The managerial humanities; or, Why the digital humanities don’t exist

As we all know, the digital humanities are the next big thing. A couple of years ago, I gave a presentation at a digital humanities colloquium, explaining what I saw as the major reasons for this (Allington, 2011). We are working within an economic system in which owners of capital (funders) invest in research speculatively purchased in advance from the owners of the means of knowledge production (universities), with permanent employees of the latter (what North Americans call ‘faculty’) playing the role of brokers between the two (both as writers and as reviewers of grant applications) and managing the precariously-employed sellers of labour (junior academics and support staff on temporary contracts) who actually get things done. Humanities research is traditionally cheap, which is bad from at least two points of view: funders want to save money by administering fewer, larger, grants, while universities want to see every department generating research income on a par with that pulled in by STEM centres. The digital humanities come to the rescue by being so conveniently expensive: they appear not merely to profit from but to require such costly things as computer hardware, server space, and specialised technical support staff who – in a further benefit from the point of view of the ethically-indifferent university – can be employed on fixed-term contracts, instantly disposed of when the period of funding comes to an end, and almost as instantly replaced once the next grant is landed. It didn’t have to be like this: computers can as easily reduce as increase the size of a research project. In the funding game, however, the goal is not quality, nor even efficiency, but only bigger and bigger contracts. This is the context within which the digital humanities have fashioned themselves from their less tiresomely glamorous predecessor, ‘humanities computing’.

I had entitled my paper ‘Funded research: help or hindrance for the (digital) humanities?’, and I stood up to deliver it in full expectation of a fight: I knew that the event had been organised in order to promote the host institution as a recipient of research funding, and that there were serial large-grant holders in attendance. But a fight was not forthcoming. The audience laughed in the right places, and – once I had said my piece – responded not in outrage but in sad agreement. One respondent seemed to want me to take my critique further, asking whether I thought that this restructuring of the research process was leading to greater conservatism in the research actually produced (I’d be very surprised if it wasn’t, but my primary concern was elsewhere). To my further surprise, I even got a positive write-up in an article that several other members of the audience (including the event’s academic organisers) published the following year (Barker et al, 2012, pp. 188-189). Evidently, my analysis was less controversial than I had thought. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Even among successful players of the funding game – and certain digital humanists have been very successful players, of late – one may find disquiet at the game itself, at the disproportionate importance now attached to it, and at the negative impact it is having on the careers of new researchers and (in the long term) on access to the profession as a whole by accelerating the casualisation of both teaching and research. The underlying problem – regretted by practically everyone with a genuine love of scholarship – is the ongoing reconstruction of all disciplines on the social model of the natural sciences and the creeping abandonment of ‘autonomy’ (in the sense used by Bourdieu, 1993 [1987]) in the academic field through tacit acceptance of the principle – shared by university administrators, government ministers, and hiring committees alike – that knowledge can and should be valued primarily for its moneymaking potential. In this context, a permanent academic post has become virtually impossible to secure without some degree of complicity in the corrupting agenda of our paymasters. What early-career researcher has not put together a CV whose central organising principle is the Research Excellence Framework (or some non-UK equivalent)? What mid-career researcher has not wasted month after month of the last few years pimping after grants? What senior researcher does not advocate for his or her centre – or subject – or even for the very practice of research – at least partly on the basis of its contribution to the university budget? Yes, there are some – but they are increasingly few, because of the frequency with which we find ourselves at the mercy of those (typically, senior managers without experience of or interest in teaching and research, but all too often, fellow academics and former academics who see themselves as having adapted to a system of which they are in reality co-authors) for whom professionalism means subordinating every conceivable form of value to economic interest.

Having argued that ‘humanists have always been technologists’, Alan Galey once advised me that the best computer-based humanities research projects were those in which the humanists were also the programmers. He wrote this to encourage me to undertake (as he had done) the hard work of teaching myself programming: an endeavour into which I threw myself with commitment and enthusiasm. But as I eventually learnt, humanists today are less likely to be technologists than managers of technologists. Why do something for yourself when what you will be rewarded for is having found the money to pay someone to do it for you? And how can you find time to learn a programming language anyway, when your core competence is fluency in the language of grant applications?

To anyone still inclined to oppose the scramble for a piece of the digital humanist pie: anything trendy is irritating, but there’s no sense arguing with the digital humanities. They don’t really exist. This is the age of the managerial humanities.

References

Allington, Daniel (2011). ‘Funded research: help or hindrance for the (digital) humanities?’ Paper presented at Digital technologies: help or hindrance for the humanities, Open University, 8 July.

Barker, Elton; Bissell, Christopher; Hardwick, Lorna; Jones, Allan; Ridge, Mia and Wolffe, John (2012). ‘Colloquium: digital technologies: help or hindrance for the humanities?’ Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 11 (1-2): 185-200.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1993 [1987]). ‘The historical genesis of a pure aesthetic’. In: The field of cultural production: essays on art and literature, tran. Charles Newman. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. 112-144.

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26 thoughts on “The managerial humanities; or, Why the digital humanities don’t exist”

  1. Daniel — great piece. What is a “computer-based humanities research project” exactly, and what if I don’t want to do one at all? My university is getting entirely behind the digital humanities, putting money into it, when there are perhaps 5 faculty who do any work in that area. Meanwhile about 100 faculty work on gender, but will any resources be put behind their work?

  2. Good question! To which the worst possible answer is: first bid to the university administration for internal funding with which to pay a digital humanities consultant to help you dream up a supposed need for computer programming within your research on gender, then bid for public funding to pay a couple of computer science graduates to do the coding for you on fixed-term contracts.

    As for what a ‘computer-based humanities research project’ is, it’s a project that involves text scraping or data visualisation or digital editions or something along those lines. You could, for example, search for gendered pronouns in 19th century novels, then draw a huge, multicoloured, animated, three-dimensional graph that… umm… well… would kind of look cool?

    As it happens, I’ve been engaged in a scraping/visualisation project for over a year now, but the trouble is – once I looked into it properly, I realised that the programming involved was so easy I could do it myself. D’oh! What an idiot I am. Don’t I know that the entire point of research is to require external funding?

  3. Great piece. Yes, Sarah B’s question is one that I’ve often had in my mind and thank you for having already answered it!

  4. I share some of the worries you are expressing here, but the shrillness of your argument is, I think, borne of a mistaken view of the actual economics of academic institutions.

    You are right to point out that the humanities are cheap — we seat an enormous number of students, and do so for the cost of a teacher’s salary (sadly, a negligible figure in many cases) and the tiny amount of overhead needed to run a class in which people mostly sit in a room and talk. The STEM fields (excluding the M) are, by contrast, extremely expensive. The traditional arrangement has therefore been for the humanities to pay for the sciences (at least as far as local university funding is concerned). I don’t personally think it quite fair for university funds to lavish lab equipment on biologists while denying English departments a coat of paint, but that is a cavil.

    That “every department [should] generate research income on a par with that pulled in by STEM centres” is devoutly to be wished; it is also, as any Dean well knows, entirely impossible. The research funding available to humanists — digital or otherwise — is the merest fraction of that available to scientists and engineers, and has been shrinking steadily for decades. That is true in the UK, as well as in the US, Canada, and the rest of Europe. If your unit is under pressure to compete with the Chemistry Department, then your institution is being run by people who live in another dimension.

