Beyond the Big Tent
Big Tent Digital Humanities” is the theme of the Digital Humanities 2011 conference at Stanford University. It is a well-chosen conference topic given the current, often fairly intense debate about the scope and direction of the digital humanities, one also exemplified by the Modern Language Association (MLA) 2011 panel on “The History and Future of the Digital Humanities” as well as a number of concurrent online discussions. This debate has a disciplinary, historical, and institutional basis and is backdropped by considerable interest in the digital humanities from universities, funding agencies, scholars, and others. Moreover, there is a basic tension between a tradition invested in technology as a tool and methodology and a range of “newcomers” starting out from other modes of engagement between the humanities and the digital (Svensson, “Landscape”). A related point of tension has to do with the scope of the digital humanities. Arguably, much of the hope and interest currently invested in the digital humanities relates to an inclusive notion of the field and a sense of the digital humanities as a way of reconfiguring the humanities (Svensson, “Envisioning”). Hence the issue of the size of the digital humanities canalizes a range of important debates and future critical choices.
This chapter explores the contemporary landscape of digital humanities starting from the discourse of “big tent” digital humanities. What is it exactly that needs to be incorporated into the tent that was not there before? Does a larger tent come with expanded responsibilities? Why do we need a tent or a bounding mechanism in the first place? Is there place for private as well as public institutions of higher education in the tent? Is a very inclusive notion of digital humanities problematic? The chapter ends with a suggestion that the community may benefit from a “no tent” approach to the digital humanities and that “trading zone” (Galison) or “meeting place” may be useful, alternative structuring devices and ideational notions.
Sizing the Digital Humanities
There can be no doubt that the digital humanities have expanded in multiple ways over the last ten years. Indeed, ten years ago, the notion of digital humanities itself was an emerging one, arising out of a relabeling process within the humanities computing community (Kirschenbaum; Svensson, “Humanities Computing”). The perceived larger size would partly seem to be a result of having a more distinct and inclusive label, although there has also obviously been a real expansion as indicated by new book series, the number of positions advertised, funding available, the growing number of digital humanities initiatives, interest from policy makers and university leadership, increased visibility, and general buzz.
The digital humanities arose from a specific epistemic tradition or set of traditions (Knorr Cetina), and with the expansion of the field comes a higher degree of heterogeneity and inclusion of other epistemic traditions (Svensson, “Humanities Computing”). This is part of what makes the digital humanities a dynamic and, to some extent, indeterminate field. It is important to note that traditional humanities computing, as well as digital humanities, frequently have had an intersectional position. In other words, digital humanities institutions tend to depend on interaction with other institutions to a larger extent than most traditional departments and disciplines. This is evident in the idea of a methodological commons (McCarty), for instance; and it is also notable that the digital humanities have often been institutionalized as centers and institutes rather than as traditional departments. Indeed, such centers may be more institutionally akin to traditional humanities centers than departments. Examples include the Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) at King’s College, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland. These centers obviously share some characteristics, such as a range of activities and strategies to do work with other parts of the humanities, as well as outside of the humanities proper. This liminal position is quite important, offering something that can be built on in order to facilitate digital humanities as a larger project. However, we also need to acknowledge that this necessitates the reassessing of traditions and possible interaction points between the humanities and the digital and allowing change not only in terms of size but also in terms of epistemic texture and institutional focus. An interesting question is whether the recent name change of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities to the Department of Digital Humanities indicates a difference in self-conception and whether it will result in a different institutional position.
Yale University: Inside or Outside the Tent?
