Update 11/1/17:


Two things converged, well, three, no four. Oh hell — everything converged in the last 6-8 weeks. Some of it was real work. Some of it was exasperating returns to 2010.

Let’s bullet point, shall we?

  • Submitted my dossier for a bid to become a full professor at my masters-granting, comprehensive state university
  • Use digital dossier (not really beta-tested) in its first year to submit said extremely important documents
  • Began the work of and continue as a member of the search committee for the Dean of the College of Humanities & the Arts
  • Teach 3 courses with 2 of those being writing intensive
  • Attend HumetricsHSS workshop on the value of the Humanities (in metrics)
  • Finishing up the editing, acquisition of permissions, and organization of screenshots for my portion of the 660 pedagogical artifacts and 60 authors for Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, a gigantic 6-year project supported by the MLA and innovative in all kinds of ways
  • Begin organizing and planning Bicentennial Celebration of Frankenstein across SJSU campus and throughout the Bay Area with SCU, USF, SFSU
  • Research, drafting, and revising two articles on 19th-century literary annuals
  • Participate in the slight kerfuffle over the latest Publications of the Modern Language Association that has several articles discussing Franco Moretti’s Distant Reading along with Moretti’s (somewhat caustic) response in particular to Lisa Rhody’s article
  • Allow myself to get sucked into the erroneous, hyperbole that was Chronicle of Higher Education clickbait (requires subscription) on the failed promises of Digital Humanities (again!)

This last one, for some reason, was really galling. Digital Humanities has been a long-standing field, though it seems to be discussed as very new. This could be because of the advent and imposition of technology on our daily lives in 2017 or because the name shifted and changed and was, frankly, disaggregated as a singular field (quite happily) for a long time.

Yes, I responded in the comments to this article — I include some below because this is a premium content article in the Chronicle, i.e., you need to subscribe in order to participate:

exasperated comment


Seven years ago we were having this debate internally about Digital Humanities. William Pannapacker discussed it in his series of Chronicle articles. Then, a bizarre series of articles in the Los Angeles Review of Books highlighted interviews with several prominent Digital Humanists (bizarre because it didn’t seem the right venue for what turned into a critical conversation about the variety of Digital Humanities, and resulted in a supremely caustic interview with David Golumbia full of vitriol and old fights). At one point, I had to determine to cease being part of this fray because it was distracting from my actual scholarly work. With my teaching load and service requirements, there is precious time to conduct scholarship and research. I stepped away from Twitter conversations, stopped attending so many conferences (because the funding dropped out at my university), and began focusing on the use of digital tools both in my research and my teaching. In Digital Humanities, as I write about in my Polymath article, part of the fun is learning from our failures — sometimes a research question doesn’t pan out; sometimes a great idea for an assignment falls flat. That learning curve becomes important to progress of all of my types of work, though, and, I argue, for my students.

As soon as I posted something in response to the Chronicle article, the tone police were immediately deployed:

tone police

Self-congratulating myself into more work?

The issue here is not one of critique, but instead a demand that Digital Humanists stand up, be counted, and volunteer to be shot. In no way is the Chronicle article an attempt to do anything other than declare the death of Digital Humanities, or perhaps it’s the author’s wish fulfillment. The commenter above expresses anecdotal evidence about interactions with Digital Humanists that have put rebek13 off of doing anything other than condemning the practitioners as all arrogant and resistant to critique. Her exasperation meets mine. However, my blog is attached to my Disqus ID — I posted under my real name — I’m easily Google-able — my Twitter feed is public. There are all kinds of ways that anyone could find out more about my type of Digital Humanities.

The conversation (by others) trickled onto the academic listservs to which I subscribe, most notably 18th Century Interdisciplinary Discussion , where I watched the conversation go on for a few days and devolve into a dystopian view of technology (completely outside Digital Humanities’ purview). Finally, today, I stepped in to offer what the commenters in the Chronicle article so desperately desired: proof of the dough rising.