    It is also not true that funding agencies want to “save money by administering fewer, larger grants.” Or, at least, that has not been the case for AHRC, NEH, or SSHRC — all of whom have pursued a strategy in which large grant programs have given way to those in which small amounts of seed money are granted to an ever wider group of constituents (with the result that these “very successful players” you speak of are, in reality, winning awards that are rounding errors compared to, say, the amount of money devoted to particle physics).

    But of course, none of this is really central to your point. Your central point is that the entire edifice of digital humanities is being built on the back of staff laborers. You inform us, with impeccable Marxist rhetoric, of digital humanists’ complicity in this outrage, without mentioning the fact that research universities — particularly after the Second World War — are vast bureaucracies made up of people “managed” by . . . well, *you* . . . in your faultless, “genuine love of scholarship.” Perhaps you don’t manage them personally, but (and isn’t this worse?) other academic administrators do it on your behalf. If you, as a faculty member, change your priorities or reconceive your needs, they might well lose their jobs. The lowly staff (designers, engineers) I work with are highly skilled professionals who would doubtless resent your elitists attitude toward what they do. But regardless, pinning this all on digital humanities reflects a startling lack of self-awareness about your own involvement in the very system you critique.

    So, I am not nodding my head in agreement (or laughing). Not because I think there aren’t any labor problems in the academy, but because you are scapegoating a vanishingly small group of academics in order offload your own complicity in a management culture that was already decades old when digital humanities came along.

    1. Hi Stephen, and thank you for your comment. I had absolutely no idea my blog post would be read as widely as it has been, and ever since I realised that it had been generously (too generously, I suspect you might say) been made editors’ choice at Digital Humanities Now, I have known that I would at some point have to post an addendum. I’ve fired off the odd message using my new Twitter account, but there are serious issues at stake that can’t be dealt with in 140 characters. Under normal circumstances, I might be justified in simply telling people to read around the site a little and try to understand where this particular post comes from, but the mixed blessing of having something picked up like this is that people come directly to it and treat it as a self-contained statement, rather than seeing it in context of a work in progress. I must say that, for the most part, the responses I have received from digital humanists have been extremely positive, but even as I read the many kind words people had written about my essay, I knew that it must have caused upset somewhere – by which I mean not among bean-counting administrators (who would be very unlikely to care what I think), but among scholars I respect. So, while I don’t currently think I have anything to apologise for, I would like to take this opportunity to make a few clarifications.

      The first point – the first, overwhelmingly necessary point – to be made is that my post does not actually attack those who foreground the use of computer technology in their research or teaching of areas traditionally researched by humanists. Apologies if this expression appears convoluted, but I employ it in order to avoid creating any distinctions between various groups, including not only humanists who might describe their field as ‘digital humanities’ or ‘humanities computing’, but also a whole range of people not typically referred to as humanists, including quantitative historians, corpus linguists, and practitioners of empirical cultural sociology, new media studies, experimental literary studies, etc (yes, and designers and engineers as well). I have never thought of myself as a digital humanist, but by teaching and research, I fall into at least three of the other aforementioned groups. If I were to attack computer-using humanists and quasi-humanists, in other words, I would be attacking myself. To some extent, I do attack myself in the above post (a point I shall return to in a moment), but not for using and teaching the use of computers in the study of areas such as language, literature, and history. If there is a sentence above that attacks anybody at all for doing just that, I can’t find it. I point all this out in relation to your accusation that I was ‘scapegoating a vanishingly small group of academics’: I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the group you had in mind was not the group of academics-turned-ruthless-administrators that I single out for criticism in the third paragraph (if for no other reason than that said group is certainly not ‘vanishingly small’).

      While I’m at it, I may as well point out that in a subsequent blog post (http://www.danielallington.net/2013/04/the-autonomous-model-of-digital-literacy/), I write very positively about two major (and yes, funded) digital humanities resources, and discuss (albeit very briefly) my own pedagogical use of several further resources that might or might not be considered to lie beneath the digital humanist umbrella. There are also a number of positive references to specific digital humanities academics scattered around this site and elsewhere in my work (e.g. the textbook I published last year), and you might even spot one or two on this page. I am not against digital humanists or the digital humanities, in other words, although I am definitely against what Sarah B. decries above, i.e. the attempt by some universities to push people into becoming digital humanists for purely economic reasons. (I should perhaps admit to preferring the term ‘humanities computing’ to the term ‘digital humanities’ and to being faintly nauseated by the use of words like ‘cool’, ‘hip’, and ‘smart’ to describe academics and their work. But these are minor matters of style, and I even nauseate myself sometimes.)

      Perhaps I ought to stop there, but there are some specific points raised in your comment that I feel I can’t really leave unanswered. I’ll go through these in order.

      1. ‘If your unit is under pressure to compete with the Chemistry Department, then your institution is being run by people who live in another dimension.’

      In that case, there’s a lot of inter-dimensional administration going on in academia. Perhaps you remember the closure of the world-renowned philosophy department at Middlesex University? That was exactly the logic behind it:

      ‘Sources told THE that, internally, management said the decision was part of a drive to increase teaching income from the Higher Education Funding Council for England by switching to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

      A banding system operated by Hefce puts humanities subjects such as philosophy in band D, which receives the lowest funding.

      Edward Esche, dean of arts and education at Middlesex, told staff that Hefce had sent the university two letters in April pushing for switches from band D subjects to those in the higher-earning C and B bands, which include business, vocational and STEM subjects. He said this would allow Middlesex to generate more income at a time when student recruitment was subject to a national cap.’

      (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/411482.article)

      2. ‘It is also not true that funding agencies want to “save money by administering fewer, larger grants.” Or, at least, that has not been the case for AHRC, NEH, or SSHRC’

      In 2011, the ESRC doubled its lower funding threshold from £100000 to £200000 for exactly this reason. As for the AHRC, its 2011-2015 delivery plan (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/Publications/Documents/Delivery-Plan-2011-2015.pdf) spoke of ‘focussing its resources’ (Key Point 1), ‘focus[ing] resources in order to obtain the greatest efficiencies’ (Key Point 2), and ‘[a]ward[ing] longer and larger grants to proven centres of excellence’ (Key point 3).

      3. ‘research universities […] are vast bureaucracies made up of people “managed” by . . . well, *you* . . . […] Perhaps you don’t manage them personally, but (and isn’t this worse?) other academic administrators do it on your behalf.’

      The administrators who manage these unnamed people also manage me – or to put it another way, I am one of those people being managed. I would like to have some input into the way that I and my fellow workers are managed – or, to be more precise, I would welcome the introduction of some kind of democratic element to the governance structure of my university, and of British universities more generally – but that is not where we are right now. Is it on their own behalf that university staff (academic and otherwise) are given unrealistic targets, threatened with redundancy, pressured into creating or adopting MOOCs, etc?

      4. ‘in your faultless, “genuine love of scholarship.”’

      While it would have been deeply presumptuous of me to make a special claim to the love of scholarship, I did not. Instead – and precisely in order not to scapegoat ‘successful players of the funding game’ (including ‘certain digital humanists’ such as the ‘serial large-grant holders’ in my original audience – and please note the use of the word ‘certain’ to indicate recognition that the funding game has not rewarded digital humanists equally or exclusively) – I wrote that ‘practically everyone with a genuine love of scholarship’ regrets the creeping acceptance of the principle ‘that knowledge can and should be valued primarily for its moneymaking potential’. I have no colleagues who think that this loss of academic autonomy is a good thing, and it seems clear to me that the great majority of academics who are actively engaged in teaching or research (please note the subordinate clause!) deeply love the pursuit and sharing of knowledge: at least within their subject areas, but usually more widely than that as well.

