Well, I’ve been pondering this little bit for a little while. Feel free to comment, critique, rebuild…

This session idea was inspired by a few things coming out of the recent “Rise of the Digital Humanities” MLA 2011, and two related discussions/provocations.

  1. The first is by Alan Liu (“Where’s the Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?”). Liu argues that “[h]ow the digital humanities advance, channel, or resist the great postindustrial, neoliberal, corporatist, and globalist flows of information-cum-capital, for instance, is a question rarely heard in the digital humanities associations, conferences, journals, and projects with which I am familiar.”
  2. The second is an interesting provocation by fellow THATCamper and Brittain Fellow Andy Famiglietti (“What Does it Mean to do the Humanities?”) in which he poses a question about the model of teaching values: “as much as I like this definition [humanities teach important artistic, cultural, and critical values], I don’t always sleep comfortably with it. It seems to imply that, without the organized study of the humanities, cultures would lapse into collections of mechanistic drones, unable to consider questions of truth or beauty. This simply isn’t true. I’ve seen the inside of technical cultures, geek enclaves and hacker freeholds and they are full of wonder and poetry. Algorithms for decrypting DVDs transformed into epic poems. Romantic jokes about the Fibonacci sequence. Furthermore, again, ask any anthropologist and cultural value is what they do. What’s our niche?”

I think that Famiglietti’s question can open a fruitful discussion for how digital applications can transform or redefine what the humanities do. If, as Bruno Latour recently argued in “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’,” critique “ran out of steam” because “it was predicated on the discovery of a true world of realities lying behind a veil of appearances,” what can the emphasis on building and creating in the digital humanities do to address the issues Liu presents above (474-5)? Or, alternatively, do the digital humanities need to identify with something essentially “humanistic” or have something to do with “cultural criticism” in order to be worthy of the name? If not, what’s the niche of the digital humanities? What do digital humanists do?

Latour, Bruno. “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’.” New Literary History. 41 (2010): 471-90.