Just in case this horse isn’t quite dead yet, a final post: this morning I had what seemed at the time like a ‘moment of clarity’ on the whole boundary debate. Whether I can now recreate it on this blog with the same degree of pellucidity that it had in my 5 a.m. inner monologue is doubtful, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
On Wednesday the point that I was trying, largely unsuccessfully I think, to bring across in our final discussion stems from a realization that I have made over the past year or so, namely that, to put it rather glibly, the humanities are long and life is short. Yes, I know that there are big issues at stake for those who are struggling to forge an academic career in a time of shrinking budgets and large-scale adjunctification of the professorate, but I just don’t have the patience for, or see the value in, squabbling over territory. I think there are really exciting things happening right now in the humanities around open, accessible, and processable information structures, things largely made possible by a growing spirit of collaboration among cultural heritage institutions, government agencies, universities, and even commercial (gasp!) technology companies — and to spend time carding people at the entrance seems like a colossal waste of time. As someone who at one point poured a fair amount of himself into seeking a tenure-track academic job, I have come around to this viewpoint less easily and willingly than did Andrew Prescott (see: http://digitalriffs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/small-worlds-and-big-tents.html), but I think I largely share his view that the current debate seems rather parochial, and once you no longer have a dog in that fight, the fight starts to seem pretty boring. It’s a bit like reading the comments section attached to articles on the Chronicle website — a little goes a very long way.
That having been said, reading comment flame-wars is often entertaining, and once in a while the products can even be useful. I actually liked Steven Ramsay’s type1/type2 piece (http://stephenramsay.us/2013/05/03/dh-one-and-two/) — which I think goes a long way toward explaining the current shape (and frequent disconnects) of the DH field. I am myself rather partial to building things too, and I like code, but that doesn’t mean that I would dismiss TransformDH or the Dark Side conference as mere “silliness” (as one commentator — not Ramsay — has done), though I think no one can deny that they are, in part at least, ‘silly’. Does anyone think TransformDH is meant purely in earnest? And powerful ideas are, by virtue of their potency, also easy to parody. To say that Gravity’s Rainbow is often silly — indeed, it is one of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read — does nothing to detract from its greatness as a work of literature, nor from the power of its ideas. It is also, just like Joyce or Hemingway, easy to make fun of. Of course critical theory should be applied to DH — of course it should. But it doesn’t follow from that that building something or winning and directing a grant cannot be equally valid scholarly achievements or that they are merely “managerial” (cf. http://www.danielallington.net/2013/03/the-managerial-humanities-or-why-the-digital-humanities-dont-exist/). Anyone who thinks you can effectively manage a team of software developers without yourself knowing at least something about programming is kidding themselves, and anyway would we criticize the biochemist who wrote a grant to undertake groundbreaking medical research as a mere ‘manager’ who just got the funding to hire postdocs to do the real work? Sure, there have been some poorly conceived and poorly executed DH grants. No doubt there have been DH grants that got funds that could have been better spent elsewhere. There have also been more than a few bad pomo/poco monographs over the years. With any research project, funded or not, the proof is in the outcomes, not the method, the theory, the label, or in whose tent it was carried out. Enough with the sour grapes!
PS: Having gotten that out of my system, I’m adding this postscript, mainly because the preceding phrase would be a very unfitting way to end this course, the spirit of which has been precisely the opposite! Thanks to you all for a fabulous semester, and hope to see you on the Dark Side!