On Digital Humanities and community

A funny thing about Digital Humanities is that whenever two or more DH people (I know the accepted phrasing is Digital Humanist but like, lol no) get together, they have to agree on what DH means for them. Quite often it’s a strategic term, deployed more to establish an in-group and an out-group, than a real marker of a community of practice.

Although, that’s an interesting digression: understanding DH as a Wengerian Community of Practice, with peripheral identities and marginal identities and trajectories of participation. But as interesting as that path is to follow, I think I’ll wait a bit to pursue it.

Returning to the main topic of discussion: “DH.” The construction of DH as a discipline is quite strange to me, because of this phenomenon. I talked about fields and disciplines earlier on this blog, but I’d argue that DH isn’t really a field either. If disciplines are identified by shared methods and fields identified by shared objects of study, DH is identified by…a social network. There is a set of people who use the term in describing what they do, and this set of people meets in a variety of venues. DH is a particularly patchwork network, moreover, so these venues don’t necessarily overlap. I’ve been to a few DH conferences/events/thingamajigs in my time, and while there are certain people I’ve seen repeatedly, the vast majority travel in their little packs that don’t necessarily overlap with my pack (which for two years was the Boston-area DH group, based out of my home lab).

In sixth grade there was a system for class changes: the administration assigned each student to a “pod” of 4-6 people with an identical schedule. At this stage in my education history, there wasn’t anything too complex so scheduling this was not a problem. It helped us get used to our schedules, and also helped us feel a sense of stability when, for the first time, we were moving rooms every class period.

The DH community is kind of like this: there are pods based around projects and places, and these pods move through the currents of the community.

I’ve had the fortune, or the misfortune, to leap away from my pod and find myself in a new place with new projects and people. So, going to the first gathering of the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium was an enlightening experience. I’ll write more about that another day (no promises), but suffice it to say I met people and learned about projects, and I’m looking forward to see where this pod is going.

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