The following remarks are a slightly modified version of a presentation made by MITH Director, Neil Fraistat, for the TILTS Symposium Roundtable: “WHAT IS DIGITAL HUMANITIES?” In order to open conversation on this topic, Fraistat draws together quotations from some of the most recent statements on the subject and articulates a set of questions through which it might be thoughtfully explored.
Addressing such questions thoughtfully and compellingly is, perhaps, our best hope of securing the future of digital humanities. But, to my mind, the vitality of that future depends on our not foreclosing our definition and leaving the question of digital humanities just that.
and from Babylon is Burning:
Which of the following is “doing” Digital Humanities?
a) a cross-campus, international team of scholars, supported by an NEH grant, who are encoding, organizing, and publishing a corpus of illuminated manuscripts via a customization of Omeka;
b) a professor preparing a manuscript (collecting screenshots, embedding video clips, inserting hyperlinks, tagging, etc.) on picaresque narratives in blaxploitation films of the 70s for submission to an electronic, open, peer-reviewed online journal;
c) an adjunct professor of English setting up a Blackboard site hours before the semester begins and hours after she’s been assigned a section of freshman composition;
d) a somewhat scarred veteran of the culture wars sending out an email to colleagues, trying to organize a group statement on shared governance at his local institution of higher learning.
And finally, and to me most problematically, the emerging sense of “digital humanities” reproduces and maintains the class structure of academia. Digital humanities resources are collecting around the usual suspects – – private and public research universities. Institutions, like state universities and community colleges, defined by that other academic labor – – teaching – – are being pushed to the margins. Likewise, “digital humanities” doesn’t seem very visible in institutions dominated by those other academic laborers – – precarious or contingent faculty. And, there seems little attention or effort to think about “digital humanities” at institutions dominated by working-class or non-elite students.