The article in question focuses on distant reading as the only form of Digital Humanities — this is, of course, a reductive view of Digital Humanities. The article was full of paranoia about the destruction of the Humanities. The Humanities is doing fine on its own of undermining its value. Digital Humanities is not responsible for this. The article is also reductive in definition (or lack of definition) about Digital Humanities. There’s no Digital Humanist worth her salt who doesn’t welcome lively discussion and critique of the field — for by engaging in that type of productive discussion, the field opens outward. (My work in digital pedagogy is a case in point.)
With that being said, you might enjoy wandering through the variety of Digital Humanities-ish projects
  • NINES has long been a peer-reviewed portal for housing DH projects
  • Take a look at projects such as Typee: A Fluid Text Edition
  • Or, take a look at the listing of digital projects at DH Commons: https://dhcommons.org/projects
  • You’ll notice a wide variety types of projects that use digital tools to access new questions about literature.
  • Or, take a look at the successful Transcribe Bentham project which uses crowdsourcing to transcribe the massive volume of materials by Jeremy Bentham.
  • The New York Public Library uses a similar idea with the What’s on the Menu project
  • Or, consider the project, Mapping the Republic of Letters at Stanford, an intriguing project that provides a visualization of the networks among thinkers across centuries.
  • Or, wander through the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition, which provides access to British 19th-century newspapers and magazines, along with editorial apparatus for the study of these difficult-to-find materials.
  • How does use of computational strategies bear out in the “real world,” you might ask? Take a look at this intriguing article about Agatha Christie and Alzheimers, discovered by a neurologist working with a computational linguist: http://nautil.us/issue/40/learning/alzheimers-early-tell
  • If you wonder how Digital Humanities strategies and methodologies can be applied to traditional literary studies, take a look at the beginnings of my next project (as a faculty member at a non-research institution) — one that’s founded on years of work in history of the book in order to get to the point that use of distant reading strategies will be helpful: https://triproftri.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/uc-irvine-talk/
  • If you’re interested in how to bring these types of strategies to undergraduates, take a look at the in-progress work of Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: https://github.com/curateteaching/digitalpedagogy/blob/master/description.md
  • If you’re wondering how Digital Humanists explain their work in professional advancement documents, check out my post on this very topic
  • Take a look at all of my posts on Digital Humanities in general on this blog, TriProfTri

You’ll notice with the Chronicle article that there were many cries in the comments for Digital Humanists to stand up for themselves and be held accountable. Requests to prove the worth of a DHer’s existence were deeply embedded in those comments. You’ll also notice that there were only a few DHers (me, among them) who responded to this Chronicle clickbait. The remainder had a conversation on Twitter to the effect that we’re busy working and had already demonstrated the variety and worth of field multiple times over. The commenters met these responses with derision and cynicism — however, it’s not the role of the commenters to defend against the accusations of the article’s author — who really needed to perform a literature review before declaring, perhaps with hyperbole, that Digitally Humanities is a “bust.” Nothing in that article incited any DHer to come to the field’s defense because there are multiple articles and blog posts now (all freely available) that can be easily found online by anyone.

If you’re interested in discussions that deepen the specific concept of distant reading (definitely *not* representative of *all* of Digital Humanities), read the latest set of essays in the PMLA about distant reading and Franco Moretti’s (author of Distant Reading) response thereto.

If I sound exasperated, I am. I’ve spent years elbowing my way into Digital Humanities on behalf of my students at a non-research university — and it’s worked! Then, I spent years educating my administrators on the value of Digital Humanities (and thereby Digital Pedagogy) in the undergraduate classroom — and it’s worked! I’ve blogged for years about the benefits of both of these fields on a public-facing academic blog that’s easily found through online search engines.

But, still, there are cries to prove myself and the worth of my field. The work of educating constantly for those who don’t want to search through the institutional histories of this field — well, you’re asking me to do the work for you. I couldn’t ask that of New Critics or Formalists because I would be pointed to the relevant works in the field and told “go read.” Why is this cry about and ultimately the denouncement of Digital Humanities so caustic?

I ask that before anyone resorts to tone policing that they dig a little deeper. We’re a nice set, us Digital Humanists. And most of us came to Digital Humanities tangentially through our traditional fields. (In his PMLA response, Moretti declares himself a Formalist!)

And, thereby, that concludes my engagement on the topic with a replication in this blog post. Digital Humanities has grown outwards, and we are more prone in this field, I think, to critically analyzing our constituencies, if not to grow the field with participants, then to expand outwards what constitutes Digital Humanities without locking people out of the conversations. What started as a nascent field primarily only possible at research universities has become a massive field — still quite raggedly underfunded — that got its own office at the National Endowment for the Humanities (with a miniscule budget by comparison to the NIH) and some good PR by a select few.

People are still asking the question “What is Digital Humanities?” and that’s great because a massive cohort asking this question are graduate and undergraduate students. Case in point, The BeardStair Project.

And, our project, Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities, does exactly this invitation and expansion outward to invite those who don’t want to be necessarily labeled or associated with Digital Humanities to participate in the methodologies along with their students.

Maybe I should place these queries into the metadata for this post so those interested in the definition of and justifications about Digital Humanities can more easily find this post?

I don’t know.

Ping me when the flagellations cease and the intellectual curiosity and generosity return.

I’m going back to work.