DH is a Service!

Trevor Muñoz was kind enough to come to our class last week to discuss Digital Humanities and the statements he made in his blog post. Listening to students ask questions and the answers Muñoz provided I found myself having difficulty supporting DH as he articulated it. This was frustrating because I agreed with much of what he wrote on the blog post. When I hear DHers explain DH with an (over) emphasis on computational research, I find myself struggling with my desire to do DH. This might not seem significant to most of my classmates, but I came to library school to learn the skills necessary to participate in the DH community. As I was processing this, I started writing out the following questions in an effort to make sense of what I think DH is and should be:

  • If DH is not a service, then how is it relevant?
  • Is DH supposed to be useful to anyone other than the creators/researchers?
  • If DH is only useful to its creators, then how can we justify the expenditure of public funding for it?

Which led me to the following question:
  • Who is humanities research for? Who benefits?
This is the real question and I think it’s currently the crux of humanities research in general.

(Warning! Blatant generalizing is about to occur!!) Much of humanities scholarship is intended for consumption by a small similarly scholarly audience. Humanities scholars research texts, and films, and images attempting to parse them for meaning. Their research examines questions that they and their community find interesting. Social scientists study the human condition and interactions between people and nature or people and things in an effort to understand and improve human interactions. Scientists study the world around us and the systems within us in an effort to better understand life (human, animal, plant, nature, etc.), to reduce or eliminate illness, to expand the limits of human knowledge. Scientists and social scientists sometimes write for their own scholarly circles but are more frequently writing for the public (open access) and their research is concerned with the betterment of humanity. What similar contributions are humanities scholars making? How can humanities scholars become more relevant in the 21st century?

Digital Humanities.

At the beginning of the evening last week, Muñoz’s perspective of DH came across as another academic only interested in personal research when it comes to DH projects. It seems like he, and many others I’ve read like him, keep insisting that DH is research in an effort to be accepted by the ivory-towered, navel-gazing, academy. DHers snap out of it! You don’t want to be like them. Humanities scholars must adapt or die. If Humanities scholars cannot find a way to make their research interests relevant or of some benefit to the general public then they will go the way of CDs and Blockbuster.

DH isn’t about “the research.” It’s about making the humanities relevant and accessible to the public. It’s about creating new learning opportunities for individuals who otherwise might never come into contact with humanities content. DH is the original MOOC. DH is a public service!

Have a great day and keep smiling! :)

Happy Birthday Mom!