INTRO – A DH That Matters – Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein
- Ix – What is the role of the digital humanities in the charged environment of 2019, and how can digital humanists ally themselves with the activists, organizers, and others who are working to empower those most threatened by it? Having spent nearly a decade immersed in the Debates in the Digital Humanities series, and even longer in the field, we are convinced that digital humanists can contribute significantly to a larger technically and historically informed resistance. By enabling communication across communities and networks, by creating platforms that amplify the voices of those most in need of being heard, by pursuing projects that perform the work of recovery and resistance, and by undertaking research that intervenes in the areas of data surveillance and privacy, the “artist-theorists, programming humanists, activist-scholars, theoretical archivists, [and] critical race coders” whom Tara McPherson, writing in the first volume of Debates in the Digital Humanities, called into being, have now been united with their task (154).
- Activist DH, social justice oriented DH
- X – After all, the digital humanities has always seen itself as a field that engages the world beyond the academy— through its orientation toward the public in its scholarship, pedagogy, and service; through its calling attention to issues of academic labor and credit for the same; through its questioning of ossified institutional structures and outmoded scholarly systems; and through its attention to how digital methods can help prepare students for both academic and nonacademic careers. But the events that have transpired since the 2016 election demand a more explicit assertion of these beliefs, and evidence that we are translating these beliefs into action. Now is a time when digital humanists can usefully clarify our commitments to public scholarship, addressing our work not simply to “the public” but also, as Sheila Brennan has observed, to specific communities and the needs that they, and not we, identify as most pressing
- Xi – We have traveled far from the issues that framed the first volume of Debates in the Digital Humanities, published in 2012 during the first term of the Obama administration. Then, the key questions facing digital humanities had to do with the impact of digital methods and scholarship on the academy. . . . But as the field has matured, the question of how digital humanities relates to a larger world that is itself in crisis has added a new urgency to questions about the value of digital scholarship and methods.
- Xiii – Our principal task may no longer be to define or defend digital humanities to skeptical outsiders, but instead to translate the subtleties of our research to others within the expanded field— a project that can help DH matter beyond itself
CHAPTER 1 – Gender and Cultural Analytics: Finding or Making Stereotypes? Laura Mandell
- 4 – In addition to ensuring that feminist issues are addressed in the field, investigating M/F computational analyses also gives us the opportunity to revisit a blindness pervasive in 1980s gender analysis.
- 4-5 – This work by Olsen, as well as that by Underwood and Bamman, demonstrates that computational methods offer the opportunity to denaturalize gender categories. But to capitalize on this opportunity, we must remain attentive to where and how computational data analytics crosses the line into naïve empiricism— often unwittingly— by presenting conclusions about “male” and “female” modes of thinking and writing as if the M/F terms were simple pointers to an unproblematic reality, transparently referential and not discursively constituted
- 5 – My argument in this chapter is that, in some quantitative cultural analyses, the category of gender has been biologized, binarized, and essentialized in a trend that I call “stereotyping,” with an eye on the historical and material practice of stereotypography. . . .Here, I show how data-mining techniques are sometimes used to produce clichés. But my goal is less to dismiss quantification than it is to argue that, insofar as the results of data mining are movable and manipulable, cultural analytics can serve us well in historicizing gender categories. Examining the gender problem in quantitative analysis reveals both opportunities afforded by digital media and how we might miss them.
- Imbuing cultural analytics with feminist theory, I argue here, shows us that we can animate numerical processes rather than fixing their results as stereotype. New technologies and carefully created reading processes can transform the statistical analysis of cultural artifacts into dynamic readerly engagement.
- 11 – Writing on the subject of the visual effect of data visualizations more generally (Graphesis, 129), Johanna Drucker argues that the “representational force” of the image “conceals what the statistician knows very well— that no ‘data’ pre-exist their parameterization. Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (128, emphasis in the original). Datasets are never random samples: they are gathered by humans according to parameters, however complex, hidden, unconscious, and subject to chance they may be.
- 12 – In a 2013 article, Alan Liu quotes a question broached in 2011 by Ryan Heuser and Long LeKhac: “How do we get from numbers to meaning?”18 Liu argues that this “meaning problem” (“What is the Meaning,” 411) is not simply a matter of interpretation after data has been generated, describing abstractly what we can see in the practical way that Rybicki works: Any quest for stable method in understanding how knowledge is generated by human beings using machines founders on the initial fallacy that there are immaculately separate human and machinic orders, each with an ontological, epistemological, and pragmatic purity . . . . Digital humanities method . . . consists in repeatedly coadjusting human concepts and machine technologies until . . . the two stabilize each other in temporary postures of truth that neither by itself could sustain. (“What Is the Meaning,” 416)
- Temporary postures of truth
- 17 – If trained on taxonomies generated by experts in feminist literary history, who have familiarity with the time period, the guesses that an algorithm might make about gender, although a weaker signal because sorting into a greater number of categories, would optimize human-computer interactions. Algorithmic sorting would sometimes reveal our blindnesses, surprising us with insight, and sometimes reveal its own stupidity, marking those moments when human thinking surpasses computational logic. It would never simply be “right” or “wrong.”
