Response to Pannapacker

I’m not 100% positive that this is how we’re supposed to do this, but I figured I would give it a try. Here are my thoughts on our assigned readings for this week:

William Pannapacker’s blogs on The Chronicle of Higher Education in regards to the digital humanities accurately capture the major concerns, or at least my major concerns, about this rapidly developing field. Pannapacker captures one such concern in his observation that “the field, as a whole, seems to be developing an in-group, out-group dynamic that threatens to replicate the culture of Big Theory back in the 80s and 90s, which was alienating to so many people. It’s perceptible in the universe of Twitter: We read it, but we do not participate. It’s the cool-kids’ table” (“Pannapacker at MLA”). This statement effectively highlights my fear that instead of making the humanities and humanities education more accessible and diverse, as is their intent, the digital humanities, like the universities of the past, is actually just forming a closed social club that accepts only those who are “coding” and “making”. My fear is that digital humanities is the future, but because I am neither “coding” nor “making,” it is a future in which I will have no place. It is a fear that I am sure others who are equally as technologically unsavvy as myself share.

In addition to this concern of the true accessibility of the digital humanities, the concerns of others that Pannapacker notes in his blog “On ‘The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities’” reveal other glitches that need to be worked out before the field is likely to find the acceptance it needs to be taken seriously. For example, Pannapacker admits that in order to sell what they do to administrators and the like, digital humanists have a tendency to “talk about DH in ways that might trouble [their] colleagues in the humanities.” Likewise, there is an abundance of criticism against the digital humanities – it’s too diverse, it requires coding and gamification, it’s affiliated with MOOCs, etc. – as “a construct, something imagined—rather than the actual practices of individual digital humanists” (“Dark Side”). Pannapacker’s rebuttal to this type of criticism also points to its cause: “The digital humanities is not a monolithic movement: it’s a “big tent.” One of the major issues with the digital humanities seems to be that they are distinctly lacking a set definition of exactly who they are and what they do. Until such a definition has been reached, it seems only logical that people will continue to misunderstand the digital humanities and to express uncertainty and apprehension towards them and their endeavors.

Finally, in “Rebooting Graduate Education in the Humanities” Pannapacker’s questions about how the digital humanities will fit into the current graduate education system – “How would students’ work be assessed, and how would credit be allocated, particularly when projects involve many people of different ranks and develop over a period of years? How would projects be financed, given that graduate students in the humanities are usually supported for teaching rather than research?” – and his ultimate conclusion that “graduate education, as it is currently constituted, would have to change” speak to scholar’s concerns that their entire structure will have to be replaced. This is a concern for many not only because it means that the style of education used by generations will become obsolete (as we discussed in class last week, nobody really likes change) but also because it will mean a difficult, lengthy, and probably painful process of completely overhauling our education system. The lack of traditional tenure-track positions available makes it obvious that we need to reconsider how and for what jobs we train our graduate students, I feel like a complete overhaul of the education system is unnecessary and deterring. I can’t help that if the digital humanities could find a better way to work with the system already in play, it would be more readily accepted. Also, going back to my previous paragraph, if the digital humanities did a better job of defining itself and its practices, people probably wouldn’t be so uncertain about how to fit it into the education system in the first place.

One thought on “Response to Pannapacker

  1. Joseph Santoli

    We might need a reformation of our education for Digital Humanities to fit, but more likely than not, it will be a slow one. I think of authors like Harold Bloom who dislike what the discipline of English is becoming (pop culture studies) and that doesn’t even include DH. There are big names in the profession, and if those big names do not support Digital Humanities, it will be a long time before they are accepted. But I think that’s okay too. We don’t need a revolution. We don’t need all the traditionalists to submit to the inclusion of new methods and practices. A new practice, like DH, must be placed under much scrutiny, much criticism, and if it can survive that then it becomes a part of our discipline.

    I am, of course, speaking vaguely about change. You could replace “Digital Humanities” with “cultural studies.” I admit that I still don’t understand how DH is defined and what its practices are.

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