"Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess." – Donna Haraway

How the Humanities Compute in the Classroom – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

This is a pretty nice overview of Digital Humanities (DH) teaching and scholarship for those who may be unfamiliar with it. It is great to see Miriam Posner’s work profiled and to see an emphasis on pedagogy. I additionally appreciate the author’s focus on the impressive work of student Iman Salehian.

There are two points to which I’d like to draw attention. Neither of these ruins the article for me, but both are worth considering, even if just for a moment:

2014 is off to an inauspicious start with the return of Sad Lady Ada.

2014 is off to an inauspicious start with the return of Sad Lady Ada.

1. The first is the statement, “Ms. Salehian, 20, is a petite junior with an outsize work ethic.” While this is meant as a compliment to Ms. Salehian, her bodily stature is irrelevant to her work ethic and to her DH work. Would she have been similarly described were she not petite? Why is the young male student in the article not described similarly? I’m sure the author didn’t even realize he was doing this. This is a great example of implicit bias, y’all… It’s hard to imagine a male student being described in diminutive terms. I hate to start the new year with the return of my Sad Lady Ada meme, but so it must be.

2. The other issue is not related to gender, but since it’s on my mind and related to the same article, I’ll post it here anyway. Projects and assignments featured fall, for the most part, under the fairly traditional definition of Digital Humanities: that of using computer tools to ask humanities questions. It’s clear from the anecdote in which Miriam* asks students to question the socially constructed nature of data, that the other kind of DH work, in which humanities questions are asked about digital objects, is happening. It just isn’t getting much real estate here.

Todd Presner’s quote at the end most explicitly includes it. He is quoted as saying, “The humanities, he says, can “humanize” digital media by helping users understand what technology can and can’t do, by posing ethical questions, by providing social and historical perspective, by illuminating cross-cultural differences.”

I read this, nodding my head, in 100% agreement. I like to think that is what I do in my teaching and scholarship. But this kind of work doesn’t seem to get equal representation in the article**. I presented on this issue a few years ago and proclaimed that it was a political move for me to claim to be a Digital Humanities scholar and attempted to make a case for retaining the messiness of an ecological approach to defining DH.

I realize that for the purposes of making DH intelligible to an audience, that some reduction is necessary. But words have power. And so does The Chronicle. It’d be nice to see a more inclusive sample of work.

And finally, the other two articles linked in today’s “Wired” email digest should be mandatory reading and linked from the bottom of the “How the Humanities Compute in the Classroom” piece:

Born Digital Projects Need Attention to Survive

Digital Humanists: If You Want Tenure, Do Double the Work

I mean it when I say that I am thrilled to see pedagogy and Miriam’s work covered. But boy did that description of Ms. Salehian as “petite” stick out and jar me out of the moment.

*I’m going to assume it’s okay to be on a first-name basis with her since I’ve followed her on Twitter for years.

**I’ve been thinking more about this and feel the need to clarify. I think what Todd Presner is describing can, and does, happen during the more traditionally defined DH work. But it is not the primary objective as it is in the other kind of DH work (new media, digital media studies, etc) that I’m describing.

Comments on: "A Few Brief Thoughts on “How the Humanities Compute in the Classroom”" (2)

  1. Ha ha, we can definitely be on first-name terms, Kim! Totally agree with you on both counts. The “petite” thing in particular — really unfortunate. Especially because Iman happens to be straight-up brilliant, as anyone who’s conversed with her for a few minutes will attest.

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