- Transforming the print humanities into the digital humanities offers us an opportunity.31 It is a very short step from “typically” to “stereotypically,” as short as it is from printed to stereotyped pages, which are notoriously difficult to tell apart (Shillingsburg). Thawing typographical fixity via computer screens, moving from private marginalia to public, scholarly, dynamic interaction, offers us the chance to contest discursive constructions like the sex/gender/sexuality system at every moment of their construction.
CHAPTER 2 – Toward a Critical Black Digital Humanities Safiya Umoja Noble
- 28 – If ever there were a place for digital humanists to engage and critique, it is at the intersection of neocolonial investments in information, communication, and technology infrastructures: investments that rest precariously on colonial history, past and present.
- 29-30 – The digital humanities can profoundly alienate Black people from participating in its work because of its silences and refusals to engage in addressing the intersecting dimensions of policy, economics, and intersectional racial and gender oppression that are part of the society we live in; this engagement cannot be relegated just to Black digital humanists. We are living in a moment where Black people’s lives can be documented and digitalized, but cannot be empowered or respected in society.
- 30 – We should move with intention to address whether the digital humanities is invested in making itself a new cottage industry or whether, like other humanistic projects, it could turn toward deeper engagements with social transformation. We can no longer deny that digital tools and projects are implicated in the rise in global inequality, because digital systems are reliant on global racialized labor exploitation. We can no longer pretend that digital infrastructures are not linked to crises like global warming and impending ecological disasters. We cannot deny that the silences of the field in addressing systemic state violence against Black lives are palpable. Critical digital humanities must closely align with the register in which critical interventions can occur.
- Key scholars like Roopika Risam and micha cárdenas have introduced the idea of de/post/anti colonial digital humanities by using the work of Frantz Fanon and others to interrogate whether, and if so, the digital can be decolonized. Simultaneously, Tara McPherson has suggested that we must find a way to put the concerns of scholarship engaging with race, ethnicity, and critical theory in dialogue with DH scholars working on tools and digital infrastructures, and she rightly argued that the impact of whiteness often limits the influence and possibilities of DH work.
- 34 – We might begin by asking ourselves at what point did we become overly invested in the digital to the exclusion of pressing social issues of racial injustice, disenfranchisement, and community transformation. Is the narrow, inwardly focused attention on institutionalizing digital humanities to the exclusion of the social, political, and economic landscape worth it? What are the boundaries that we will consider in our collective engagements? The cumulative effects of mass-scale digital infrastructures, products, and engagements require a debt of energy and resources that we cannot collectively repay to the earth or to humanity; only radical reinvestment of the largesse of these projects and company profits back into collective, public interventions on these debts has the potential for renewal and reparation.
CHAPTER 3 – Can Video Games Be Humanities Scholarship? James Coltrain and Stephen Ramsay
- 37 – “Scholarly experience,” however, is a message in search of a medium. Traditionally, the outcome has been a reconstructed experience that has taken a particular, and particularly restrictive, set of forms (e.g., books and articles or their digital surrogates).3 Establishing games as among these forms merely involves reimagining in more radical terms the outcomes of the already game-like experiences that lead to scholarship. The emphasis, however, needs to be placed on creating meaningful analogs to the experiences that lead toward scholarly outcomes, and not on importing traditional methods from older scholarly forms. Matters such as “citation,” “thesis,” “abstract,” and the generic traditions of scholarly rhetoric need to be viewed not as necessary components to enabling something to be deemed scholarly, but rather as the apparatus of a specific genre and its medium.
- 38 – But the question remains: Can video games serve not just as scholarship by humanists but also as actual humanities scholarship? In other words, can video games go beyond merely illustrating or synthesizing humanistic content in ways that are credited as scholarship to become vehicles for completely new interpretations in the humanities? Can a humanities scholar use a video game to convey his or her interpretation of the literary, historical, or theoretical significance of a novel or of the broader meaning (or underlying cause) of a specific historical event?
