Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

University of Maryland

What is Digital Humanities?

With the kind permission of the Association of Departments of English and the MLA, I’m very pleased to make available advance proofs final copy of my article “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” (PDF)

This piece was originally written for presentation at the ADE Summer Seminar East at the University of Maryland in June, 2010. It will appear in the upcoming issue of the ADE Bulletin, along with companion essays by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and N. Katherine Hayles. All three of our essays will be open access.

Comments appreciated.

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[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matthew Kirschenbaum and Matthew Kirschenbaum, Katherine D. Harris. Katherine D. Harris said: RT @mkirschenbaum: With kind permission of ADE, I've posted proofs for my forthcoming "What is Digital Humanities?" http://bit.ly/eaAEvn [...]

  Defining Digital Humanities – John Victor Anderson dot org wrote @

[...] to Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s blog for a PDF article he is previewing, entitled “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” It doesn’t cover new ground, but it’s concise and offers a brief history of the [...]

[...] but there are so many good definitions for and introductions to digital history and the digital humanities (another and even Wikipedia) already online. So instead of rehashing their arguments in the same [...]

  Matt Kirschenbaum wrote @

As I note in the first paragraph of this short essay, “What is Digital Humanities?” is already a genre piece and there’s been an awful lot of reflective writing about DH especially lately. (This was written shortly after #mla09, and now we’re already post-#mla11.) So what, if anything, new do I imagine myself contributing here? I think there are a few key points this essay tries to make.

1. That a lot of the hand-wringing and anxiety over “What is digital humanities” bespeaks a certain amount of intellectual laziness, by plain virtue of the fact that so much has already been written on that very topic. This is not to say that the discussion and debates have been resolved, but anyone who wants to seriously enter into those discussions and debates bears a responsibility to ground themselves in the literature that already exists.

2. I will admit to having had some fun with the portion of the narrative that relates the smokey back-room lunch-napkin back-story behind DH. But there’s a more serious point at stake: ultimately the emergence of DH has been a social process, facilitated by people who have had friendships and working relationships with one another for decades. DH is “here” because of people and conversations and a lot of hard work on listservs and over meals at conferences and long-distance phone calls (yes, this was before Skype).

3. Which leads directly to a third point: there is an enormous amount of academic infrastructure–conferences, journals, granting agencies, degree programs–already in place around DH. Or as Steve Ramsay recently put it: “Digital humanities is not some airy Lyceum.” To engage with DH means engaging with specific institutions, entities, agencies, and individuals. Unlike some who frame DH around questions of methodology or building, I’ve tried in my writing to emphasize the material infrastructure and investment behind the field. This may not ultimately be sufficient, but I do believe it is necessary.

4. This piece is the first of several attempts for me to engage the Twitter/DH nexus. My “Stars” entry immediately before this one on this blog is a second and more recent attempt. I’ll also be writing on this subject for Matthew Gold’s forthcoming volume on _Debates in Digital Humanities_, which should be out at the end of the year from Minnesota. The point I see as consistent across all three pieces is the way in which Twitter’s functional conventions–followers, replies, retweets, etc.–serve to refiy power structures within DH as a field. This is (as I will argue in my piece for Matt) unique with regard to earlier communication channels for digital humanities, such as the Humanist listserv and first generation blogging. The implications are not yet fully known or settled in my view.

5. Finally, I think the piece does a good job of explaining why digital humanities has been particularly at home in English departments, though of course I recognize that there are many other academic and institutional venues for good DH work.

Comments?

  Luke wrote @

Matt: A nice piece, particularly in the background it gives for how DH has progressed to this point, and why that progression has accelerated recently.

It feels a bit to me though that the relationship between DH and pedagogy is treated as an afterthought, perhaps because the first reference to pedagogy in your essay is, quite literally, parenthetical! I’m really hoping this tension gets flushed out in future discussions, because the connection between what’s happening in DH and what needs to be happening in undergraduate education is too important to be underexamined.

  Amanda French wrote @

Thanks for this piece, Matt. I was a little startled to find that the start of your piece bore a remarkable resemblance to a talk I gave at the METRO New York Library Council a few weeks ago titled “Intro to DH for Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections.” I felt that slight sense of unfounded guilt you feel when you see a police car behind you when you’re obeying the speed limit. :) Even though I hadn’t read your piece, just like you I pointed out that the Digital Humanities has all the infrastructure of any discipline, and I went through exactly the same sources you point to — the association, the journal (though I also mentioned Digital Humanities Now, the Blackwell books, the university press series, the NEH office. And, yes, the Wikipedia entry.