      5. ‘If you, as a faculty member, change your priorities or reconceive your needs, they might well lose their jobs.’’

      I hold a lectureship. Although the analogy is imprecise because tenure does not exist in the UK, this is usually taken to be the equivalent of an assistant professorship in the US. Perhaps the whims of an assistant professor are accorded such weight that other staff are hired and fired when they change – I don’t know. But I served for a year on a union committee scrutinising *every single* redundancy among academic and academic-related staff on fixed-term contracts (and yes, this included redundancies arising as the result of a contract’s coming to an end), and I never once saw a case of a member of staff being threatened with job loss as a result of teachers and researchers ‘chang[ing their] priorities or reconciev[ing their] needs’. However, I did see many, many good people – academics and otherwise – find themselves in exactly that situation when research grants came to an end.

      6. ‘The lowly staff (designers, engineers) I work with are highly skilled professionals who would doubtless resent your elitists attitude toward what they do.’

      I’m not sure who is ‘lowly’ and who isn’t where you are, but in all my (admittedly quite limited) experience of universities, I’ve never come across a greater cause of resentment than casualised employment. I love designers and engineers, and I hugely respect what they do. What makes me angry is the idea that they – and so many other categories of staff – should automatically be taken on the payroll and then kicked off it again depending on external grant capture – and that their employment costs should be used to inflate the university’s research income when the university has no commitment to employing them in the long term. (Well, that and the fact that teaching and research staff are obliged to spend increasing amounts of their time applying for grants when everyone knows that the total amount of research funding available is fixed, and unlikely to rise: a few million pounds more for my employer means a few million less for somebody else’s, and that is all. We aren’t baking, we’re just fighting over a cake.)

      For the record, I’ve been involved in a number of funding applications: in the above blog post, I admit to my ‘complicity’ in the system (in this way and at least one other). And like – I suppose – most grant applicants, I have striven always to apply for funding to facilitate research that I genuinely and passionately believe is worth doing. But the more a university sees grant capture as the real purpose of research, the more it positions faculty as managers of research projects, and the more it encourages delegation of actual research activity (not to mention teaching) to low-status staff on casual contracts. The digital humanities aren’t driving these trends, but many universities are attempting to use them as an instrument in their furtherance.

  5. “The first point – the first, overwhelmingly necessary point – to be made is that my post does not actually attack those who foreground the use of computer technology in their research or teaching of areas traditionally researched by humanists. ”

    You have an odd way of expressing your love. At the end, you refer to it as “irritating” before proclaiming that it “doesn’t exist.”

    “Sources told THE that, internally, management said the decision was part of a drive to increase teaching income from the Higher Education Funding Council for England by switching to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.”

    That’s not what you said. What you said is that all departments (by which I assume you mean departments like philosophy and classics) are under pressure to produce the same amount of grant funding as the STEM fields. We can quibble about whether this amounts to the same thing, but most institutions are well-nigh addicted to the high margins of teaching in the humanities. It is certainly clear to administrators that shrinking the English department has no effect on the sciences. In other words, they might be making a costly mistake, that has nothing to do with whether the humanities deserve to exist or not.

    “Perhaps the whims of an assistant professor are accorded such weight that other staff are hired and fired when they change – I don’t know. ”

    You continue to insist that you are the managed one, and have no part in the dirty work of managing others. I say that whether you are in digital humanities or not, your work is supported by a vast array of staff (many of whom are transient, temporary laborers). Their purpose, as far as the institution is concerned, is to make sure you are paid, that your classes are properly enrolled, that the plumbing works, that students’ dorms are clean, and so forth.

    I read in your post a belief in your general immunity from any involvement in all of this — a belief that as long as you aren’t “pimping” for grants like your careerist colleagues, that you are engaged in something that is above it all.

    And frankly, in every such diatribe, I find a singular phrase: something along the lines of “genuine scholarship” or “genuine humanistic inquiry” against whatever it is that digital humanists do.

    1. ‘”…my post does not actually attack those who foreground the use of computer technology in their research or teaching of areas traditionally researched by humanists. ”

      You have an odd way of expressing your love. At the end, you refer to it as “irritating” before proclaiming that it “doesn’t exist.”’

      Firstly, ‘foregrounding the use of computer technology in [one’s] research or teaching of areas traditionally researched by humanists’ is not identical with ‘the digital humanities’. Secondly, one of the things that irritates me about the term ‘the digital humanities’ (as opposed to ‘humanities computing’) is that it appears to be in binary opposition to something (perhaps ‘analogue humanities’) meaning ‘all the old stuff that went before’. My point about the managerial humanities is that this really does apply to them: i.e. there is a danger that soon, there really won’t be any other humanities than those (if it hasn’t happened already). The new obsession with management is the game changer, not digital technology.

      ‘I say that whether you are in digital humanities or not, your work is supported by a vast array of staff (many of whom are transient, temporary laborers). Their purpose, as far as the institution is concerned, is to make sure you are paid, that your classes are properly enrolled, that the plumbing works, that students’ dorms are clean, and so forth.’

      This has nothing to do with whether one works in digital humanities or not. I work for an institution without student dorms – but one in which I can only reach students through collaboration with designers, programmers, librarians, video editors, and a virtual army of highly committed tutors. If you look at the other post I linked to, for example, you’ll see that I wrote at great length about the work done by librarians in particular.

      What I disagree with is your assertion that these people are managed on my behalf. They aren’t.

      ‘I read in your post a belief in your general immunity from any involvement in all of this — a belief that as long as you aren’t “pimping” for grants like your careerist colleagues, that you are engaged in something that is above it all.’

      Absolutely not. Didn’t I say that a ‘permanent academic post’ was impossible to secure without complicity?

      ‘I find a singular phrase: something along the lines of “genuine scholarship” or “genuine humanistic inquiry” against whatever it is that digital humanists do’

      Perhaps it would be, but what I wrote was ‘genuine love’.

    1. And I also made an error, in that I forgot to reply to the following:

      ‘ It is certainly [not] clear to administrators that shrinking the English department has no effect on the sciences. In other words, they might be making a costly mistake, that has nothing to do with whether the humanities deserve to exist or not.’

      I didn’t say anything about whether the humanities deserve to exist. They do. What I said was that there are administrators who want to see the humanities generating income on a par with STEM subjects. This is exactly what the case of the Middlesex philosophy department illustrates.

  6. “I work for an institution without student dorms – but one in which I can only reach students through collaboration with designers, programmers, librarians, video editors, and a virtual army of highly committed tutors. If you look at the other post I linked to, for example, you’ll see that I wrote at great length about the work done by librarians in particular.

    What I disagree with is your assertion that these people are managed on my behalf. They aren’t.”

    I find your denial of this fact breathtaking. Let’s review. You teach students — who are the paying customers of your institution (and before you say it: *someone is paying*). In order for you to deliver the thing they are paying for, you need to have access to legions of support staff. You don’t manage them, but you believe that no actually does so on your behalf — that they are somehow doing work that is not there *because* of the work that you do, but that you are all considered equivalent actors in this drama.

