The Journal of Digital Humanities has just brought out its first issue. It includes a special section on the status of ‘theory’ in digital humanities, in which I’m very pleased to present a substantially revised version of my blog post from a few weeks ago.
This was not ‘Theory’ as a vague revolutionary concept all too easily written off by the image of turtlenecked graduate students sitting around talking about Foucault that it conjures. We were talking about theory as making, about making objects that critique, that are critique, that are transformative reimaginings of the world.
I also highly recommend Natalia Cecire’s introduction, Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humnaities
One way of reading this special section might be as a soothing narrative in which the “provocation” of theory is raised, only to be shut down with the reassurance, in the end, that digital humanities is already “doing” theory, that no transformation is necessary, and that liberal “niceness” is already conducing to liberal equality. But I hope that readers of this special section will take it another way, as a serious questioning of the reluctance to “transform” despite our characteristic eagerness to “hack,”
There is still a need to challenge the “add and stir” model of diversity, a practice of sprinkling in more women, people of color, disabled folks and assuming that is enough to change current paradigms. This identity based mixing does little to address the structural parameters that are set up when a homogeneous group has been at the center and don’t automatically engender understanding across forms of difference. It elides the scholarship already in production that may not be readily apparent when looking from a singular perspective.
I appreciated Benjamin M. Schmidt’s Theory First very much, too.
The evidence and the tools at the disposal of digital humanists are not neutral. Research in the humanities has always been perilous, since our sources are so frequently shaped by those with power; digital proposes to do the same things to our tools.
And I have yet to dig into the other fascinating elements of the journal, including reviews of digital scholarly projects.
Natalia Cecire has just written a blog post about the process of editing the special section, in which she discusses both the oddness of editing “post-publication,” suggesting revisions to scholars who know their piece will be accepted regardless of whether they choose to make them, and the limitations of the quantitative metrics that have been used to decide which posted pieces will make it into the Journal of DH. The former issue is one I’m quite familiar with, having worked with writers to edit formerly posted blog entries into more permanent publications for the Symposium section of Transformative Works and Cultures and for the forthcoming WisCon Chronicles volume I’ve edited. I think it’s a format we’ll be seeing more and more as more writing and thinking takes place in public. The latter is something that worries me. There are so many reasons why pageviews, retweets, and all the rest can’t stand in for the time and attention of a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and accountable editor who is aware and critical of dominant structures’ tendency to reproduce themselves when we don’t work specifically to avoid that. I’m glad that this is being recognized from the beginnings of the new, exciting Journal of DH.