Only the Shadow Knows

I hate the title of the special issue of _Differences_ on the digital humanities, [“In the Shadows of the Digital Humanities”][d], but I am intrigued by some of the articles, especially the ones by Adeline Koh:

> This essay explores the “social contract” of the digital humanities community. I argue that the social contract of the digital humanities is composed of two rules: 1) the notion of niceness or civility; and 2) the possession of technical knowledge, defined as knowledge of coding or computer programming. These rules are repeatedly raised within the public sphere of the digital humanities and are simultaneously contested and criticized. I claim that these rules and the social contract come from humanities computing, a field commonly described as the digital humanities’ sole predecessor. Humanities computing has historically differentiated itself from media and cultural studies, defining itself as a field that uses computational methods to address humanities research questions rather than exploring the impact of computation on culture and the humanities. I call for a movement that would go beyond this social contract by creating multiple genealogies for the digital humanities; by arguing that current conceptualizations of the digital humanities have not only developed from humanities computing but also include additional fields such as new media studies, postcolonial science and technology studies, and digital research on race, gender, class, and disability and their impact on cultures around the world.

I am curious about her claim that humanities computing is often positioned “as the digital humanities’ sole predecessor.” I was under the impression that digital humanities was an umbrella term invented — and this history here intrigues me — to accommodate both the old humanities computing and the newer digital/media studies. But while I have apparently been flirting with the digital humanities for quite some time, I am a latecomer to its intellectual history.

I’m also interested in *code studies* and in the idea of a *critical technical practice*, which Michael Dieter explores:

> This article reflects theoretically on the conditions of possibility for critical work to be conducted in the context of the digital humanities and aims to provide a broad conceptual vocabulary suitable for supporting and expanding this rapidly changing subdiscipline. It does so by elaborating on the framework of critical technical practice (CTP) first proposed by Philip Agre, suggesting how this notion might be connected productively with philosophical lineages of antipositivist epistemology, but as such traditions are reimagined and retooled for today’s informational contexts. Here, CTP is considered through the work of sociotechnical problematization, especially by the various techniques that differentiate existing infrastructural solutions on the basis of the purported material problems and difficulties they claim to address. The origin of Agre’s notion of CTP is linked back to its inspiration in the specific methodologies and concepts in the work of Michel Foucault. It is also suggested that other important connections to the thought of Henri Bergson, Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem, and Gilles Deleuze can be made. While presenting a rich set of resources for the consideration of sociotechnical problems, the argument is made that these resources might be productively placed in dialogue with existing digital methods and techniques through a reflection on media aesthetics. The article concludes by illustrating the relevance of this general framework with reference to a number of projects by media practitioners relevant to digital humanities, including the work of Rosa Menkman, YoHa, Julian Oliver, Dmytri Kleiner, and Esther Polak.

My chief problem? I can’t seem to access the current issue of _Differences_ — if I can, my university’s infrastructure makes it very difficult to understand how.

[d]: http://differences.dukejournals.org/content/current

Leave a Reply