    None of these people act at your behest? None of them see themselves as catering to your needs as a teacher (and the institution’s need to provide that service)? This is all a democratic act of magnanimous collaboration?

    Sorry, I forgot. You don’t have dorms, so none of this really applied to you.

    1. ‘You don’t manage them, but you believe that no actually does so on your behalf — that they are somehow doing work that is not there *because* of the work that you do, but that you are all considered equivalent actors in this drama.’

      Yes, in that at the end of the day we’re both there because the student is paying (some time ago, it would have been the taxpayer). When a university thinks it can make do with fewer non-academic or academic-related staff, it gets rid of them. When it thinks it can make do with fewer academic staff, it gets rid of them too.

      ‘None of these people act at your behest? None of them see themselves as catering to your needs as a teacher (and the institution’s need to provide that service)? This is all a democratic act of magnanimous collaboration?’

      Absolutely none of them acts at my behest – not because there’s anything democratic about the whole organisation but because each of us is contracted to provide a service. I provide one service, they provide others. When genuine collaboration occurs, I think this is often because we identify with what we take to be a shared mission. Sometimes we’re just doing our jobs, though.

  7. I wonder if I can offer myself as a translator? This exchange seems to me to reflect two very different academic cultures, speaking in very different languages (just by accident, using many of the same words). I know British higher eduation and digital humanities well, and quite frankly Dr Allington is just about right on most of it. There is currently an unstated policy in the UK to re-create what used to be called the binary divide between polytechnics (focussed on teaching and technical subjects), and universities (with a remit for research across the whole intellectual landscape). This is a reverse of the policy as it has evolved over the last 30 years; and the main victims of this transition are humanities departments in former polytechnics such as Middlesex University (I should note that I work in a former poly, and have done for 25 years). He is also right that the funding councils in the UK are moving towards ‘larger and longer’ grants as a means of both reducing administration costs; and more worryingly, as a means of creating a clearer ‘career structure’ in which the management of large grants forms part of the normal activity of career academics. This transition is mired in the recreation the binary divide, and is being made real for aspiring and younger academics through the restriction of doctoral funding to ‘old’ universities (i.e. not former polys), via a system called Block Grant Parternships (whereby funding is being given to particular institutions rather then the best individual applicants). There is also a growing series of programmes aimed at ‘early career researchers’, designed to inculcate ‘leadership’. These are predicated on a model academic career that ends with scholars undertaking grant supported research in an old university, and as part of their progression up a slippery career ladder managing large grant funded programmes.

    Dr Allington is also right about relations between ‘management’ in university and academic staff. The big difference is that the UK higher education system is a single, state-funded entity, and changes in policy are driven by central government concerns (and have been for 60 years). The sector is regularly used as just one more lever in the macro-economic managment of the country. This means that while academic staff may give their primary loyalty to their students and subject; the managers of institutions are caught navigating a perilous course between government imposed policy directives, and whatever vestiges of good sense they can retain in a massive and hierarchical system. All of which is to say that Dr Allington is right to feel frustrated at the direction of change in the system, and to feel remarkably powerless in the face of policy change that leaves few spaces and freedoms to scholars in his (and my) position.

    He is also largely correct to suggest that digital humanities is a current enthusiasm for the very same policy makers who determine the direction of change. David Willetts (minister for higher education), for instance, in a classic piece of top downery, announced a £108 million for ‘big data’ last summer, which the Research Councils are duly distributing.

    At the same time, he is largely wrong to associate any of this with Digital Humanities; or to assume that these changes are driven by humanists, or the scholars trying to make good things happen using digital tools. The real irony is that the amount of funding being provided to the humanities in the UK has grown dramatically in the last fifteen years; but has done so in a way that not a lot of people really like. What used to be a thinly spread subsidy on scholarly time, has become a scramble for ‘high qualtiy’, peer reviewed grants. Arguably, this has been the flip side of the creation of a unified higher education system in the UK – with a pretense of equal institutional funding (per student), being balanced by a highly competitive grants system designed to privilege the same old narrow elite.

    He is also wrong about the origins of DH funding. In the UK the vast majority of the infrastructure funding comes via the JISC, which – because it is devoted to supporting technical infrastructure – was traditionally entirely unavailable to humanists. The rise of DH in the UK, has meant that for the first time science infrastructure spending is (in small dollops) being allocated to the support of humanist projects. The broader change here is marked by the transition (in 2004) of the Arts and Humanities Research Board into a research ‘Council’ on an equal footing with STEM. So, for instance, whereas ten years ago, David Willett’s £108 million would have gone solely to STEM, now – because of DH and because the AHRB is now a ‘C’, some £8 million of this has been directed to the Arts and Humanities. Between 2004 and 2006, the funding available in the UK for Arts and Humanities went from £20 million per annum, to £100 million.

    But most importantly, Dr Allington is wrong to tag his plaint to Digital Humanities because it is simply the most innovative area of humanities research, regardless of how, or indeed whether, it is funded. It has helped to create both a dramatic new ecology of knowledge, and is in the process of creating a new epistomology. These are good things in themselves, and satisfy the fundamental goals of humanist research. In the last fifteen years the inherited sources of Western culture have been made democratically available in a remarkable way. The best sites, many created by academics using AHRB/C funding, are free and public, and simply right. But as importantly, what has emerged since the mid-2000s is a series of new approaches to how ideas, text and systems are interrogated and represented for a modern audience. My reading of this is that Digital Humanities forms the most significant development in humanist methodologies for fifty years. That the research funders have in small measure recognised this, is to be celebrated.

    North American Digital Humanities and higher education is simply a different animal, with its own cankers, sores and disabilities. But it doesn’t actually do any of us much good to talk past one another quite as comprehensively as seems to have happened here.

    1. Thanks very much, Prof. Hitchcock, for this measured response. At the very least, you’ve explained to some of our US colleagues that I’m not a fantasist.

      To personalise the above discussion a little and provide some context, a former pro-vice chancellor for research at my institution used to castigate a former vice dean for research in my faculty for the fact that we weren’t producing enough funding applications in the £1.5 million plus range. What can one do under those circumstances but to look for research problems that require more expensive solutions? And by a strange coincidence, this was the same former pro-vice chancellor for research who provided a conspicuous amount of support for digital humanities within the university: both financially, and by turning up in person and mingling with academics (virtually unheard of behaviour in other circumstances: it was the first and only time she ever spoke to me). It wasn’t hard to join the dots: we should all be doing digital humanities research now, regardless of whether we want to or not, just as we should aim to follow what you poignantly describe as ‘a model academic career that ends with scholars undertaking grant supported research in an old university, [having climbed] a slippery career ladder managing large grant funded programmes.’

      So yes, it is very much in a British context that I wrote the above, although I believe that the first commenter is based at a North American institution (as are many of those who tweeted in support of my article), so it would seem that a related process may be underway on the other side of the Atlantic too: not at those institutions where computer-based humanities research has been slowly developing for a period of decades, driven by the research interests of academic staff, but at those where senior administrators have abruptly decided to get faculty in on the ‘next big thing’. In both cases, there arises a situation where humanists with no background in computing are put under pressure to undertake computer-based research, and where the obvious way forward is for them to focus on the ‘interesting’ work of writing papers and grant applications while delegating the technical work to postdocs and technical staff. And strange things sometimes happen as a result. For example, I know of a funded project that needed extra funding partly in order to get its database re-built in the course of correcting a design flaw in the original: I can’t give too much away, but the flaw was of a simple and obvious kind that would have come to light at the planning stage if only the people planning the project had known something about databases. Which is less a complaint about a general lack of technological competence among humanists than it is a complaint about the placing of humanists and technologists in a hierarchical relationship wherein the function of the latter is assumed to be the realisation of the visions of the former.

