Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tequila Sunrise in the Library: Another take on "digital humanities"

As I noted in an earlier post, Who put “The Terminator” in “Digital Humanities”?, it seems to me that in its very construction the phrase digital humanities was destined to become a bright shiny object that attracted some and repelled others almost without regard for its extension in the world. There is a substantial anti-science anti-technology line of thinking in the humanities that goes back at least to the Romantics. Digital humanities proclaims a species of humanities that is conceived on the side of science&technology. It is thus different in its effect from humanities computing, which subordinates computing to humanities. Computing, yes, but computing in service to the humanities; we can live with that. But humanities that is born digital, is that even possible? Maybe it's a miracle that will save us or, or maybe it's an abomination that's a sign of the coming End Times.

Compare lines 35 and 36 of "Kubla Khan":
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
Miracles have a very different kind of causal structure from devices, which are human-made, even rare ones. Miracles, in contrast, are divine. Something that partakes of both is strange indeed. The digital humanities lab would hardly seem to be a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice, but who knows.

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