Yesterday was Day of DH, when self-styled DHers live-tweeted and blogged their activities. Among the questions inspiring this event, the most important is “what is digital humanities?”
This popular tweet captured the extremely self-conscious nature of the exercise:
Digital Humanities is the process of creating infrastructure in which to discuss the concept of "digital humanities" #dayofdh
— Ian Bogost (@ibogost) April 8, 2014
It’s funny because it’s true.
Personally, I spent much of the day glued to the #dayofdh Twitter reel. All those tweets
did shed some light on the main question at hand; meanwhile, they raised some other
issues. Here, I want to comment on one—namely, the issue of non-digital work. Is it DH
to read a book? Is it DH to check email or attend meetings? Where do ‘traditional’
humanities activities end and DH activities begin? What about teaching?
“No Actual DH”
Spent all my DH time on #DayofDH emailing, calling, meeting w/ 12 people at 6 inst'ns abt admin issues for project. No actual DH 1/2
— Carrie Schroeder (@ctschroeder) April 9, 2014
“I didn’t have a #dayOfDH”
— Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) April 9, 2014
“Traditional librarianship” vs. “#dh duties”
— Jacqueline Hettel (@jacquehettel) April 8, 2014
“That counts, right?”
More #DayofDH – reading Dracula for class tomorrow. There is an essay by Franco Moretti in my edition so that counts, right?
— Lee Skallerup (@readywriting) April 8, 2014
I don’t mean to pick on these tweeters; there is nothing wrong with any of these posts, on
their own terms. I did pretty much the same thing when I decided that I should work on
something “digital” for the event. And besides, I have a sneaking suspicion there was some irony in one or two of them.
What troubles me here is the silence. That is to say, some people may have felt that their ‘traditional’ humanities-related activities, teaching and so on, weren’t worth tweeting about. I think this is likely, and such silence may serve to obscure the DH work which is not all about coding or metadata.
Whatever one’s definition of digital humanities, I think there is, and there ought to be, plenty of room for the humanities part of things (in spite of certain famous invectives against close reading). To wit, a tweet from my colleague:
Not surprisingly, my #DayofDH brought me back to a close reading of my fascinating source material on Vietnamese cultural technology
— Cindy A. Nguyen (@CindyaNguyen) April 9, 2014
Indeed, close reading and DH make sense together.