Category Archives: Uncategorized

DHPoco’s Great Wikipedia Dream

I seem to be drawn to the topic of Wikipedia as a model, anti-model, or something in between for the digital humanities. Given our discussion last week about the DH Manifesto 2.0’s idealization of Wikipedia and the impossibility of a scholarly Wikipedia if anyone can contribute, I find it fascinating that one of DHPoco’s recurring projects is to rewrite Wikipedia. Instead of creating their own platform for scholarly resources, they aim to affect available information that millions (billions?) of internet users are already searching and accessing through Wikipedia and through Google, which seems to privilege Wikipedia entries in its search results. The (re)writers at DHPoco are concerned with producing somewhat scholarly work for Wikipedia, as evidenced by their guidelines on how to create Wikipedia entries, but not with maintaining their claim to practicing scholarship or potentially gaining anything from it themselves by publishing this work on a vetted or exclusively DH platform. While Wikipedia is not itself scholarly and never guarantees the accuracy of its information, DHPoco’s entry creation and editing may affect the ideas of readers, non-scholarly and scholarly, who search for or stumble across entries about members of underrepresented groups or postcolonial authors or texts by making sure that accurate, unbiased entries exist. To quickly gauge postcolonial presence on Wikipedia, I searched for the Nigerian novel that the visiting postcolonial candidate spoke about in his talk on Monday: Tides by Isidore Okpewho. The author has a Wikipedia entry (a scant four sentences long), but the novel does not, although it is on Google Books. It seems that if Wikipedia is to include informative entries for all “notable” topics, it needs more postcolonial material.

DHPoco appears to ask about Wikipedia a form of one of Paul Barrett’s questions: “Is digital humanities a form of American hegemony masquerading as transnationalism?” The scholars at DHPoco seem to contend, particularly through some of their comics, that DH might be, and that Wikipedia certainly is. They cite the Wikimedia Wikipedia Editor’s Survey of 2011 and conclude that “knowledge produced on Wikipedia is primarily conservative…The majority of Wikipedia editors are white, male, and middle-class. Correspondingly, Wikipedia reflects the worldview of this social demographic, which is economically and socially privileged, as well as US/Eurocentric.” One activity that might help to address this problem, aside from adding entries, is tackling entries on controversial topics to make sure that they are balanced and include the perspectives of underrepresented groups. Given the seemingly incomplete RWP outcomes page for the Global Women Wikipedia Write-in, it does not look like the DHPoco rewriters have done this yet.

The national aspect of the Wikipedia worldview dilemma must be in part due to language barriers. There are different Wikipedias for different languages; it makes sense that the English one has a US/Eurocentric bias, just as the Japanese language Wikipedia, which I can assume is primarily written by people from Japan, has a Japan-centric bias. So although the DHPoco community is right to want to increase the number of articles relating to other countries and peoples, the American and Eurocentric bias will be inevitable. Whether this is inevitable among the community of digital humanities scholars is another question, one posed by Paul Barrett: “In what ways does this scholarly turn to the digital pave over local cultures and insist upon the English language as a requirement for membership in digital humanities?” In his phrasing of the question, he assumes that DH does, in fact, insist upon English. I wonder if this “digital” problem is significantly different from the problem of first-world academia paving over local cultures and insisting on English, or at least on a limited number of languages in which scholars can publish. Talking about Wikipedia seems to be, even regarding this language issue, a means of exploring benefits and problems of DH, even if we break with DHPoco and choose not to consider it DH.

The Fault in Our Cultural Infrastructure

Is the act of reading a text less valuable when the medium is not textual? In “Pixel Dust: Illusions of Innovation in Scholarly Publishing” Johanna Drucker assigns a higher value to an understanding of information in traditionally published scholarship, as though encountering other forms of media are automatically reductive to a text’s message. She draws the conclusion that ways of knowing are determined through critical thought- that “Novelty and insight are effects of reading, not byproducts or packaging”. Although Drucker develops the idea of the importance of continued scholarship in the humanities, she leaves out the glass half full idea that new forms of scholarship have the potential to perform more than supplemental or decorative tasks. I think it is valid to be wary of innovation in one sense, as we are often taught to consider and engage with visual and graphic material differently (these forms are in our minds first as forms of entertainment or advertising that are not ‘serious’.) The article addresses the idea that a new form of rhetoric is being produced, and by the same token a new form of reading should be also. Forms that once existed only in the domains of visual art and design are now being used in fields that traditionally developed an academic discourse through text. Innovation in these fields might add to rather than become a roadblock to development within the humanities, providing wider access to and a wider understanding of new forms of knowledge. A screen is flattening, but the open boundaries of publishing digitally can be seen as a way for academic writers to broaden what is considered ‘publication’. I don’t suppose it is a question of medium, but rather a question of assigning value to the ways in which we learn. If this is the case, the ideas discussed in the article might also address the valuation of the arts in systems of education as supplemental or decorative areas of study.