The listed institutions all come from the humanities computing tradition. What’s more, we are now seeing a range of new initiatives not anchored in this tradition as strongly, which sometimes leads to points of tension. A useful example is Yale University’s relatively recent interest in digital humanities as manifested in a working group for the digital humanities started in 2009. On their website, the field is described as follows: “Digital humanities encompass an array of convergent practices that explore a world in which scholarship is not exclusively produced in print but is created and distributed through new digital technologies. This group will consider the expanding practices, vocabulary, and research methods germane to digital humanities across disciplines.” This is a fairly inclusive definition, arguably compatible with a big-tent notion of the digital humanities. The discussion of Yale’s interest in the digital humanities is presumably inflected by the fact that Yale is not just any newcomer but an Ivy League school and one arguably coming to the field from a different tradition (as evidenced by a close connection to media theory). In February 2010, the conference “The Past’s Digital Presence” received considerable attention partly through Humanist editor Willard McCarty’s description of it as a “watershed moment” (McCarty, Humanist). This gracious introduction of Yale University into the digital humanities was met with some resistance. In a subsequent Humanist post, University of Nebraska professor Amanda Gailey expressed some concern:
I find that the “watershed” comment overlooks the work that many grad students have been doing at non-Ivy schools for several years now…. Importantly, many of us who did not attend Ivy League schools and who professionally defined ourselves as digital humanists before it became an MLA buzzword were arguably taking many more risks…. Frankly, I view the late arrival of the Ivies as a worrisome indicator that DH will soon be locked down by the same tired socioeconomic gatekeeping mechanisms that prevent many people with talent from succeeding at so many other academic disciplines. (Gailey)
Gailey reacts to McCarty’s description of the workshop but also to the aspirations of Yale and other Ivy League schools to enter the digital humanities. There is a clear sense of pointing to the tradition of humanities computing as digital humanities here and the personal and institutional investment of digital humanists with a long-term engagement in the field. It should also be noted here that the list of readings for the Yale Digital Humanities Working Group includes pieces such as John Unsworth’s 2002 paper “What Is Humanities Computing and What Is Not?” showing sensibility to the history of the field. There is probably some truth to Gailey’s socioeconomic concerns (which obviously are shared by others in the community as evident in Katherine Harris’s comment (Harris), although expansion would inevitably seem to lead to more heterogeneity and hence presumably a larger socioeconomic spread. Maybe a stronger interest from elite universities could even help leverage the digital humanities as a project and the humanities as Yale (as suggested by Cohen in relation to discussing the Open Content Alliance)? Also, the creation of a working group at Yale does not in itself necessarily represent an institutionally strategic move. It could be argued that the working group indicates interest from faculty, graduate students, and technology experts. Of course, such interest cannot be entirely removed from institutional politics and the overall traction of digital humanities. The fact that the working group has the web address digitalhumanities.yale.edu carries institutional meaning, and the heading “Digital Humanities at Yale” on that web page indicates a strategic position. At the same time, the breadth of the digital humanities at Yale is indicated by a subsequent conference not organized by the working group but advertised on the digital humanities website: “Yale Media Theory and History Conference” (April 22–23, 2011). Internal priorities must also be considered; perhaps scholars interested in the digital humanities at Yale need support from the wider digital humanities (DH) community in order for their initiative to take off.
An important question here concerns who is the real gatekeeper. Gailey’s reluctance to acknowledge Yale as a new addition to the field appears to be due to Yale being a privileged school that had not been part of the buildup of the field. It could be argued, however, that a big-tent notion of the digital humanities must be based on an open invitation and generosity rather than past hardships. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that expanding territory and, in particular, epistemic range is not unproblematic and that boundary making is integral to disciplinary formation.
Another type of reluctance is based on the type of digital humanities that Yale is seen as representing and its associated epistemic commitments. Many of the people active in the Yale working group seem to be “traditional” scholars interested in the digital more as a digitally inflected object of inquiry. In a polemic position statement from the MLA 2011 conference, Stephen Ramsay points to “coding” or “making” as a necessary criterion to qualify for the digital humanities, and in the discussion he brings in Yale (and some other schools):
But what if Duke or Yale were to offer a degree in Digital Humanities and they said “no” to code and “yes” to text? Or “no” to building and “yes” to theorizing? Or decided that Digital Humanities is what we used to call New Media Studies (which is the precise condition, as far as I can tell, at Dartmouth)? You might need to know how to code in order to be competitive for relevant grants with the ODH, NSF, or Mellon. Maybe that means Yale’s DH ambitions will never get off the ground. Or maybe Yale is powerful enough to redefine the mission of those institutions with respect to the Humanities. Most institutions, for the record, are not. (Ramsay)
This is an intentionally provocative piece written by a single person (Ramsay), and we should be careful not to draw overly far-reaching conclusions from it. However, it is quite clear that this is an example of gatekeeping based on epistemic traditions and commitments. Funding agency structures and programs, often seen as barriers in the humanities computing tradition (cf. Terras and Smithies), are used as a gatekeeping device.
