The Cultural Life of the Digital Humanities Scholar

hitting the refresh button: why digital humanities is about more than just digital humanities.


It’s an idea that many have broached, but it’s worth repeating: in academia, the digital humanities is about more than just the digital humanities; it is also about reimagining the culture of scholarly inquiry in the humanities.

DH does many things, but one of its best qualities is that it transforms old boundaries, tones, styles, sensibilities. It does so between disciplines, between the qualitative and the quantitative, between archives, texts, research, communication, and publishing, between individual and cooperative traditions of scholarly production, between the ivory tower, the laboratory, public scholarship, and civic engagement, and more.

It does so at the level of analysis, but it also does so at the level of culture. What other academic field, after all, has embraced the whole notion of the unconference? Which one mingles personal and professional concerns in quite the way DH twitter feeds do? Which field raises the most important questions about outmoded tenure requirements? Which one seeks to pursue extraordinarily complex and advanced research while also thinking about the larger implications for humanistic study in the contemporary world? Blogs, social media, algorithms, code as text, text as code…the dizzying possibilities and unknown future of the digital humanities demands looser, funnier, more communicative modes of analysis and interaction.

These are no less rigorous than the old styles. In fact, they demand more rigor. The desire among so many digital humanists to invent new ways of being an academic, a scholar, an intellectual, a citizen, a person involves a robust and vigorous effort to see through what’s not working anymore, what should be retained, and what needs to be adjusted. In this way, the digital humanities hits the refresh button on academic practices that need to be reloaded.

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