Is the medium the message?

In reading the various materials covered this week in relation to post-colonial literature and the ever-evolving visage of the publishing realm, a number of inferences seem to float to the surface. One of which is the importance of the platform or channel through which one receives a given set of data or information.

Both post-colonial articles can be found on the blog, which discusses specific concerns in relation to the broader subject of the digital humanities. While the post, titled “Founding Principles,” is perhaps an attempt to calibrate readers and bring them up to speed in regard to the areas they wish to explore, the presentation and reading is slightly less pleasurable than one might imagine the experience of reading content from a larger publisher like the LA Review of Books. While I found the content amusing and important, the medium in which the site operates seemed less interested in reaching a broad audience. The smoothness of the platform should not necessarily dictate ones interpretation of the credibility or quality of a given content. Though, on an editorial level, the content contained spelling mistakes and was geared towards an audience that already understood the ongoing conversation. The beauty of academic, peer-reviewed content is that one is able to grant a certain amount of trust and credibility to the authors given the schematic that it operates within. One of the major points within the conversation in regard to the dystopian future of the death of print journalism is this same notion—without credibility, one is left in a world without fundamental truth or rigor. The democratic notion of equality between all mediums of information acquisition equates to tabloid news being presented alongside academic research being presented alongside pornography. Is this the ideal?

The Johanna Drucker article, on the other hand, is succinctly written, invites a broad spectrum of readers, and is, generally, pleasurable to encounter. Editorially, no spelling mistakes or odd syntactical choices make the reading less so, and the institution from which it springs forth is generally considered to be well researched and reviewed by those in the profession. According to Drucker, “Scholarship, good scholarship, the work of a lifetime commitment to working in a field — mapping its references, arguments, scholars, sources, and terrain of discourse — has no substitute.” What I found lacking in the previously mentioned source was this good scholarship, rigor, and focus on quality content. Ultimately, my reading experience was formed by the platform and its implications. Blogs do not necessarily equal well-funded and heavily edited journalistic output. Slightly ironic, then, for the content of this supposed criticism to appear on the platform for which such criticisms might be applied.

Poco DH

I began by reading the Postcolonial Digital Humanities website pages. Not having a background in English studies, rather in education pertaining to social studies, I wanted to know what it was that postcolonial humanities entail. I have some notions of what it means for history, but wanted to know if it was similar for literature. I found a University of Wisconsin handout discussing what is postcolonial literature. Postcolonial literature concerns the reclaiming of spaces and places; asserting cultural integrity; and revising history ( What_is_Postcolonial_Literature_). I see counter narrative as a potentially useful methodology at the intersection of digital humanities and postcolonial humanities. Barrett questions whether or not digital humanities works in a post-national space or if post-national is just the new nationalism? It seems that digital humanities lends itself to post-nationalism, however, Drucker shows that the economics of digital humanities might subject itself primarily to national/government funding until solutions are worked out among publishers, libraries, and other entities involved in the dissemination of scholarly research. Collectively, what I am hearing from Drucker and from Barrett is postcolonial digital humanities may seem as if it lives in the post-national realm, but until funding comes from sources that are not government derived, post national digital humanities may continue to be projects in nationalism. I have drawn such a conclusion from broad notions that large corporations and the government may only fund projects which fall in line with their already existing beliefs. For example, the government funded grant agencies might not fund a project that does not shed positive light on the US government, like a project which looks at stories about US involvement in Iraq from the perspective of Iraqi citizens during the War on Terror. So without funding coming from private interests, the post national name for DH merely is a mask for national.



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?

PCDH Site Critique and “Founding Principles”

“What are the postcolonial digital humanities?”

