I was surprised at how exclusive some of the funded Digital Humanities projects seemed. For example, “From Chopin to Public Enemy” is a book written by a music professor. I cannot contribute to this kind of project, nor does the project offer any openness to contribution. The book has been published under a single name. A few of the projects seem to be capitalist ventures with a “digital humanities” aspect on the side: “A Saloon, an Auction House, an Undergarment Store” is a project in which old buildings are renovated in order to give visitors a sense of what shopping was like in history. It does say it is a museum, but it does not say it is non-profit. The same goes for “Hidden Treasure” which seems like a renovation project which gained funding by agreeing to host a few humanities presentations from time to time. I could be wrong.
Many projects seem genuinely rooted in the goals of the Digital Humanities. The projects under Education, like the “Melding Literature and Medicine” certainly have all the right intentions (though I’m not sure how useful this specific fusion really is). The projects under Preservation remind me of a discussion we had earlier in class: is preservation Digital Humanities? How much funding is needed to put videos that are already recorded online? (I’m looking at you “Lightning Talks”). And what use are these videos when the the collection isn’t even comprehensive? “Chronicling America” seems to be a bit more useful; using QR codes allows access to their database from anywhere, arguably a lot more involved than simply digitizing material that already exists.
Part of the problem is that the reward structures for digital humanists who are associated with an existing field or department typically concentrates on individual work and production. Collaborative efforts, even scholarly editions, tend to receive less credit and respect in most humanities fields, even when such projects require extra work and involve additional challenge. So far as I can see, the NEH now tackles this problem by preferentially funding projects which are collaborations between multiple programs, universities, libraries, museums, etc.
Oddly, this question of collaboration will come up again in Week 7, when we talk about games. I’d argue that a collaborative project that amounts to the game equivalent of “multiplayer solitaire” isn’t genuinely collaborative. Similarly, a game that amounts to a slide-show instead of an activity isn’t likely to entertain or educate very much. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the classical/Early Modern claim that poetry ought to both teach and delight?