There is one gripe I have with Digital Humanities which basically leads to my wish for them to be smashed into smithereens. I want them to be destroyed, dissolved and disappear. Instead of Digital Humanities I would much more prefer digital Humanities. I’m going to have to explain this, so let me elaborate on that.
As I was saying before I’ve been to a Digital Humanities conference in Herrenhausen last week, which was a pretty important event for me. I’ve been struggling with the definition of what Digital Humanities are and what not. Fortunately I’m not alone with this problem. It’s a recurring theme on most of the conferences I know, especially in germany. Traditionally we have to make everything a little more abstract and add another layer of paradox. So we’re arguing about if Digital Humanities are a full discipline or an auxiliary science, also we haven’t had the slightest agreement on what Digital Humanities really cover and if we really need it.
The current mood feels like: Digital Humanities what is that you speak of, my child? But in the spirit of egocentricity, I want to speak about my insights and opinion. I was a strong advocate of Digital Humanities being a field by itself and a very important one too. That being said, Digital Humanities can’t and shouldn’t be defined. As Jeffrey Schnapp told us, we shouldn’t claim the spongy edges of Digital Humanities:
— James Baker (@j_w_baker) December 5, 2013
— James Baker (@j_w_baker) December 9, 2013
(Since Schnapp was talking in real space, I’ve quoted an observer in virtual space)
Why? I can’t speak for him, but I too always thought of the Digital Humanities as spongy and therefore great. One of their great advantages is that they’re spongy. They absorb ideas, fields and people into the big melting pot which is the Digital Humanities. Defining the DH would lead to crusty, hard and nonabsorbent edges. It would rob them of one of their greatest powers. As soon as we start excluding ideas, we diminish their potential. I’m full aware, that scientific fields need their own distinguishing methods and theories to get an identity. I’m not alone with that either, that’s why we’re talking so much about where Humanities become Digital Humanities. There seem to be two main characteristics when we try to define the field. For one it’s mathematic algorithms and the second is big data or at least a huge chunk of information.
Since DH struggles to get recognition (at least in germany where I still have to explain why I should teach my students internet-use), we are always quoting those points to tell the heathens what we can do with our machine-powered god. Staying with this metaphor, I think we’ve told those points often, it became a prayer and we started to worship them as idols. That’s becoming clear, when we talk about how a good digital humanist should be educated. He should know programming, math, be able to think in algorithms, have humanists view of the world, know scientific methods and expertise in different fields of research. This sounds more like a wish list than a realistic vitae. At least before 40 years of age. We don’t only want a jack of all trades, but a master of them too. That’s neither realistic nor helpful. We need experts at their respective field, being able to communicate and think interdisciplinary. Or else Digital Humanities will be a niche doomed to do visualization of interesting factoids. Ok that’s a little harsh, but Digital Humanities are able to be more than an advanced form of empiricism. And this is why I want to destroy them.
Digital Humanities are interdisciplinary which a huge array of skills and needs. We can’t mass-produce an ideal type of Digital Humanist, we always have to work in teams with members of different skill sets. In the end, we don’t need Digital Humanities, but Humanists to become digital. We’ve seen many good small projects (posters) at the conference, all of them were interesting and inspiring own ideas. But following a narrow definition of the Digital Humanities would have let to a lot of them missing the party. Not only our party, but the non-digital Humanities party too, because they weren’t fitting there either.
We the Humanities to become digital and the Digital Humanities as a body to start this transformation. Without Digital Humanities think tanks, we’re not going to see change in germany. They serve as vehicle for the process, but in the end they have to be destroyed, so that Humanities can absorb their methods, tools and people for a digital Humanities future. That’s were true science and integration start. Not by using labels, but by working together no matter what put someone put you in.
I speak as someone who has had a computer science education and became a humanist later. I wanted to pursue questions, not trying to find the route to easiest answer (that’s how computer sciences were here back then). I can’t really code anymore, pretty much because my programming skills weren’t put to good use for 10 years now. But I’ve become an analyst and thinker. I use the tools of mind instead of code, but in the end, it is pretty similar. Humanists try to access information, computer sciences try to process them. Hand in hand. At the moment, I’m working on the cultural impact on video games and online communities. I’ve worked on digital media theory before and didactics in museums before that. I don’t feel like a Historian and not like a Humanist. I don’t feel like true Digital Humanist either, I’m a Humanist who went digital. I can see myself working on big data projects in the future, because I’m able to do that and I’ve got much interest in them. But now I don’t. I’m still deciding on how I’ll analyze forums, social networks etc. for my current work. If I do it by hand, I’m a Humanist and if I do it by code, I’ll suddenly become a Digital Humanist?
If that’s true, we’re all chameleons melting into our current projects and that makes all classifications useless, which they in fact pretty much are. We can either stare a the chameleon until it chooses a permanent color or start to work.
How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang. This scientific article pretty much sums up major problems for young researchers. And young meaning everyone except professors.