I’ve had a few insights into DH in general that I may or may not hold onto as my thoughts evolve. Don’t quote me on this, but:
1) DH is for involving undergraduate/graduate students and for communities in scholarship, knowledge etc., but it is not a replacement for individual humanities research. The value is in the communication, the collaboration and the ‘producing/doing’ not merely ‘ studying’.
2) It can aid in the production of that individual humanities research by scholars when conceived as a database freely available to scholars, but again, does not replace such individual humanities research.
3) It can make connections across disciplines, across forms of knowledge (image, sound, text) in a way unprecedented by / unimagined by / at times impossible in print publication culture.
*4) The sheer scale of DH enterprises prompts questions that are not merely about interdisciplinarity, generationally inflected technology use/expectations and the evolving state of knowledge: that is, they also pose questions about the nature of work.
That is, I’ve seen a few DH projects at 4humanities.org and elsewhere (great site by the way) that gave me great insight into how DH really squares with teaching. As I thought about these possibilities further — and I should say that I fully intend to engage in more DH research and practice, perhaps hopefully teaching a DH class of my own soon — I got both a clearer idea of their value and also of their limitations.
For example–and this one isn’t really on my list at all (I’ve thought of a few better ones) but it is a way of thinking through the issues posed as a relative outsider — one idea is to have an upper-level Spanish class (I’m in a Hispanic Studies department) read novels, short stories, watch movies on the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and then create a DH project as a class. the DH Spanish Civil War/Post-Civil War project would be posted online and perhaps even added to by other classes. Let’s say the focus is on linking accounts of the war with an actual map of its battles or the conditions faced by populations after the war– something very similar to things I’ve seen done. In theory this is potentially very visual, geographical, and historical.
One risk (I referred to this in an earlier piece) is that the DH project would be historical and not literary. Ok, so in response to that problem how about we take it a step further and the class (a literature class, thus my preoccupation for the literary) reads films (good ones, complex ones…) and novels (good ones, complex ones…) and then has points on the map also describe through text how the individual battles or sites have been represented through the novelistic, filmic, artistic discourse of specific authors. Then links are provided to those texts or readings/analysis of those texts (filmic, literary or otherwise)… it sounds like things are getting better perhaps, more literary… but of course also larger as projects go.
[There is also the problem of what to do about the fact that the best film about the post-war is a film that deals just as much (more?) with imagination and interior subjectivities than with the external events–how to chart/map/DH this? Is there, in this sense a ‘concrete’ or ‘antisubjectivist’ slant to DH at a large scale? I’m thinking particularly of Víctor Érice’s El espíritu de la colmena (a 1973 masterpiece)–just doesn’t fit in this analysis].
But more important: in order to create this DH project as a class, you’ve got to distribute the readings, the films, amongst all the students, you’ve got to fragment the material–even if it is more material–you’ve got to leave time to practical assembly, the collaboration idea reflects the premise that we’re ‘all working together to construct something larger’–and this ‘something larger’… is it not equivalent to a fragmentation/specialized work environment? Is DH encouraging specialization of labor to be reflected inside of the classroom that mirrors the specialization of labor and of knowledge (see Lefebvre’s work) that comes with the triumph of exchange value in the 19th century? The worker bees (to use a metaphor from Érice’s El espíritu de la colmena–) are all struggling on their own projects, and even if working on a larger goal, it seems to me that the larger goal in question differs qualitatively from the individual experience each student would have in the ‘traditional’ classroom putting diverse texts together on their own. Does it not? I wonder.
My ambivalence continues regarding DH–there are huge benefits to be sure– but the individual humanist and the individual student were/are a world in their own. I’m not sure this is just nostalgia for another time. I think it says something about the very complex nature and multidimensional social function of DH… It seems to me that as we embrace it we may also need to think it through more critically…