Digital Humanities and some questions about its community

Johanna Drucker, Paul Barret, and the Founding Principles of all interrogate the idea of community in the production and consumption of academic digital media. Debates about digital humanities can shed new light on these discursive communities and the relationships upon which they are predicated. Producers and consumers of digital media form a vast Venn diagram in which its members continually shift from one circle to the other. Perhaps digitization intensifies mobility of the community members, who can go from curator, to blogger, to (en)coder, to writer, to scholar—professional—public. Here, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, we work from the assumption that controlling information equals power, which is true, for the most part, but it becomes increasingly clear that the relationship between the information and community members is anything but static. As participants change roles from knowledge producer to consumer they change their relationship to power. It may be that this change subverts the infrastructure of knowledge distribution that western culture as relied upon for centuries, but I remain confident that patterns will emerge—patterns that may have been there the whole time—even if I cannot presently articulate them.

Drucker says “the humanities have a role to play in demonstrating that knowledge is historically and culturally situated.” The demonstrating and situating allude to a wider context and assumes that information moves in one direction. Her emphasis on monographs is understandable—they allow professionals to craft knowledge before it is produced, and allows peers to ensure quality control. I am curious, however, if this process is mutually exclusive with digital knowledge production, or if some of these strengths could not be adapted to other mediums. I want to be clear that I share Ducker’s values and concerns regarding quality and professionalism, which amounts to accountability to the community. I wonder, though, about the wider context when the humanities demonstrate and situate—demonstrate and situates to whom? Is the community insular in that they are only accountable to one another? Can the community broaden its boundaries and be held accountable to the contemporary culture to which they are demonstrating, and in which they are situating their subject? I am not suggesting just handing over the keys to the tower, but the physician is accountable to patients as well as peers, and the lawmaker to their constituents as well as their colleagues?