Uses of Digital Humanities — and/or

Taken together, this week’s readings lay out a few key dimensions to Digital Humanities work and thought. For example, “A DH that Matters,” expands on several ways in which Digital Humanities work might matter to people who aren’t already immersed in the field. Two are:

  • Social or ethical impact with outward-facing projects that speak to an issue, goal, condition, inequity, etc.
  • The impact on other fields — DH’s ability to engage with and embed itself within other areas of the humanities

Similarly, the other readings present modes of engagement that aren’t quite dichotomies but have the potential to be — let’s call them “and/or”s. As in:

Coding and building Digital Humanities projects and/or Using non-DH-specific tools as part of a related critique or engagement (“The Digital Humanities Moment”)
“Traditional” DH tasks, such as text analysis, curation, and preservationand/or Using DH to disrupt, dismantle, and remake
Traditionally-trained academics, perhaps with tenured positionsand/or “Alt-academics” with disparate backgrounds and careers

“Or” may apply to individual projects, or more likely, the beliefs of individual scholars — but the projects we looked at this week offer a vision of and, from the Early Caribbean Digital Archive’s use of traditional digital humanities practices to tell history in a way that recenters the Black diasporic experience, to map- and visualization-based projects like Torn Apart/Separados that use mapping and other digital tools to assemble publicly accessible data into an unexpected format that drives users to engage with information they might otherwise ignore.

One last thought — in comparing the readings with the projects, I noticed another, unintentional and/or:

Writing that uses heavy jargon, “academese,” ponderous syntax, etc., and is legible primarily to an audience with traditional academic training and/or Clear, engaging writing that explores subjects with depth and precision but is legible to a curious layperson.

Compare nearly any sentence in Jacqueline Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh’s scholarly “Introduction” with the clear and inclusive framing of the Early Caribbean Digital Archive and the Colored Conventions Project, which are intended to be used by teachers, students, and the public, rather than just scholars. To fully realize the idea of Digital Humanities as a “big tent” and disruptive force, it’s worth interrogating if the ways in which DH scholars speak amongst ourselves keep that tent closed off to the very people we’d like to invite in.