DH Studying Actual Humans?

As I continue to finalize my project, I’ve been growing aware of the gap between what DH does within and out of the walls of academia. From the current scholarship we’ve read in class, it seems that the field primarily concerns itself with the humanities subjects emphasized in English, History, and other humanities departments. Though DH as a field is relatively new, even when considering its roots in humanistic computing, it still seems a bit behind when applying methodologies and approaches to studying actual human behavior. Granted, digital tools and DH methods have done an excellent job pioneering their presence in better assessing historical documents, literature, and other platforms of research; nevertheless, the studies conducted seem a bit limited to those that stop at the university’s borders, applying little to the actual human interaction and communication that occurs in the personal, social, and professional world.

To theorize reasons for this dearth of inquiry, we might say that DH is still in its experimental phase, as if its still unsure of itself, its methods, and its influence. Scholars, then, seem to purse very specific research that applies to a small population of individuals to test out the effectiveness and relevancy of their approaches. For example, rather than using DH methodology and tools to better understand general literacy outside of the classroom, researchers use their time and resources to better analyze literary texts and their place in historical culture. This begs the question, then, of when the DH field will feel ready to pursue larger and more globally relevant studies. Additionally, what kinds of projects will initiate this shift from academia to non-academic fields and concerns? As methodologies continue to grow and re-shape themselves, the tools and goals of DH, I believe, will prove largely beneficial to the larger, non-academic community.

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  1. Lacy,

    I think that you raise some interesting and important questions about the efficacy of DH methodologies and tools here. The manner in which DH methodologies and tools are used to explore “non-academic” matters or concerns or made available in meaningful ways to “non-academic” audiences are certainly questions a number of theorists have raised regarding “end-users” and “lenticular logic,” but you’re right to inquire into how these ideals might actually be enacted in work in the digital humanities. I think both of our projects seem to linger on these sorts of questions in varying degrees, but I might say that the general framework of the digital humanities seems to be designed with the intention of dissolving distinctions between “academic” and “non-academic” discursive and infrastructural contexts. How might we do this, though? Where does this work even begin? Distinctions between “making” and “creating” are well and good, but what can we really do to bolster participation and collaboration in and around our DH methodologies and tools? How do we go about casting a wider net in terms of the “end-users” that we address and the “end-users” that we invoke, as Lisa Ede would have it? Thanks so much for sharing.

    Mark

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  2. Hi Lacy,
    I think perhaps you are making a generalization that glosses over the humanistic efforts of DH–as the few Mark mentioned. I do think that DH folks deal with “actual humans”–however, you are correct that the lens of DH has been mostly cast on a particular set of humans–scholars and those within academia, including students. However, as we saw in the Hacking the Academy text, there are other, broader DH tools, methods and practices that engage other, others–multiple publics. One of my critiques of DH is that its rootedness in English and History make it very text oriented and these particular scholars have not been those who do fieldwork, like say anthropologists or sociologists or even practical residencies, etc., and therefore many, though not all, of the tools, projects, etc are text focused. However, even in the CTM book we see this expanded and in the critical pedagogy book there was an emphasis on projects and methods outside the walls of the university. While I see what you’re getting at I think you need to be careful with these types of generalizations, and instead apply the tools of DH to a problem outside of academia and see how it might alter the questions we ask, tools we use and theories we produce.

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  3. Hi Lacy,
    I’m glad that I read Mark and Kim’s comments before contributing mine because they covered a lot of what I wanted to say, so in the spirit of avoiding sounding like a broken record, I’ll try to come at it in a different perspective. While I think your critical lens of DH is valuable, I wonder if we might look to who is ACTUALLY doing the DH. One thing I’ve been curious about all semester is what are the demographics of the people actually DOING this stuff in our field? How does that influence the making and creating of the DH tools that users engage with (inside and outside of the academy). If we consider Tara McPherson’s “Why are the Digital Humanities so White?” this is really the first article that starts to get at the “Who are these people?” within the field of DH. How does their culture or background get infused into these technologies, and how to we (as a user) become influenced or affected by such considerations? This might be a tangent that is unrelated, but I wanted to avoid reiterating a lot of the same feedback that Kim and Mark brought to your inquiry. Great post!
    Lucy

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