<script type=“text/ruination”> // begin argument
var str=“digital humanities”; var str=“digital humanists”; // define variables
In the following paragraphs, I “ruin” digital humanities in order to isolate what makes them distinct or compelling in the first place. Ruination is a technique whereby a text is procedurally manipulated to render it less persuasive.1 The manipulated text is interpreted alongside the original, and key differences between the two versions are analyzed. Informed by a long legacy of text manipulation, including work by OuLiPo, Brion Gysin, Kathy Acker, Tom Phillips, Lisa Samuels, Jerome McGann, Mark Sample, Stephen Ramsay, and—most relevant here—Kari Kraus, I consider ruination’s conjectural exercises.2 Borrowing from Kraus’s “Conjectural Criticism,” we might say ruinations are “concerned with issues of transmission, transformation, and prediction (as well as retrodiction)” (Kraus, ¶4).3 They facilitate “knowledge about what might have been or could be or almost was,” with a bias toward possibility rather than demonstrability or empiricism (¶5). Ruinations point to possible trajectories without fully illuminating them, and they insinuate that the stuff of digital humanities has been insufficiently identified and described. They also underscore how digital humanities may differ from other strains of humanities and—most important—ask what else digital humanities could be, or should do, or might at least consider.
For the purposes of this argument, my particular ruination technique is “dropping the digital,” where I remove the word “digital” from a sentence in order to examine how its absence shapes meaning and interpretation.4 My source material for ruination is the 2012 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities (edited by Matthew K. Gold). Not only is this collection of essays rife with persuasive writing and argumentation, it also begs for additional attention to how the word “digital” is used to qualify humanities research.
Here, then, is the first in a series of ruinations, where each use of ellipses marks the removal of the word “digital” from Debates in Digital Humanities:
And the field of digital humanities does move quickly. (Gold, xii)5
This first selection is found in Gold’s introduction to the volume. It is compelling because it succinctly highlights the everyday information inundation that—for better or worse—subtends digital humanities. Consider how project developments are routinely announced via Twitter, or the rate at which short-form scholarship is published online, or the fact that a majority of the 2012 Debates volume is anchored in discussions about the future. As Ian Bogost suggests by way of Alex Reid: “The digital humanities are just the humanities of the present moment.”6 In practice, a digital humanities of the present moment entails studying and using emerging technologies, however alpha they may be. It also entails reconfiguring how humanities practitioners communicate and through what channels, reimagining the peer-review process, and keeping up with a high frequency of software updates, bug fixes, standards versioning, and hardware mods.
Appropriately enough, when I ruin Gold’s sentence, we get what most would consider a contradiction in terms:
And the field of . . . humanities does move quickly. (Gold, xii)
Historically, the humanities have not been known for their speedy pace, but rather for the glacial temporality of archival research and print communications.7 However, my intent here is not to ask how we can rev up the humanities, or how we can coax humanities faculty into running with new technologies. Instead I am interested in how this ruination raises questions about achieving a self-reflexive digital humanities, especially as scholarly labor comes face-to-face with the alienating instruments that organize and measure networked communications.8 Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s work on metrics as well as Matthew Kirschenbaum’s insights about Twitter—both in the 2012 Debates volume—are a fantastic start here. On the topic of web traffic and usage statistics, Fitzpatrick observes: “Digital scholarly publishing will require rethinking the ways that such traffic is measured and assessed, moving from a focus on conversion to a focus on engagement—and engagement can be quite difficult to measure” (“Beyond Metrics,” 457).9 On the role of Twitter in digital humanities, Kirschenbaum remarks: “the fact is that Twitter more than any other technology or platform is—at the very moment when digital humanities is achieving its institutional apotheosis—the backchannel and professional grapevine for hundreds of people who self-identify as digital humanists” (“Digital Humanities As/Is,” 416–17).10 Both comments prompt us to seriously consider how digital scholarly communications are tied to productivity, the quantified self, social analytics, attention accumulation, and online reputation management.11
While analytics may help us study the nodes and edges of social networks, they also favor reification and individuation.12 Many important questions emerge from this tension: what are the practical implications of keeping one foot in, say, hermeneutics, and the other in the immersive use of gadgets? What are the ethical implications of relying on backchannels and algorithms for sorting and circulating scholarship? What are the structural implications of usage statistics playing a prevalent role in the shelf lives of digital projects? What are the long-term implications of ripping a journal article from its binding and individually assessing its impact factor? How, if at all, can we actually measure an audience’s engagement with digital projects? And what would it mean for digital humanities to establish their own metrics for scholarly communications, or to resist such metrics altogether?13 These issues surely have complex histories—in the humanities as well as in the arts and sciences—and we need to spend some significant time assessing their potential consequences as we participate in networked scholarly communication.
