[Humanist] 24.423 industrialisation of the digital humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri Oct 22 15:47:28 CEST 2010


Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 24, No. 423.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

[1]   From:    Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic at ffzg.hr>                 (25)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.422 industrialisation of the digital
humanities?

[2]   From:    "Joe Raben" <joeraben at cox.net>                             (7)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.422 industrialisation of the digital
humanities?

[3]   From:    Alan Liu <ayliu at english.ucsb.edu>                        (113)
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.422 industrialisation of the digital
humanities?

--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2010 19:46:38 +0200 (CEST)
From: Neven Jovanovic <neven.jovanovic at ffzg.hr>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.422 industrialisation of the digital humanities?
In-Reply-To: <20101021164124.E3B249C7A3 at woodward.joyent.us>

Hi,

regarding Willard's fear, as stated here:

> This sentence expresses perhaps my greatest fear for our little and
> fragile field: its tendency to industrialization. I fear that the
> digital humanities is becoming dominated by purely technical concerns of
> implementation, (...) But if there's
> anything it must do that few others or none will do, I think, it is to
> foster as well as practice intelligent heterodoxy, i.e. relentless
> questioning of every technological move for its human consequences and
> implications.

recently I came across a passage which can be read as going a little way
beyond the obvious dig, expressing the same fear, or dilemma:

"But, for academics, the best moment occurs when a resident reads out a
newspaper report about new ways of speeding up the writing and reading of
poetry through technological means: "The ultimate objective is to
eliminate the human altogether, thereby freeing people in the universities
and other cultural milieux from what has hitherto been a shockingly
time-consuming chore. The potential in terms of poetry turnover can hardly
be overstated"."

("Surreal sanctuary", John Stokes on N. F. Simpson's play "If so, then
yes", Times Literary Supplement, Oct 1, 2010:  http://bit.ly/aV9cPy )

Yours,

Neven

Neven Jovanovic
Zagreb, Hrvatska / Croatia

--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2010 15:30:35 -0400
From: "Joe Raben" <joeraben at cox.net>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.422 industrialisation of the digital humanities?
In-Reply-To: <20101021164124.E3B249C7A3 at woodward.joyent.us>

In agreeing with you, Willard, may I point out how few of the suggestions
regarding the ideal digital humanities curriculum appear to even mention
humanities.

Joe raben

--[3]------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 2010 01:45:48 -0700
From: Alan Liu <ayliu at english.ucsb.edu>
Subject: Re: [Humanist] 24.422 industrialisation of the digital humanities?
In-Reply-To: <20101021164124.E3B249C7A3 at woodward.joyent.us>

>
> This sentence expresses perhaps my greatest fear for our little and
> fragile field: its tendency to industrialization. I fear that the
> digital humanities is becoming dominated by purely technical concerns of
> implementation, I suspect in no small measure under pressure to assist
> the other disciplines survive their crises of confidence and funding --
> as well as to avoid the severe challenges computing presents to all
> disciplines.
>

To engage only this strand of Willard's statement (leaving aside the fork of
the "standards" issue), I post below an excerpt from an unfinished essay I
am currently writing.  The excerpt concerns the postindustrialization (more
accurate than "industrialization") of the digital humanities.  Fair?  --Alan

[Fragment from essay in progress entitled "The State of the Digital
Humanities: A Report and a Critique" (notes omitted)]:

. . . In actuality, the perception of the digital humanities as what William
Pannapacker recently called the "next big thing" may be less a matter of
empirical phenomena than what marketers call mind share.  Separate
approaches and fields have converged to give the humanities a new "brand."
The marketing metaphor is not extravagant when we consider that the
rebranding effort is aimed first of all at the institution of higher
education itself rather than directly at education's "customers" (students
or the public).  In his The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture,
Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism, Thomas Franks discovered
that some of the most successful advertising campaigns of the 1960's (e.g.,
for the Volkswagen Beetle) began through what amounts to the marketing of
countercultural "cool" inside advertising firms themselves, which began to
foster a new ideal of "hip" rather than buttoned-down Madison Avenue "mad
men."  By analogy, as I have argued in my The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work
and the Culture of Information, today's post-mainframe information
technologies born in the same countercultural (or "cyberlibertarian") moment
are cool in the same way.  Information tech in the era of the personal
computer and network is today's equivalent of a Love Bug that not only works
but creates a new image of work that allows corporate and other
organizational cultures to imagine a cool new vision of themselves.

