Effective Debates in the Digital Humanities

It was interesting to read the different introductions to the Debates in Digital Humanities series this week as they showcased the evolving definition(s) of the field itself. In “The Digital Humanities Moment” and “Digital Humanities: Expanded Field,” it is noted that the DH lexicon was originally (and often still is) grouped by the term “The Big Tent” of DH, which was how the initial 2011 Debates book framed its included essays. Aligning with the nature of a good debate, we learn in the “Expanded Field” piece that due to some effective debating about the use of that term, the “Big Tent” (despite its name) was limited in scope and did not capture the full essence of DH.

This led to the concept of expanding the field, which naturally opened up more debates about the nature of DH inclusion. Through further debating about the DH framework, the experts in the field move away from merely adding new scope to include in the tent and start identifying biases and problems with what already lives under in the tent. Due to the technological barriers to participate in DH, we encounter debates about social economic access to the subject matter. Due to the nature of what is traditionally studied in the humanities, we run into the bias of too many DH projects surrounding white male figures. Due to the stereotypes and cultural pressures of who should participate in digital fields, there’s clear gender and racial gaps in the cohorts of DH practitioners.

What I found of most interest when reading through the articles, which wrap with the Digital Black Atlantic primer, is how each piece presents dialectical issues with the DH subject matter, and how the following piece addresses those issues and presents new solutions. Those solutions open up more debates, which create more solutions. It’s almost an infinite loop of a subject matter evolving towards a static definition that it will never settle on. This dynamic nature of the field is simultaneously daunting and freeing, as it seems there are countless angles to build research on.