Echoing the attention to attention running throughout this chapter thus far, my second selection for ruination stresses the public dimensions of digital humanities:
The digital humanities amply demonstrates that there is no one size fits all. The heterogeneity of the field is in many ways an asset, and the current external interest and attraction presents a significant opportunity for expansion. (Svensson, 47)14
From “Beyond the Big Tent,” Patrik Svensson’s comment about external interest and attraction is telling, especially when we consider the ways in which digital humanities have garnered support from agencies such as the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The passage is even more telling when it is ruined:
The . . . humanities amply demonstrates that there is no one size that fits all. The heterogeneity of the field is in many ways an asset, and the current external interest and attraction presents a significant opportunity for expansion. (Svensson, 47)
Most people will likely agree with the first sentence. Arguing for a coherent or homogenous identity for the humanities is probably a stretch, and very few (if any) people would pursue such a unifying vision today. Still, the second half of the second sentence raises a brow. Many readers may wonder whether—especially since the mid-1990s (when, for example, the NEH budget was dramatically cut)—the humanities have managed to gain external interest and attraction. As goes the stereotype, most humanities researchers work alone in their contiguous-but-not-connected offices, generating scholarship intended for a small group of like-minded experts who are also in academe. In response to such stereotypes, the issue of external interest and attraction is central to ongoing initiatives such as 4Humanities as well as Alan Liu’s arguments in “Where Is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?”15 There, Liu claims cultural criticism has not played a prominent role in digital humanities thus far. In fact, he provocatively declares: “The digital humanities have been oblivious to cultural criticism” (491). Later, he adds that, if invested in cultural criticism (e.g., critical approaches to metadata), digital humanities would be poised to strategically direct eyes toward humanities research. And in the final paragraph of his essay, he asserts: “the greatest service that the digital humanities can contribute to the humanities is to practice instrumentalism in a way . . . to show that the humanities are needed alongside the sciences to solve the intricately interwoven natural, technological, economic, social, political, and cultural problems of the global age” (502).
The key word in that sentence—and perhaps in the entire piece—is “instrumentalism,” a contentious term in technology studies, to say the least. It is contentious because (to polarize a debate for the sake of illustration) on the one hand instrumentality suggests either a purposeful or unconscious lack of attention to the value-laden character of technologies.16 In this sense, an instrument is treated naively or enthusiastically, as a mere vehicle for unambiguously converting input into output. By extension, the instrument determines cultural change. It is a positivist agent of progress that gains authority over time. On the other hand, instrumentality is neatly imbricated with building infrastructure, developing projects, creating resources, and articulating action items.17 It allows people to work within institutions and transform them. It is arguably essential to making a difference in the academy, and it is vital to laboratory research, for example. That said, balancing this impulse for institutional change with a critical awareness of how technologies proliferate worldviews is no doubt difficult; some would say impossible. Even if that balance is achieved, it inevitably produces contradictions and ironies. It is also new ground for most humanities practitioners, which is perhaps one reason why Svensson’s ruined passage is not persuasive.18
That is, people in the humanities are rarely trained to conduct research and compose in ways that gain large-scale interest and external attraction. And the sorts of humanities Liu and Svensson imagine are public humanities that demand both rhetorical savvy and capacities for code-switching (e.g., switching between subject positions, languages, and rhetorical conventions), not to mention technical and theoretical competencies.19 Presumably they also necessitate a distribution of expertise and communication across media types, disciplines, and communities of practice across sectors. Since such a knowledge base exceeds the time and labor of a single person, collaboration would seem essential to this work.