Information technology, in other words, is an institutional desiring engine.
Whether in general society or in higher education, one of its functions is
to serve as an "allegory" of the social, economic, political, and cultural
self-image of institutions (and, of course, also individuals). Even in the
best of times, therefore, the iPads and other digital devices that some
universities have been handing out to students would be fantasy machines
before they can be proven to be learning machines.  They channel the
institution's (and, hopefully, also the student's) fantasy that knowledge
can be cool.  But in the worst of times, when economic crisis tempts some
campuses to plug immense holes in their funding with equally vast vaporware
plans for money-making "digital delivery," information technology becomes an
allegory of need beyond desire.  Witness, for instance, the controversial
call in 2009 by the dean of the law school at the University of California,
Berkeley, for the University of California system to address its epic budget
crisis by creating an all-virtual "eleventh campus" or "cyber-campus" based
on the slimmest evidence of how a totally online educational system in the
so-called "quality" higher-education sector might work.  In such cases, need
forces higher education to adjust its image in the mirror of information
technology to resemble that of consumer businesses perceived to be both cool
and profitable (able to exert "market appeal," as the dean, Christopher
Edley Jr., puts it).

In general, calls for the corporatization or privatization of higher
education that make information technology their allegory for how to imitate
the combined efficiency, flexibility, and marketing power of today's premier
businesses subscribe to the postindustrial paradigm of knowledge work.
Partly real and partly ideology, knowledge work is now the dominant mode of
production in states that take industrial extraction or manufacturing work
for granted (or outsource it to developing nations), emphasize the service
sectors instead, and–gravitating toward the premium "knowledge"
services–dedicate their best brains and venture capital to the "New
Economy," according to whose laws (a kind of economic version of Moore's Law
doubling the number of transistors packed into an integrated chip every two
years) ceaseless cuts in labor and fixed capital can be compensated for
through "smart" digital technologies that perpetually inflate intellectual
capital.  If the digital humanities are currently in a state of expansion,
it follows that in some manner, for better or worse, they serve the
postindustrial state.  A purely economic rationale for the digital
humanities might thus be that they reengineer higher education for knowledge
work by providing ever smarter tools for working with increasingly
global-scale knowledge resources, all the while trimming the need to invest
proportionally in the traditional facilities, support staff, and perhaps
permanent faculty of what Bill Gates–in widely reported comments of
2010–calls obsolete "place-based" campuses.

In this essay, I offer a report on the current state of the digital
humanities.  But, in order to see the field as the "next big thing" it
appears to be to the humanities at large, I will define it with unusual
breadth.  "Digital humanities" will here have a supervening sense that
combines the "humanities-computing" or "text-based" digital humanities (as I
will sometimes call them for distinction) and new media studies (normally
excluded from discussions of the digital humanities except for a few
overlaps).  This is the synthetic sense, we note, in which Pannapacker
actually uses the term in his comments
http://chronicle.com/blogPost/The-MLAthe-Digital/19468/ about the 2009 MLA
(cited in my epigraph), since the conference sessions he refers to (not to
mention the "700 digital-media programs in the United States" he cites for
context) included both those in the digital humanities narrowly defined and
in new media studies.  Only such a synthetic sense makes possible a new kind
of question about the digital humanities now that they are "the next big
thing."  Are they ready to live up to their responsibility in representing
the humanities and higher education in their effort to negotiate a new
relation to postindustrial society?

My report will end in a critique.  Currently, I fear, the digital humanities
are not ready to take up their full responsibility because the field does
not yet possess an adequate critical awareness of the larger social,
economic, and cultural issues at stake.  The side of the digital humanities
that descends from humanities computing lacks almost all cultural-critical
awareness, and the side that descends from new media studies is
indiscriminately critical of society and global informational "empire"
without sufficient focus on the specifically institutional–in this case,
higher education–issues at stake.  The whole amounts to the lack of a
mental and policy firewall against postindustrial takeovers of the digital
idea along the lines of fantasized "eleventh campuses" that merge
educational, social, and for-profit motives without weighing the need for
the evolution of differences, and not just similarities, between higher
education and other stakeholder institutions in today's knowledge economy.
Even if the digital humanities serve the postindustrial state "in some
manner," as I equivocated above, it matters what that manner is....





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