Reading Time: 3 minutes

“While proliferating definitions can be a good offset to gate-keeping, they can also lead to a sense of whiplash for those interested in entering the field.”

“The Push and Pull of Digital Humanities: Topic Modeling the ‘What is digital humanities?’ genre

I have always liked that there are no definitions of, or rather, a million definitions of DH. I remember my first time even encountering language over DH. I was signing up for my first semester of graduate courses at Auburn and decided to take “Public Digital Humanities.’ I told someone about the class, as I was worried it would fill before I could get my registration issues fixed (I tend to have those almost every semester). The person told me it probably wouldn’t fill given the topic. They then asked me what public digital humanities even was; I really had no answer or even knowledge. I just thought it sounded cool. And I definitely didn’t know when I got the survey before class started asking about what we knew/what we wanted to learn. I still feel sometimes like I don’t know, though I always can come up with a definition. 

A fortuitous class, of course, that I decided to take because it sounded cool. The class, with the qualifier ‘public’, centered around open-access and democratization in the academy. I easily credit my sort-of idealistic and maybe down-with-the-system view of public and digital history. That, plus my own experiences, also means I have to get my head out of the clouds and think of issues in DH. They’re there, sadly. 

Those of us who work with issues of difference often perceive the ways that many digital humanities projects fail to engage with race, gender, disability, class, sexuality, or a combination thereof.”

Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities”

When confronted with articles discussing ‘the past, present, and the future of DH’ and a slack discussion stemming off of that, my first thought revolved around methods of storytelling, data visualization, computational and technological tools used. But, what if instead of all of that, we worried about the people? After all, people are the ones doing DH, and as Lincoln Mullen of CHNM always tells us, the center worries about people first.

Nuance, of course, stems from that statement above from Lincoln. Issues over representation and intersectionality preside over DH, even in a DH center that’s motto revolved around their people. I, as I believe I had said before and will assuredly say again, need to consider and realize the issues regarding gatekeeping and representation. systemic issues, which is centered well in “The Push and Pull of Digital Humanities: Topic Modeling the ‘What is digital humanities?’ genre” article. I always think of DH (like how I love to think of public history) as being an agent of democratization. It can be, I do believe, but it’s not inevitable. Just like other issues in humanities and academia. 

CHNM has recently been doing Strategic Planning for its future, and an issue brought up by multiple people in the meeting, centered around this issue of representation. The ‘presumptive white maleness of digital humanities” (Risam), though maybe you can throw white women in there, (or at least I am, due to myself), calls for scholars to, instead of gatekeep, glance to the periphery and call for more intersectionality and inclusion. Anything else, including a ‘“call for papers for the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities and Association for Computers and the Humanities joint conference encourages proposals from “women, people of color, LGBTQ, or other under-represented groups,” can be well-intentioned but do little with no further steps (Risam).

I am very fortunate, I believe, in my efforts in DH. The DHQ Article “Student Labour and Training in Digital Humanities” discussed systemic issues in DH centered around student labor. Instead of ‘utopian elements’ posited by those higher in hierarchies (yes, hierarchies) with a discussion of collaboration, grants for funding, open-access to work and training, all that, students have a different experience than faculty. A lack of access to funds, training, or an ability to spend time on their own work or to truly collaborate hinders student efforts in the overall projects and their publication, etc. Being a DH fellow at CHNM, I have access to training, collaboration, and am paid a stipend for my work. That is unique for a lot of reasons, and maybe lucky. 

I wrote in our Slack discussion, in response to others’ thoughts on the Risam article (and me on the “The Push and Pull of DH” article) that I not only agree with Risam that DH should provide opportunities for intersectionality, but that it has to do so to continue to flourish. I wonder sometimes if it is my idealistic youth that paints these improvements as needed, or inevitable, or definitely happening. It may be, but that still means we can do it collaboratively. 

Sources Used:

Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn, “Introduction,” in Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities (Springer, 2016), 1-19.

Elizabeth Callaway, et al, “The Push and Pull of Digital Humanities: Topic Modeling the ‘What is digital humanities?’ Genre,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 14, no 1 (2020)

Roopika Risam, “Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities,DHQ 9.2 (2015).


Katrina Anderson, et al. “Student Labour and Training in Digital Humanities,” DHQ 10.1 (2016).

2 thoughts on “December 6: Module 10 – Lots and Lots of Final Thoughts

  1. The optimism I felt from your post was very refreshing! The readings this week did give me plenty to be hopeful and happy for, but I think your view of the issues that intersected all of them came out to be the most meaningful: How DH can be an agent of/for democratization. It has so many ways to give voice to those otherwise ignored by history. DH can help its adherents carve out a historical space within which marginalized groups can identify and build something great for themselves. I do think that as long as DH has advocates like you, that kind of future is inevitable.

  2. I agree with your comments concerning DH, especially about improving the activities of DH concerning student collaboration. I would like to add that the problems mentioned about DH are not limited to DH but are a result of the hierarchical structure in many universities, and in our current society. I suggest that if we looked at other university disciplines, we might find similar problems with white male superiority over projects, etc. However, I do think that DH offers more chances for collaboration among students, and members of the under-represented population. Also, it is evident from the books and readings that were assigned for this class, that more minority representatives are contributing to discussions for improving this collaboration in DH.

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