Consequently, we might follow Svensson’s and Liu’s gestures with two sets of questions: first, in what ways, exactly, are digital humanities public humanities? Is gaining external attraction and publicly communicating humanities research online a matter of access alone (e.g., the switch from pay-walled articles to open-access communications and open-source projects)? Is it primarily a matter of the medium (e.g., shifting from PDFs and DOCs to videos, blogs, and graphs)? Or is it a more fundamental transition toward participatory action research? Of intimately involving publics in the scholarly production process, much in the way many science studies practitioners and policy experts have advocated for at least the last decade?20 For example, when working with culturally sensitive materials, who should oversee, moderate, and maintain digital collections? Where should they be stored? Through what kinds of institutional and community support? Whatever the answers here, one thing is certain: a mistake is made when public research is equated with a reduction of academic complexity (e.g., a “dumbing down” of research for “nonexpert” audiences). Code-switching and juggling instrumentalism’s multiple valences are no simple tasks, and a digital public humanities requires a strategic-yet-flexible, multimodal-yet-medium-aware approach earnestly invested in the democratization of knowledge.21
The second set of questions takes another turn, away from method and toward the actual content of digital projects: To what will—or should—digital humanities attract attention? How can they balance their long-standing investments in pre-twentieth-century materials with cultural studies of the present? With inquiries into contemporary art, literature, and politics? Initiatives such as Vectors journal, Media Commons, HASTAC, 4Humanities, and many Omeka projects are already pushing the envelope in these directions, and more cultural work is going live by the day. Still, one tangible challenge for many humanities practitioners is learning how to unpack the present with the future in mind. Methods such as Kraus’s conjectural criticism move in that direction.22 Kraus argues: “We might, for starters, imagine conjecture as a knowledge toolkit designed to perform ‘what if’ analyses across a range of texts” (¶15). Another direction is the recent work of #transformDH, particularly the ways in which its participants occupy digital humanities, reimagine it, and directly address issues of equity and social justice.23 For instance, in the “Periscope” section of Social Text, Alexis Lothian and Jayna Brown write: “speculation means something else for those who refuse to give its logic over to power and profit. To speculate, the act of speculation, is also to play, to invent, to engage in the practice of imagining.” Words such as “speculation,” “play,” and “imagining” are growing increasingly familiar to digital humanities as of late, and the authors give such terms a tangible context when they remark: “At a moment when so many have been struggling to enact alternatives to the depressing world produced by Wall Street’s speculative failures, we need to practice imagining now more than ever” (Lothian and Brown). Which is to say, both conjectural criticism and #transformDH exhibit how serious speculation about possible futures is irreducible to Minority Report-esque fetishes for gadgets. In this particular case, it is about arguing for what the cultural climate of digital humanities (as a set of social relations) should be, and—as the 2012 Debates volume demonstrates—such arguments are rife with productive anxieties and differences of opinion.24
Of course, the notion of difference is itself a line of inquiry in Debates. Not only does Svensson’s 2012 essay explore the possibilities for a heterogeneous digital humanities involving multiple, perhaps incongruous traditions; in the volume, digital humanities also confront a prevailing ideology of niceness and its concomitant politics of inclusion, which risks eliding or foreclosing important cultural differences. Jamie “Skye” Bianco contends: “we must ask ourselves what sort of social narrative is [niceness]—one that smoothes out potential social differences before conflict sets in? Is this the substrate for our ethics and for a theorization of the social? Who does it include and what (self- and other-) disciplines must we practice and propagate?” (99). These questions are addressed to practitioners as well as projects.
Bianco’s concerns about difference, narrative, and ethics bring me to my third selection for ruination:
We need to examine the canon that we, as digital humanists, are constructing, a canon that skews toward traditional texts and excludes crucial work by women, people of color, and the GLBTQ community. (Earhart, 316)
This passage, from Amy Earhart’s “Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon,” is compelling because it identifies a tendency in digital humanities to construct and maintain a very skewed canon—a re-presentation of a normative past. Earhart contextualizes this observation, providing a number of telling examples from existing projects and initiatives. She writes: “A quick perusal of ‘The Minority Studies’ section [of Voice of the Shuttle] . . . reveals that a tremendous number of the projects have become lost. For example, of the six sites listed in ‘General Resources in Minority Literature,’ half cannot be located, suggesting that they have been removed or lost” (313). She adds: “The National Endowment of [sic] Humanities awarded 141 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants from 2007 through 2010. Of those grants, only twenty-nine were focused on diverse communities and sixteen on the preservation or recovery of diverse community texts” (314). Earhart then caps off her remarks with a reference to her own work, particularly the ways in which it blends critical race theory with competencies in metadata and classification:25 “My digital project, The Nineteenth-Century Digital Concord Archive, is . . . invested in exploring how to appropriately apply technological standards to shifting constructions of race represented in textual materials. Our current challenge is how we represent varying representations of blackness found in the census in a database” (316). These are only a few of the many examples referenced throughout Earhart’s essay, and through a web ethnography of sorts, she convincingly shows how the vexed relations between race, representation, and digital technologies must be addressed through multiple layers of project development, from support (e.g., grants), digitization (e.g., encoding manuscripts), and metadata (e.g., Dublin Core descriptions) to expression (e.g., visualizing data), narrative (e.g., in online scholarly exhibits), discovery (e.g., through search engines), and storage (e.g., sustaining the shelf life of web-based resources). In short, project creation is important, but so, too, is caring for those projects over time.
