- Judgement: the ability to examine a situation from a number of different perspectives and offer an independent position on the situation based upon hard-won life experiences
- Empathy: the ability to imagine a world bigger than oneself and also, the other wonderful people in it, who are also engaging with the world in unique and special ways (well, sometimes)
- Synthesis: the ability to put desperate ideas together (woops, I mean disparate) in such a way as to make sense to you and possible someone else
- Analysis: the ability to critical examine an idea, and how it got into your head, and not just describe the idea from a pseudo-objective standpoint (like the objective god of empirical science…shite the robot has spotted me…run!)
- The critical application of XML to significant and important historical (and other) phenomena to bring depth and perspective to angry robots
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’.
This is my last post of the year (and many of you may sigh in relief). And I am going to write about the debates about the DH as a field again, and my own shifting perspectives. I think ideas such as ‘the methodological commons’ and ‘collaboration’ as justification for the ‘field’ are exhausted concepts, and far from unique and special, they are now becoming hackneyed. They have become weak concepts that lend themselves to exploitation by the condottiere (ie. anything for anybody anywhere). The condottiere were a band of mercenaries common in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries, one could argue that there ‘methodological commons’ serves a similar purpose in the DH.
I think that a better understanding of DH would be in terms of the ‘revenge of old school’. And by old school, I don’t mean the economically elite, but the very old fashioned cultural elite (the Tweed set). They are not such bad people (very polite and well-mannered) and they have been on the back foot to Modernity, especially the American type, for quite some time. This is the where the DH comes to the rescue. It brings ‘old school’ to the masses. Working class kids (like me) tortured in our youth by years of mushy social science, cultural studies, internet studies, two-minute noodles, and VB Beer, now have (critical) access to the digital record of the most important documents in Western history. This is democracy at its finest.
The greatest contribution that the DH has made to date is that it ‘democratised’ old school. It disrupts the classic class-system in Australia (exacerbated by education) where middle-class prats can’t use computers and working class prats don’t know who Shakespeare is. The DH combines, in one person, Shakespeare and the computer, old school and new school, thus it is classless (…?).
See you next year!
I am crossing a small milestone this month; it has been 10 years since I first started blogging! I (sort-of) had a blog before this, way-back in the late 90s, but this was primarily to publish lists of things (one of the first uses of blogs). And then I started a history blog (history.net.au), but historical knowledge doesn’t really lend itself to blogging, partly because the slowness (or dare I say significance) of historical debates and insights, and blogs are quick and informal (I just couldn’t think of what to say). Not that there is a strict prescription to blogging, but I would like to think that blogs are personal things, and historical narratives are anything but personal at times.
And the first blogging platform I used was the hosted version of Blogger. But it was limited in functionality, so I installed Movabletype; it had more functionality than Blogger but was difficult and clumsy to use. It took way too long to post anything, so I gave up. Then I discovered WordPress and haven’t looked back. What a wonderful piece of software it is and it has traveled very well through major web-based innovations over recent years (and I like all the new cloud functionality that comes with the Jetpack plugin).
And it still surprises me that a lot of the academic population still think a blog is a ‘Homepage’ or a static formal document; suited-up for a firm-handshake with a resume under then arm. Not that there is anything wrong with this, live and let live I say, but there are better contexts for this sort of stuff (…I am happy that you are doing well, but jeez over and over and over again!)
And strange, the most influential post I event posted (almost 8 years ago) is titled ‘what is privacy and why it is important?” It has consistently received the most traffic every day for the past 6 years or so. Maybe I should just blog about ‘privacy’, but I am sure that blogging about one thing would get a bit dull (…serendipity is much more fun)
So get out there in the electronic heard; learn through doing!
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.
I have been quiet of late, partly because I have been changing direction and it takes a little while to turn the ship around. I have moved into the ‘flexible’ or ‘blended learning’ field, something that I have been trying to do for a couple of years now. And the field is enormous, quite refreshing after being in the ‘start-up’ which is the digital humanities in Australia. Although there are growing academic opportunities in the digital humanities, and hopefully I have done my small bit in helping to create these, I am not really sure a traditional academic career has always been available to me or indeed been my chosen vocation. The thing that (possibly) attracted me to the DH in the first place is its lack of a prescribed career path; it had only a self-directed learning path (for lack of a better description and often driven by luck, opportunity, choice and no choice). All roads and no roads lead to the digital humanities it seems…
A description of Big Data by Marcus Wigan (on a radio interview).