Response: “On ‘The Dark Side of Digital Humanities'”

I think what many discussions of DH come down to is philosophy versus utility. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the societal change a true integration of DH, but let’s not wax foreboding and throw in Darth Vader and the Imperial March so quickly.

I think what we should first discuss, instead of how DH will overthrow the galactic republic of humanities and “that DH is complicit with the neoliberal transformation of higher education; and its strongest support comes from administrators who see DH’ers as successful fundraisers and allies in the ‘creative destruction’ of humanities education” is to start with the most basic questions. In terms of education, which is where I always start when I think about society, because it is not the generation that embraces the change that makes the difference but the next generation that grows up with the change, I ask:

1) What is important to our society/ our society’s prosperity?

2) What do we want our citizens to do in order to ensure we get whatever the answer to number one is?

3) What kind of skills do our citizens need to know in order to do the jobs that answer number two?

4) How do we effectively teach the skills (the answer to number three) in public education?

So. If we say:

1) The use of technology to our benefit is important to our prosperity in this increasingly digital world,

2) We want our citizens to be technologically savvy in some way. (This is where the debate sets in–how technologically savvy? Do we want to, as Pannapacker accuses, “insist upon coding and gamification to the exclusion of more humanistic practices,” or still retain our basic skill set–you know, reading, writing, arithmetic, things that we can build on to develop financial skills or public speaking skills or whatever we want to do for a job.)

3) Well, in the nineties, I know that as an elementary school student I was supposed to develop at least a rudimentary knowledge of the programs in Microsoft Office. Most of these were means of presentation. That is, my knowledge of the digital world is best employed in presentation. Now, if we wanted our future citizens to be digital doctors, like in this “A Day Made of Glass” video (, we would have to teach them how to use, according to the video, basically an iPad for most of their work. Which we are already somewhat doing. I know there have been several elementary schools where the students had access to iPads, which were somehow integrated into the lesson.

4) Finally, we not only have to teach about technology, but we should be able to use the technology as a tool for education. If we can’t use the technology, what good is teaching about it? Let me explain. In one of my education classes, some random guy gave us a lecture on thinking out of the box to use technology in education, and not just for presentations. He gave an example of using a Prezi as a digital geography quiz. He showed a video of students having a class discussion via text messaging, sitting around in beanbags instead in desks. My automatic response was “Yeah, right. Teachers would never completely scrap the structure of the classroom that has been around for at least a hundred years. Teachers are presenters, so they will use technology as a means of presentation, but nothing is going to radically change in the classroom just because there are iPads now.” See, if that mindset which I just expressed is still the majority, which it is, but everyone is afraid to say it, then DH will never really live up to this Darth Sidious persona we have created, blowing up the humanities as we know it like Alderaan, because it is, as Pannapacker suggests, “a construct, something imagined—rather than the actual practices of individual digital humanists.”

I know, my lack of faith is disturbing.