The Digital Trojan Horse: Is DH Being Co-opted?

If it is true that digital humanities has become, in the past few years, the new “Big Thing,” it is also true that one of the reasons that this is so is a new-found enthusiasm for technology on the part of postsecondary institutions and grant funding agencies. This has in some ways been a very good thing, for it has helped spur new projects and new centres for innovative explorations of the humanities through the digital. At the same time, however, we need to ask what costs we may be incurring by a sometimes unquestioning acceptance of such “assistance.” Are the goals of those now throwing money at DH reconcilable with those of digital humanists themselves? To what degree are we potentially selling our souls in buying into the kind of corporate reasoning that sees the digital as a vehicle for corporatization and cost-cutting?

The digital humanities is hardly apolitical, and yet the field does sometimes seem oblivious to the full implications, not of what we “do,” but of how what we “do” is read and employed by administrators and funders. As Alan Liu observed in an address to MLA 2011, “How the digital humanities advance, channel, or resist the great postindustrial, neoliberal, corporatist, and globalist flows of information-cum-capital, for instance, is a question rarely heard in the digital humanities associations, conferences, journals, and projects with which I am familiar.” There is, for instance, no session category on this site that very adequately describes this kind of overtly “political” discussion of DH and cultural criticism.

Has this situation changed since Liu delivered his remarks? Or does the sudden explosion of interest in technologies such as MOOCs represent merely the most recent co-opting of the methodologies, interests, and language of the digital humanities to an agenda that is, ultimately, anti-humanist and anti-DH?

This session will seek to explore both the ways in which the “digital turn” is read — and exploited by — the neoliberal wave of educational “reformers,” as well as to examine some of the fruitful approaches that digital humanities can take to broaden its own cultural and theoretical perspective, and combat these kinds of ultimately destructive readings.

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About Mark McDayter

I was trained as a Restoration and 18th century English literature specialist. I teach in this field and the digital humanities at Western University. I have been working with text markup and digital editing since 2002, and have produced (and am producing) a number of online resources, as well as blogging and tweeting about the field. My interests in DH very much overlap with my interest in the history of the book, and textual criticism. I think Žižek is overrated as a theorist and philosopher, but makes a very cool popstar.