This week, Miriam Posner (UCLA) posted an edited version of a talk she recently gave at UC Irvine’s Data Science and Digital Humanities symposium on her blog. Posner’s talk focuses on sustainability of digital humanities centers and initiatives, pointing out major concerns about staffing models, grant-funded projects, and a perceived “immateriality of digital labor”:
I wonder, though, if part of the problem might also be that our institutions have absorbed some of the widespread rhetoric about the immateriality of digital labor. We’ve come to think that stuff that you do on a computer can be done anywhere, anytime — and thus everywhere, all the time, with no particular material requirements.
Posner cites the shuttering of UCLA’s HyperCities and the Google Earth browser plugin as two examples of the consequences of failing to invest in humanities infrastructure, preserving projects, and sustaining platforms. She goes on to discuss the limitations of the tools and methods commonly used by digital humanists, which are frequently “built for industry — or, in the best cases, for scientists”:
Which makes a certain amount of sense; one doesn’t want to reinvent the wheel. But it’s also had material effects on the kind of work we can produce, and the horizons of possibility our work can open. When we choose not to invest in our own infrastructure, we choose not to articulate a different possible version of the world.
Posner’s closing cry is one that resonates across many academic disciplines:
If we want to produce truly challenging scholarship and keep our best scholars from burning out, we need to pressure our institutions to, frankly, pay up. You can optimize, streamline, lifehack, and crowdsource almost everything you do — but good scholarship still takes money and time.