“The real problem with Digital Humanities” – critical approaches for further discussion
In December 2017, Prof Susan Schreibman (Centre for Digital Humanities, Maynooth University) organized a discussion for staff members and doctoral students, focusing on recent criticism of Digital Humanities projects and public responses. I would like to share the texts circulated on this occasion because similar debates about the aims and achievements of the digital humanities arise at regular intervals and require careful differentiation.
Timothy Brennan’s article, published in the Chronicle in 2017, was entitled The Digital-Humanities Bust and claimed that “after a decade of investment and hype”, the field of digital humanities had not accomplished much:
Immediate responses in the Chronicle addressed traditional differences in disciplinary cultures and a more general “crisis of the humanities”:
- In ‘Digital’ Is Not the Opposite of ‘Humanities’, one author asked why computers shouldn’t be able to advance the humanities if they could enrich so many other fields of knowledge (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Digital-Is-Not-the/241634).
- Another author stated: There Is No Such Thing as ‘the Digital Humanities’ (https://www.chronicle.com/article/There-Is-No-Such-Thing-as/241633)
Responses published on other platforms included:
- Mapping Racism and Assessing the Success of the Digital Humanities: https://sarahemilybond.com/2017/10/20/mapping-racism-and-assessing-the-success-of-the-digital-humanities/
- What’s the matter with Digital Humanities? https://mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/whats-the-matter-with-digital-humanities/
- Is Digital Archaeology Busted? https://introspectivedigitalarchaeology.wordpress.com/2017/10/24/is-digital-archaeology-busted/
- Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/neoliberal-tools-archives-political-history-digital-humanities/#
At the same time, Brennan’s article was only the latest in a long line of critical assessments questioning the viability of highly diverse approaches commonly classified as “digital humanities.” Alongside methodological or ethical criticism from a historical, cultural or political perspective, there is IT- and data-focused criticism which laments that the lifespans of DH resources tend to be too short, and that long-term data storage as well as accessibility are the “real problems”:
Last but not least, researchers working in the digital humanities often question their own disciplinary affiliations and wonder if they should still consider themselves historians, literary scholars or sociologists as they predominantly applied computer-based research methods.
I will try and contribute to these on-going discussions by adding new publications or social media posts to this list. Comments and additions are always welcome.