To be honest, I didn’t know. Coming from a composition background, I only have a vague concept of what the various flavors of literary criticism entail, so after reading the “Founding Principles” of the PCDH website, I go looking for the answer. The mission statement of the PCDH website describes the field as “interrogating the ways postcolonial studies has evolved through different phases of internet culture,” but that doesn’t tell me what postcolonial means, so next I turn to the site’s glossary… only to find it under construction. So. On to Googling “postcolonial.” Eventually I do find out what postcolonial studies are, but my search led me to question the effectiveness of a site that won’t tell me what its title means. Of course, it may be an issue of audience (part of the rhetorical situation): maybe the authors don’t expect someone to visit the site if she doesn’t “do” postcolonial studies. Still, it couldn’t hurt to reach out to that unexpected audience. The missing glossary reminds me of last class’s conversation: DH work is never finished. (However, I wonder just how “soon” I should “check back.” The site seems to have been launched in March, 2013, and the most recent blog entry was posted in April, 2014. If the glossary hasn’t been finished in almost two years and the site not updated in almost one, I don’t have high hopes for “soon” being “soon.”)

Nevertheless, question #2 in the “Founding Principles” struck me as important not just for “poco” but for all of us. “How can/should the goals of [insert field here] shift to adapt to digital changes and challenges?” Barrett’s blog post addresses one facet of this issue for poco in questioning the ethics of PCDH projects funded by the state; Barrett asks if DH work is “meaningfully indebted and structured” by national institutions since these institutions provide much of DH’s funding – a very good question, although I think one not only applicable to PCDH but to all university-sponsored poco work. Yet, I think question #2 should be asked for every field engaging in DH. For me, this question becomes “How should composition adapt to the digital?” While composition has had its foot in the digital door for quite some time, longer than most other humanities fields, we still have not fully adapted. With a little tweaking, the subquestions below #2 can also apply to my field. The concerns of the PCDH site lead me to consider and question my own work in the light of DH, which I hope to embrace.

Pixel Dust: Illusions AND Innovation in Scholarly Publishing

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.

Avoiding the Pixel Dust of the Manifesto

At the risk of beating an already sufficiently dead horse, I compared this piece to the Manifesto(s), and I came away with the impression that—if condensed to a single apothegm—the latter’s would be “practice digital anarchy by creatively undermining copyright,” while the former’s would be “to make sure humanities scholarship thrives, it is crucial that we cut through the fog of pixel dust–induced illusion to the practical realities of what digital technology offers to scholarship.” I liked how this piece formulated a more concrete plan for their call to action, and their call to action was to cut through the umbra that the Manifesto(s) seemed to lurk in.

While Drucker does not go into exhaustive detail, she does clarify certain points: “costs of ongoing maintenance,” paying for “highly skilled labor,” “servers, licenses.” She makes the point that books are cheaper than digital projects, a point that only adds to the gap between public and academic discourse. Drucker elaborates and clarifies on technical and fiscal concerns, but the issue that seems most salient to the PoCo and Capitalism D.H. is an awareness that “because much of the knowledge is currently being produced is at risk of being locked into silos and kept behind firewalls” and “large publicly supported projects need to succeed to keep intellectual life and public discourse vital.” The crossroads between public and academic discourse and capitalist and PoCo models is something the earlier texts skirted altogether, but Drucker’s seems to acknowledge the benefits that D.H. offers while not being hypnotized by their novelty.

She adds that “the much-touted “nonlinear” approach to composition is a choose-your-own-adventure model for grown-ups” and that “all manner of fantasies about crowdsourced, participatory knowledge generation that would essentially de-professionalize knowledge production.” This is a concern that was touched upon earlier: a hesitation to sacrifice expertise for the sake of open-access. How can D.H. be truly PoCo without some shift on that spectrum though? It seems that current standards are leaning too heavily on the capitalist side, but can that be prevented in a capitalist society? in a capitalist business like the academy? The age of D.H. obviously allows for the subaltern or the Other to speak, but is that voice drowned out in sea of other under-represented voices? Is that divide the new sea of PoCo, the great Atlantic that allows older white males to control discourse, commerce, and allows for a colonialism of the mind?

