[Humanist] 27.255 branding & a critical digital humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Thu Aug 1 22:11:54 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 255.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Thu, 01 Aug 2013 21:57:10 +1000
        From: Craig Bellamy <txt at craigbellamy.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 27.254 branding and a critical digital humanities
        In-Reply-To: <20130731201403.3D0932F7A at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard and Humanist,

Thanks for the link to the Higher Ed article and your critical 
addendum.  You struck a cord, one that I have reflected upon at length 
of late.  The broader issue of 'branding' is a problem of the academy 
everywhere; the particular University I am at promotes itself as 'number 
one' in this particular imagined geographical context; in an assumption 
that all universities are playing the same game. Plus this state's most 
proudly regional and parochial university promotes its self as 
'Worldly', when, if one drives 1 hour West of Melbourne, common sense 
may tell you otherwise.

If your question is where does the critical digital humanities intersect 
with branding, (and I suspect that this is a rhetorical question), I 
would say that the 'digital humanities' is rapidly becoming a brand in 
itself.  I worry that all the investment that students and scholars have 
made in the field; who understand its core technologies and values, its 
intrepid interdisciplinarity, and its endearing contradictions, is not 
protected well enough. We don't protect its boundaries, nor its emerging 
merit structures, nor its research accountability structures well 
enough.  Many believe that merit in some other field is merit in the DH, 
an EU notion of the DH, that is bound to fail because one of the member 
states hasn't paid its taxes.

Sure, anyone can brand themselves a 'digital humanist' or historian, and 
they possible won't be arrested and sent to Tasmania. But still, if 
someone writes a dodgy history, they will confront a well-established, 
critical 'infrastructure' to insist they defend their thesis and their 
historical skill. I am not sure we have the same luxury in the DH, thus 
our 'brand' is in danger of being stolen by thieves, who may use it to 
not only undermine us, but the rest of the humanities in the process 
(ie. I already see a drift of the term 'digital humanities' into the 
realm of the well-oiled 'science propaganda' machine along with its 
crudely Modernist, deterministic agenda...and its seductive funding models).

If you ask what we can do about it, perhaps fight fire with fire!

Register 'Digital Humanities' as a brand and only allow its use under 
strict circumstances (and at a very high fee). Patent TEI, and even 
perhaps have a DH certification process, (like Plumbers do); ''a 
certified practising digital humanist' (also at a very high fee). Or 
change the name or even sell it for a very large sum and use the money 
to do some research. Sure I am being a gadfly, but if anyone can use the 
term 'digital humanities' for what ever purpose (and others will believe 
them), then the past 40 odd years of work in this field will be wasted.

I respect those who have made a much larger and more sophisticated 
contribution to the field than I have (my opportunities have been 
limited), and I hope these people are also in a better position to 
certify the work of the DH much better than I am.

Kind regards,


In the Times Higher for 18 July, Fred Inglis asks the rhetorical 
question, "What if marketing-speak is not glib nonsense, but a poison at 
the heart of the university?" He answers in a long article,"Branded to 
beginning as follows:
> Before we get too far into the thickets of trendy socio-cultural 
> questions easy to pursue because they require no technical knowledge 
> or the making of anything, and safe because we can do nothing about 
> them (except to leave the academy altogether and join the 
> picket-lines), perhaps we could consider what might be done to give 
> some real meaning to the word "critical" in "critical digital 
> humanities". Inglis identifies an evil in academic life. Is it so? If 
> it is, as the evidence all around us suggests to me it is, then where 
> does it cross our path, and what can we *as digital humanists* do 
> about it?

Dr Craig Bellamy
Research Fellow
Computing and Information Systems
The University of Melbourne
Parkville, Melbourne, Australia
w: craigbellamy.net

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