And when the digital is dropped from her sentence —
We need to examine the canon that we, as . . . humanists, are constructing, a canon that skews toward traditional texts and excludes crucial work by women, people of color, and the GLBTQ community. (Earhart, 316)
Now we are faced with an obvious yet necessary question: How did these exclusions happen, especially when, for decades now, humanities scholars have been demystifying and transforming canons? How and why has humanities work in cultural studies not more visibly—and “visibly” is a key word here—influenced the methods of many digital humanities projects? What are the histories that enabled such a bias in the creation and care of digital collections? And what other humanities approaches are necessary to not only revise skewed canons but also speak more directly to the contemporary intersections of computation and culture? This last question is vital, since it implies that biases are not simply glitches to be “remedied” or “fixed” through new, inclusionary collections of historical materials. They are symptomatic of worldviews warranting acknowledgment and sustained interrogation. In other words, much like the color-coded residential security maps exhibited via the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces (T-RACES), they are the stuff of material culture that can become our very objects of inquiry—the willfully ignored inscriptions of racism and sexism in national records, the discarded documents of local histories, the dusty artifacts in and outside our archives.26 Through transformative methods across media cultures, these neglected objects should be encountered anew, interpreted, rendered discoverable, and maintained (with infrastructural and personnel support), not conveniently forgotten, corrected, or erased.
In other words, in tandem with recovery work, digital humanities need more projects accounting for how skews are produced in computational culture. Tara McPherson’s “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White?” provides such an account, unfolding digital humanities’ tendency to avoid topics like race, immigration, and neoliberalism through an intricate history of UNIX and color-blindness since World War II (140). Resonating with Wendy Chun’s research on interface design and source code, McPherson interrogates the instrumental character of computational technologies and how they actively shape information (often beyond the perceptions and consciousness of their developers or users).27 Importantly, this approach assumes neither a hermeneutics of suspicion nor a deliberate injection of discriminatory politics into technologies.28 Resisting such reductive readings, McPherson makes two crucial moves in her essay. First, she writes: “I am highlighting the ways in which the organization and capital in the 1960s powerfully responds—across many registers—to the struggles for racial justice and democracy that so categorized the United States at the time” (149). She then adds: “The emergence of covert racism and its rhetoric of color blindness are not so much intentional as systemic. Computation is a primary delivery method of these new systems, and it seems at best naive to imagine that cultural and computational operating systems don’t mutually infect one another” (149). For McPherson, digital humanities are so white because—for one reason among many—they are steeped in a longer legacy of bracketing off race from computational techniques, of justifying the reduction of cultural ambivalence for the sake of intuitive designs, neat ontologies, simple expressions, and clean interfaces (140, 145–48). Instead of identifying this legacy and stopping there, however, McPherson gestures toward some possible interventions: “In extending our critical methodologies, we must have at least a passing familiarity with code languages, operating systems, algorithmic thinking, and systems design. . . . We need new hybrid practitioners: artist-theorists, programming humanists, activist-scholars; theoretical archivists, critical race coders” (154). Comparable to Earhart’s line of inquiry, this hybrid work necessarily resists any divide between critical theory and technical competencies, thinking and doing, or yacking and hacking. As it conjectures about possible futures (e.g., where canons are not skewed), it is also extremely aware of the frameworks it mobilizes for historical inquiry.
Of course, the history of digital humanities tends to be a very particular one, generally situated in humanities computing and differing just a touch from McPherson’s articulation. For example, my last selection for ruination—from Johanna Drucker’s “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship”—states:
As the first phase of digital humanities reveals, the exigencies of computational method reflect its origins in the automation of calculation. (87)
This first phase is anchored in Father Busa’s concordance and corpus linguistics, including the discreteness, persistence, and general lack of ambiguity ostensibly afforded by midcentury computation (Drucker, 87).29 Drucker then proceeds to highlight other phases, such as repository building and critical editing in the 1990s and, more recently, data mining, graphical expression, and geospatial representation (87–89). Ultimately, she argues that digital humanities need to extend humanities interpretations beyond the “effects of computational methods” and into the models, process, and warrants of those methods, including how data is taken, not given (89, 94). She compellingly concludes with this statement: “The question is not, Does digital humanities need theory? but rather, How will digital scholarship be humanistic without it?” (94).
When Drucker’s sentence—and thus a portion of the history on which it relies—is ruined, we get a rather amusing statement:
The exigencies of computational methods remain rooted in the automation of calculation, yet the humanities become a constellation of disciplines fundamentally about that method. That is, from their start the humanities reveal an interest in automation and computation. This scenario is difficult to imagine, indeed. Nevertheless, the ruination prompts us to speculate: What are the stakes of unpacking the humanities through the ways in which—returning for a moment to McPherson’s arguments—they have historically infected computation and vice versa? How would such projects allow us to imagine the investments and methods of digital humanities as part and parcel of the humanities more generally, and to account for humanities computing as an important pressure point in a broad and no doubt conflicted genealogy of the field?
