from Microsoft to Google, from Apple to FaceBook; 5. and finally, how all this relates to problems of governance structure, multicultural and linguistic issues, gender, and the representation of minorities (including alternative methodological views) within current dh organizations.