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Humanist Archives: May 3, 2019, 6:30 a.m. Humanist 32.644 - the rhetoric of digital humanities

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 32, No. 644.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                   Hosted by King's Digital Lab
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        Date: 2019-05-03 05:12:25+00:00
        From: Willard McCarty 
        Subject: the rhetoric of digital humanities

Forgive my ignorance: if someone has already done a rhetorical 
analysis of the language used in digital humanities please say. If 
it remains undone then I'd like to suggest there's an opportunity for
encouraging greater disciplinary self-understanding and maturity. 
It's my overall (i.e. fuzzy) impression, you see, that the language 
we use remains rather badly infected by promotionalism in comparison 
with other disciplines (other than our technological cousins), 
such that we overstate rather than simply say whatever it is that is 
that needs saying. The opposite of crying "Wolf! Wolf!", if you will.
Computing has been bound up with salesmanship since the beginning; 
as Michael Mahoney wrote in "Shaping the history of computing" 
(Histories of Computing, p. 50),

> from the outset, computing has had to sell itself, whether to the
> government as big machines for scientific computing essential to
> national defense, to business and industry as systems vital to
> management, or to universities as scientific and technological
> disciplines deserving of academic standing and even departmental
> autonomy. The computing community very quickly learned the skills of
> advertising and became adept at marketing what it often could not yet
> produce. The result is that computing has had an air of wishful
> thinking about it.

It's the "deserving of academic standing" that drives much of it for us.
But even when a major university is biting the bullet and advertising
for a professorship in the subject, or a professor at such an institution 
moves into digital humanities and proclaims his or her new work, the 
attendant rhetoric often glitters with claims that we are barely
able to support if at all. If, indeed, digital humanities is "transforming 
the humanities", then how is it doing that, in what sense? Justification 
makes for considerable nervousness, and so the "wishful thinking". 
Revolutions are declared, as Mahoney goes on to say, that are 
"subsequently (and quietly) canceled owing to unforeseen difficulties." 
Would it not be better instead to be asking difficult questions that 
other disciplines are struggling with, offering a new take on them -- 
or that these disciplines have not yet thought to ask? And in so 
doing, building bridges to these disciplines across which mutual help 
-- and that longed-for recognition -- can flow?

If there are gaps in the above, please fill them in.



Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/),
Professor emeritus, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London;
Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University; Editor, Interdisciplinary
Science Reviews (www.tandfonline.com/loi/yisr20) and Humanist

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