Week 2

Visitor:  Franky Abbott, Alabama Digital Humanities Fellow

Topic:  What are the Digital Humanities (continued)?  Debates introduced.


Matthew K. Gold, “The Digital Humanities Moment,” Debates in the Digital Humanities:  http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates

Todd Presner, “Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.”  http://cnx.org/content/m34246/latest/

William Pannapacker, “Pannapacker at MLA: Digital Humanities Triumphant?”  (From MLA 2011)  http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/pannapacker-at-mla-digital-humanities-triumphant/30915

Pannapacker, “Rebooting Graduate Education in the Humanities.”  http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/07/rebooting-graduate-education-in-the-humanities/

Pannapacker, “On ‘The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities.’”  http://chronicle.com/blogs/conversation/2013/01/05/on-the-dark-side-of-the-digital-humanities/

Alexis Lothien, “The Dark Side of Digital Humanities.”  http://www.queergeektheory.org/2013/01/mla13-the-dark-side-of-digital-humanities/

Serena Golden, “The MLA’s Big (Digital) Tent.”  http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/01/07/mla-discussions-how-digital-communications-can-help-level-playing-field

And here’s my own report on the Dark Side panel:

I complained to one of the Dark Side presenters that the scheduling conflict was especially unfortunate as the main dark side brought up in the session involved the dangers of reinforcing a corporatist and capitalistic academy. In effect, they were answering the “democratizing effect of the Internet” by pointing out how much of dig hum plays into objectives, valuations and short-sighted cost-benefit incentives reinforcing or producing corporatism.

Wendy Chun brought up the concept of “cruel optimism,” suggesting that the desire for dig hum is inherently self-destructive to humanist principles while it appears to buttress them. Humanities are dying because they embraced technocratic logic, with “publishable units,” student credit hours and like “metrics” desirable, genuine time-intensive teaching an inconvenience, adjuncts exploited and students sunk by debt. She also suggested the academy has yet to reinvision itself after the loss of the old system where few attended college and universities were closed social clubs. I should note the speakers had a mandate to be provocative.

Richard Grusin argued much the same, saying that the double whammy of funding cuts and increased corporatism fuelled by them drives the optimistic view of dig hum, mainly because it has been insulated from such cuts. But they reflect the first world problem of highly skilled, often temporary, cheap labor turned to accomplish tasks with seemingly immediate returns. In other words, next quarter investments, not long term ones. He pointed out that most dig hum labor is done by untenured faculty, and that some dig hum scholars have bought into a distinction between making/coding as real work versus critique. He’s firmly on the side of critique’s value.

Patrick Jagoda talked mostly about games and “gamification,” the latter being things like Chore Wars (look it up) and other easy solutions to complex problems which he also identified with corporatist thinking. He noted that game designers themselves critique gamification, pointing out that it takes the crudest and least innovative charateristics of gaming and employs them, while ignoring the good parts.

Rita Raley argued that in part, the attempt to end critique reflects not just a corporatist but a specifically media-driven desire to escape criticism. While going after corporatism and neoliberal values again (the first two speakers also had problems with neoliberalism), she also pointed out invisible restrictions, like Google’s terms of service. Even routine use of Gmail accounts on campuses are now governed by a corporate entity, as colleges eagerly outsource what used to operate on their own infrastructure to save costs. She suggested the academy is not ready for a changing world and that dig hum represents a means of covering that up. She pointed to the new UC system logo as a reminder of how ephemeral the corporate really is.

The panel mostly allowed people in the packed audience to speak, without much comment. It’s hard to summarize the responses. One gentleman, a comp sci person, noted that biology went through a similar rough period as traditional biologists rejected new computing resources for a long time. Someone else (either Eileen Joy or whoever spoke immediately after her) noted that we need to experiment first and then consider the results; we can’t assume before we try. And the sole academic/administrator in the room pointed out that most administrators conflate dig hum with anything computing based. I couldn’t help but think that if specialists in the field can find no way yet to describe quite what they do, expecting deans to understand seems unrealistic. I left with the overall impression that digital humanists need to think more about just what purposes their work may serve, and that giving some shape to the discipline must go hand in hand with other humanities-related issues. I was also struck by the thought that the digital humanities could easily become a tool by which students reinforce a sense that their identities are delineated by what they do and the roles they serve, which are all dictated and authorized by others, whether it be through state or religious recognition of marriage or through employment. The idea of making critical choices, of generating one’s own identity in recognition of corporatist and other influences, of self-fashioning, becomes erased or effaced, something one clicks through without reading because it is a precondition to moving on to the next desired step.

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