[Humanist] 27.261 branding & a critical digital humanities

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Aug 5 22:23:36 CEST 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 261.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 04 Aug 2013 22:31:01 +0000
        From: James Smithies <james.smithies at canterbury.ac.nz>
        Subject: RE:  27.255 branding & a critical digital humanities

I can't help but agree with the concern expressed, both in Humanist and elsewhere, about DH / Humanities Computing being swamped under the weight of its own success. I don't consider myself much more than a newcomer and am not sure what practical remedies should be implemented to mitigate the challenges there, but I would like to suggest that one of the best 'defenses' is likely to be intellectual. Despite having healthy and ineffably valuable connections with the GLAM sector, it strikes me that the current difficulties (if we choose to see them as such) stem from the academic side of our community. I work as an academic and am aware that the process of 'intellectual evolution' is competitive and at times - to mix the evolutionary metaphor with Hobbes - brutal. 

If DH is to 'survive' (I use the quotes to avoid creating an inappropriate sense of drama) in a manner consistent with the Humanities Computing tradition, the community needs to develop robust intellectual models capable of carving out and describing its intellectual and practical domains, and demonstrating that the DH Moment is productive of significant new contributions to knowledge. And by this I mean, rather too grandly perhaps, contributions that stand up next to the great thinkers of the arts and humanities tradition. No doubt this is what we mean when we posit the need for a 'critical DH'.

I suppose I'm suggesting that, if DH is indeed swamped, it would be an intellectual moment as much as a political or administrative one. This is one of the grand challenges facing our generation of digital humanists, of course, and excellent work is already being done: negotiating a place in the 21st century academy, carving out an intellectual space where we can practice our arts, offering perspectives on the world other fields can't offer. Given our openness to new ideas and practices, an innately inter-disciplinary focus, and the pace of change, this isn't going to be easy. But the historian of ideas in me is fascinated by the challenge. 


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