The Apologist

I just wanted to talk a little about some of my comments in class, or better my attitude and thoughts in the subject of the Digital Humanities.  

I want to defend the humanities.  I believe in the project of reading and writing and analyzing and in the project of qualitative reading and writing and expression.  I think the crisis in the humanities – which digital humanities is a quantitative-centered reaction to – is pretty real, and comes from our culture, here in the US anyways, de-valuing value judgements made by authorities or officials, and really valuing numbers.  Data.  Market-driven value.  My language and comments in class usually had me asking “Well, why would anyone pay for this [kind of work]?”  “What of value does this produce?”  And the traditional humanities, in this regard, these days, comes up short.  So how can we quantify humanities work, apply quantitative-style analysis to what was until now much more qualitative?  With computers.  Tack on that DH is NEW (which everyone likes) and we’ve maybe got something to sell to Provosts across the academic land (and something to publish, thank god).  I sympathize.  I really do.

But on the flip side, some of these tool do seem to me to be genuinely useful.  I just now saw what Concordance can do to a long text, like a super long poem – it can act like a super index that you have on hand as you read.  You can ask and find out if a thought or idea (word) exists in other sections.  You’d have to be smart enough to search for synonyms, but this would work.  It’d certainly make writing a paper on such a thing easier.  And certainly a bunch of this stuff skews closer to the social sciences, which is great!  Anyone who’s enjoyed a good table or graph on, say, The Atlantic, has to appreciate the new technologies that make interesting representations of data possible.

So, in the end, I can see that the kind of things we’ve been studying do have applications, and I also do want to continue to ask tough questions – like why should we care? and what would the Provost think?  Because these matter.  Students pay lots of money to go to college and get something we like to call an education and we’d better have something good to show them when they get here.