Module 10: The Past, Present, and Future of DH

Perhaps because it is still an emerging field, or perhaps it is interdisciplinary in nature, but a thread that I found in this weeks readings was that digital humanities is being critically analyzed more than I have seen for any other specific field. Conversations of intersectionality, diversity, and graduate work are present in a general sense in the realm of academia, but this week’s articles specifically target their role and importance in DH. Of course, a common theme this week and throughout the semester has been “What is DH?”, so perhaps these directed questions are merely the result of growing pains for a field emerging in the midst of a reevaluation of higher education. Without a formal definition, scholars are still working to set the boundaries of DH and establish its tenants and format; being such a malleable subject makes it a prime field for these critical conversations. I believe that DH has the chance to revitalize and revolutionize the humanities and witnessing these conversations occurring is only reinforcing that belief. If we can establish a diverse, critical field that honors the work of everyone, from scholars to tenured faculty to those outside of academia, maybe we can redefine the value of our work and address some of the larger issues in higher education.

In particular, and in a biased sense, I have considered the potential effects of DH on the field of history. I spoke a bit about the loneliness of history in the Slack discussion, and it is something that has been on my mind all semester. Part of why I have loved this class was the Slack discussion. Normally, a seminar meets once a week for a few hours; we all read separately, come up with our handful of ideas and reflections and hope that we can incorporate them into the weekly discussion, then we move past the topic. Any collaboration or discussion outside of that class requires meeting with your peers at another time, which can be difficult given our variety of schedules and commitments. With Slack though, we are not bound to a specific timeframe. Any of us can post at any point during the week and garner a response at any later time. The discussions are not limited to a single thread at a time, or tied within a boundary of a time limit. I believe that Slack has allowed us to flesh out our ideas better, provides us with the ability to reflect on our responses, and share resources in a greater capacity than would ever be possible in a regular seminar.

But beyond one simple platform, I believe that DH can change the way historians do work in many realms. As the field currently stands, scholarship is skewed more towards the privileged; those in tenure-track positions are supported in their journey to produce new scholarship and have greater opportunities to share their works. Adjunct faculty, graduate students, and scholars outside of the university are in a much more difficult position; many lack institutional support and their scholarship is viewed differently due to their position within the academic hierarchy. Especially in the field of history, which values a breadth of original archival sources in the form of monographs, producing scholarship can be incredibly difficult without a network of support. But what if we shifted the field towards more collaborative work, to introduce teams of scholars that utilize their various skills and interests to create more robust and accessible projects?

Digital history projects could be the solution to a more collaborative field. Just reflecting on this class, we each became interested in one or more of the variety of topics we encountered: mapping, network analysis, programming, accessibility, online exhibits, etc. Each of the topics we encountered this week are a small part of DH but each is incredibly useful and important to any potential project. We already are expected to learn a vast amount of methodology within the field; are we also expected to master the plethora of skills available to use through DH? I propose that instead, we create a community of scholars who combine our specific interpretations and lenses with those around us. Rather than focusing on the minutiae of detail and framing to produce scholarship on a specific topic, why not combine skills and knowledge to work together and create more robust analyses?

A collaborative field would also undoubtedly benefit the field by providing channels for non-white scholars, marginalized scholars, and graduate students to produce new scholarship as well. Opening projects to collaboration offers the opportunity for a more diverse set of minds and perspectives. Rather than having a handful of books that each address issues of race, class, gender, labor, politics, etc. but focus heavily on one lens, why not create works that are capable of addressing each topic at length? A shift away from the monograph being the premier form would offer scholars the opportunity to create a more robust and cohesive historiography, and would allow for a more equal presentation of perspectives from marginalized scholars. In terms of graduate students, in many other fields articles and books are co-authored by students with a tenured scholar’s name tied to the work; the work is published with more credibility while the students benefit from being published.

Overall, I think that providing the opportunity for teamwork would allow history to become a less lonely and more productive field. There are many implications to how this would change our work and field: how would specializations work? How would historiography change? How would tenure work? But to create a stronger field and stronger community that benefits not only the scholars at the top, but also those aspiring to dedicate their lives to the craft but who are too marginalized to have their voices heard, I think that collaborative work through digital history is an admirable goal.

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