Welcome back! I remember some years back when Netscape set up an office here in Melbourne. There was much hyperbole about this, primarily emanating from the then Conservative state government that evangelised the decision of Netscape to set up a branch office as a sign that the state was ‘on the move’ (the marketing mantra of the government). But as with all forms of hyperbole and determinism, the truth is usually very different and it was only a small office employing a hand-full of people and now it no longer exists. A fool was selling one view of the future and there were many fools who were more than willing to listen.
I see the same mistakes being made by the Digital Humanities. Many people in the community are talking about a ‘global digital humanities’. Whenever I hear the term ‘global’ I think of banjos and hillbillies and fried chicken and riding my mountain bike around the hills of Tasmania when I was a child. In other words, a ‘global digital humanities’ lacks perspective and is a tad pretentious, short-sighted, dated and even jingoistic. If there is such a thing as ‘the global’ most people will never get anywhere near it, maybe Hillary Clinton, but the last I looked she wasn’t a part of the ‘global’ digital humanities community.
The point is that people need things in their life to make them feel special. I would feel special if I was a ‘global digital humanists’, if I could ‘on-board’ the entire world and place my own aspirations at its centre. I have Fitzroy, that’s enough. Last night I spent the evening at the Union Club Hotel on Gore Street and had a great discussion with a young designer about the statue of Queen Victoria in Edinburgh Gardens that got pushed over and smashed sometime in the mid-20th Century…
In other words there is no such thing as ‘the global’, just ways to see the global as the global and most people who claim to see it are not that special even if they claim that they have ‘special insight’ based on their geographic positioning, linguistic backgrounds, or political affiliations.
The term ‘digital humanities’ is ‘open source’; meaning that it can be used by anyone for any purpose. This is fine; most communities have divergent ideas of themselves and this is healthy. But still, ‘global digital humanities’ is a little claustrophobic.
Here is a short interview I did at DH2010 at King’s College London where I flag the problems associated with the term ‘digital humanities’.