None of these questions invalidates corpus linguistics, critical editing, data visualization, or the construction of concordances and repositories. None of them denies histories articulated by scholars such as Kirschenbaum, who underscores “the institutional, material, and social contexts in which the term digital humanities has already been taken up and operationally embedded” (“Digital Humanities As/Is,” 426). Yet most important, none of them tacitly or overtly advocates for abandoning digital humanities as a name, label, tradition, or set of social relations. On the contrary, these questions push the field to conjecture toward a big tent history for big tent humanities—to recognize how the array of practices falling under the digital humanities umbrella corresponds with an array of historical conditions and worldviews, many of which we may not classify as humanities computing or digital humanities. Here, Elizabeth Losh’s “Hacktivism and the Humanities” is particularly relevant, as it carves out a space for digital dissent and electronic civil disobedience within digital humanities. Participants in these histories will probably not be found frequently on the pages of, say, Literary and Linguistic Computing or Digital Humanities Quarterly. And, as Losh acknowledges, some digital humanities practitioners may not deem hacktivism at all relevant to the field (178–79). Yet if critics actually attend to the history she provides, then they will learn that hacktivism tells us a lot about why “both the hacktivist and the more mainstream digital humanist must be sensitive to the vulnerability and imperfection of digital knowledge systems to pursue their avocations on a day-to-day basis,” reminding us of the often overlooked, material roles that surprises play in our quotidian contributions to digital projects (181).
While Losh’s account of hacktivism is more or less contemporary in character, we can easily reference others like it that precede World War II, personal computing, the Internet, or the terms “humanities computing” and “digital humanities.” Consider the technology and media history work of Wendy Chun, Mary Ann Doane, Matthew Fuller, Lisa Gitelman, Sadie Plant, Jonathan Sterne, and Cornelia Vismann, among many others. While these scholars’ methods are not always (if ever) computational, their research gives audiences a robust sense of the humanities’ long legacy of engaging technologies on issues such as instrumentalism, labor, power, positivism, exclusion, exploitation, and metrics. They also allow us to wrangle with current digital humanities topics without falling back on “digital” as our keyword—without assuming that the impulses of our work are unique to life after the Internet, the ENIAC, or the personal computer. Sure, emerging technologies included, much about life today is extraordinarily new. To acknowledge as much is pivotal to—recalling Bogost by way of Reid—a humanities of the present moment. Nevertheless, a big tent history of digital humanities (i.e., relying on material traditions of the term as well as material traditions of the practices informing it) provides us with some rich case studies for better understanding the technocultural complexity of the 2010s. For instance, what might data visualization and geospatial representation learn from a humanities history of graphic design and graphical expression?30 What might encoding and metadata learn from a material history of classification and information organization?31 What might interaction and user experience design learn from a literary history of experimental poetry? These kinds of questions respond directly, or so it seems, to Drucker’s injunction: to practice digital humanities, from start to finish, with the humanities in mind. Of course, one possible consequence is that the boundaries between humanities and critical theory (on the one hand) and computation and technical competencies (on the other) are blurred. But that is precisely the point. After all, blurring is a likely outcome of a field that moves quickly. Yet we need not stop there. We can also learn a lot from how and why we blur lines and make boundaries in digital humanities.
</script> // end ruinations
In keeping with the routines of procedural manipulation, I now repeat myself: Debates in the Digital Humanities is rife with persuasive writing and argumentation; it also begs for additional attention to how the word “digital” is used to qualify humanities research. By dropping the digital, my intent was not only to—example after example after example—demonstrate how the volume is compelling. It was also to call more attention to the general economy of digital humanities: their evolving metrics, including means of quantification and accumulation; their perceptions of what it means to do public work, including external relations and instrumentalism; their canons and resources, including skews and exclusions; and their histories of particular terms and practices. Appeals to economy frequently entail speculation, generally so that people can anticipate the course of things and later confirm (or, better yet, reward) their suspicions. However, as we probably well know, another approach stresses complicity—not what we will risk, gain, or prove but what we can no longer ignore and what we must work to change. Although I can only conjecture, I hope the latter is the trajectory of digital humanities.
This chapter is based on a paper I gave during the Debates in the Digital Humanities symposium at the University of Pittsburgh on April 6, 2012. I would like to thank Jamie “Skye” Bianco, Johanna Drucker, Matthew K. Gold, Lauren Klein, Richard Lane, Elizabeth Losh, Mark Marino, Tara McPherson, Amanda Phillips, and the UVic-VIU Digital Humanities-Theory Discussion Group (supported by the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab) for their generous and tremendously informative feedback on earlier versions of this chapter.
