Highlighted Selections from:

The Dark Side of Digital Humanities: Dispatches From Two Recent MLA Conventions


DOI: 10.1215/10407391-2420009

Grusin, R. “The Dark Side of Digital Humanities: Dispatches From Two Recent MLA Conventions.” differences 25.1 (2014): 79–92. Print.

p.79: The proposal I submitted for the MLA13 roundtable opened with the following questions: “Is it only an accident that the emergence of digital humanities has coincided with the intensification of the economic crisis in the humanities in higher education? Or is there a connection between these two developments?” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.80: there is a stark contrast, and I believe a growing divide, between the outlooks and prospects of DH faculty and graduate students and those of faculty and graduate students in the mainstream humanities -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.80: This divide, I would argue, while in danger of being exacerbated as university administrators continue to see MOOCs or something similar as the solution to their funding problems, is not merely a superficial or epiphenomenal manifestation of cutbacks in public funding for higher education but one whose roots can be traced to two different visions of the value and purpose of a humanities education -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.80: Panels on hard times for the humanities and the worsening crisis in higher education featured papers filled with pessimism, anger, and sometimes sobering solutions to the diminished and diminishing funding streams devoted to the humanities. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.80: Panels on the future of digital humanities or the role of social media in fostering public intellectuals, on the other hand, were filled with laughter, hope, and a growing sense of empowerment coming in part from the resources being furnished to DH by corporate, nonprofit, and governmental foundations. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.80: Nor has it gone away, as demonstrated by the mooc bubble that began inflating in 2012, a bubble that generates digital utopian arguments about the remaking of higher education while intensifying the sense of precarity that has come to replace the security of tenure as the predominant affective mood of the academy. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.81: Although I’m going to focus here on the tension between digital humanities and the humanities of crisis, the memorials to Johnson and Sedgwick functioned in part to suggest how our reflections on the work and untimely loss of these two major scholars might open up some new discursive or mediated space not just for queer and feminist theory but also perhaps for the emergence of other forms of theory and practice as well. They may less optimistically be seen as further evidence for claims that the recent turn to the digital constitutes a turn away from issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, an escape from the messiness of the traditional humanities to the safety of scripting, code, or interface design (Koh and Risam). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.82: A comparatively prosperous information technology funding climate created a set of issues and concerns for DH scholars very different from the economic crisis so palpable elsewhere. This climate had a variety of causes, including the growing investment of human and economic capital in digital humanities projects by university administrators and partly from the financial resources available to DH teachers, scholars, and developers from corporate, nonprofit, and governmental foundations. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.82: Put starkly, academics on the left (which is pretty much everyone doing theory and cultural studies) blame the crisis in the humanities on the corporatization of the academy and the neoliberal insistence that the value of higher education must be measured chiefly if not solely in economic terms. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.83: Indeed, it is largely due to the apparently instrumental or utilitarian value of the digital humanities (their ability to provide liberal arts majors with digital skills that can be turned into productive jobs) that university administrators, foundation officers, and government agencies have been so eager to fund DH projects, create DH undergraduate and graduate programs, and hire DH faculty. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.84: Kirschenbaum’s response suggests that the dynamics of the digital humanities community duplicates a pattern seen in other areas of the humanities when new modes of theory or interpretation, new critical paradigms, first become fashionable and then provoke resistance from those outside of these emerging paradigms along with charges of in-group/out-group dynamics and the celebrity-driven production of stars. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.84: But Kirschenbaum also distinguishes digital humanities from mainstream humanities in that celebrity and notoriety in DH cuts across traditional academic hierarchies and networks of prestige and is produced and intensified much more rapidly through networked media, especially by the extensive use by DHers of Twitter, which (unlike blogs and Facebook) is still not widespread among the humanities at large. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.85: Indeed, such reconfiguration is already very much under way in the proliferation of distant reading and other data-driven forms of macroanalysis, graduate and undergraduate courses in digital research methods, the incorporation of video games and other digital media into the humanities curriculum, and the increasing number of assistant professor vacancies seeking faculty doing digital or new media work. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.85: Insofar as the digital humanities is also being marketed, branded, and funded as something different from (and more relevant to society, more fundable than) traditional humanities, it is worth considering how this difference is being understood. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.85: This divide between teachers and scholars interested in critique and those interested in production has been central to the selling of digital humanities. My concern is that this divide threatens both to increase tensions within the mla community and to intensify the precarity running through the academic humanities writ large. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.87: The category of “digital humanities” covers a diverse and heterogeneous range of projects, including but by no means limited to publishing, pedagogical, editorial, creative, and critical work, ranging from close individual attention to single texts to the creation of games and other interactive formats to the mining of big data for patterns imperceptible to the individual scholar. Taken as a whole, however, digital humanities reproduces structurally both within itself and among the humanities writ large the proliferation of temporary, precarious labor that has marked late twentiethand twenty-first-century global capitalism. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.89: In order to counter the ongoing tendency toward defunding and devaluing the humanities, digital humanists need to consider (as many indeed already are) not only how new media technologies reshape or refashion what we mean by a humanities education in the twenty-first century but also how the humanities have always already been engaged with, indeed have coevolved with, technologies of mediation throughout their history. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014