Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold
If the publication of the first volume of Debates in the Digital Humanities in 2012 marked the “digital humanities moment,” this volume—and the series that will bear its name—confirms that the digital humanities, as a field, has arrived. Along with the digital archives, quantitative analyses, and tool-building projects that once characterized the field, DH now encompasses a wide range of methods and practices: visualizations of large image sets, 3D modeling of historical artifacts, “born digital” dissertations, hashtag activism and the analysis thereof, alternate reality games, mobile makerspaces, and more. In what has been called “big tent” DH, it can at times be difficult to determine with any specificity what, precisely, digital humanities work entails.
This definitional dilemma is not unique to DH. In 1979, the art historian Rosalind Krauss, prompted by the realization that the term “sculpture” had come to describe a wide array of forms and practices, reflected on the preceding ten years of developments in the field. “Nothing,” she observed, “could possibly give to such a motley of effort the right to lay claim to whatever one might mean by the category of sculpture. Unless, that is, the category can be made to become almost infinitely malleable” (30). A “motley of effort”? An “infinitely malleable”term? Transported to the present, she could just as well be describing the last decade of DH.
But where digital humanists have, for the most part, embraced the “free-floating signifier” that is DH, Krauss viewed the elasticity of her field’s designated term as a liability, a loss of precision in a discipline that, as a result of its expanding scope, demanded more, not less, specificity (Kirschenbaum). In “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” an essay now firmly ensconced in the art historical canon, Krauss argues that certain distinctions among objects of study and among disciplinary fields remain important to uphold. The result of placing sculpture within an “expanded field” is that it becomes “no longer the privileged middle term between the things that it isn’t.” Rather, it emerges as “only one term on the periphery of a field in which there are other, differently structured possibilities” (Krauss, 38). And the “differently structured possibilities” for the digital humanities are what, we believe, the notion of an expanded field helps unfold.
The first volume of Debates in the Digital Humanities was bound together by the “big tent,” the metaphor that rose to prominence following the 2011 ADHO annual conference, which designated “Big Tent Digital Humanities” as its theme. But in that volume and elsewhere, critics debated the degree to which the openness and inclusivity connoted by the metaphor could ever truly be achieved. Melissa Terras expressed concern that the big tent of DH, like those employed by the evangelical groups of the nineteenth-century United States, whose outdoor revival meetings inspired the phrase, might be less welcoming—due to scholarly status, institutional support, and financial resources—than those already on the inside would hope or believe (“Peering inside the Big Tent”). Patrik Svensson, similarly, in exploring the “problematic” assumption of inclusivity, suggested that “the community might instead benefit from a ‘no tent’ approach,” thereby clearing the ground for “alternative structuring devices and ideational notions” such as the “meeting space” or “trading zone” (“Beyond the Big Tent”). And yet the “big tent” metaphor persists; or, more accurately, while it continues to be challenged—see, for instance, Amy Earhart’s keynote at the 2015 CSDH/SCHN ACH Joint Conference—it has not yet been replaced by any of the “alternative structuring devices” that have been proposed.1
This is where the notion of the digital humanities as an expanded field might enter. In Krauss’s formulation, the expanded field is constructed by the relationships among key concepts, rather than by a single umbrella term. And it is by exploring these relations—their tensions as well as their alignments—that the specific contributions of the range of forms and practices encompassed by the field can be brought to light. Instead of insisting that practice performs the same work as theory, for instance, we might ask how each contributes differently to the diverse ecology of digital humanities scholarship. Rather than requiring that the tool-building work of an ImagePlot or a Bookworm, to name two recent contributions to that domain, speak directly to their objects of analysis, we might explore how the creation and deployment of such tools perform distinct but equally valuable functions—functions that must be considered in relation to each other to achieve their maximal effect. The model of an expanded field is one that aims to foreclose the question of “who’s in and who’s out” by allowing the “differently structured possibilities” of the digital humanities to emerge.
