[Humanist] 27.952 social dynamics of the new

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Apr 7 13:02:45 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 952.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 06 Apr 2014 21:39:05 +0000
        From: James Smithies <james.smithies at canterbury.ac.nz>
        Subject: RE:  27.948 social dynamics of the new

These are topical issues, and perhaps the two issues I've grappled with most since being hired as a digital humanities academic. I can offer a couple of observations:

1] I get very little hostility from colleagues about digital humanities, and in fact have strong support from a broad range of people at my university, but there is a noticeable communication gap. Traditional academics often assume that - rather than being experts in the problem domain -  digital humanists don't see the issues with the application of computing to the humanities, as if we're slightly naïve. That's because they're not aware of our scholarly traditions and literature (as I generally aren't of theirs, in any detailed sense). If I communicate something along the lines of 'don't worry - we're onto it, we understand and are concerned about the issues, we're researching them intensively, and have got your back' the conversation changes. We're doing research, not providing a service, but that's a more accurate portrayal of how we're contributing to the tradition, in many ways, than the rather uninspiring line that we're doing 'revolutionary' things with new technological widgets (like our 15 year old relatives). My line is normally that you'll never find a person more circumspect about the opportunities offered by technology than a digital humanist, because we deal with the constraints all day. Moreover (to point 2, below), that's where the potential for a significant contribution to knowledge comes from.

2] The 'bandwagon issue' and conservatism is a thorny problem, connected as it is with serious issues related to the economics and politics of scholarship. I wonder, though, whether we've reached a point of intellectual exhaustion - or at least an intellectual decision point. The bandwagon 'who's in, who's out' conversation has petered out from what I can tell, but once looked like *the* meaty issue that could offer (or lead towards) intellectual 'respectability'. It *looked*, from the inside and outside, like a solid academic brouhaha. Perhaps it was (is?), but it's interesting to note that it hasn't led to any startling new directions (correct me if I'm wrong, please). DH to me has the potential within it to offer deep new insights and, as you put it Willard, new modes of argumentation and reason, but I don't see gleeful movement in that direction. I'm wondering if we're in a 'post-bandwagon / who's in who's out' period of intellectual stasis. I doubt many people want to rehash it, but where to from here? Everyone comes at DH from a different angle, but I've personally always been excited by the radical epistemological, and even ontological, opportunities posed by the field. It's fantastic that the community has (I hope successfully, and I think praiseworthily) navigated the recent 'boom' and attendant issues, but (if that's case) that just leaves the enlarged community with exciting decisions about what comes next. I'd like to think we're all open minded enough to hope it comes from an unexpected direction, so can park questions of conservatism. I have my angle, you have yours, and the community is large enough now that with positivity and support, someone might just stumble onto something remarkable.


Dr. James Smithies
Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities
Associate Director, UC CEISMIC Digital Archive
University of Canterbury
DDI: +64 3 364 2896
http://dh.canterbury.ac.nz | http://ceismic.org.nz

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