At the 2013 MLA panel entitled “The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities”, Richard Grusin said these words:
The digital humanities has emerged as ‘the next big thing’ at the same moment that the neoliberalization and corporatization of higher education has intensified in the first decades of the twenty-first century (Kirschenbaum 47).
During my undergraduate career, I was both a Classics and Anthropology major. While both disciplines are old and have a long, rich tradition, both are struggling nowadays to receive funding, with Classics viewed by many as a somewhat dying field (the golden age of philology was 100+ years in the past, and less and less money was being allocated to the Classics department, with the money instead being pumped into STEM majors and other science fields).
One of the professors with whom I worked was a Roman archaeologist interested in the ruins of a site located in Turkey. An archaeological dig is an expensive thing, so in order to garner scholarly attention and secure grants, this professor touted himself as a digital humanist. He made heavy use of 3-D modelling and newer technology, which made him appealing to those writing checks to scholars.
During my undergraduate years, I was interested in using archaeological techniques to survey prairie ruins from a hundred years ago. At first, I used traditional techniques (drawing stones, mapping coordinates by hand, taking photographs), but on the behest of my faculty adviser, I started using the 3-D technology that he had been using in Turkey to survey the ruins I was studying. The response I received from other scholars was surprising; people were extremely fascinated by my use of computers to digitally model old ruins and virtually “bring them to life”. Perhaps more telling is that they there were more fascinated in my research after I started to use methodology from the digital humanities.
I won’t say that the technology I used was bad or counter-productive, but after reading Grusin’s critique, I’m struck by how true his point is. I was only able to garner the attention that I did because I was somewhat branding myself as a digital humanist, merging an ‘old, outdated’ realm of study (sarcasm intended) with ‘newer, technological’ advances. In other words, grant money and scholarly praise was on the line, and I was thus “incentivized to be on the market as a digital humanist” (Kirschenbaum 55), just like my faculty adviser before me.
For me, this isn’t that much of a compromise (if that’s the word to use); I am, after all, interested in digital media and the use thereof in other disciplines. But for some of the faculty members I worked with, their attempts to fit into the glove that is digital humanities felt like they were stretching their interests in order to receive attention and funding. This, of course, is not their fault (they are wonderful scholars). Rather, it is a sad reflection of the demands of the market.
This is why I am want to agree with many of the scholars we discussed in class today. Digital humanities is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it allows scholars to embrace new technological methodologies and thereby gain grant money or scholarly attention. But it’s a curse because it forces some of these very same scholars to rebrand themselves in order to, in effect, survive in modern Academia. In essence, it comes down to money, ergo late capitalism.
This is nothing new. We discussed this in class today. But it still strikes me as extremely important. With more and more money these days being allocated to STEM fields, this sort of “academic stretching” only makes sense in today’s world: academics, after all, don’t want to finish last in the race that is Scholarly Research. But at the same time, not all fields are the same, and thus arguing that the field of digital humanities is not only the “next big thing” but “the Thing” (as per Pannapacker) that all other disciplines should use is merely following the money. This sort of kowtowing to capitalism is at best misleading and at worst detrimental to the very ethos of research.
But perhaps I’m being overly critical of a new field/methodology.
Kirschenbaum, M. “What Is “Digital Humanities,” and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about It?” Differences 25.1 (2014): 46-63. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.