[Humanist] 28.365 everything and nothing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 3 07:24:59 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 365.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2014 20:27:26 +0000
        From: "Jaskot, Paul" <PJASKOT at depaul.edu>
        Subject: FW:  28.354 everything and nothing?
        In-Reply-To: <20140926061051.23BDA65BD at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Prof. McCarty, 

I wanted to write and say how much I appreciated this post. Having watched
and become involved in DH debates over the past few years, I share your
unease at this dualism in our field (field? discipline? subdiscipline?!).
You have captured something important here in this shot across the bow.

Some thoughts:

1) I wonder if what you are describing as everything and nothing is also a
result of the publications in the field that emphasize either the role of
the programming end of DH (the everything) or the theorization of DH (the
nothing). I realize that is too stark, but I am thinking less of the
participants in digital humanities and more of the audience, the view from
outside. As an art historian, I have encountered many curious colleagues who
have followed bits and pieces of digital humanities development but are not
major participants. These vast majority of colleagues have generally
dismissed (with some fear) the "revolutionary" emphasis on technology that
feels completely alien to them, while equally rejecting the theorization of
the digital as so much more post-structural fluff. There is, I think,
institutional lethargy, fear of change and, of course, not a surprising dash
of anti-intellectualism in these responses at times. It seems in the realm
of the outsider that "everything and nothing" are appropriate descriptors,
but from the insider perspective, such essentialisms leave us confused since
they don't match our experience let alone understanding of the work we think
we are doing.

2) I wonder as well if the key to this dynamic you describe isn't that
parenthetical phrase that crept into your response:  " (Well, yes, if what
you're interested in is the product rather than the process). " The
everything or nothing approach precisely avoids the emphasis that many of us
place on the process as the central intellectual endeavor of our work. I am
not a programmer and will not come up with the new basis for an entirely
novel visualization platform; nor am I particularly a theorist who will
explain how the nature of representation is the interesting result of DH.
Rather, I am interested in how digital methods change my research, and what
that may mean, what I consider a rather important contribution to DH. But,
as humanists, we have not learned to WRITE about process or accept it as an
intellectual result in our journals, conferences and the like. (Not to
mention hiring and promotion committees...) It seems to me that until we
make the description and analysis of process something that is widely
accepted, then DH will continue to be seen from the outside as both
everything and nothing.

At any rate, perhaps some obvious comments. But I just wanted you to know
that I appreciated your post.

Yours, Paul Jaskot

Paul B. JaskotAndrew W. Mellon Professor (2014-2016)
CASVA-National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC
p-jaskot at nga.gov

[History of Art & Architecture, DePaul University, Chicago, IL 60614]
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