Matthew G. Kirschenbaum

University of Maryland

New Essay: “What is ‘Digital Humanities,’ and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?”

Available here is the full text of an essay published in differences 25.1 (2014) as part of a special issue entitled In the Shadows of the Digital Humanities edited by Ellen Rooney and Elizabeth Weed. Duke UP’s publishing agreements allow authors to post the final version of their own work, but not using the publisher’s PDF. The essay as you see it here is thus a PDF that I created and formatted myself from the copy edited file I received from the press; subscribers, of course, can also read it in the press’s published form direct from the Duke UP site.

Other than accidentals of formatting and pagination this text should not differ from the published one in any way. If there are discrepancies they are likely the result of final copy edits just before printing—I’d appreciate having them pointed out. These and other comments can be entered below or sent to me via email. This essay is copyright (c) 2014 Duke University Press.

Download the PDF


Accepting that the “Digital Humanities” under discussion is a discursive construct rather than “actually existing projects” (a clarifying phrase I lift from Rita Raley), my argument here suggests that this construct is too often indulged at the expense of in situ critique of actual projects, as well as papers, publications, syllabi, and so forth. We inhabit the construct when we forgo these normative products of academic labor in favor of the terrible things of my title, things that are said near-daily on blogs, lists, and Twitter: Digital humanities is a nest of big data ideologues. Like Johnny, digital humanities won’t read. Digital humanities doesn’t do theory. Digital humanities never historicizes. Digital humanities doesn’t do race, class, gender, or, for that matter, culture. Digital humanities is complicit. Digital humanities is a neo-liberalist contrivance for dismantling the professoriate. Digital humanities is the academic import of Silicon Valley solutionism. Perhaps most damning of all: digital humanities is something separate from the rest of the humanities, and—this is the real secret—digital humanities wants it that way. Yet the zero-sum agon of the construct seems itself complicit in a world view that is neo-liberal, ahistorical, and unconcerned with the materialities of contemporary scholarly production. Sometimes, and not incidentally, the construct can even resemble the virtualized Kung Fu arena of the Matrix that was called by the same name. This essay, the third of what has become an unplanned trilogy, explains why.


1 Comment»

  [D] H disputations wrote @

[…] Our reply joins the prior replies published by Ted Underwood, Glen Worthey, Ryan Cordell, as well as an ongoing series of reflections by Matthew Kirschenbaum. […]

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