1. For an example of ruination, see Harman’s “Lingis’s Best Latour Litany.” Harman ruins the fourth page of Alphonso Lingis’s Abuses. While his aim is to show why Lingis’s writing is compelling, his ruination also demonstrates how aesthetic exercises are value-laden and thus political. For instance, in a move subtended by orientalism, Harman suggests that the procedural removal of the “exotic” from Lingis’s prose (e.g., replacing “the port of Balikpapan in Kalimantan” with “the port of Galveston in Texas”) renders it banal. Harman does not engage questions about for whom, by whom, and under what assumptions the “exotic” becomes banal. Here, a lesson for ruination exercises is to avoid reducing them to harmless or purely aesthetic play, as if textual experimentation is somehow outside ideology.
2. For more on procedural approaches to writing and composition, see Motte on OuLiPo. As a group of writers and mathematicians, OuLiPo (Ouvroir de litterature potentiale) is—or has been—invested in creative production by means of generative constraints and procedures (as opposed to, say, romantic notions of inspiration). For more on “deformative” manipulations of texts, see Samuels and McGann, who suggest: “Deformance does want to show the poem’s intelligibility is not a function of the interpretation, but that all interpretation is a function of the poem’s systemic intelligibility. Interpreting a poem after it has been deformed clarifies the secondary status of the interpretation. Perhaps even more crucially, deformance reveals the special inner resources that texts have when they are constituted poetically. Nor do judgments about the putative quality of the poem matter” (Samuels and McGann, 40). They demonstrate two kinds of deformance: reading backward and “isolating deformation,” or “eliminating everything from a poem except certain words, to see what happens when they are alone on the page” (40). Since this essay is not especially concerned with form or the “special inner resources that texts have,” I prefer ruination to deformance. For more on hacking as a form of procedural text manipulation, see Sample’s Hacking the Accident, which is an algorithmically altered version of Hacking the Academy (Cohen and Scheinfeldt). According to Sample: “Hacking the Accident replaces every person, place, or thing in Hacking the Academy with the person, place, or thing—mostly things—that comes seven nouns later in the dictionary.” For more on algorithmic criticism as text manipulation, see Ramsay, Reading Machines: “For while it is possible, and in some cases useful, to confine algorithmic procedures to the scientific realm, such procedures can be made to conform to the methodological project of invention without transforming the nature of computation or limiting the rhetorical range of critical inquiry. This is possible because critical reading practices already contain elements of the algorithmic. Any reading of a text that is not a recapitulation of that text relies on a heuristic of radical transformation. The critic who endeavors to put forth a ‘reading’ puts forth not the text, but a new text in which the data has been paraphrased, elaborated, selected, truncated, and transduced” (Reading Machines, 16). The notion that critical reading practices already contain elements of the algorithmic is central to the gestures and warrants of this chapter, especially as they concern the ruination technique.
3. In that article, Kraus claims: “Not least, we would need to work decisively to bring conjectural criticism into the 21st century. Because it has traditionally been described as a balm to help heal a maimed or corrupted text, conjecture is in desperate need of a facelift; the washed-up pathological metaphors long ago ceased to strike a chord in editorial theory” (“Conjectural Criticism,” ¶13). Although this chapter does not engage editorial theory, it nevertheless takes seriously Kraus’s claim to reinvigorate conjectural criticism. Ruination is one technique for making claims not intended for testing. It also follows in the what-if, conjectural legacy of wordplay.
4. This gesture is not identical to the suggestion that, in the future, all humanities will become digital humanities, or the digital humanities will eventually be the humanities. Among other things, I am particularly interested in distinguishing digital humanities from other humanities fields, even if I am sympathetic to the growing use of digital methods across those fields.
5. This selection begins an important paragraph in Gold’s introduction. Here is how the sentence proceeds: “And the field of digital humanities does move quickly; the speed of discourse in DH is often noted with surprise by newcomers, especially at conferences, when Twitter feeds buzz with links to announcements, papers, prototypes, slides, white papers, photos, data visualizations, and collaborative documents” (Gold, xii).
