What Are We Really Doing Here?: The Ever-Nebulous Digital Humanities With a Side-Serving of Corporate Monopoly

A/N: This post was originally much better, but between my myriad tech issues this past week some of my data was erased. Apologies for any lateness on that same note.

In our first lecture, we asked ourselves to define Digital Humanities. Ultimately, the best agreed-upon decisions seemed to be those that had the most potentially opposed concepts, like ‘academia’ and ‘public’. As DH becomes larger as a field, it becomes subject to further privatization- not due to any fault of the field but simply as a product of the time in which we live. There is becoming a difference between Digital Humanities and digital humanities. The specifically corporate privatization of not only data but of knowledge, period, is a vicious cycle in academia in 2022. The barrier to entry for any academic field is so high, adding to that the pressures of securing funding, and you have Google awarding grants and SciHub being sued by the most major scientific journals out there. These monopolies are not only a problem for the market or even the private sector- it is affecting all of us. Google can have its digital humanities, but we must not let corporate ownership of our scholarship take hold in Digital Humanities. It is an ironic twist of fate that these monopolies allow us to simultaneously bring our scholarship more to the public, while also furthering this privatization epidemic. And with the idea that these two exist at the same time, there is a realization that Digital Humanities exists in an almost overtly liberal space. Knowledge for public good is an innately liberal idea, I’d argue. And that also unfortunately means Digital Humanists must do battle with many of our most prevalent political issues right now and must position ourselves as activists.

So how does the physical work shown via the websites provided showcase the scholarship associated with it? Museums are the perfect representation of Digital Humanities as a field. Public knowledge curated with an angle to show as much complex truth as possible (generalizing here), all the while it’s enmired in this battle with private collectors and institutions who don’t want to repatriate old artifacts. However, what’s digital about that? In walks the digital collection. While these collections exists, frankly they’re seldom used by the public. We must consider how we can fix that, make digital collections engaging outside of aca- or pan-demic necessity. Something about these collections that makes them very DH is the classroom sections of both sites (I unfortunately wasn’t able to access one)- the ability to further disseminate this information. I also want to say that there’s something innately Digital Humanities about African American, Latin American, and Caribbean historical scholarship due to the way information was taken from being privately held from people like slave holders and that information is now public by donation from families and diaries etc. That’s something beautiful!

With that, I think one of the final things I took away is that there’s the literal Digital Humanities, and there’s the mentality of Digital Humanities. The more things that have the mentality of DH, the better! However, with the rapid privatization of the internet, we have to actively fight for the digital component of DH to become public again as it was in the good ol’ days (snicker).

Ultimately I believe that what Digital Humanists are trying to fight is the age-old classic: power. Ownership of knowledge is the ownership of power, and in the most proletariat possible sense Digital Humanists are attempting to take back the knowledge that is ours– whether taken from us by corporations, wars, or slave holders. We are on the precipice of discussions that are ultimately about classism, power, and what it means to make us human.