      As you might expect, I’m less in agreement with you when it comes to the question of what you refer to as my ‘tag[ging my] plaint to Digital Humanities’. I’ll begin, as I have before, by explicating my own text. Firstly, I don’t ‘assume that these changes are driven by humanists, or the scholars trying to make good things happen using digital tools’. As I write above, ‘[t]he underlying problem… is the ongoing reconstruction of all disciplines on the social model of the natural sciences and the creeping abandonment of “autonomy”… through tacit acceptance of the principle – shared by university administrators, government ministers, and hiring committees alike – that knowledge can and should be valued primarily for its moneymaking potential.’ In my reference to ‘tacit acceptance of the principle… that knowledge can and should be valued primarily for its moneymaking potential’, I was alluding to the fact that when a government demands that research brings economic benefit to the nation – something that both administrators and academics (across the humanities and the sciences) understandably resent – it is essentially doing the same thing as the hiring (or, for that matter, promotion) committee that ranks applicants according to their track record in grant capture or the vice chancellor who ominously warns academics that ‘research that does not pay for itself cannot be supported indefinitely’. By ‘the social model of the natural sciences’, I meant the assumption that the scene of research is one in which a permanently employed professor captains a lab full of precariously employed postdocs, support staff, and PhD students. This model is becoming increasingly subject to criticism within the science community, and its encroachment upon humanist research is not to be celebrated, whether one is running a digital project with postdocs tapping away on computers or an ethnographic project with postdocs doing fieldwork.

      Why, then, did I choose to write about digital humanities? Not because I think there’s anything wrong with using computers for what I refer to above as the ‘research or teaching of areas traditionally researched by humanists’. As I’ve tried to explain, this is one of the things that I do professionally: much of my teaching and research could easily be made to slot into the category that Stephen Ramsay has called ‘DH II’ (http://stephenramsay.us/2013/05/03/dh-one-and-two/), except that I don’t call myself a digital humanist. And if you must know, I contributed to a successful bid for AHRC funding to develop an (already-existing) free digital humanities website and was a member of its advisory board during the period of that funding. I am also an admirer of your own free, AHRC-funded website – and before anyone accuses me of bootlicking or backtracking, I blogged about it last month (http://www.danielallington.net/2013/04/the-autonomous-model-of-digital-literacy/) and even tweeted it as an example of ‘great work that’s been done’. There’s nothing I’ve written above which suggests that work of this sort is not valuable and good. The problem that concerns me is the social phenomenon of ‘the digital humanities’, which includes not only the work that gets done but everything that goes with it as well, including its current fashionableness and the reasons behind that fashionableness.

      One of those reasons is the grant culture. This wasn’t created by digital humanities, but there is a clear affinity between digital humanities research of a certain kind and the recent availability of UK science infrastructure funding for humanities research (which you point out as an error of mine, but which I now rather wish I’d worked into my original case) – added to which, it is (as you and I agree) a widely acknowledged fact that ‘the funding councils in the UK are moving towards “larger and longer” grants as a means of… reducing administration costs; and more worryingly, as a means of creating a clearer “career structure” in which the management of large grants forms part of the normal activity of career academics’. (An email I received last week suggested that Canada’s equivalent may be making similar moves.)

      Another reason is an evangelism for digital humanities that glosses over the underlying conflicts and problems. This was addressed by Stephen Ramsay:

      I suspect he [Brian Lennon] and others [me?] aren’t reacting so much to these specific works as they are to the boosterism and enthusiasm (if not outright mania) that has enveloped the entire academy over ‘digital humanities’. Certainly, most of the people doing ‘digital humanities’ have taken full advantage of these developments, and I can see why that would seem to some… unseemly.

      (http://stephenramsay.us/2013/05/03/dh-one-and-two/, ellipsis in original)

      Yet another is what you, I and the first commenter above have primarily been talking about, i.e. the top-down drive towards digital humanities from university administrators and – in the UK – even politicians (as in your point about David Willetts, of whom international readers are most likely to have heard in his capacity as the architect of England’s new undergraduate fees system, which vastly increased the cost of study for the individual student).

      There are, then, good reasons why I chose to write about the digital humanities rather than – say – ethnomusicology or the sociology of art: it’s possible that there’s a part of the world where these are being loudly evangelised by their practitioners and ‘encouraged’ upon their non-practitioners by politicians and administrators, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives there. And just as I suggest in my original article that each of us working in academia shares some degree of responsibility for the creeping loss of academic autonomy – for example, in doing what has now become second nature for UK-based academics, and tailoring our CVs to emphasise our potential contribution to a faculty’s Research Excellence Framework submission (a bureaucratic exercise which now, as Tarak Barkawi writes, ‘completely dominates UK academic life’; http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/04/20134238284530760.html) – I think that there are specific questions to be asked about the apparently meteoric rise of the digital humanities in the last half-decade. Some of these were raised in Michael J. Kramer’s contribution to a conversation that dh+lib generously gave me partial credit for starting (http://acrl.ala.org/dh/2013/05/07/recommended-dh-genealogies-and-the-academy-weekend-round-up/), but which probably had more to do with the Dark Side of the Digital conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (http://www.c21uwm.com/digitaldarkside/):

      I wonder if the disconnects, the talking past, between type 1 and type 2 dh hinge on the historical emergence of type 1.5, which absorbed and cannibalised earlier practices of humanities computing, but also linked the digital to larger, very fraught and vexing struggles over intellectual labor and work under neoliberalism, corporatisation, and privitisation in the US and beyond.

      I think it is this moment when humanities computing and the ‘alt-ac’ vision came together that needs more attention here. Why ‘alt’ (shades of alt.rock?)? Why were ‘alt’ and ‘digital’ so powerfully connected as driving terms and forces suddenly? It’s questions like these that seem pertinent to the political stakes of defining dh. The seeming randomness of the shift from humanities computing to digital humanities takes on a whole new light when linked to struggles over jobs in the academia, their quality, their precarity, their ‘alternativeness’ and the terms of that imagined alternative.

      (http://www.michaeljkramer.net/issuesindigitalhistory/blog/?p=1221)

      As a final point, I wish respectfully to disagree with your argument that ‘Digital Humanities forms the most significant development in humanist methodologies for fifty years’. You have every right to that opinion, but similar statements have been made in the last couple of decades for humanities applications of cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience: they can’t all be right.

      EDIT: I really should have said this before, but thanks for explaining so incisively and for the benefit of international readers the higher educational system in which you and I work, for pointing out the subtext of the various ‘early career researcher’ programmes now on offer, and for bringing up the ‘unstated policy’ of recreating the university/polytechnic divide (all the more urgent in the light of the memo leaked this morning from the University of Salford, which THE reports to be considering proposals to close courses in ‘the law school and the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences’ as part of ‘a major reshaping to focus on applied and vocational subjects’: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/students-accepted-by-salford-amid-course-closure-plans/2003694.article).

