Editing Modernism in Canada


June 13, 2011

Just call me the Golden Gate…

This June marked my third time attending the DHSI (aka DEMiC) since I became a graduate fellow. My how we have grown! We may not fit on the Smuggler’s Cove balcony without violating fire safety regulations, but Victoria is starting to feel like a home away from home one week a year.

The strong sense of community generated by EMiC was enhanced this year by the Digital Editions course, run by Meagan Timney and Matt Bouchard. Instead of reflecting directly on this course, however, and all I learned from it (which was a LOT), I’m going to use this forum to share a few thoughts on the digital humanities in general.

I still recall the heady feeling of euphoria that filled me at my first DHSI. There is something utopian about the digital humanities, a foward-looking approach that makes the future seem bright and shiny no matter how fraught the present moment might be. Digital humanists seem to always have their eyes on the innovative interdisciplinary transnational horizon.

A few things have happened since that first year to temper that euphoria, however. I have experienced the gap between the ideal and the real when struggling to work with exciting visualization tools that have no instructions. I’ve realized how hard it is going to be for the academy to go digital when trying to encourage busy academics to contribute to a public forum, which still feels to many like a chore rather than a natural part of the academic workflow. I’ve had to think much more practically about strategies for making space for DH in the institution when co-writing a report on sustainability in digital scholarship.

As Brandon McFarlane mentioned in a previous post, the divide between my DH interests and my “day job” as a “vanilla” scholar (talking about the politics of that terminology would take a whole ‘nother post) often leaves me feeling like I have multiple, conflicting identities. But the solution, I’m beginning to expect, cannot be an all-or-nothing approach.  The world is going digital, and scholarship is inevitably going with it, but it seems more likely to be little by little before it’s all at once (to clumsily paraphrase Blanchot). Instead of thinking of myself as divided between two worlds, then, I’m trying to think of myself as a bridge. I can talk to DH-wary scholars about how the incorporation of digital tools might make our research more theoretically rigorous, but I can also bring my non-digital theory training to bear on a rigorous critique of the blind spots in DH. I can talk to the contemporary CanLit crowd about data mining and visualization without having to play the part of a DH evangelist. I might even be able to incorporate a ripple of DH into my vanilla dissertation… and if not, I will sure as heck tweet about it.

What about the rest of you? Have you experienced a disjunction between DH and the day-to-day world of the Canadian academy? Are you finding ways to overcome this disjunction? What other strategies might we adopt to find productive dialogues between our different research worlds?

2 Responses to “Just call me the Golden Gate…”

  1. Melissa says:

    Excellent post! I grapple with this issue all the time, and the best solution I’ve come up with is to keep doing what we’re doing, keep talking about what we’re doing, and wait for the academy to catch up. Having orgs like EMiC for other disciplines would go a long way; getting into DH seems very appealing when it can help put you through school and connect you with a important group of peers.

  2. Anouk says:

    Yes, great post (& Hannah, if you are a vanilla scholar, what does that make the rest of us …?)

    What I hope for DH is that the disjunction you speak of gradually fades, as people incorporate elements of it into their work and it becomes commonplace to see digital elements alongside ‘analog’/print culture-oriented ones. In the pedagogy session at DHSI we were discussing this kind of thing – many of the people there had taught classes on conventional topics that were not explicitly labelled as DH but which incorporated digital projects or exercises. It brings to mind the process that occurred with gender studies. In earlier days, women’s writing would be given its own course, but these days it’s pretty rare to find a course that doesn’t devote at least some time to talking about the role of gender, masculinity, queerness etc in the eighteenth-century novel/dystopian fiction/Elizabethan poetry etc. I’d hope that day is not too far off for DH, as its methods and analytic approaches become more & more widespread.

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