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Critical Digital Humanities Bibliography

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Home > Bibliography > Bibliography: Neoliberal Tools (and Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities

"Advocates position Digital Humanities as a corrective to the “traditional” and outmoded approaches to literary study that supposedly plague English departments. Like much of the rhetoric surrounding Silicon Valley today, this discourse sees technological innovation as an end in itself and equates the development of disruptive business models with political progress. Yet despite the aggressive promotion of Digital Humanities as a radical insurgency, its institutional success has for the most part involved the displacement of politically progressive humanities scholarship and activism in favor of the manufacture of digital tools and archives. Advocates characterize the development of such tools as revolutionary and claim that other literary scholars fail to see their political import due to fear or ignorance of technology. But the unparalleled level of material support that Digital Humanities has received suggests that its most significant contribution to academic politics may lie in its (perhaps unintentional) facilitation of the neoliberal takeover of the university."

"Thus, Digital Humanities was born from disdain and at times outright contempt, not just for humanities scholarship, but for the standards, procedures, and claims of leading literary scholars. Those scholars had told the Humanities Computing specialists, even if only implicitly, that their work didn’t count as scholarship. Now, it was time to prove them wrong. The goal was not merely to show what technical expertise could bring to humanities research. Rather, it was to redefine what had been formerly classified as <i>support functions for the humanities as the very model of good humanities scholarship</i>. "

"It is indicative of the Digital Humanities movement’s general disdain for scholarship as it had hitherto been defined that arguments making as little sense as Dalvean’s can appear in leading Digital Humanities journals, with the result that much of the more interesting side of Digital Humanities research has a tendency to resemble a slapdash form of computational linguistics adorned with theoretical claims that would never pass muster within computational linguistics itself."

"We have presented these tendencies as signs that the Digital Humanities as social and institutional movement is a reactionary force in literary studies, pushing the discipline toward post-interpretative, non-suspicious, technocratic, conservative, managerial, lab-based practice."

"What it stands in opposition to, rather, is <i>the insistence that academic work should be critical</i>, and that there is, after all, no work and no way to be in the world that is not political."

"In the academy and outside of it, the privileging of technical expertise above other forms of knowledge is a political gesture, and one that has proved highly effective in neutralizing critique of established power relations. We offer our analysis of the Digital Humanities social movement as a way of resisting that gesture and as an inducement to other scholars to do the same."

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