I want to try a quick experiment.
The digital humanities community must …
If that sounds like a plausible beginning to a sentence, what about this one?
The literary studies community must …
Does that sound as odd to you as it does to me? No one perceives literary studies as a community. The discipline becomes visible to itself mainly at the spectacular, but famously alienating, yearly ritual of the MLA. A hotel that contains disputatious full professors and brilliant underemployed jobseekers may be many interesting things, but “community” is not the first word that would occur to anyone.
“Digital humanities,” on the other hand, frequently refers to itself as a “community.” The reasons may stretch back into the 90s, and to the early beleaguered history of humanities computing. But the contemporary logic of the term is probably captured by Matt Kirschenbaum’s essay “Digital Humanities As/Is a Tactical Term,” where he stresses that the intellectually disparate projects now characterized as DH are unified above all by reliance on social media, especially Twitter.
In many ways that’s a wonderful thing. Twitter is not a perfectly open form, and it’s certainly not an egalitarian one; it has a one-to-many logic. But you don’t have to be a digital utopian to recognize that academic fields benefit from frequent informal contact among their members — what Dan Cohen has described as “the sidewalk life of successful communities.” Twitter is especially useful for establishing networks that cross disciplinary (and professional) boundaries; I’ve learned an amazing amount from those networks.
Read full post here. (Originally posted September 11, 2013)