Johanna Drucker’s article speaks to many of the concerns we had last week about the Digital Humanities Manifestos. Drucker’s apprehensions about the focuses of scholarly publishing are particularly relevant to our discussion: “The inventory of current solutions includes all kinds of work that really have little to do with scholarship, but instead crowdsource, crowd-please, entertain, blur the lines, and prep material for consumption. What matters most in scholarly publishing is scholarship.” But can’t we make scholarship entertaining and inclusive without sacrificing its quality? The focus of all academic writing should, of course, be producing good scholarship, which, as Drucker is right to point out, has no substitute. Hopefully, DH can provide us with opportunities both to enhance our scholarship and to make that scholarship appealing, potentially even to those outside the academy. I think we’ll find during the course of the semester that many DH projects are already doing this.
The far more relevant concern in Drucker’s article is, “If the humanities lose their cultural authority in the process of becoming digital, becoming managed quanta…then what is the point?” Drucker is right in saying that “we can’t rely on a purely technological salvation” to relay the value of the humanities to those who would seek to cut their programs and to a culture that devalues the arts and humanities in general. Demonstrating the relevance of the humanities requires more than touting their technological advances, because that’s not what the humanities are about. Certainly, DH can and should help us demonstrate the value of humanities and a humanities education, but that value lies not in DH itself, but in the humanities’ status as “the lifeblood of culture, its resounding connection to all that is human.” As far as DH aids that purpose, it is good and useful; when it obscures the humanities themselves, it becomes the fog of pixel dust that Drucker warns against.
Drucker is right. We should be worried about our own illusions in scholarly publishing. But I think we can also celebrate the things that simultaneously innovate and produce good scholarship. As long as we can recognize the difference.