The digital humanities are the evolving set of technical and academic issues that swirl around the intersection of the humanities and computers. As we have learned through reading Cohen and Svensson, there are no easy elaborations on that skeletal definition, however. Clearly we are living at a time of significant change in how the academy uses and is effected by technology, but one of the issues that interests me is how much old-fashioned academic infighting and territory protecting is involved.
Cohen and Rosenweig, for instance, do a good job in their article of trying to rein in the excesses of some digital humanities enthusiasts. C&R point out that along with the obvious promise of this field, there are significant pitfalls. For instance, they point out, increased democratization or “accessibility” opens the academy not just to challenges to their fiefdoms, but also to contributors who don’t share the same standards of evidence collection and presentation as professional scholars. One could argue that this openness is an unalloyed good, but as C&R point out, the unevenness of basic assumptions may in some cases lower the “quality” of what gets produced.
Svensson’s first article gives a nice overview of DH history. I am reminded of the idea that soccer (or European football if you like) has been the “sport of the future” in this country for 30 years. DH is clearly an emerging science, but the Svensson article makes clear how very long it has been emerging (early journal was 1966). In some of the quotes he uses about defining DH, one detects the defensiveness of a young academic field. From section 16 of the first Svensson article, “…one easily gets a rough and ready sense of what we are about, and considerable reassurance, if any is needed, that indeed, there is something which we are about.”
Svensson’s second article, “The Landscape” of DH nicely lays out the poles, if that’s the right word, of DH as merely research tool, or entire field unto itself, deserving endowed chairs, separate facilities, and so on. I can easily see how the politics of the academy would color how one defines digital humanities based on how one views its legitimacy. It seems clear to me, however, that defining and exploring the issues surrounding digital humanities is an important pursuit, not just for this class, but also for the academy as well.