“I just got done with a good twenty-four hours of arguing with people online about digital humanities.”
So begins Stephen Ramsay’s post, “DH Types One and Two,” written in response to a flurry of conversations that took place online over the weekend. In part a reaction to Daniel Allington’s “Managerial Humanities: or, Why the Digital Humanities Don’t Exist” piece that garned so much attention last week, and perhaps influenced by the conversations taking place at the “Dark Side of the Digital” conference (#c21dsd) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Ramsay and others engaged in several discussions relating to the origin of DH, its transformation over the years, and its relation to the future of the academy. (A few have noted that most of the discussion on Twitter took place among men, for what it’s worth.)
Much of the conflict over digital humanities, as the conversations addressed it, can be boiled down to these two tweets by Ramsay:
@joshhonn If I experienced DH either as the reduction of humanistic inquiry to numbers and scientific management OR the savior of a dying +
— Stephen Ramsay (@sramsay) May 3, 2013
@joshhonn endeavor, I would want to have absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever.
— Stephen Ramsay (@sramsay) May 3, 2013
As often happens, the debate led back to varying definitions of DH, and it is in this context that Ramsay’s post emerges. He lays out a genealogy that labels the early Humanities Computing community as DH Type I, and describes a later formulation (DH Type II) in which DH “became a signifier both for a very broad constellation of scholarly endeavors, and for a certain revolutionary disposition that had overtaken the academy.”
This garned an interesting response from Michael J. Kramer, playfully titled, “Attack of the Alt-Acs,” in which he builds upon Ramsay’s classification by noting the emergence of the alt-ac community, which he names Type 1.5:
I wonder if the disconnects, the talking past, between type 1 and type 2 dh hinge on the historical emergence of type 1.5, which absorbed and cannibalized earlier practices of humanities computing, but also linked the digital to larger, very fraught and vexing struggles over intellectual labor and work under neoliberalism, corporatization, and privitization in the US and beyond.
Kramer’s post, in turn, led to Andrew Prescott’s “Small Worlds, Big Tents,” in which he responds to the discussion from an international perspective, noting that “The ‘alt-ac’ and tenure discussions are an illustration of the way in which local problems in the structure of higher education in the United States are somehow represented as an existential crisis for humanity.”
Prescott goes on to address the role of information professionals and non-academic DH practitioners:
In addition, there is the issue of the digital humanities developer – the person who wants to spend a career creating DH resources, not necessarily pursuing their own scholarly vision or analysing the digital reshaping of scholarship. The developer is a key part of DH, but no one has effectively worked out how good career paths of this sort can be provided in a DH department. In fact, we run a terrible risk in many DH units of imposing precisely the sort of academic/ professional apartheid that DH should be explicitly reacting against.
A lot can happen over the weekend. The conversation continues, and we encourage our readers to add to our round-up–and, perhaps, contribute their perspectives–in the comments section. For now, we’ll leave off with another quote from Prescott’s piece as food for thought:
I have moved between librarianship and academic positions throughout my career. I have generally found librarianship to be a more creative, intellectually stimulating, fast-changing and satisfying activity than conventional academic work.
This post was produced through a cooperation between Roxanne Shirazi (dh+lib review editor for the week), Laura Braunstein and Chella Vaidyanathan (Editors-at-Large for the week), and Zach Coble and Sarah Potvin (site editors).
Sean Takats, Director of Research Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, weighs in on the conversation with his post, We Are All Managers.
Brian Lennon, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, at Penn State contributes his thoughts with a post titled, A Serious, Long-deferred Conversation.