Culture Magazine

"DH is Guilty of Making All Too Visible the Dirty Gears That Drive the Scholarly Machine"

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
As though no robber baron tried to launder his guilt by giving libraries to communities across the nation. Brian Greenspan on digital humanities as whistle-blower:
If the digital humanities seem at times to pander to the neoliberal discourses and tendencies that are undeniably rampant within post-secondary institutions, it’s not because they necessarily contribute to exploitative social relations (although they certainly do at times, just like every other academic sector). I rather suspect it’s because digital humanists tend as part of their scholarly practice to foreground self-reflexively the material underpinnings of scholarship that many conventional humanists take for granted. DH involves close scrutiny of the affordances and constraints that govern most scholarly work today, whether they’re technical (relating to media, networks, platforms, interfaces, codes and databases), social (involving collaboration, authorial capital, copyright and IP, censorship and firewalls, viral memes, the idea of “the book,” audiences, literacies and competencies), or labour-related (emphasizing the often hidden work of students, librarians and archivists, programmers, techies, RAs, TAs and alt-ac workers). Far from being “post-interpretative, non-suspicious, technocratic, conservative, [and] managerial,” the “lab-based practice” that we promote in the Hyperlab, at least, involves collaborative and broadly interdisciplinary work that closely scrutinizes the materiality of scholarly archivization, bibliography, writing and publishing across media, as well as the platforms and networks we all use to read and write texts in the 21st century.
If anything, DH is guilty of making all too visible the dirty gears that drive the scholarly machine, along with the mechanic’s maintenance bill. Of course, it doesn’t help appearances that many of these themes also happen to be newly targeted areas for funding agencies as they try to compensate for decades of underfunding, deferred maintenance, rising tuition and falling enrolments on campuses everywhere. Now, some would argue (and I’d agree) that these material costs should ideally be sustained by our college and university administrations and not by faculty research grants. But DH isn’t responsible for either the underfunding of higher education over the last 25 years or the resulting mission creep of scholarly grants, which in addition to funding “pure research” are increasingly expected to include student funding packages, as well as overhead for equipment, labs and building maintenance, even heat and power. The fault and burden of DH is that it reveals all the pieces of this model of post-secondary funding that seems novel to many humanists, but which has long been taken for granted within the sciences. This is the model that acknowledges that most funding programs aren’t intended mainly for tenured professors to buy books and travel, but for their research infrastructure and, above all, their students who justify the mission of scholarship in the first place, and who fill in while we’re flying off to invade foreign archives like the detritivores we are.

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