Stanley Fish recently published a blog post in the NY Times with the grandiose title, The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality. The article is engaging; it seems to sharpen the knife for the Digital Humanities but then decides not to stick it in (although that might be to follow).
What strikes me about the post is that is latches on to some recent synthesis work on digital humanities, extracting some of its findings and treating them as an ideology to be critiqued.
This implies there is a coherent philosophy to the digital humanities. A set of founding ideas, an essential ideology, that will either determine its success or failure.
The trouble is that the Digital Humanities is not reducible to a manifesto. Rather it is the evolving set of humanistic traditions and practices about investigation, analysis, critique, communication and publication that are coming under pressure in the Internet age. The whole practice of scholarship is evolving / being revolutionised (delete to taste) because of the digital realm.
All scholars are affected by this. Are there really any scholars who don’t use emails, mailing lists, JSTOR, digitised resources, Google Search, electronic journals, Wikipedia? Are there really any scholars who’ve not worried about peer review, or taken advantage of open access?
No, of course not. Although they might pretend that this is all mere convenience and doesn’t help come them closer to the ‘explanation of aesthetic works’?
But the ‘convenience’ of the digital can drive their work in different directions; a radical reduction in the hours spent travelling to libraries and browsing through print archives changes the research process.
And as the tools created by digital humanities projects grow in their scope and functionality – projects in 3D scanning, data mining, textual analysis, crowdsourcing – these too will change research practices.
I don’t disagree with Fish that we need to measure the contribution of digital tools to scholarship, but this should be with the aim of refining these tools, not just throwing them all away.
Arguing against the Digital Humanities is a little like arguing the Internet itself. It’s there, and it surrounds you. It won’t go away.
This post originally appeared on the Jisc digitisation blog here.