The critique of a model that aims to assimilate and neutralize difference is, of course, as old as the model itself. While we depart from Krauss in our belief that difference can play out within rather than apart from an expanded field of DH, we must remain vigilant in our attention to the larger structures of power—social and political as much as institutional and disciplinary—that preclude certain relationships from ever unfolding on an equal plane. In adapting the notion of an expanded field to apply to the digital humanities, we might therefore attempt to envision an analogue of Krauss’s model in multidimensional space, rather than as a diagram on the page. DH, in this vision, appears suspended between, among, and through a range of forces; taken together and perceived together, these vectors structure the expanded field.
This particular vision has emerged from our realization that the challenges currently associated with the digital humanities involve a shift from congregating in the big tent to practicing DH at a field-specific level, where DH work confronts disciplinary habits of mind. To be sure, DHers have long faced the difficulty of making their work legible to colleagues in their home disciplines. But the anxieties that filled the first volume of Debates in the Digital Humanities, often focusing on the tensions that individual practitioners experienced as they argued tenure and promotion cases before colleagues who had trouble even conceiving of DH work as scholarship, have been replaced by more forceful grappling with DH at the disciplinary level, most often by scholars from the disciplines who have looked in vain to see their concerns represented in DH.
Multiple contributors to this volume take up disciplinary issues directly, exploring how their digital humanities work might speak to their home disciplines or across several disciplines—from history (Blevins) to book history (Stauffer) to the humanities writ large (Nowviskie). Just as often, contributors argue for the impact that their disciplinary homes—Africana/Black studies (Gallon), art history (Battles and Maizels), and archaeology (Watrall), to name only a few—might make to DH. This reflects a crucial decentering of the digital humanities, one that acknowledges how its methods and practices both influence and are influenced by other fields. Rather than diminish the impact of DH, however, these examples enrich its discourse and extend its reach.
As DH is increasingly practiced and perceived in a broader context, the scale of the field, as well as its scope, has emerged as a key issue—and along with the issue of scale, an inquiry into the nature and limits of scale itself. In 2015, multiple conferences focused on questions of scale, including “Scale and Value,” a symposium held at the University of Washington, and “Cultural Analytics: Computational Approaches to the Study of Literature,” held at the University of Chicago.2 At these conferences and in other venues, scholars contested methods and measured ambitions, all in the wake of a debate triggered by Matthew Jockers’s release of his Syuzhet software package for plot analysis, which drew criticism from a number of quarters.3 This discussion about scale, its meaning, and its use has brought increased disciplinary specificity and conceptual rigor to the questions about the impact of DH work that have been posed since the field’s inception.
In this volume, we take up the issues associated with a digital humanities at scale at two levels. In the forum “Text Analysis at Scale,” eight DH scholars offer their views on the stakes of research that focuses on large-scale text analysis. (As the series moves forward, each annual volume will feature a forum on a major issue currently under debate in the field.) More broadly, in our choice of section titles—“DH and Its Methods,” “DH and Its Practices,” “DH and the Disciplines,” and “DH and Its Critics”—we aim to reflect the expanded contours of the field. Here, scope and scale converge as we envision a measure for the field that is not merely additive, but instead delineates its capacious frame. It is a “DH + 1” of the form that Alan Liu calls for in his “Plea for Cross-Domain Data,” one that does not erase difference but “operationalizes” it as a generative force (Liu, chapter 50 in this volume). The DH of this volume is one that represents the debates of the field as interrelated, yet not always perfectly aligned. Their differences, coupled with their shared focus, accentuate the meaningful tensions and the unresolved challenges that the recent growth of the field has produced.
