My response to Fred Gibb’s ‘Critical Discourse in digital humanities’

For those of you who have yet to read Gibbs’ essay, he asks about the lack of critical discourse in digital humanities to which he gets no reply. What Gibbs speaks of is the need for criticism from many sectors of humanities in different projects and I am on board with many of his ideas on this.

His thoughts are split into three sections. They are;

  • Moving towards a critical discourse
  • Value of digital humanities discourse
  • New kinds of peer review/criticism

Firstly, when Gibbs talks of moving towards a critical discourse, he explains how we need new means of evaluating digital humanities projects, which is easy to agree with as ‘digital humanities’ is a relatively new community. This lack of criteria for evaluation makes it difficult for us to be evaluated but I believe it may also make it difficult for us to collaborate. If we were to join with the traditional humanities for projects would we be a let-down due to our lack of criteria? I believe this could be the case to a certain extent.

When talking about the lack of discourse, I agree that this may be due to digital humanists being too encouraging through peer reviews. Maybe we are too welcoming to all and this leads to our lack of critical discourse. Perhaps our craving for expansion shadows the fact that we need criteria for criticism.

I feel that digital humanists need to distance our work from traditional humanists as we are categorized the same but our works are very different in several aspects. This fault is outlined brilliantly by Gibbs when he says:

We can’t be unhappy that traditional-bound humanists don’t appreciate the value of our work when we haven’t outlined how it’s different.

For the work of the digital humanities to strive and grow we need to show we are different and special and we need critical discourse to do this.

When Gibbs goes on to speak of the value of criticism in Digital humanities he poses the question of ‘Is there any need?’ My answer is there absolutely is a need. Discourse in the digital humanities works as a sort of collaboration. This criticism can be constructive for our work as it can question flaws and also highlight missed opportunities. New eyes on certain projects may lead to fresh ideas and perspectives which may prove helpful.

For our DH work to be deemed acceptable there needs to be boundaries put into place that are more than the ‘lines in the sand’ they are now. These blurred lines are, in my opinion, a big fault in our community perhaps due to our newness. We are still missing the set criteria needed for evaluating digital work as we have for evaluating printed work.  Steps have begun to be taken to create these criteria but have yet to be fully defined.

Finally, Gibbs writes about new kinds of peer review. I agree that we need new kinds of reviews and criticism but that doesn’t mean we should be ignored for scholarly reviews. I see this as a huge injustice to our work. Although it is obvious that we should not be subject to formal reviews, we should find a way to allow scholars to review our works fairly. We need a range of reviews that will give us useful criticism. What we need according to Fred Gibbs is;

  • More people to collaborate. This will provide discourse on DH projects and also work as a way to broaden our spectrum.
  • More efforts to publish critiques from this broader range.

One way Gibbs plans to combat this lack of critique is through the classroom. He believes if we were to teach critical methods across courses of DH, then this will lead to critical discourse helping DH. I would have to disagree slightly here as although we do need these methods to be taught in classrooms they also have to be set up into guidelines and given to existing critics both inside and outside of the digital humanities. We need a broad range of critics from across the spectrum to help our projects reach their full potential.

(1) Critical Discourse in DH


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