  8. I have one point to make here. In my reading of much of the preceding exchange, and in Tim Hitchcock’s response as much as in Stephen Ramsay’s, the weakest element of the defense of the digital humanities is the insistence that it is “wrong,” in Hitchcock’s words, “to associate any of this with Digital Humanities.”

    It may well turn out to be wrong to do so; but it may not turn out to be wrong to do so. Painful as may be to admit, we just don’t know yet.

    While we attempt to sort it out (or, through other courses of action, to allow it to pass), defenders of the digital humanities might ask themselves, with a bit more commitment than seems evident in public discourse, where such unwelcome associations keep coming from — apart, that is, from an utterly fantasized pure and/or personal malice — if they are really so thoroughly and consistently mistaken.

    Ramsay is quite sensitive and quite correct to surmise that as far as I myself am concerned, one root of the conflict here is the opportunism of digital humanities enthusiasts who are happy to accept the praise and to cultivate the curiosity generated by a successfully mobilized and unifying phraseme, yet loudly, even histrionically reluctant to accept that its dissemination brings a loss of authority over its history (or historiography), its practices, its definitions, and its practical and ideological associations — or at least those associations that are unwelcome.

    I’d guess it’s becoming clear to at least some participants in and onlookers to these debates that at this point, it might well be far less painful to publicly abandon the phraseme, sacrifice its auratic, even Pentecostal unity, and continue our work in more precisely defined channels than it will be to keep playing “whack a mole” with such unwelcome associations.

    1. “Painful as may be to admit, we just don’t know yet.”

      More painful, though, is hearing what amounts to “only time will tell” as an actual rejoinder in this discussion (a phrase offered at the end of every insipid back-and-forth between pundits on television). We are trying to evaluate right now whether digital humanities has already produced the effects that Allington alleges.

      “[D]efenders of the digital humanities might ask themselves, with a bit more commitment than seems evident in public discourse, where such unwelcome associations keep coming from — apart, that is, from an utterly fantasized pure and/or personal malice — if they are really so thoroughly and consistently mistaken.”

      I’ll take a shot. I think digital technology evokes a number of fears in otherwise ordinary and conscientious individuals. We fear that “automation” will escape beyond the realm of manufacture and minor efficiency into our social and governmental organizations. We worry about the “mindlessness” of technological systems (predator drones that are without conscience, intention, or ethical disposition). We worry about replacing notions of “mind” — the traditional seat of human consciousness — with pattern, reaction, autopoesis, mechanism, or system. We worry (as we have since the invention of the telegraph) about collapsing social organization — indeed, about the disappearance of human intimacy. We worry that as digital technology becomes more important and more ubiquitous, that the power that those technologies wield will become increasing concentrated in the hands of powerful corporations (governed by scientific management — another Orwellian development that arose as a result of technological change).

      Many (David Golumbia, Sven Birkerts, Jaron Lanier) think all of these worries are at least partially justified; others (Clay Shirky, John Tooby, some previous incarnation of Douglas Rushkoff) think these worries are mostly unjustified. But here’s one thing that is absolutely certain: “digital humanities” evokes these fears, and does so in the context of a set intellectual practices and disciplines that are widely regarded by their practitioners as above and beyond mere technological change or advancement — as something purer, more authentic, more noble, and far less likely to destroy the fabric of human society.

      I’ve met digital humanists who incline toward a darker view of all of this, and I’ve met some who incline toward the sun (I have never met a humanist scholar of any kind — ac or alt ac — who goes through the day in an unreflective torpor, without knowledge or heedfulness concerning what it all might mean).

      But let us consider your suggestion in specific terms. Let us ask whether The Walt Whitman Archive represents a fearful ideology of automation and corporatism, or a bold technological future in which conflict and violence are replaced by what McLuhan once whimsically referred to as “the global village.” Yes: I firmly believe that all such associations are firmly and consistently nonsensical. I understand why these might arise, but I have a lot of trouble seeing digital humanities as playing anything but a minor roll in these epochal changes and movements. This is why I react so strongly to overt connections being made between “digital humanities” and “corporatism,” “neo-liberalism,” “anti-intellectualism” or whatever other curse word people have managed to devise. It is also why I find myself more than slightly irritated by a notable fluidity in the registers of your own Twitter feed: digital humanists (which ones? The ones exploring verb morphology in Old Icelandic?), corporations and governments colluding while the privacy of millions is compromised . . . it’s all the same, really.

      I agree with you on one thing; we “self-nominated DH-ers” are guilty of a certain degree of hypocrisy. We are, as you say, “happy to accept the praise,” yet reluctant to accept the unpleasant consequences of our “phraseme.” That is true. But just because something has “associations” — and even cogent reasons for those association having arisen — does not automatically mean that one must pause and consider whether one is not “thoroughly and consistently mistaken.” There are reasons why a surprisingly large number of people think President Obama is a Kenyon socialist; I would hope his administration spends precisely no time at all wondering if they are themselves mistaken. Those of us who bring digital tools and techniques to bear on the study of the human condition and its artifacts likewise spend very little time asking if they are responsible (responsible?) for the “managerial humanities,” the death of the humanities, the downfall of the university, or any of the other facile notions with which we “associated.”

      1. A number of embarrassing typos above:

        roll => role
        Kenyon => Kenyan
        “with which we ‘associated’ => “with which we *are* ‘associated'”
        “asking if they” => “asking if we”

        Many more, no doubt. Mutatis mutandis . . .

      2. “[D]efenders of the digital humanities might ask themselves, with a bit more commitment than seems evident in public discourse, where such unwelcome associations keep coming from — apart, that is, from an utterly fantasized pure and/or personal malice — if they are really so thoroughly and consistently mistaken.”

        The problem with ascribing this to a “fear of the digital,” as you do here, is that this ultimately becomes a form of ideology critique: the concerns of we English professors about DH are not to be taken literally: our analysis of DH is not to be taken literally, but as a cover story for our deep and largely unspoken worry.

        What has to give anyone pause about this is that we on the “worried” side are typically thought of as the partisans for ideology critique. That’s what most of us practice on a day to day basis, and what many of us worry we *don’t* see being practiced nearly as much in DH.

        So: DH (mostly) rejects ideology critique as a method, but when English scholars suggest that they are worried about the prominence of DH, suddenly ideology critique becomes valid, thrust against the very people who have been promoting it by those who have been walking away from it. While it may (or may not) be fair to tell non-DHers that they don’t understand what DH really does, it seems even less fair to tell non-DHers that they don’t know how to apply ideology critique correctly, while DHers do.

        Again, I don’t think Brian’s question has been well-answered, unless one turns to the ideology critique that allows one not to take the question literally: Why do these worries about DH keep arising, if they are so thoroughly and consistently mistaken? And it would not be fair to overlook the fact that *some* of those the worries come from–Alan Liu, Martha Nell Smith, Tara McPherson, Brian, myself, Ian Bogost–have a variety of fairly strong claims to understanding both the digital and the cultural fairly well. I understand that you think we are saying DH is blind; I think Brian is asking that DH also admit that it is saying we critics are blind.

