Matthew K. Gold, editor. Debates in the Digital Humanities, University of Minnesota Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0816677955

Matthew K. Gold, editor. Debates in the Digital Humanities, University of Minnesota Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0816677955

Jessica Bay, University of Lethbridge:

Abstract / Résumé

Matthew K. Gold's collection brings together recognisable contributors in the field of Digital Humanities to introduce, discuss, and problematise the field as a whole.


digital humanities


During my review, I engaged with the digital version of this text placed online for free in 2013. The tools available for the online book are actually quite useful. It is possible to engage in a conversation of sorts through the comments function, which has the potential to make the text into an ever-evolving work. There is one article in Part V that I was unable to access at all (Reid, "Graduate Education and the Ethics of the Digital Humanities" ) but I was impressed that overall this version of the text allowed for hyperlinks in some articles and included the Storify version of Bethany Nowviskie's article, "What do Girls Dig?" The interaction this enables more closely represents work within the field and its instantaneous and digital nature, which are features regularly discussed in many of the articles.

In the Introduction, entitled "The Digital Humanities Moment," we learn that the peer review process for this book was done by a form of crowdsourcing, in that the articles were made available online via password to all contributors who were required to comment on assigned articles and encouraged to comment on others. In the first part of the book, "Defining the Digital Humanities," it is very easy to see some of the conversations that must have occurred during the review process as there are references to others' work, particularly those in the same section. As a result, all of these articles work together as a long and involved conversation. This section acts as an introduction to the field of digital humanities while debating the discipline as a whole. Scattered throughout the section are suggestions for a concrete definition by many and a call for a "Statement of Values" as a way to define the field, while Tom Scheinfeldt suggests in both of his articles that sometimes a discipline needs to exist in order to define itself through creating and answering questions.

Part II, "Theorizing the Digital Humanities," moves through multiple issues currently discussed by digital humanists, including issues such as giving credit for digital work, both for digital journals and for creating software/writing code, to discussing whether introducing the digital to humanities has actually changed things for either discipline. Both Jamie "Skye" Bianco and Johanna Drucker question the focus in digital humanities on method and tool creation, at the potential expense of theory. Drucker reminds us that it is far too easy to believe information visualisations without questioning them than it is to consider how the tool was used and what that says about the final visualisation. She suggests a consideration of how we can implement humanist theories and methods in the production of such tools to "embody humanistic values" (para. 5). At the same time, Bianco suggests that digital humanists must question the tools used and the methods that naturalise certain tools while excluding others. Both of these articles implicitly state that theory and methodology cannot and should not be separated. Tom Scheinfeldt proposes that "making and doing" are the focus, while Bianco and Drucker discuss the theorising that follows such making. Gary Hall also pushes for critical analysis of the field and for more theory to be integrated with method. While the debate over theory and methodology occurs in this section, as in the field itself, Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell highlight the issues surrounding digital work, scholarship, and credit. All contributors in the section are to question the intersection of the digital and the humanities in Digital Humanities as a field.

The third part of the book, "Critiquing the Digital Humanities," involves a general discussion of the people involved in digital humanities – not individuals, but to borrow from Charlie Edwards' article, "users" of digital humanities. Interrogating the white-washed homogeneity of digital humanities as a field is the focus of Tara McPherson's article, as well as agreeing with all of the articles in a call for a greater interrogation of the tools and underlying structure of the field. How does the field of digital humanities deal with diversity in terms of disabilities, race, gender, or technical skill? All of the contributors in this section help to begin these discussions. Some also question the "star system" that exists in digital humanities and wonder how such a hierarchy affects the field as a whole, as well as for individuals: both "stars" (as discussed by Nowviskie and Edwards) and others just finding their way (mentioned by Edwards).

What is missing from this section – to a certain extent as the questions of skill and accessibility are brought up in some articles – is a discussion of global concerns. It is not always about skill or the ability to read a website; study within digital humanities can also be hindered by a lack of reliable access, tools, or support due entirely to location. I would suggest that this lack is less of an oversight and more a case of the rise of this particular concern in the intervening year between online publication of this edition (2013) and the time of reading (2014). Otherwise, this section does a very good job of introducing some key issues that have often been left out of the discussion of digital humanities in the desire to consider how innovative the field can be.

The next two sections, "Practicing the Digital Humanities" and "Teaching the Digital Humanities," really represent some examples of the ways in which digital humanities are used in practice and in teaching. The Practicing the Digital Humanities section considers the use of humanities centres as both funding and support, as well as silos. This section also considers alternative careers within the university and the way digital humanities may work within academia, while beginning the discussion on publishing, which is continued in the final section. The section "Teaching the Digital Humanities," begins with a look at how digital humanities is failing pedagogy and students by focusing almost exclusively on (funded) research – not unlike the humanities themselves (Luke Waltzer; Stephen Brier). Many of the pieces in this section represent examples of ways to use digital humanities and/or digital technology not only to teach digital skills, but also ways to integrate the technology in teaching generally. These contributors suggest that through blogging (Trevor Owens), visualisation tools (Mills Kelly), rethinking traditional forms of teaching (Mark L. Sample), and collaborating (Matthew K. Gold and Jim Groom), the digital can reinvigorate teaching.

All of the articles in the final section "Envisioning the Future of the Digital Humanities," seem to suggest that we must continue to question the field as a whole in order to continue to move forward. The beginnings of the publishing discussions begun in Part IV with Paul Fyfe's article are here continued with a consideration of peer review and digital publication. These authors consider ways to deal with the issues while maintaining the ideals of online publication and collaboration while still receiving proper credit for tenure. David Greetham's article suggests that younger scholars might avoid digital projects as they are not evaluated equally when determining tenure. Yet, he does not quite take it to the next step by suggesting that ignoring this situation could ensure the fall of digital humanities as a field of study. With no new scholars – perhaps only users – where would digital humanities be? Alan Liu goes that extra step, but not in terms of publication concerns. Rather, Liu suggests that ignoring cultural criticism will in fact sideline the digital humanities to become "servants" of the humanities. Meanwhile, Kathleen Fitzpatrick's article suggests crowdsourcing as an alternative to traditional peer review for, as the technology changes, so must our conception of research and publication. Fitzpatrick's suggestion brings the entire text back full circle to the introductory comments in the book regarding crowdsourcing the peer review process. Effectually, the text enacts many of the suggestions made by its contributors, just as those contributors also enact many of their suggestions for teaching and discussing in their respective corners of the internet and academia.

Lev Manovich is pushing for collaboration as well, but of a different form. By rethinking the way we educate humanities students and incorporating more computer science skills into programs, we may ensure faster (and cheaper) research and dissemination. Finally, Cathy Davidson offers a call for more DHers to engage in the technology and information age through collaboration in order to keep humanities "at the table" and remind all – most importantly humanities scholars – of the relevance of humanities work, especially at this time when "[w]e're still in the beta version of the information age" ( para. 29). As a whole, this book offers a good overview for new scholars while delving into current issues for veterans of the discipline.

Works Cited

Gold, Matthew K., ed. 2012. Debates in the Digital Humanities. University of Minnesota Press.

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