6. Bogost elaborates: “Everyone who does humanities today can’t avoid immersion in digital stuff. We read and write with computers, we communicate with them, we administer our lives and our programs with them. That said, humanists have been among the least willing to admit that fact. Whether through age, ignorance, truculence, or idiocy, the humanities have tried desperately to pretend that the material world is the same as ever” (“Getting Real”). In “Digital Humanities: Two Venn Diagrams,” to which Bogost refers, Reid writes: “For centuries (if not always), the humanities have dealt with objects: books, historical artificats [sic], works of art, performances, films, etc. But I think the Latourian-correlationist observation is insightful here. We have largely dealt with these objects in two ways. 1) We have addressed our human response, our ability to represent these objects to ourselves. 2) We have spoken of ‘culture’ and ‘materiality’ but in a vague, abstract way. As such, when we speak of the digital we have focused on the digital as a mode of representation and we have considered ‘digital culture’ in broad and abstract terms. A realist ontology allows us to investigate objects in new ways. It makes the laptop, the mobile phone, the AR network, the procedurality of the video game all sites for humanistic investigation in new ways.”
7. One exception here is the very print volume under discussion. From writing to publication, the 2012 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities was finished in roughly a year’s time.
8. Here, I cannot help but refer to Benjamin on Klee’s “Angelus Novus”: “The angel would like to say, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress” (Benjamin, 257–58). If for only one reason, here Benjamin informs the current pace of digital humanities by drawing correlations between the storm of progress and universal (or self-fulfilling) history. To be self-reflexive (e.g., through a materialist historiography) is to arrest and interrupt time in the face of productivity, accumulation, and progress (262–64). Recalling this claim resists tendencies to speak about digital technologies in revolutionary terms, which are often temporal in character (e.g., more than ever before, digital technologies speed up the acquisition, exchange, and dissemination of information).
9. Fitzpatrick elaborates with an example: “A visitor to a substantive scholarly blog post, for instance, who simply snagged the post in Instapaper and moved on but then later sat and read the article at leisure would not appear to have had a significant engagement with the text when in fact that engagement could well have been far more in depth than the average. We need far better markers for that kind of engagement in order for basic traffic to become legible” (“Beyond Metrics,” 457).
10. Elsewhere, Kirschenbaum writes: “Whatever else it might be, then, the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online” (“What Is Digital Humanities,” 9). Of course, Twitter enables that 24/7 online presence.
11. For more on the Quantified Self movement, visit http://quantifiedself.com/about. There, Quantified Self is described as “a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self-knowledge through self-tracking. We exchange information about our personal projects, the tools we use, tips we’ve gleaned, lessons we’ve learned. We blog, meet face to face, and collaborate online. There are three main ‘branches’ to our work.” According to the Quantified Self website, those branches are: “The Quantified Self blog and community site,” “Quantified Self Show & Tell meetings,” and the “Quantified Self conference.”
12. For more, see Cohen. He writes: “There has been much talk recently of the social graph, the network of human connections that sites like Facebook bring to light and take advantage of. If widely adopted, ORE could help create the scholarly graph, the networked relations of scholars, publications, and resources” (“The Vision of ORE”).
13. Of course, projects such as Digital Humanities Now (http://digitalhumanitiesnow.org/) and the “Badges for Lifelong Learning” Digital Media and Learning Competition are already unpacking the question of metrics and related algorithms. An ongoing issue is whether digital mechanisms substantially differ from previous approaches—whether they are not simply more refined (rather than radically new) approaches to gathering, analyzing, and expressing data.
14. In a gesture central to his conclusion, Svensson elaborates: “At the same time, we need to acknowledge that there is a core community associated with the digital humanities and that the all-encompassing, inclusive digital humanities may not always seem an attractive option to it. Multitude and variation may be seen as diluting the field and taking away from a number of epistemic commitments. This is a very valid concern, and various initiatives are bound to tackle this challenge in different ways. It would seem, however, that a big-tent digital humanities should not be predominantly anchored in one tradition” (“Beyond the Big Tent,” 47).
15. According to its website (http://humanistica.ualberta.ca/about/), “4Humanities is a platform and resource for advocacy of the humanities, drawing on the technologies, new-media expertise, and ideas of the international digital humanities community. The humanities are in trouble today, and digital methods have an important role to play in effectively showing the public why the humanities need to be part of any vision of a future society.”
16. For a critique of this form of instrumentalism, see Bianco. She writes: “Tools don’t reflect upon their own making, use, or circulation or upon the constraints under which their constitution becomes legible, much less attractive to funding. They certainly cannot account for their circulations and relations, the discourses and epistemic constellations in which they resonate. They cannot take responsibility for the social relations they inflect or control. Nor do they explain why 10 percent of today’s computer science majors are women, a huge drop from 39 percent in 1984 (Stross), and 87 percent of Wikipedia editors —that would be the first-tier online resource for information after a Google search—are men (Wikimedia)” (“This Digital Humanities,” 99).
