Highlighted Selections from:

The Digital Humanities and National Security


DOI: 10.1215/10407391-2420027

Lennon, B. “The Digital Humanities and National Security.” differences 25.1 (2014): 132–155. Print.

p.133: I suggest that we reconsider some of the most important debates in U.S.-based literary and cultural studies during the last two decades and imagine them as genealogically sprung from this bifurcation in responses to linguistic diversity during the formation of the idea of Europe. That schism is still very much with us, I would suggest, and what we might call its disciplinary (or perhaps merely institutional) memory is one key to understanding what is really at stake in debates around, rather than merely in debates within, the digital humanities. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.133: It is only more recently, I would argue, that a nominally newer formation based more exclusively in departments of English studies has represented us with the different intellectual legacy of Bacon’s contemporary Ramon Llull, and with its own intellectual and ethical challenges. That formation is the digital humanities, understood as what I would call, adapting a phrase from David Golumbia, a culture of computation—and grasped in its emergence after 2001 alongside a surge of u.s. national security legislation and institution building. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.134: We can turn to the work of Edward W. Said for a sense of how the rationalist and antirationalist strains of the secular humanism embodied in nineteenth-century philology both rendered service to the European imperial project. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.134: And we can turn to the historian of cryptology David Kahn for the story of how philology was integrated into a nascent U.S. security state, during the First World War, through the service of literary scholars who applied simple, crudely mechanized statistical methods to text (see Codebreakers and Reader). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.136: The legacy of the integration of Riverbank Baconianism into First World War military intelligence, and of the institutional reformism it inspired in academic literary studies, might be traced into the postwar era that saw the beginnings of work in so-called humanities computing. It might be traced all the way to the antiwar and other social movements of the 1960s. Those movements redirected such reformism against the military-industrial-academic complex with which it had been aligned and toward the authentic, if temporary, collapse of a cultural logic of computation, in David Golumbia’s sense of that phrase (Cultural), along with the symbolic collapse of the social order. The story of the estrangement of academe from the ideas, practices, and institutions of U.S. national security, during that period, has been told by Robin W. Winks. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.137: After the war, Pearson returned to Yale as an assistant professor of English, providing the CIA with suggestions for university-based intelligence training and recruitment and going on to serve as an impresario of the postwar interdisciplinary formation that would come to be known as U.S. American studies (316–17). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.139: In proposing that the digital humanities maintains a latent relation to national security, I draw on two senses of that term. One is the sense used in communications engineering and human-computer interface or interaction design, where it denotes a measure of systemic temporal delay (for example, the network latency we must often accept when using low-cost or no-cost VOIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] telephony). The other, of course, is the sense familiar to Freudian psychoanalytic thought, associated with the psychic processes of condensation (Verdichtung) and displacement (Verschiebung) in “dream-work” (Traumarbeit). Both are useful here: the one for marking digital humanities enthusiasts’ rather uncomplicated belatedness, even straightforward reluctance, when it comes to historicizing their own projects; the other in helping us to imagine the digital humanities itself as a kind of translative Traumarbeit. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.140-141: This is a long-deferred conversation, just getting under way, and the fact is that in a period defined by violent struggle between institutional and anti-institutional power, manifest in terrorism, war, and the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security, the digital humanities has displayed almost no specifically political interest in the world outside the university and too little explicit interest of any kind in the broader interinstitutional politics of the world within the university in its imbrication with the institutions of security and military intelligence. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.141: Can such dramatic growth in the production and analysis of the knowledge needed for security and military intelligence have failed to produce structured effects within the university system—even in the humanities and even in literary studies? This is an open question, if one to which we can sensibly apply intuition. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.142: But where security and military intelligence in particular is concerned, the expansion would seem to reflect the priorities of the darpa-led Information Awareness Office that was congressionally dismembered in 2003 without doing much to inhibit either its ambitions or their active pursuit. Information Awareness Office projects were overwhelmingly focused on textual data analysis and included projects focused on database aggregation, social network analysis, and automated evidence discovery including biometric data processing and predictive event analysis (including the famous FutureMAP or Futures Markets Applied to Prediction), with a special emphasis on text processing including advanced multilingual natural language processing. -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.142-143: Can a ballyhooed turn in the humanities, especially in literary studies, that promotes a putatively novel computational textual analytics including textual and other data “visualization” possibly be or remain isolated from the cultural-analytic and specifically textual-analytic activities of the security and military intelligence organizations that are the university’s neighbors—especially when such a turn is represented as a historic opportunity made possible by historic advances in information technology? -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.144: A brief discussion of the question “Should DHers accept military/ defense funding?,” conducted during July 2011 on the “Digital Humanities Questions and Answers” question and answer forums supported by the Association for Computers and the Humanities and the ProfHacker blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, was occasioned by the following prompt, here quoted in full: “Should DHers accept funding from military agencies or defense contractors? Should such funding sources be rejected on principle, or should they be evaluated on a case by case basis using criteria such as basic vs. applied research, the exact nature of the deliverables, and open vs. proprietary outcomes? Discussion welcomed” (Kirschenbaum et al.). -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.144: Members considered whether such funding should “be rejected on principle,” answering in different cases that “it’s in the particulars of the project that things get messier, but a categorical refusal seems irrational”; that “rejecting defense funding on principle would be on the the [sic] principle [that] the u.s. military (or other funding entity) is an immoral and/or illegitimate enterprise”; that “I’m also prepared to accept some moral ambiguity, and maybe even do some negotiating”; that “all the devils are in the details. The broad concept of ‘military funding’ doesn’t give us enough to argue about”; and that “forecasting evil is wretchedly hard unless one is an oracle.” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.145: In response to a follow-up question posed in an answer by another member, “[W]hat are DH values that a military connection might threaten?,” Kirschenbaum referred other members to the Pledge of Non-Participation in Counter-Insurgency issued by the Network of Concerned Anthropologists in September 2007, suggesting that “[f]or anthropologists, the predicament is that complicity in counter-insurgency operations is perceived as at odds with the field’s professional commitment to trust and responsible engagement with indigenous populations.” -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014

p.146: we nonetheless need also to see the political and ethical quietism here for what it is, and to situate it in a longer history of both complacently passive and actively collaborative relations between U.S. literary scholars and the military and domestic security agencies of the state. If we were to recognize a past and present relationship of the ideas, the practices, and the institutions of the digital humanities to the ideas, the practices, and the institutions of u.s. national security, would there be anything unusual in such a relationship? T -- Highlighted apr 26, 2014