CHAPTER 5 – No Signal without Symbol: Decoding the Digital Humanities David M. Ber ry, M. Beatr ice Fazi, Ben Roberts, and Alban Webb
- 61-62 – We propose that a critical assessment of computational automation should be one focus of the digital humanities. Via a reading of information theory and Wolfgang Ernst’s arguments about media archaeology, we explore the automated systems enlisted by the digital humanities in terms of signal processing. “Signal processing” is an expression that we take from Ernst and by which we mean ways of analyzing cultural heritage that bypass traditional forms of interpretation and historiography. We argue that signal processing represents an impoverished vision of the possible contribution of the digital humanities to debates about the future of culture. The contours of a new digital public culture are emerging; as digital humanists we need to address the critical implications of the computational state that makes our work possible.
- 63 – Whether or not this “inflection point” does indeed aim in the right direction, it is certainly the case that digitization has generated widespread feelings of anxiety and concern over its implications for the economy and society more generally. Even more, digitization has brought about a crisis in thought. This crisis is manifested, at a sociological level, in a form of anxiety over automated capture— a worry that with atrophied human reason and diminished cognitive faculties, humanity will soon be replaced by intelligent robots.4 Automation anxiety, in turn, raises key techno-epistemological questions around the assembly and reassembly of mechanisms of signal production, dissemination, and consumption.
- 64 – What are the lessons of signal and symbol that might be applied to the digital humanities? After all, the digital humanities is not often concerned with the physical vibrations of air recorded in the electromagnetic flux of a fragile piece of wire, but much more commonly with the digital encoding and analysis of (primarily) textual data. Our contention here is not that the digital humanities lacks a cultural critique, a point that has been made many times before— particularly persuasively by Alan Liu, for example. Rather, we argue that the more specific problem of the digital humanities is seeing its contribution to public culture as a form of processing of signals, rather than as symbol. Understood as symbol, the technologies of the digital humanities have great implications for humanistic models of research.
- 65-66 – Within the digital humanities, we believe, scholars more often than not aim to create strong signals, rather than strong messages, to be given to the receiver.8 By way of the digitization of archival materials, for instance, or by encoding texts into queryable information, what the digital humanist can be seen to be doing is striving for the release of the purest, strongest, widest signal to reach a public audience. Problems arise, however, when the audience is a receiver with no decoder; when, in other words, there is only signal processing and no way of turning the signal back into a comprehensible message.
- Example? Are you suggesting that DHers do more to just present data rather than to analyze it and explain it in a way that’s consumable to the receiver?
- “The sender-receiver model describes the transmission of information. The charge of the digital humanities is, instead, the production of knowledge. An uncritical trust in signal processing becomes, from this perspective, quite problematic, insofar as it can confuse information for knowledge, and vice versa.”
CHAPTER 6 – Digital Humanities and the Great Project: Why We Should Operationalize Everything— and Study Those Who Are Doing So Now – R. C. Alvarado
- 75-76 – In the digital humanities, we too have been involved in a great project. In the early days of the field, back when it was called humanities computing, that project was the retrieval and remediation of the vast collection of primary sources that had accumulated in our libraries and museums and, in particular, those textual sources that form the foundation of two fields that define, along with philosophy, the core of the humanities: literature and history.
- 76 – Partly as a result of this shift, the older concern for well-curated collections founded on philosophically satisfying models has been displaced by a wider range of concerns, from an embrace of data science and distant reading to the exploration of maker labs and the Internet of Things to an engagement with the public humanities on a series of political and even ecotheological fronts.
- 77-78 – Adeline Koh’s notorious “DH Will Not Save You” post touched on this issue, although from the opposite angle. She chastised digital humanists for privileging computation over culture, a move that can only push the humanities into further irrelevance by becoming a “handmaiden to STEM.” But Koh replaces one form of redundancy with another. Instead of being overshadowed by engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, digital humanists are asked, in effect, to be more like scholars in media studies, Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STS), or some variant of cultural studies. This vision of digital humanities misrecognizes the central eros of the field: the ludic and critical engagement with computational and cultural forms, the “situation” created by engaging in the collaborative and iterative work of interpretation by means of digital media
- 79 – But perhaps most important, there is a critical opportunity opened up by an operational turn that should appeal to our desire for a more public humanities. By virtue of our collective familiarity with the body of social and cultural theory, digital humanists are in a position to evaluate the work of nonhumanistic data scientists who routinely grab the low-hanging fruit of social science to complete the narrative arc of the arguments they make without understanding the historical and theoretical contexts in which such ideas must be evaluated.
- 81 – The digital humanities has before it the opportunity to engage in a new great project, the embracing of operationalization as a form of deep remediation. This project has several virtues, including being inclusive of the big tent, synthetic of theoretical traditions and new research agendas, critical of emerging forms of digital culture, and— perhaps above all— being both backwardly compatible with our great work in the building of thematic research collections and forwardly comparable with our engagement with data science and our generous vision of a public humanities.