DH By the People, For the People

The prospect that the Digital Humanities Manifestos present of DH projects created by and for people inside and outside the academy is both exciting and potentially problematic.  One, I think, positive effect of the manifesto’s aim of creating a “mass audience” is that DH “gladly flirts with the scandal of entertainment as scholarship, scholarship as entertainment” (“Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” 5).  While scholarship should never aim to be “just” entertaining, resources that are fun (!) to interact with and academic writing that is pleasurable to read engage both academics and other interested learners more effectively than static black-on-white Times New Roman websites and painfully unclear writing.  If creators and curators of DH projects can successfully drive traffic to their websites, DH may offer an opportunity for literary critics and other scholars who want to effect social change to put their ideas in front of readers outside the academy.  If they are strategic and lucky enough for their work to go viral or start a trending hashtag (though given the sorts of things that usually go viral, this seems unlikely), they might be able to have a tangible impact on society, or at least educate more people about an important issue or idea.  This might be one step toward Moulthrop’s proposition of “reinventing literacy for a world beset by ignorance” (qtd. in Porsdam 37).

While a larger audience seems to be a good change for the humanities, a wider field of project creators has the potential to undermine the accuracy and reliability of DH resources.  The authors of the DH Manifesto 2.0 laud Wikipedia as the epitome of collaborative authorship, and while Wikipedia’s inclusion of all authors sounds warm and fuzzy, the obvious flaw is that it cannot be a reliable source using this model.  I wonder how inclusive the Manifesto authors would like DH projects to be.  Can anyone who wants to participate become a collaborative author?  Surely this undermines the project’s credibility.  If not, how would the project creators determine who can be an author?  Must he or she be an academic affiliated with a university?  If so, is this exclusionary, and does it work against the Wikipedia ideal?  According to the authors, DH calls for “a dedefinition of the roles of…expert and non-expert,” but I don’t want to cite a non-expert in my own work or rely on their research any more than I rely on Wikipedia (“Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” 7).  If that non-expert’s work was reviewed by an expert or was a result of collaboration with an expert, I would trust it.  This non-labeling of expertise is one of the deconstructed boundaries of DH that makes me uncomfortable, despite how enthused I am about most aspects of DH and types of DH projects discussed in this week’s readings, particularly, as Cordell puts it, “an open-ended, universally-accessible scholarly edition!!!!

One thought on “DH By the People, For the People

  1. Emily Donahoe

    I like your point about scholarship as entertainment. I think interactive and entertaining DH projects could potentially engage both scholars and interested students of all levels (maybe even those outside the academy), making our work relevant to the wider world. Good scholarship and good writing doesn’t have to be, as some seem to think, dry, or worse, intentionally obscure, and scholarship and entertainment are not mutually exclusive (though, as you point out, entertainment should never be the ultimate goal). Of course, we can never make our work as sexy as, say, social media, but I think DH presents many opportunities for engaging a wider audience. And don’t we all want more people to benefit from, or at the very least see all our hard work?

Comments are closed.