A continuous theme that I’ve noticed in many professional writing fields is that people get really hung up on definitions. ‘How do we define ourselves’ is a very prevalent debate in the tech comm field, and from the readings this week, it is clear that it is a very prevalent debate in the Digital Humanities (DH) field as well.
These debates are slightly annoying. Imagine what they could accomplish with all that time they’ve spent writing and presenting their disagreements with others’ definitions!? But when it comes to research, and especially when it comes to funding, the distinctions between the various similar fields becomes very important. From the definitions put forth in the readings, I was able to sense why it’s so difficult to define the DH field.
This may be completely incorrect, and is certainly an oversimplification, but I imagine a graph with humanities on the X axis and digital technology on the Y axis. A few people in the DH field are at (0.1, 10), a few others are at (10, 0.1), and everyone else is somewhere in between. To simplify, some people seem to lean more towards the “digital” side of DH and others lean more towards the “humanities” side of DH. Therefore, everyone is bringing a variety of skills and ideas to the DH field.
Although Gold did not express his preferred definition of DH in the introduction to The Digital Humanities Moment, he did note the tension after Ramsey’s “Who’s In and Who’s Out” talk. Ramsey describes DH as a field that builds/make things (a sentiment that aligns with the STEM fields).
This idea of building/creating is echoed in the introduction to Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities (RDH). Ridolfo and Hart-Davidson describe DH as a term that largely functions tactically (to get things done). They suggest two political moves for the scholars in rhet studies, TPW, and tech comm: selectively redefining their digital projects under the DH umbrella and studying the DH job market. When reading their introduction, the word “practical” kept coming to mind.
In the first chapter of RDH, Reid expresses that there is a problem with defining the DH field and tries to work out a definition by examining the fields doing DH work. As Reid points out, the obvious DH fields are those that employ computers to study traditional objects of humanities study (what used to be called humanities computing). Other fields he includes are media study and rhet and comp.
When it comes to the challenge of defining the field as a whole, Reid seems to partially blame the troubled relationship between rhetoric and humanities and the “correlationist view” both fields tend to take. Pulling in Latour, his suggestion is to approach rhetorical relations as relations with nonhumans. He calls to recognize how technology (nonhuman) affects technology. Rather than building, he focuses on theorizing.
Going back to the graph, I guess the DH field needs to find a balance between shortening the range while not excluding the field out of existence. It’s too early for me to settle on a definition, although I am certain that I lean a little more towards the “digital” side of DH.