Which is just to say I’m very glad this piece now exists in an official publication: it’s a great start point for future such introductions. I also love that you make the point that text is easy for computers to chew on, which may be one of the main reasons DH has flourished in English departments. I suppose I do think there’s more to say about why DH has flourished in English departments and what projects it entails besides mere meta-commentary on the humanities — for instance (doubtless because of the date) there’s not much reference to big data analysis projects such as those beloved by the New York Times. But that’s a mere quibble.

  Amanda French wrote @

Oops, and I meant to relate that a couple of librarians (etc.) came up to me after the talk and said that they hadn’t realized that DH already had such an established scholarly infrastructure.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matthew Kirschenbaum, Kathi Inman Berens. Kathi Inman Berens said: @mkgold Looking forward to yr forthcoming volume on DH debates from Minnesota UP! @mkirschenbaum http://bit.ly/fExQqy [...]

[...] this material, but in some cases our faculty don’t yet fully realize what they can do with it (Digital Humanists aside). They may be pleased to be able to replicate as much of their traditional research paradigm online [...]

[...] of the confines of the room and into weeks after the conclusion of the conference, including Matt Kirschenbaum’s historicizing of Digital Humanities for an ADE article and Steve Ramsay’s follow-up to the cool kids party talk. What follows are my remarks from [...]

  Day of DH 2011 « triproftri wrote @

[...] Digital Literature Honors students (Fall 2010) too. A student who is trying to wade through the massive history and constant flux of this field needs to have a voice, some place to respond, ask questions, or [...]

  Stéfan Sinclair wrote @

Matt, I had the pleasure of re-reading your “What is Digital Humanities?” article just now and was again struck by how interesting and informative it is. For any stragglers returning to this page (like me), I thought I’d point to two tangentially related (and IMHO undervalued) articles that describe text analysis on DH journals and conference abstracts: Analyzing Structures and Evolution of Digital Humanities Based on Correspondence Analysis and Co-word Analysis (Wang & Inaba 2009) & “Co-word Analysis of Research Topics in Digital Humanities” in Digital Humanities 2009 Conference Abstracts (Inaba 2009).

[...] and agility” as Matthew Kirschenbaum (@mkirschenbaum) describes the digital humanities in a pre-released article, penned for the Association of Departments of English and the [...]

  The Digital Humanities Situation | The Transducer wrote @

[...] cat­e­gory, the term has a more or less clear set of orga­ni­za­tional ref­er­ents. Recently Matt Kirschen­baum reminded us that there is a peer-reviewed jour­nal, a fed­eral office, an annual con­fer­ence, and an [...]

  Acceptance of Pedagogy & DH MLA 2012 « triproftri wrote @

[...] of the conference, including Matt Kirschenbaum’s historicizing of Digital Humanities for an ADE article and Steve Ramsay’s follow-up to the cool kids party [...]

  » Intro to the Digital Humanities Taxomania wrote @

[...] answers the questions in his piece, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?,” rather directly if not generally. In response to the former, (What is DH?) Kirschenbaum [...]

  Digital Humanities – Pearltrees wrote @

[...] With the kind permission of the Association of Departments of English and the MLA, I’m very pleased to make available advance proofs final copy of my article “ What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments? ” (PDF) This piece was originally written for presentation at the ADE Summer Seminar East at the University of Maryland in June, 2010. What is Digital Humanities? « Matthew G. Kirschenbaum [...]

[...] blogs, newspaper articles, conference sessions, and manifestoes, not to mention a few essays, the most recent and best of which is by my colleague Matt Kirschenbaum.  Links to much of this commentary can be found at CUNY COMMONS. The intensity of interest in this [...]

  Screwing Around with DH, BWWC 2012 « triproftri wrote @

[...] Matthew. “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): [...]

[...] been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years via http://mkirschenbaum.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/what-is-digital-humanities/ Share this:ShareShared by: Pclark on March 14, [...]

[...] Michael Ullyot writes that blogging is not just common practice for scholars involved in digital humanities (DH) – it’s their bread and butter. Why? Ullyot says there are two [...]

[...] but there are so many gooddefinitions for and introductions to digitial history and the digital humanities (even http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_history) already online. So instead of rehashing their [...]

[...] “What is Digital Humanities, and What’s it Doing in English Departments?” http://mkirschenbaum.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/what-is-digital-humanities, [...]

  Explaining DH in Promotion Documents « triproftri wrote @

[...] field. It’s as comprehensive as possible. See also Matthew Kirschenbaum’s article, “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” (ADE Bulletin 20 [2010]). The article appears in the journal produced by literature [...]

  18 April 2012 « virtualfictional wrote @

[...] fiction, which is only tangentially related to my project. -notes from Kirschenbaum’s article “What is the Digital Humanities and What’s it doing in English Departments?,” which is a good (and short) summary of the development of the term “digital humanities” and [...]


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