The notion of a field that operates through relation, one that informs and is informed by allied disciplines, also clears the conceptual space to acknowledge how multiple disciplines and their methods have helped to constitute the digital humanities from its inception. Scholars have long cited Father Roberto Busa and his punch-card concordances as the field’s origin story. Only recently has this narrative been expanded to include the contributions of the female “computers”4—those we would now call programmers—who designed and implemented much of the project (Terras and Nyhan, chapter 6 in this volume). This ongoing historical and ethnographic work, coupled with the archival research of Steven E. Jones5 and the media archaeology of Geoffrey Rockwell and Stefan Sinclair, have together helped to constitute a far richer lodestone for the field.6 But the methods employed by these scholars owe as much to approaches honed in the fields of women’s studies, labor studies, media studies, information studies, and the history of science as they do to digital humanities techniques. Understanding digital humanities as an expanded field can help ensure that the specificity of these methods and their own rich histories can be brought to bear on DH, and vice versa.
It is not only a more nuanced origin story that the notion of an expanded field can help to achieve. In this volume and elsewhere, scholars have begun to suggest that the digital humanities owes its existence to more than one source. Amy Earhart has alerted the field to the “diverse histories of the digital humanities” in the form of projects that place women and people of color at their center.7 Jentery Sayers and William Turkel, in calling for an approach that interweaves digital humanities with physical fabrication, place DH in dialogue with design communities, which have also long theorized practice-based research.8 In seeking a digital humanities that accounts for the localized nature of all such work, Alex Gil and others involved with Global Outlook::Digital Humanities have developed a “minimal computing” working group aimed at enacting a vision for DH in places where WiFi connections are absent or spotty and where all available hardware is already years old.9 In addition to enabling DH work as we currently understand it, this vision also, necessarily, includes an expanding conception of what other DH work might entail. Such work, exemplified in the “technological disobedience” of Cuban artist and designer Ernesto Oroza, whom Gil interviews here, helpfully dislocates DH from a U.S.-centric approach and suggests new sites and potential scales for the field.
Several scholars in this volume also explore what DH means for student and faculty populations at schools excluded from the conventional research university model, such as community colleges (McGrail), liberal arts colleges (Buurma and Levine), and historically black colleges and universities (Earhart and Taylor). These developments draw broadly upon the field’s increased attention to the accessibility and sustainability of DH work—both the degree to which this work is open to different populations and the extent to which it will persist for future generations ofscholars.10
Central to the 2012 volume of Debates in the Digital Humanities was an interrogation and critique of the field and its claims. In the intervening years, DH has seen no shortage of criticism, and this volume continues to highlight challenges to the ambitions and claims of DH scholarship. Building on contributions to the first volume that engaged issues of race and gender, the 2016 edition identifies the unexamined political valences of ecological metaphors in DH work (Linley), explores the monolingual/U.S.-centric bias of work in DH and beyond (Fiormonte), and ponders the “dark side” of the digital humanities (Chun et al.). At the same time, several pieces in the collection sketch out recuperative visions informed by critique, including the manifesto-like exploration of a “QueerOS” (Barnett et al.), an articulation of DH practice built on the equitable ethos of FemTechNet (Losh et al.), and the evolving enactment of networked politics that is #transformDH (Bailey et al).
The 2012 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities intervened in the discourse of the field by highlighting pedagogy as the neglected “stepchild” of DH, with several chapters arguing that teaching had been diminished in favor of research-focused projects (Brier; Waltzer). That volume included an entire section on “Teaching the Digital Humanities” as a way of redressing this lack. In the ensuing years, pedagogy has become a central point of concern and investment through institutional projects such as the DH Summer Institute (DHSI) and the Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching Institute (HILT), grant-funded gatherings such as the NEH-sponsored DH at Community Colleges Institute and the Regional Digital Humanities Pedagogy Project, multiple journals focused on pedagogy such as The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and Hybrid Pedagogy, and emerging publications such as the HASTAC Pedagogy Project and Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments. Discussions of pedagogy routinely take place in social media through hashtags such as the Digital Pedagogy Lab’s #digiped. Given this saturation, we chose not to isolate discussions of pedagogy from other areas of the book and instead attempted a “baked-in” approach, where work on pedagogy from scholars is integrated into various chapters as theory (Fyfe), as practice (Selisker; Cordell), and as politics (Earhart and Taylor; Losh et al.).
