All of a sudden, I’m starting to pick up signs of a digital humanities backlash. That’s a shame because there’s a big difference between digital humanities and online education since faculty can seemingly control the first thing, but not necessarily the second. The digital humanities help us do what we already do better. Online education…well, since I don’t feel like linking to my entire archive for the last three months, let’s just say I’m not convinced it helps us do anything.
Nonetheless, it appears that both these technologically-driven phenomena have employment implications, as Natalia Cicere describes here:
So it seems quite natural that there should be wariness and resistance to the growing presence of digital humanities. Perhaps there is some bitterness that you might get your new Americanist only on condition that her work involves a Google Maps mashup, because it was easy to persuade people that your department needed a new “digital humanist,” whatever the hell that is, and it was not easy to persuade people that you needed somebody to teach Faulkner.
The situation is not improved by the confrontational attitudes of certain factions of the digital humanities establishment (such as it is), which are occasionally prone to snotty comments about how innovative DH is and how tired and intellectually bankrupt everybody else’s work is. (Not so often, I find—but even a little is enough to be a problem.) Under those circumstances, DH seems clubby and not liberating; not a way of advocating the humanities but an attack on it, and specifically on the worth of that Faulkner seminar that you teach, and that non-digital research that you do. Why, an established scholar might reasonably ask, should I even deal with this “digital humanities” nonsense? Shouldn’t I just keep teaching my Faulkner seminar, because somebody ought to do it, for Christ’s sake?
She’s not suggesting that anyone ignore the digital humanities, but it appears as if the impact of this technology on our profession is a lot more important than those people whose eyes glaze over at its very mention seem to think. Take, for instance, this:
I don’t think Dan Cohen is intending to be self-important there (since DH is what he does). He’s just describing how he sees the future. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is totally irrelevant. What’s important is that that would be a huge change from the way things are done today, and we all need to be prepared for the changes it brings.
The Postal Service is apparently going to go bankrupt soon. Its effective demise is apparently inevitable, but do we want it to disappear tomorrow (or by 2025 for that matter)? Suppose you want to continue to teach your Faulkner seminar the same way that you always teach it. Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? Not necessarily, assuming that you’re a good teacher. However, if almost everyone else’s seminars go digital somehow, there will be serious pressure on those people who don’t do this sort of thing to start doing it.
Just because the digital humanities offer a different way to teach history does not mean that the old ways are necessarily bad. The key is to keep the process in the hands of professors rather than the people who administer their departments since I hope we’ll all agree that technology should be a tool rather than a club.