        To take your final example on: I would never say, and have not said, and don’t know anyone who has said, that “The Walt Whitman Archive represents a fearful ideology of automation and corporatism.” What I would say, and what I have seen, is that English classes have been devoted to teaching how to make projects like the Walt Whitman archive, and doctoral and master’s work has been devoted to it, in which the technical questions of “how to do it” totally overwhelm the cultural questions of what the poems mean–in which very little or no class time is devoted to talking about and reading the poems, and where the technical work done instead does not (to my practiced eye) constitute anything like the close engagement with the texts and their cultural contexts than what happened in classrooms or research before. Those classrooms and that research look very different from how non-DH Walt Whitman classes & research look, and I don’t think it’s fair to discount all of our assessments that this change is under-motivated by the change in technology. In this sense what worries us about DH is not the technology: it’s the radical difference in disciplinary methods where deep engagement with the meaning of text and culture is clearly being demoted, in the study of literature. It’s not what’s being done so much as what’s not being done. From everything I know, Stephen, I do not believe for a second that this happens in your classes, or in Ted’s, or in those of a lot of other DHers; but it does happen a lot; I’ve seen it happen and promoted in a number of contexts and by a number of individuals I’ll refrain from naming here; and I don’t think it’s Luddism that makes me, Alan, Martha, Brian, Tara, and others worry about it.

        One reason that it’s awkward to have these conversations is that most of the DHers who respond to them are not the ones who would really want to defend the positions that worry us. There *are* people who want English to turn away from cultural criticism entirely, and who found in DH a terrific lever with which to do so; they largely refrain from engaging in this kind of interaction, and thus we end up arguing with people who don’t really hold those beliefs.

        This is why Computational Linguistics interests me so much. While there is definitely a whiff of computationalism around the edges of it, there is absolutely no push within that field to change the methods of Linguistics per se so entirely that one does not recognize the Linguistics classroom or the project of Linguistics because of the use of computers: Functional Linguists don’t think that Computational Linguists are trying to upend their field. That’s not because linguists are less Luddite than English professors; I think it’s because the role of DH in English is qualitatively different from the role of CL in Linguistics. Every Linguistics classroom is devoted to the understanding of human language, period, using whatever tools and methods the teacher feels appropriate. There are English classrooms today in which a great number of English professors would say that what is going on in them is not the “understanding of literature” as we recognize it. It’s something else–something to which there may be no reasonable objection at all–yet the question of why English professors should consider it part of our discipline remains open, and troubling.

        1. “What I would say, and what I have seen, is that English classes have been devoted to teaching how to make projects like the Walt Whitman archive, and doctoral and master’s work has been devoted to it, in which the technical questions of “how to do it” totally overwhelm the cultural questions of what the poems mean–in which very little or no class time is devoted to talking about and reading the poems, and where the technical work done instead does not (to my practiced eye) constitute anything like the close engagement with the texts and their cultural contexts than what happened in classrooms or research before.”

          But this is a profoundly conservative position, and in the end, it seems to me to illustrate my point. There is a fear — a fear that the world is passing away. If this DH stuff continues, a noble tradition begun by Matthew Arnold will evaporate. No one would put it that way, of course, but this is exactly what is being said.

          Perhaps you are right and DH represents a terrible betrayal of all that is right and true — not just an instrumentalization of humanities work, but the disappearance of what made humanistic inquiry unique. But how would that be any different from the moment in which gender studies (for example) gained the ascendancy over what came before it? Because back then, people were saying that the study of gender dynamics in written culture was threatening to “totally overwhelm” the poem as a poem — the poem as it exists apart from any base cultural context or moment.

          Partisans of that latter view insisted that this was not only wrongheaded on methodological grounds, but actively opposed to what they thought of as the values of the humanities. And they routinely accused the other side of being insufficiently aware of both “literary history” and the mechanics of prosody (the 1960s version of being “undertheorized”).

          I also think you’re romanticizing linguistics a bit. The clash between computational linguists (most significantly, a form of corpus linguistics) and post-Chomskian generativists was (and is) a very bitter feud indeed. There are plenty of partisans of the former who accuse the latter of not actually doing “linguistics” at all, because they are operating under a completely flawed framework. There are also people on the corpus side who think Chomskian linguistics is fatuous nonsense. Few regard these as different “approaches,” but as incommensurable paradigms. That seems to be bear more than passing analogy with the current clash between cultural studies and DH.

        2. I think there is a useful analogy to be made with linguistics, but I’m not sure it’s been articulated yet.

          First, a caveat: I speak from my own experience of linguistics departments in the UK.

          Second, a terminological point: in my experience (which may not be relevant to the US), corpus linguistics is not usually considered a part of computational linguistics; the latter is closer to artificial intelligence research and seems to merging with natural language processing. Computational linguists in this sense make use of language corpora, but not in the same way that people who call themselves corpus linguists generally do.

          Bearing these things in mind, what I want to say is that Stephen Ramsay is right that there are feuds between categories of linguist broadly comparable to those between digital humanist scholars of literature and other scholars of literature. On the other hand, those feuds don’t seem to have much to do with the use or non-use of digital technology. Corpus linguists and functional linguists get on pretty well, in my experience – in many instances, they’re the same people. And generative linguists and computational linguists (apart from corpus linguists, if we’re counting them as computational linguists) also seem to get on pretty well. However, functional linguists and generative linguists are at odds, and so (by and large) are corpus linguists and generativists.

          What’s at the root of all this is a fundamental disagreement about the true subject matter of linguistics. But one can employ digital technology (or not) regardless of which side of that disagreement one comes down on.

  9. For myself, I am happy to abandon the phrase ‘digital humanities’ (I have no idea what a phraseme is), and to simply disagree about the basic significance of the underlying work associated with what might be otherwise termed computational humanities. I entirely agree about the underly pressure to reconcieve humanities research along the lines of the natural sciences – though my feeling is that as long as humanists actually know what they are seeking to achieve (most don’t), the research model itself is essentially irrelevant.

    What strikes me as most interesting in all this, is not actually the discussion of DH, but the ways in which the concerns of all involved are inflected (created?) by the specific university systems that underpin the ‘authority’ of the commentators. I argued above that Daniel’s perspective is a reflection of and reasonable responce to the specific British context. But equally, much of what purports to be abstract discussion of ‘DH’ in the US, is also really an argument about a different set of controlling structures and systems. ‘Alt-Ac’, for instance, is largely coda for a discussion of tenure, job security and the internal allocation of institutional resources. Stephen Ramsey’s comment that most DH funding (in the US) comes from private endownments should clue us to the different, if equally controlling and contingent character of the North American discussion (very differently politicised in dialogue with an audience of private funders). And the central role of the NEH’s office of Digital Humanities in playing ring master in a wider circus of funding is also noteworthy.

    I very much recommend Andrew Prescott’s recent blog post, Small World and Big Tents: http://digitalriffs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/small-worlds-and-big-tents.html

  10. When I wrote the above article, the sense in which I was suggesting the digital humanities did not exist was as follows: no matter what one wants to do as an academic, one’s destiny appears to be managerial work. As Tim has pointed out, this reflects my experience as a scholar doing digital and non-digital research and teaching in the British university system. But as I have followed the last fortnight’s various debates among North American academics, it’s become clear to me that there’s another sense in which the digital humanities could be said to be nonexistent: i.e. that beneath what Brian terms the ‘Pentecostal unity’ of the term ‘digital humanities’, there is a collection of academic communities some of which may have nothing more in common than an (often ambivalent) attachment to the digital humanities brand. This is an implication of the distinction Stephen (I’ll still call him by his first name, as he was ‘here’ not so long ago) has made between ‘DH I’ and ‘DH II’.

