A suggested set of values for the digital humanities

Posted by Sara Morais at Jun 12, 2013 04:55 AM |
In a prior blog entry the CIS has started mapping out the field of digital humanities. Subsequent to these first thoughts follows a review in several parts of an alternative publishing project edited by Matthew K. Gold of New Yorks Technology College. It is presented online as a hybrid print/digital publication stream, enabling viewers and readers to comment and highlight sections as they please. In the introductory passage, Matthew Gold addresses questions burning at the back of the research communities mind: Does digital humanities even need theory? Does it have politics?Is it more accessible than other scholarly fields? Does new media usage trivialize the professionalism of DH research?

In an attempt to answer these questions, which have mostly been discussed on microblogging platforms, making them nearly impossible to follow up on (Spiro: 2012), Lisa Spiro has drafted a first set of values, which could be of use for further discussion. She clearly states that her proposition is supposed to be exactly that, a work in progress, open to changes. At the same time it marks a necessary starting point for organizing arguments and conversations happening around the digital. Spiro suggests a values statement, which is broader than an ethical guideline, so that institutions and researching people can set their own emphasis according to what is important to them. With this, Spiro articulates what for her, and many others in the field, presents itself as one of the important set of values when working with digital humanities: openness, transparency and collaboration, putting aside classical values of academia, like professionalism and scholarly authority through specialization. These traditional values clash with the collaborative crowdsourced approach of the digital humanities field. With Tom Scheinfeldt, Spiro argues, the digital humanities community operates much like a “social network,” nimble and connected: “Digital humanities takes more than tools from the Internet. It works like the Internet. It takes its values from the Internet” (Scheinfeldt 2010). So while in many ways the internet and its hyperlinked, visual approach justify the way digital humanities work, there is little or no way of assuring the professionalism of digital humanities research. Spiro notes the difficulties that might arise in dropping those classical values of academia, as a lot of academic institutions object to the motives of open publishing and also find it difficult to assign credit to individuals when projects are collaborative. In this sense, the field of digital humanities is influencing the very way in which academia works, wiling it, to rearrange itself.

Just like the field itself is a hybrid, its value statement should consider the values of the disciplines it has evolved from. Spiro's value statement suggests a convergence of values including those of humanities, libraries, museums and cultural heritage organizations, as well as networked culture. At the core, all of these fields aspire to spread advanced knowledge, foster innovation and serve the public. Digital humanities therefore should have a claim to those values, while at the same time rejecting essentialism, as “values reveal the ideologies and interests of those who hold them” (Spiro: 2012). Spiro suggests openness, collaboration, diversity and experimentation as the core values, when working in the digital humanities. Openness and collaboration go hand in hand, just as digital humanities go hand in hand with internet methodology. Experimentation makes space for open methodology and leaves room for trial and error. Combined with openness and collaboration, this creates valuable learning opportunities for the whole field of digital humanities. By holding on to a value of diversity, Spiro means to make a note of the fact that, contrary to popular belief, equality has not yet been achieved in many social fields and one should remember that although ones own reality might seem to include everyone equally, others might have different stories to tell.

Remembering that no position has a claim to be objective, digital humanities can certainly go forth to become a inclusive way of spreading knowledge to those, who have up until now been kept from it by diverse gatekeepers. At the same time, “situated knowledge”, as Donna Haraway called the concept of remembering your own ideologies and speaking position (Haraway: 1988), a dialog can take place more easily, without having to claim ones own experiences to be able to speak for all.

Still, one should not assume that the field of digital humanities is a candy-coloured wonderland of anything goes. These values all are criticized in some field or other, which reminds us that the digital humanities have far to go. Creating knowledge in open space does not mean that it is equally accessible to all. So basic community and access work must go hand in hand with steady open source research collaborations.

In summary, Spiro's opening commentary on values in digital humanities will and has surely already been helpful as a reminder, and maybe this is as defined as one should get when it comes to a set of values that is supposed to be applicable to such a large and diverse field. However, all work in digital humanities often faces the problem of justifying their work, once professionalism and expertise is no longer regarded as a proof of worth. So, getting back to the questions at the beginning of this article, yes, digital humanities has politics, just as every research has politics. And it is one of its values and challenges, to make these transparent without failing to prove a point and add to the creation of knowledge, online and off.

 continue reading on the topic: archivial practice in digital humanities


Gold 2012 Mathew K. Gold “The Digital Humanities Moment” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Open Access Edition. Accessed 13 June 2013. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates

Haraway 1988: Donna Haraway “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of

Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn, 1988), pp. 575-599- Accessed 13 June 2013 http://www.staff.amu.edu.pl/~ewa/Haraway,%20Situated%20Knowledges.pdf

Scheinfeldt 2010: Tom Scheinfeldt “Stuff Digital Humanists Like”. Accessed 13 June 2013. http://www.foundhistory.org/2010/12/02/stuff-digital-humanists-like/

Spiro 2012: Lisa Spiro “This Is Why We Fight: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Open Access Edition. Accessed 13 June 2013. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/13