It perhaps wasn’t so long ago that I would have argued (strongly), that the digital humanities is its own thing. That there was so much work in ‘the field’ and so many unique and hard-won perspectives, that this in itself constitutes a field of practice. But as my own perspectives mature, I am a lot less precious about the DH and its place in the world (and mine as well!).
I don’t think the DH is its own field and I don’t think that this really matters. The reason that the DH isn’t its own field is that is lacks merit structures and without merit, there can never be a field. What I mean by this is that the DH has failed to produce any real measurable career pathways, and all of the leading people in the DH, come from either the established disciplines (Classics and Linguistics) or university service divisions (ie. Libraries or archives etc). But many leading technologists in the broader world rejected academic career pathways for the more risky endeavor of making good technology,so perhaps it really doesn’t matter. If Bill Gates, Ted Nelson or Steve Jobs had have followed established career paths, it is unlikely that they would have succeeded. So for many in the DH, the established academic career mechanisms are not that suitable, so it is better to do something else if you really believe in what you do (ie. get a real job). I hope I am not being ungenerous and undermining the hard work of others in saying this, but the DH is a community, not a field. Attempts at institutionalising the DH have been clumsy, and even if one identifies with the DH community and strongly believes that it is a field, this means little when confronting the institutional power structures of the established academic disciplines; especially when looking for jobs or applying for grants. They (the disciplines) will always win; an historian who paid for someone to build her database or a linguist who outsourced his TEI-XML to India, will always trump the student of the DH who stayed up late and learned it herself. It is a problem of misplaced capitalism, not an intellectual problem. The real DH can only ever be the paid concubine of the disciplines (and maybe this may not be such a bad thing if you are into it). Money talks, so the guy with the biggest wallet will have lots of concubines.
So perhaps I learned this the hard way, but if you want to be an excellent Digital Humanists, then just go and do it. All the other stuff just gets in the way of innovation. All good learning (and careers) are self-directed, ans sure there is a lot of risk in this, but people who succeed without risk don’t really succeed. And people who failed because they risked something, never really fail (but only if they try again). So the question of whether the DH is its own thing and this incessant naval gazing over its definition are simply the window dressing of careerism, of people unable to find any other interesting questions to pursue.