    The obvious place to go from there would perhaps be a ‘who’s in / who’s out’ argument (or at least, it would be if anyone participating in the conversation taking place on this page considered him- or herself to be a digital humanist; Tim has said that he’s ‘happy to abandon the phrase’, leaving only Stephen, who appears to have dropped out). I think, however, that there is a more pertinent question to be asked: what do particular groups stand to gain or lose from identification with the digital humanities? And this may turn out to have nothing to do with whether they use digital tools, study or create digital objects, etc. I’m not sure whether anyone has yet pointed out that the first group Stephen identifies with DH II, i.e. ‘media studies practitioners’, is the same group that Michael Kramer identifies in his response as one of the most frequent sources of critique and backlash against DH II. And both identifications are factually correct: some people in media studies would like to be considered digital humanists; others really, really wouldn’t.

    Moreover, if I read Stephen’s argument correctly, he is suggesting that, for the academic community of which he is a member, the ‘digital humanities’ label has become something of a liability (‘it’s hard for those of us who have been “doing dh” (I) for a long time to hear our field being declared the downfall of the humanities as we know it’). But as Brian points out above, one can’t have it both ways: the success of the digital humanities brand relies on its no longer being a community label, so one can’t credibly profit from that success at the same time as distancing oneself from its negative aspects on the grounds that one is a member of what used to be the ‘digital humanities community’.

    What, then, is really gained from calling oneself a digital humanist? Beats me, to be honest. But perhaps that’s because I don’t work in a North American institution, have never been to an MLA convention, etc. The importance of this institutional context is quite usefully teased out in Andrew Prescott’s post, which Tim links to above. A place has been won at the high table of the MLA for something called ‘digital humanities’, Prof. Prescott suggests, and now all the dispossessed of the MLA would like to share it. So we’re back to institutional politics, and perhaps there’s no more to it than that. If Tim is correct (as I think he is) in writing that ‘ “Alt-Ac”… is largely cod[e] for a discussion of tenure, job security and the internal allocation of institutional resources [in a North American context]’, then perhaps ‘Digital Humanities’ is largely code for a discussion of certain similarly charged institutional issues within the same context (I won’t presume to list them; as I said, I’ve never worked at a North American institution).

    Except that there is a little more to it than that, because Prof. Prescott suggests that a sort of academic imperialism is at play:

    I would suggest that the problem is not the distinction between DH Type 1 and DH Type 2, but rather the way in which the formal structures of DH have become so strongly Anglophone and in particular the way in which they have become hooked up with a view that seems to equate the academy with the small world of American subject associations such as MLA. This myopic approach appears to be shared by Ramsay when he seems to suggest that DH Type 1 had largely a literary approach, and suggests that digital history and digital archaeology (both key components of DH in Europe) had a more distant relationship from DH Type 1. My worry is that this MLA annexation of DH appears to proceeding apace, and again distinguishing between the different strains of DH doesn’t seem to help – they all seem to carry the lethal MLA bacillus. Tim Hitchcock in a recent Twitter exchange commented that ‘DH is a bit up itself, a bit self-absorbed, a bit over concerned to claim its place, rather than make a difference’. This anxiety that DH should claim a place is driven strongly by the internal debates in North American bodies like MLA.

    (http://digitalriffs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/small-worlds-and-big-tents.html)

    I’m still puzzled, though, because Prof. Prescott’s category ‘DH in Europe’ appears to be retrospectively constructed. Isn’t he guilty of a little posthumous annexation, for example, when he writes that ‘DH began in Italy (if we see Roberto Busa as its founding father)’? Father Busa was at work for decades before apparently very parochial debates within the MLA established ‘digital humanities’ as the internationally correct term for the kind of work he pioneered. And I hardly need point out that Prof. Prescott’s own work in that general tradition also predates the term that now forms his title. What’s really going on? Are European digital humanities in the process of being annexed, as Prof. Prescott argues, or did European humanities computing first annex itself in the digital humanities’ name?

    Does it even matter? When all’s said and done, I am (like Tim, I think) more concerned by the state of higher educational institutions themselves, by labour relations within them, and by the compromises they force on anyone who wants to do a little teaching and research. It was the parts of my article that most directly expressed these concerns that first came to be broadcast on Twitter (by Brian, as it happens, and subsequently by Travis Brown) – for all that this was lost in some of the exchanges that ensued.

  11. Why must digital humanities not exist in order for managerial humanities to exist? It is not either/or. Digital humanities might be ripe for managerialization — they might make easier for administrators to assimilate the humanities to the managerial framework — but the idea that massive digital databases were making it possible to ask and answer questions about the humanities that were not practicable, or even possible, before was not a product of the managerial university. For people who only became aware around the year 2000 that their computer could be used for something beside word processing and e-mail, digital humanities may seem like a surprise, but lots of people with more computer savvy were working on ideas like this in the decade before (and even the decades before). I fear that you have confused a correlation with something like a cause.

    1. Hi and thanks for your comment. Sorry for taking a little while to approve it, but I’ve been very busy and it was buried under a mountain of spam.

      I’m not sure where you disagree with me, because the points you rebut are not to be found in my article. For example, I acknowledge the existence of ‘people… working on ideas like this in the decade before [the year 2000]‘ in the first paragraph with my reference to ‘humanities computing’, which was one of the principal terms used to describe this kind of work before 2001. And there is no causal relationship proposed in my article, so I don’t know what you’re arguing against when you express the ‘fear that [I] have confused a correlation with something like a cause.’ You might be arguing that digital humanities did not cause the managerialisation of the contemporary humanities: well, I would agree with you there. Or you might be arguing that the managerialisation of the contemporary humanities did not cause the digital humanities. But I would agree with that too. What I wrote is that ‘The underlying problem… is… the creeping abandonment of ‘autonomy’ (in the sense used by Bourdieu, 1993 [1987]) in the academic field through tacit acceptance of the principle – shared by university administrators, government ministers, and hiring committees alike – that knowledge can and should be valued primarily for its moneymaking potential.’ Similarly, your question ‘Why must digital humanities not exist in order for managerial humanities to exist?’ is addressed to an assertion that I did not make. My point was that ‘[t]his is the age of the managerial humanities’, i.e. that all humanities are being managerialised.

      When you suggest that digital humanities ‘might make [it] easier for administrators to assimilate the humanities to the managerial framework’, what you express is quite close to the spirit of my original argument, so again I’m not sure that we are in disagreement. But here, it’s important to distinguish – as my article does, with references to ‘humanities computing’ and ‘computer-based humanities research projects’ – between the use of computer technology to research areas traditionally studied by humanists and ‘the digital humanities’. University administrators like the latter because it has become associated with high-profile, externally-funded megaprojects. When they try to push academics towards the digital humanities, it isn’t because they want them to learn Python and start hacking, it’s because they want them to start managing large, grant-funded projects.

      Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with grant-supported research. The problem is with the culture that values research for the size of the grant that supports it. When I presented the original version of this article at the symposium mentioned above, a member of the audience complained of the way that department meetings at his institution now regularly featured announcements of grant capture (invariably mentioning the precise sum) but no longer provided an opportunity to talk about publications. Perhaps in an ideal world, we wouldn’t focus on publications either (I’ll leave aside such questions for now!), but the point was clear, i.e. his regret at a slide towards a situation in which, as Willard McCarty recently put it, ‘[w]e speak, alas, so often like managers attempting to justify our sales strategy by the number of units sold’ (Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 41, 20 May 2013).

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