Reticent Enthusiasm: Responding the Digital Humanities Manifestos and Defining DH

Perhaps, even in a theoretical context, “what is Digital Humanities?” is the wrong question. Most of the answers are too vague to be of any use to either resistant or enthusiastic parties, and the inexactness is necessary to describe the field/methodology/toolset … etc. I am not sure I have the right question to ask, but maybe “what can Digital humanities do for me” or “what can Digital Humanities do for a given community?” would be a good place to start. Both versions of the Digital Humanities Manifesto rest on the idea of community which include a mix of collaborators and consumers (gasp). Overall, the idea of community in these texts is ambiguous. It is supposed to be united in some utopian digital humanist future, but not all rhetorical communities function in identical ways. I am enthused at rarefying the distinction between academic and public audiences, but I am unsure that distinction would disappear altogether. One of the deepest concerns in Freshman Composition is getting students to identify and adapt to particular audiences, yet I cannot help but wonder whether the universalism expressed in the manifestos is compatible with this skill. Basically, I am concerned that the rhetoric in the manifestos determines both object (DH project content) and subjects (the participants in DH projects).

The main underlying difference between the questions I mentioned earlier is a prescriptive versus a descriptive approach to DH. Based on the theoretical discourse from the Digital Humanities Manifesto 1.0 and 2.0 and Helle Porsdam’s “Too much ‘digital’, too little ‘humanities’?,” a prescriptive approach must retreat into ambiguity because much of the potential of DH remains unexplored. Rapidly advancing technology forces any definition of DH to speculate and predict—generating a definition that would determine the parameters of DH going into the future, and making the answer prescriptive, even if it does so unconsciously. Perhaps this temporal paradox could be avoided, but I want to put forward the possibility that even after a larger sample of DH projects and tools are available, alongside a stable predictive model for advancing technologies, the law of accelerating returns [1]potentially puts a satisfying definition out of reach.

While the lofty rhetoric of the manifestos gave me pause (particularly the claim that DH is the key to some utopian future), I agree that the democratization of information and its effect on social and economic systems is powerful and has great potential for positive change. Melding academic research and entertainment has the potential to rehabilitate enthusiasm and passion as identity markers—getting them a seat at the cool table in the cafeteria. Combing research and entertainment also achieves the value-shift that the manifesto calls for since it has the potential to encourage valuing knowledge for its own sake, rather than as a commodity to exchange. I do not think edutainment will be the downfall of capitalism, or give rise to anarchy, but it can be a force for positive change.

[1] The exponential growth of advancing technology

A Response to “Too much ‘digital’, too little ‘humanities’?”

I noticed that several of us have commented on the Digital Humanities Manifestos. While I found them both useful and engaging, I think they really only presented one side of the picture in the scholarly debate about DH. There are a lot of scholars who seem to have a problem with DH, and though I personally don’t agree, I think some of their concerns are valid. On this score, I found the Porsdam article to be very balanced and insightful. I agree with Fitzpatrick and Porsdam that “If humanities scholars do nothing, our disciplines will simply cease to be relevant…Unless we delve into mainstream digital culture, our voices will disappear under the flow of information constantly available online.” Admittedly, movement into the digital realm, like all technological advances, is not without its costs. Porsdam quotes Neil Postman on this point: “The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life.” While each of these technological innovations has come at a cost, I think many would argue that their benefits outweigh their costs—or at least balance their costs. In any case, as these examples would illustrate, trying to fight technological advances is like trying to stop an avalanche with a snow shovel. And ignoring the opportunities afforded by them is not only bullheaded but actually counter-productive. It is simply impractical to resist the inevitable rise of the digital, when time could be so much better spent in exploring the possibilities offered by it.

But, as Porsdam points out, I do think we have to be careful about our use of DH so that we don’t lose whatever it is that makes the humanities relevant—or rather, valuable—in the first place. This will require a lot of reflection not only on what the humanities actually are at their core but also on how digital means can be used to achieve the humanities’ ends. While DH is not “just a tool,” as Presner and Schnapp point out, I think it should always be used in service to the humanities, not merely in service to the digital. In other words, just because something is digital or connected to DH doesn’t make it inherently valuable. The goals of the humanities certainly can and have changed with the times, but I think it’s important to keep the uniqueness and ultimate ends of humanities disciplines in mind. We study culture, what it means to be human, and that study cannot be reduced to data points—though it can be aided by them.

(As a side-note, this William Powers quotation that Porsdam uses in her article seems to sum up the life of a graduate student pretty succinctly: “When you start wondering about your own busyness, pretty soon you’re pondering much deeper questions such as, Is this the kind of life I really want? From there it’s just a short hop to the big-league existential stumpers, Why are we here? And Who am I?” Anyone else feel this way?)