Joining Willard McCarty in approval of the Yale event was John Unsworth, another established digital humanities representative. It is notable that both McCarty and Unsworth have secure institutional positions, while scholars critiquing the Yale event were less established in the field. McCarty and Unsworth represent the core of the community, and their praise hence comes from deep inside the discipline, which may help explain some of the intensity of the discussion. Unsworth (12–13) notes that graduate students organized the conference and lists the titles of PhD projects of these graduate students. These include “The Liberal Schoolmaster” and “Literary Souvenirs: Didactic Materialism in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Fiction.” Unsworth asks, “How did these students get drawn into the digital humanities?” (13). This is a very interesting question, the answer to which demonstrates that even a big tent—enacted by Unsworth—can be coupled with epistemic predispositions:
Finally, back to that remark Willard made, about the graduate students in the Yale conference—the remark generally overlooked in the dispute about watersheds. What he said was that “quite independently of the work us older ones have done for so long, these students see the possibilities now visible and question them as befits the humanities.” This is perhaps the most interesting point, and the one on which I will end. Coming up behind Christy and Harris, Gailey, Ramsay, Bogost, Kirschenbaum, McCarty, Ayers, Stallybrass, and me, is a generation of graduate students who essentially learned to do research with digital tools; they aren’t necessarily aware of the history that’s implicit, just barely submerged, in the exchanges we’ve been considering here—they actually don’t care all that much about the back-story. They’re interested in grabbing these tools, using these new library services, and making their own mark, and they have some interesting questions to ask. (Unsworth, 18)
The Yale graduate students are “read” as coming to the digital humanities through having “learned to do research with digital tools” and being interested in “grabbing these tools.” While the conference program to some extent was tool and encoding based, the PhD titles previously listed by Unsworth would seem to indicate analytical research of more traditional type, and the question is whether these students really came to the digital humanities (if they actually came to stay) through an interest in tools and library services. Again, the point here is that this is not just a question of the size of the tent but also about how the tent is epistemologically textured.
What Types of Digital Humanities?
The place of Yale University in the digital humanities tent can be partially related to how the relationship between the humanities and the digital is conceived. In traditional digital humanities (or humanities computing), technology or tool-related methodology often serves an instrumental function (Svensson, “Humanities Computing”). I have argued elsewhere that the interrelation between the humanities and the digital can be discussed in terms of different modes of engagement: the digital or technology as tool, study object, medium, laboratory, and activist venue (Svensson, “Landscape”). If big-tent digital humanities reaches across these modes of engagement, the tool-oriented approach is only one among several possible modes of engagements.
We can see the primary role given to tools in Unsworth’s discussion or in the idea of a methodological commons as a core structural component of the field. In discussing the methodological commons, McCarty writes that humanities computing has been able to transcend disciplinary and institutional boundaries through a methodological commons “for all to draw on”; and, in his thoughtful outlining of the commons, it is quite clear that we are concerned with a particular model (118). For instance, it is based on introducing data types and a set of tools to manipulate the data, and the tools in turn are derived from formal methods (136). There is considerable complexity to this issue, and tools can be both instrumental and deeply integrated into humanistic research endeavors. This said, we should be careful not to see tools as neutral artifacts. In an enlightening discussion on digital visualization tools, Johanna Drucker maintains that graphical tools such as GIS, mapping, and graphs are based on underlying assumptions, which “are cloaked in a rhetoric taken wholesale from the techniques of the empirical sciences that conceals their epistemological biases under a guise” (Drucker). While tools themselves can be epistemologically predisposed, it could be argued that placing tools and tool-related methodology at the base of digital humanities work implies a particular view of the field and, within big-tent digital humanities, possibly an exclusive stance. One central question is whether the tent can naturally be taken to include critical work construing the digital as an object of inquiry rather than as a tool.
When Unsworth notes that the young Yale scholars have “some interesting questions to ask,” the epistemic perspective is not so much seen in asking or not asking analytical questions but in how one gets to the questions. If tools and related mechanisms underlie an epistemic commitment, this would be evident in the questions either being asked through the tools or arising as a result of using the tools. One pertinent question, then, is whether there is room for research in the digital humanities that does not engage with tools, or “making” in Ramsey’s fairly narrow sense, and whether that work can be accepted in its own right.