Indeed, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 has a markedly political bent —not only because of the institutional politics associated with the digital humanities as an emerging field. In a year that saw renewed attention to the entrenched nature of state-authorized violence against black bodies at the same time that scholars who spoke out against these and other acts of systemic injustice found job offers revoked, the stakes for a more explicitly political digital humanities have been raised. “Artist-theorists, programming humanists, [and] activist-scholars” who Tara McPherson called upon, in the first edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities, to pursue broader contexts and “promiscuous border crossings,” have a significant presence in this volume and are represented here alongside scholars and practitioners who remain committed to the objects and methods that helped to first constitute the field, and deliberately so; these voices call DH and are called by DH into engagement and debate, ensuring that the digital humanities will continue to evolve and grow.
In 1979, Rosalind Krauss looked out across the Long Island landscape at a square-shaped hole in the ground, below which lay a provisional structure, “half atrium, half tunnel,” supported by wooden beams (33). It was an earthwork, “Perimeters, Pavilions, Decoys,” by the American artist Mary Miss, and it challenged Krauss’s sense of sculpture to the very core. “And so we stare at the pit in the earth and think we both do and don’t know what sculpture is,” she observed. Standing before the landscape of the digital humanities and contemplating the present contours of the field, we find ourselves at a similar moment of simultaneous knowing and unknowing, rootedness and dislocation. We know DH in large part because it names itself, yet what it names seems increasingly malleable and at times difficult to grasp. As editors devoted to tracking the evolution of the field, its meanings, and its implications, we find the best guides to be the conversations that take place around these issues. Across the lines of discussion that follow, we see our colleagues trace out possibilities and problems, paradigms and potentialities. We posit the book as a reflection of the current, site-specific conditions of the field. In the multivalent shape of its arguments, progressing across a range of platforms and environments, Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016 offers a vision of DH as an expanded field—a vision of new possibilities, differently structured.
1. The tweets from Earhart’s keynote are collected here: https://storify.com/beherbert/joint-ach-canadian-dh-conference-2015.
2. The “Scale and Value” conference is documented at: http://scaleandvalue.tumblr.com/; the cultural analytics conference can be found at: http://neubauercollegium.uchicago.edu/events/uc/cultural_analytics/.
3. The Syuzhet package can be found here: https://github.com/mjockers/syuzhet; a record of the initial conversation on Twitter can be found here: https://storify.com/clancynewyork/contretemps-a-syuzhet.
6. Jones’s monograph, Roberto Busa, S.J., and The Emergence of Humanities Computing: The Priest and the Punched Cards, is forthcoming from Routledge; Rockwell and Sinclair’s work has been presented at Digital Humanities 2014 and other venues. See: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/273449857_Towards_an_Archaeology_of_Text_Analysis_Tools.
10. George Williams’s “Accessible Future” project provides the most sustained attention to accessibility in the field: http://www.accessiblefuture.org/; Bethany Nowviskie’s keynote at Digital Humanities 2014 frames a number of key issues of sustainability for a DH audience: http://nowviskie.org/2014/anthropocene/.
Brier, Stephen. “Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/8.
Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What Is It Doing in English Departments?” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/38.
Krauss, Rosalind. “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” October 8 (Spring 1979): 30–44.
McPherson, Tara. “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/29.
Svensson, Patrik. “Beyond the Big Tent.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/22.
Terras, Melissa. “Peering inside the Big Tent: Digital Humanities and the Crisis of Inclusion.” Author’s blog, July 26, 2011. http://melissaterras.blogspot.com/2011/07/peering-inside-big-tent-digital.html.
Waltzer, Luke. “Digital Humanities and the ‘Ugly Stepchildren’ of American Higher Education. In Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/33.