Week 9 Digital Humanities Critique


The main focus of all the media we consumed this week was the critique of the digital humanities (or DH). Some outright had critiques of DH, others discussed how the critiquing should be done, some what kind of criticism needs to be  included, and even the pitfalls of criticism in the DH discipline. 

Critiquing the Criticism

The first reading, Towards a Critical Digital Humanities, brings up how opposed some of the perspectives on criticism in DH are. These opposite views often hamper each other when they really could be working together, especially within the realm of political critique and public education in digital safety. The article makes sure to point out that DH is full of bias itself though and criticism is necessary to its ongoing relevance. The critique to criticism of digital humanities centers mostly on the aspect of temporality. The extra, often significant, time that is added onto a project when critique is applied. It can either delay the release of a project, and seeing how rapid change or development is in the digital world this is nothing to sneeze at, or it can bog down the discussion or main points of a piece with arguments about the work itself instead. Similarly, the video Cambridge Conversations: Digital transformation – a revolution in the humanities? Touches often on both the enchantment and disenchantment of DH that occurs over time and argues that it is time for the discipline to move on to or include more than just digitizing in its repertoire.

DH as Art?

Digital Creativity as Critical Material Thinking: The Disruptive Potential of Electronic Literature by Alex Saum-Pascual has a more hopeful take on the digital humanities and its expansion. The only criticism that the article seems to level at DH is centered around the habit to theorize without follow through. They emphasize that one of the most important parts of the learning process in DH is the making or doing process. This article also offers the concept that DH has much untapped potential as a unique medium and artform. Digital works, if to be viewed in a physical way must be “translated”, and even when these works are viewed or interacted with digitally the very effect of being digital changes the work for each viewer (and creator).

Post Colonial DH

A large portion of the media this week was focused on what Roopika Risam in the video Is a Critical Digital Humanities Possible? called “Post Colonial Digital Humanities”. PCDH, like many disciplines these days, is about realizing and reconciling with the fact that their studies are based in and perpetuate western views, opinions and stereotypes. Risam notes that tech has been intrinsically tied up in capitalism but this does not need to be completely true for the future. It has led to problems where funding cannot be found for PCDH projects because they do not focus on the white, male, western worldview that capitalism so loves. Many of the projects on the map shown that were not in the global north were noted to be linked to a university in either the states or the UK. This ties into the discussion raised by Risam about whose voices are heard, represented, and valued, specifically on the internet. The other two pieces Can Digital Humanities Mean Transformative Critique? by Alexis Lothian and Amanda Phillips and Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble are also largely focused on this question. Maybe not so much a question but rather a critique that the very practice of DH itself is rooted in discrimination and the dangerous implications that come with that basis. This bias is found all through DH from the surface, finding fewer scholarships to support non-western research, and as Noble and Cathy O’Neil discuss, to the very reaches of algorithms themselves. 


O’Neil was someone we listened to previously in podcast form, talking about how algorithms are not foolproof-unbiased things but rather have the bias of the makers and the previous data used to build them baked into them. O’Neil used a rather good dinner-cooking analogy in the podcast previously and while I had hoped for another, different metaphor in the video to help me further understand and articulate the plight of algorithms it did not happen. While O’Neil discusses why algorithms can not be blindly trusted, Noble, as a black woman in academia, is able to dive right into critiquing the algorithm of Google search via personal experience. This was great insight into just how deep western values are ingrained into the internet. Seeing the great scope of critique found in this week’s readings around the topic of DH, leaves me a more well-rounded albeit more wary individual.

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