Thoughtful piece in HuffPo today on the promises and limitations of digital tools in the humanities.
Stanley Fish addresses in his blog this week the rising currency of “digital humanities” and its strong presence at the convention of the Modern Language Association — an academic conference, he rightly implies, to which one goes expecting more faddism than scholarship. I have previously voiced concerns about this sub-discipline, and find myself largely in agreement with his assessment.
But my friend and colleague Ted Underwood, who has spent significant time thinking about digital humanities, has written a blog post responding to Fish where he suggests that it may not be just another critical fad. Ted makes the point that digitizing information traditionally housed in books is not really so new. We can go one step further and notice that the quantitative reading of texts through stylometric analysis — a statistical assessment of a writer’s stylistic ticks that can help settle questions of authorship — has also been in use for roughly half a century now, and faced its share of silly attacks from critics who felt it to be an affront to connoisseurship. Digital humanities is also not really a critical “movement,” Ted argues, since it does not offer to reshape the ideas that we carry into our reading of texts and cultures; it offers instead a new and powerful set of tools available to a broad range of existing critical approaches. And in placing those tools in the hands of faculty and librarians, it assures that the archive is the province of scholars, which might prevent its colonization by corporations imposing forbidding paywalls.