17. This form of building and resource creation is more or less what Tom Scheinfeldt seems to have in mind when he argues: “At the very least, we need to make room for both kinds of digital humanities, the kind that seeks to make arguments and answer questions and the kind that builds tools and resources with questions in mind, but only in the back of its mind and only for later. We need time to experiment and even, as Bill Turkel and Kevin Kee have argued, time to play” (“Where’s the Beef?” 57–58).
18. Of course, there are exceptions here. In the humanities, fields such as media studies and science and technology studies have engaged instrumentalism for some time. Liu highlights both fields as domains and practices that could inform digital humanities’ otherwise oblivious relationship with cultural criticism (501).
19. Of note, Svensson’s emphasis on a heterogeneous digital humanities (including his point that the “big tent” should not be predominantly anchored in a single tradition) echoes some of Jamie “Skye” Bianco’s concerns in Debates: “What quick, concatenating, and centrifugal forces have so quickly rendered the many under the name of one, the digital humanities?” (97). Bianco’s essay is also one reason why, throughout most of this chapter, “the” does not preface “digital humanities.” For an explanation of the “big tent” concept, see Fitzpatrick, “Reporting from the Digital Humanities 2010 Conference,” where she uses the term to describe digital humanities as “a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities, or, as is more true of my own work, who ask traditional kinds of humanities-oriented questions about computing technologies.” Later, Fitzpatrick adds: “By bringing together such a wide range of interests, affiliations, and perspectives to the connections between computing and the humanities, the [Digital Humanities annual] conference can give one a snapshot of the state of things, a broad sense of what scholars who work within those connections are concerned about.”
20. For some responses to these questions, see “Democratizing Knowledge.” Also see the Mukurtu project directed by Kim Christen as well as Public Secrets by Sharon Daniel. For example work from science studies, see the Science Studies Network at the University of Washington.
21. For more on this topic, see “Digital Humanities, Public Humanities,” a special issue of New American Notes Online (http://nanocrit.com/issues/5/introduction-digital-humanities-public-humanities).
22. Kraus elaborates: “In this view, the text is a semiotic system whose discrete units of information can be artfully manipulated into alternate configurations that may represent past or future states. Of course the computing metaphors alone are not enough; they must be balanced by, among other things, an appreciation of the imponderable and distinctly human qualities that contribute to conjectural knowledge. But formalized and integrated into a curriculum, the various suggestions outlined here have the potential to give conjecture a new lease on life and incumbent editorial practices—much too conservative for a new generation of textual critics—a run for their money” (¶15).
24. On the social relations of digital humanities and the 2012 Debates volume in particular, see Ramsay, “The Hot Thing,” where he argues: “The fundamental posture of a benevolent community is that it wishes its own members—and, more importantly, the people who are not members—well. It doesn’t unduly concern itself with its own survival, or even its precise definition. And it doesn’t concern itself at all with the idea that it will one day be supplanted by something else. It wishes the people it is ‘supplanting’ well; it wishes the people that will supplant it well.”
25. For more on the topic of classification and cultural formations, see Brown, Clements, and Grundy. On the development of the Orlando Project, they write: “It is a challenge to represent diversity in an encoding scheme, because the tags assign material to categories, and so contain it. Some readers will come to Orlando to seek out writers associated with particular cultural identities and positions: Jewish, working-class, lesbian, or immigrant writers, for instance. But on the other hand such categories are discursive rather than ontological. Heritage is mixed, and allegiances and practices shift. And precisely because such identity labels are constituted through linguistic and social practices, vocabularies associated with them change over time. A history grounded largely in the careers of individual writers must take account of the fact that cultural identities shift within the wider society, as well as within an individual’s self-conception or lifetime.”
26. Visit T-RACES at http://salt.umd.edu/T-RACES. The project visualizes the practice of redlining (i.e., when banks and other groups draw red lines around areas in which they will not invest) while also offering access to digitized documents from the National Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) archive. Ultimately, T-RACES exhibits the entanglement of white supremacy with banking practices and real estate development in the United States, specifically during the mid-twentieth century.
27. For instance, in Programmed Visions, Chun writes: “This book, therefore, links computers to governmentality neither at the level of content nor in terms of the many governmental projects that they have enabled, but rather at the level of their architecture and their instrumentality. Computers embody a certain logic of governing or steering through the increasingly complex world around us” (9).
28. For a particular history of this debate, see Winner, “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”
29. For more on Father Busa and the history of humanities computing, see Hockey.
30. For one such history of graphic design, see Drucker and McVarish. Here, I am also indebted to the Victorian studies work of Alison Hedley. For instance, see Hedley’s contributions to Arbuckle et al., “Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications.”
31. For instance, see Bowker and Star.
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