It is important not to overplay these differences while being sensitive to them and to the tensions that may arise from them. In general, it is easier to be inside than outside, and it would seem quite important to be inclusive and generous when one is part of the established core of a field or discipline. Language plays a significant role here, and what seems uncontroversial from an internal perspective can be exclusionary from an outside perspective.
The DH 2011 Call for Papers: Inclusionary or Exclusionary?
Conferences are important in the formation of disciplines and fields (Klein), and the principal conference for the digital humanities is the annual conference named “Digital Humanities.” This conference series is grounded in the tradition of humanities computing; it goes back to at least the early 1990s and is currently organized by the Association for Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO). I have earlier discussed the 2009 Call for Papers for the Digital Humanities conference (Svensson, “Humanities Computing”) as clearly representing a specific tradition of digital humanities rather than a more multivalent approach. As Stéfan Sinclair observes, the conference is quite competitive in terms of accepted proposals (34 percent in 2010), and there is a tendency to “push inwards toward the centre of recognized digital humanities research and practices.” He argues that the conference can thus be seen to stifle growth and innovation and also points to it serving several disciplines and institutional contexts. Sinclair also notes that new conferences (such as Yale’s “The Past’s Digital Presence” discussed earlier) have helped to decenter the Digital Humanities conference. However, there can be no doubt that it is the main conference for the field (at least as traditionally conceived) and thus an important arena for negotiating a more inclusive notion of digital humanities.
As noted at the beginning of this chapter, the theme for the 2011 conference is “Big Tent Digital Humanities,” a theme that makes it particularly relevant to look again at the Call for Papers (CFP) for the conference:
Proposals might, for example, relate to the following aspects of digital humanities: research issues, including data mining, information design and modelling, software studies, and humanities research enabled through the digital medium; computer-based research and computer applications in literary, linguistic, cultural and historical studies, including electronic literature, public humanities, and interdisciplinary aspects of modern scholarship. Some examples might be text analysis, corpora, corpus linguistics, language processing, language learning, and endangered languages; the digital arts, architecture, music, film, theater, new media, and related areas; the creation and curation of humanities digital resources; the role of digital humanities in academic curricula.
The range of topics covered by digital humanities can also be consulted in the journal of the associations, Literary and Linguistic Computing (LLC). (General Call for Papers, Digital Humanities 2011)
The call as a whole is definitely more inclusive than the 2009 CFP, which had a more pronounced instrumental and textual focus; but, even so, there can be no doubt that there is a particular scholarly tradition underlying the call. This may not be surprising given the history of the conference series, but the current state of the field and the theme would seem to call for a more clearly inclusive stance. Again, it is important to consider inside and outside perspectives. It may be that the call under discussion seems inclusive to the organizers of the conference, whereas it is seen as exclusionary by “outsiders” or newcomers to the field. For instance, most of the aspects listed could be said to represent tool-oriented and text-based research. Through talking about “humanities research enabled through the digital medium,” the technology or medium is also given considerable agency. The long-standing humanities computing interest in cultural heritage work is evident through the focus on creation and curation of digital resources. The only aspect listed that can easily be seen as reaching outside of the tradition is the one focusing on “digital arts, architecture, music, film, theater, new media, and related areas.” This is quite a significant inclusion, but it is worth noting that in contrast with the two preceding items on the list, there is no further elaboration. Rather, it could be argued that a number of internally heterogeneous “leftovers” have been subsumed under one bullet point. And while the list as a whole is presented as only suggesting examples of digital humanities areas, what is actually listed is quite important, not least to outsiders. If this is how the big tent is reflected among the suggested topic areas, it does not necessarily seem inviting, nor does it speak to those communities that do not share tool-oriented or text-based approaches to research.
In the introduction to the call, there is special focus on big-tent aspects: “With the Big Tent theme in mind, we especially invite submissions from Latin American scholars, scholars in the digital arts and music, in spatial history, and in the public humanities”(“General Call for Papers,” Digital Humanities 2011). It seems that this specification is narrower than the topic area just discussed and, to an outsider, somewhat arbitrary (although the local context at Stanford would seem to be an important rationale). For instance, a new media scholar interested in the digital humanities may not feel inclined to submit a proposal, particularly because new media is not included in the big-tent specification and is instead listed together with some fairly unrelated areas without further elaboration in the list of topics.
