Defining DH

One thing this week’s reading make abundantly clear is the multifaceted , and sometimes fluid definition of DH that is so often employed by scholars. My own limited understanding of the digital humanities has led me to evaluate these definitions in a contemporary sense in order to understand the essential value the digital humanities has in academia. Paraphrasing from Matthew K. Gold’s “The Digital Humanities Moment” the DH is currently one of the only fields of research which possesses the ability to address the ever changing nature of academics in order to accommodate our advanced technological realities. Although a preliminary definition, this tentative understanding of the worth and function of the digital humanities led to my better understanding that like most fields of study the digital humanities are subject to change, perhaps more so than several others. Although the field of DH lends itself to easy interpretation, defining those who practice in the digital humanities proves to be a more meticulous task. In Lisa Spiro’ s “This is Why We Fight: Defining the Values of Digital Humanities” a specific acknowledgement is included offering some perspective on this issue. Stating the lack of core values amongst a community consisting of those with “different disciplines, methodological approaches, professional roles and theoretical implications”, Spiro demonstrates how this varied group inversely affects forming a tight definition of DH.

Spiro’s assessment of the field of DH and those who practice in it raises the question about what exactly would serve as core values. In a field which lacks a uniform body of scholars all from the same disciplines defining core values necessitates an abstract description. Spiro states “In defining core values, the community needs to consider what it is excluding as well as the cultural and ideological contexts surrounding the values it promotes. Given the diversity of the community and the ways in which culture informs values…”. Decidedly vague and justifiably so, Spiro’s mode of assessment allows for two things: the first being the expansion of DH to be an interdisciplinary field of study, and the second provides a criteria by which practitioners of the digital humanities can define their work. So what does this mean? To link this definition to the wider view of DH, therefore encompassing the varied individuals who inhabit the field, an understanding is provided by Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold in “Digital Humanities: The Expanded Field”. Klein and Gold’s understanding of the digital humanities goes hand in hand with Spiro’s assessment in explicitly acknowledging a “…decentering of digital humanities, one that acknowledges how its methods and practices both influence and are influenced by other fields.” Where Spiro finds the digital humanities to be a diverse community in need of interdisciplinary focus, and intersectional contexts, Klein and Gold confirm this notion by stating this abstract, but accurate description, “…enrich its discourse and extends it reach.”

Forming a fully functional definition of the digital humanities is no easy task. One might even say that it would be impossible to define a field whose influence is the very basis for the future of academia. Departing momentarily from vague “big tent” descriptions and a polymorphic idea of the digital humanities as it changes according to technology, we have one significantly explicit tell in field work. The work produced by those in the field provides for us a working definition that serves the alternate purpose of defining the fields influenced by and included in DH. The project titled “The Early Caribbean Digital Archive” demonstrates the how the intersections of sociology, history and DH are used to create a platform to best deliver and interpret data. This method of data representation offers itself to extrapolation while simultaneously confirming the interdisciplinary nature of DH.

The information I have gleaned from these readings can effectively be summed up by acknowledging DH as a field that is still in its early stages. It exists as a recent addition to Masters programs at the Graduate Center and has only recently found its footing in academia. If these early definitions of DH are any indication of its ubiquitous nature in our technological realities, however, then the future of DH is well secured. It has also proven itself to be a viable career path as tentative descriptions have painted DH as essentially invaluable to all facets of academia.