Response to Week 8 reading

In the article “What’s in a Name?,” Kenneth M. Price is primarily concerned with the labels we choose to describe our work. It seems to me that this tension is inextricably associated with apprehensions about the current state of the humanities and liberal arts in general. Essentially, I mean that there is a growing concern with legitimizing, justifying, or otherwise defining the importance of the humanities in general that seems to be informing this article. For example, Price states:

For many people, electronic work is even more dubious [than traditional editorial work]: what relatively short history it has is marked by distrust, denigration, and dismissal. We all know the charges, however distorted they may be: digital work is ephemeral, unvetted, chaotic, and unreliable. When suspicion of the value of editing combines with suspicion of the new medium, we have a hazardous mix brewing.

This clearly articulates a concern with how much authority or respect digital editing might be given; a concern that is largely based upon how “others” might perceive the value of the work, in this case based upon how we choose to title the genre. Price frets, “In the fraught circumstances of the academy, driven by a prestige economy, humanities scholars are well advised to be highly self-conscious about what we do and how we describe it.” This fear is driven by a sense of legitimacy, place, and belonging that I would argue should not be extant in digital humanities the way that it is in regular humanities. Perhaps this is still an issue of definition, semantics really, in the sense that if we define digital humanities (in this case digital editing) as something other, or capable of more, or at least not limited in the same ways as traditional editorial work, then why be afraid of how the genre will be defined? Let the product of the genre define it. If, on the other hand, we define digital humanities as simply an extension of what has been before, limited by the same constraints of glacial-speed progress, then we should be afraid of what others might impose upon the work, and we should be selfishly and actively gobbling up and claiming the right to digitize every text ever written, staking our claim and marking the territory as “ours!” My rhetoric makes it obvious where I fall on the spectrum, and while there may be some growing pains associated with a new field, I do not believe the hazards must necessarily be as many as Price is suggesting.

As Folsom and Price explained in their grant application to the NEH, “The amount of Whitman’s work is so huge that no two scholars could hope to edit it effectively in a lifetime — fourteen scholars spent the better parts of their careers editing the materials that now make up the Collected Writings. But we do believe that developments in electronic scholarship have made it possible to enhance and supplement the Collected Writings by editing the materials that have not yet been included.” This would be true for any large body of work, or for any canonical author. The answer does not lie in traditional editing. Why limit the technology we have available, and the speed with which these large projects might be successfully assembled, by using traditional methods, and traditional criteria to define who can assemble these collections? Crowdsourcing can solve the problem of being reliant upon a previous scholarly edition printed in traditional form. Starting from scratch is not as daunting when you have a thousand scholars (albeit scholars whose experience litters the spectrum of experience) working on the project instead of just 2.

In some ways, for me, it seems as though some of the concerns voiced here are similar to the idea of pac-man (the traditional humanists) trying desperately to gobble up all of the pellets (digitize traditional works) before the ghosts (librarians, system engineers, or other “less specialized” persons) do.

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About Dallas Merritt

2nd year MA Strode. Interested in the Protestant Reformation and the English revolution, and the texts contemporary to them. I am also particularly interested in the similarities between the relationship of social media and modern revolutionary movements, and the relationship of “cheap texts” and the aforementioned revolutions.