We would expect newcomers to be prepared to make an effort and learn about the context of the conference and tradition. However, sometimes what may be clear to insiders may not be accessible to newcomers. This can be exemplified with the reference to the journal Literary and Linguistic Computing in the Call for Papers. It is said that the journal can be consulted about the “range of topics covered by digital humanities.” Looking at the most recent issue of the journal at the time of writing (Volume 26, Issue 1, April 2011), the articles deal with comparing treaty texts, visualization as a tool for dialect geography, authorship attribution, computer scansion of Ancient Greek Hexameter, lexical bundles, extraction of syntactic differences, and a regressive imagery dictionary. If the new media scholar interested in digital humanities imagined earlier was not stopped by the text in the Call for Papers and followed the advice to look at the journal to find out more, it is very likely that he or she would not feel included or inclined to actually register for the conference.
However, the emphasis on this particular journal is partly institutional. It was started in 1973 and has been the journal of two of the core humanities computing associations, as well as for the journal of the Association for Digital Humanities Organizations (AHDO). Furthermore, it is part of a funding mechanism for ADHO (and its organizations), as members and member organizations pay their fees through subscribing to the journal. All this means that LLC has a special status but not necessarily that all members of traditional digital humanities (or humanities computing) see this journal as the primary voice of the field. To an outsider, however, this arrangement may not be particularly transparent. A very simple adjustment would be to also include the Digital Humanities Quarterly (also supported by ADHO) as a reference in the Call for Papers. It has a considerably broader scope than LLC and is open access. A more radical suggestion would be to also list a few journals outside the core tradition. This would clearly indicate a big-tent sentiment and pronounced interest in other traditions.
I have argued elsewhere (Svensson, “Envisioning”) that contemporary digital humanities can be associated with an interest in change and that the field can be used as a means to imagine the future of the humanities. This is typically more apparent in new initiatives than in traditional digital humanities. Hence one interesting question is how these “big” visions relate to a big-tent digital humanities grounded in the tradition of humanities computing.
White papers produced to make a case for the digital humanities can act as a source of material for visionary discourse. These documents are typically part of a process of lobbying for the field and establishing a digital humanities center. This is a particular type of text—typically aiming to convince university management to prioritize a certain area—but also indicative of hopes and strategies associated with the field at particular sites. I have looked at three white papers from three American universities: University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW-Madison), University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Texas A&M. While the documents are site specific, so to speak, there is considerable overlap. The wish lists presented generally include space, technology, and strategic hires. Moreover, there is a common view of the digital humanities as a considerable force and “game changer” in all three documents.
The UW-Madison documents describe how the digital humanities “plugs directly into the media culture lived by our students, our peers, and our wider communities” and how the field, through its “interconnected and infrastructural dimensions,” is the future of the humanities (“Enhancing Digital Humanities”). They also point out how the digital humanities currently offers a “strategic nexus through which faculty, students, and staff can analyze and direct how this future might unfold” (“Enhancing Digital Humanities”). This is an expansive vision that goes beyond affecting and changing the humanities. The UCLA white paper similarly extends beyond the humanities proper when it is argued that the field is “setting new intellectual agendas and priorities for the twenty-first century” (“The Promise of Digital Humanities”). Furthermore, emergent modes of knowledge formation and reaching new audiences for digitally inflected scholarship are emphasized. Again, we get the impression of a field that intersects with the humanities profoundly through multiple modes of engagement. The Texas A&M document presents two grand challenges for the center: “the need to investigate the relationship of computing technologies and culture, and the need to construct cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences” (“Texas Center for Digital Humanities and New Media”). The planned research—cultural records, systems, environments, and interactions in the digital age—is said to engage with one of most significant questions of our time: What does it mean to be human in the digital age? Presumably, tackling this question and the grand challenges requires a range of competencies as well as a broad engagement with the digital (and nondigital).
While we should exercise analytical caution given the genre of these documents, it seems clear that they attribute transformative power to the digital humanities and that the field and associated challenges require multivalent competencies including analytical work and engagement that may not necessarily involve digital tools, coding, or a textual focus. This would seem to suggest the importance of a broadly conceived digital humanities and the need for a larger tent than the one indicated by the Digital Humanities 2011 Call for Papers.
The Digital Humanities as a Trading Zone and Meeting Place
It may be difficult to recognize different epistemic traditions and support them within the framework of a digital humanities “tent” that may be stretched in some ways (but not others). Importantly, there is a risk that a wealth of traditions and perspectives are subsumed and conflated in a tent primarily keyed to one particular tradition. This is not merely a question of semantics and metaphorical systems but deeply concerns how we think of the future of the field. Given the foregoing discussion, the history of the field, and an inclusive view of the digital humanities, I am suggesting an alternative model based on the digital humanities as a meeting place, innovation hub, and trading zone (see McCarty for an earlier discussion of humanities computing as a methodology-oriented trading zone). Such a notion highlights some qualities of the digital humanities—including its commitment to interdisciplinary work and deep collaboration—that could attract individuals both inside and outside the tent with an interest in the digital humanities. Arguably, such bridge building and the bringing together of epistemic traditions is not optimally done from the position of discipline or department. The liminal position of the field is thus not seen as a problem but rather as an important quality.
The notion of trading zones comes from Peter Galison and his analysis of physicists of different paradigms carrying out collaborative research despite belonging to different epistemic traditions. The concept can be used to describe “places” where interdisciplinary work occurs and where different traditions are maintained at the same time as intersectional work is carried out. We should be aware that the concept of “trading zone” is based on a trading and marketplace metaphor that construes knowledge production as trade and that comes from a scientific context.
Harry Collins, Robert Evans, and Mike Gorman point to the importance of interactional expertise (i.e., using the language of an expert community for interacting with members) for productive engagement in cross-disciplinary work. They suggest an evolution of trading zones in relation to interactional expertise, where the starting point may be a cohesive situation where different groups are encouraged to work together, while the other end of the scale represents cultures becoming more homogenous through the process of new disciplinary formation. The digital humanities can be seen as a fractioned (not homogenous) collaborative (not coerced) trading zone and a meeting place that supports deeply collaborative work, individual expression, unexpected connections, and synergetic power. The “digital,” in a broad sense and in various manifestations, functions as a shared boundary object.
Arguably, the digital humanities needs to support and allow multiple modes of engagement between the humanities and the digital in order to touch at the heart of the disciplines, maximize points of interaction, tackle large research and methodology challenges, and facilitate deep integration between thinking and making. This perspective would seem to be compatible with the digital humanities as a trading zone and a meeting place. Similarly, the grand challenges identified in the white papers discussed would seem to require consorted efforts. Meeting places can make such efforts possible. Whether mostly physical or mostly digital, they can help channel dispersed resources, technologies, and intellectual energy. Furthermore, deep integration of toolmaking and interpretative perspectives requires very different kinds of competencies and work to happen in the same space. It could also be argued that there is value to unexpected meetings in creative environments in terms of expanding the digital humanities.
Digital humanities as a trading zone and meeting place also emphasizes the intermediary and facilitating function of the digital. The digital cuts across disciplines and perspectives; and, as Matt Ratto and Robert Ree observe in their study, digital media is not an industrial sector in its own right. Similarly, it could be argued that the digital humanities is not a discipline and that the intermediary role of the digital is useful to the digital humanities in multiple ways. For instance, it allows connections to all of humanities disciplines as well as to the large parts of the academy and the world outside. It is no accident that there is a growing connection between the public humanities and the digital humanities (“Digital Humanities at the University of Washington”). Also, the digital can be used as a way of canalizing interest in rethinking the humanities and the academy. This gives a strong incitement for institutions to support the digital humanities. More broadly, there is a niche to be filled in most institutions of higher education—that of intersectional meeting places. The humanities is a good place for such meeting places to emerge, and the digital humanities can thus unquestionably become a site for innovation, dialogue, and engagement with the future.
The digital 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. 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.
Even if the big-tent vision of the digital humanities gives the field a sense of openness and invitation, it does not necessarily remove institutional predispositions and thresholds or make the field into a blank slate. The alternative model suggested here, seeing the digital humanities as a trading zone and meeting place, places more emphasis on existing traditions and the intersectional work required to make “big” digital humanities happen. Furthermore, this model acknowledges the advantage of a liminal position and the digital as a way of connecting disciplines, perspectives, and methodologies. By seeing the field as a trading zone and meeting place, we can acknowledge disciplinary and methodological expertise, while approaching grand challenges, relating key disciplinary discourses, supporting multiple modes of engagement with the digital, and distinctly engaging with the future of the humanities.
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