Why Definitions Matter

Light sign that says "This is who I am"
Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf

Type A

In her article, “The Humanities, Done Digitally,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick tries to help readers understand the current discussions in the field of digital humanities. Just what are the digital humanities and who counts as a digital h? She says that the tension is clear “particularly between those who suggest that digital humanities should always be about making [like Stephen Ramsay]…and those who argue that it must expand to include interpreting.” This debate is really about the difference between theory and practice and how we should incorporate the two, “recognizing that the boundaries between the critical and the creative are arbitrary.”

After reading the articles by Stephen Ramsey and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, there’s a part of me that wonders why knowing who’s a digital humanist and who’s not is so important? Why is it so important to know what the digital humanities is? Fitzpatrick also seems to recognize the importance of this question. In her opinion, “these debates can be most productive if we understand them as a means of opening ourselves to the kinds of conversations that true interdisciplinarity can support.”

As I was thinking about why we should care about what the digital humanities is, and what it isn’t, I came up with the following. Digital humanists care about who specifically is a digital humanist and what counts as digital humanities because it is a part of their identity. Our identities impact everything we do. When people identify as a digital humanist, they are making themselves a part of a group of digital humanists. Maybe that’s why it’s such a difficult decision to define the digital humanities. If you define it, then invariably, someone who wants to be a part of the group is out. You have created an ingroup and an outgroup. Maybe the ingroup and outgroup of digital humanists aren’t going to start clashing in the streets because of perceived offenses, but someone is going to get digital humanities funding or invitations to digital humanities conferences, and someone else is not. That’s why who is and isn’t a digital humanist matters.

ChatGPT prompt: Write a 250-word blog post about Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s article “The Humanities, Done Digitally” and why defining the field of digital humanities matters.

“In a rapidly evolving digital age, where technology continuously reshapes the way we create, access, and interact with information, the field of Digital Humanities (DH) has emerged as a beacon of intellectual exploration. Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s insightful article, “The Humanities, Done Digitally,” underscores the importance of defining and understanding DH in today’s academic landscape.

Fitzpatrick argues that DH is not merely a tool for traditional humanities disciplines but a transformative force reshaping the entire field. It bridges the gap between the humanities and technology, offering new avenues for research, teaching, and scholarly communication. The core of DH is the critical examination of how digital tools and methods can enhance humanistic inquiries, encouraging scholars to explore previously unattainable research questions and engage with a broader audience.

Defining DH matters because it clarifies its objectives, methodologies, and impact. It establishes a foundation for rigorous scholarship, fostering collaboration between diverse disciplines, including history, literature, linguistics, and computer science. It guides the development of digital projects that preserve cultural heritage, democratize access to knowledge, and encourage innovative pedagogical practices.

Furthermore, defining DH helps secure institutional support and funding for projects that drive intellectual advancement and cultural preservation. As society becomes increasingly reliant on digital technology, DH serves as a bridge between the past and the future, ensuring that our cultural heritage remains accessible and relevant.

In conclusion, Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s article underscores the crucial role of defining the field of Digital Humanities. It allows scholars to harness the power of technology to expand the horizons of the humanities, enriching our understanding of human culture and history in the digital age. By establishing a clear framework for DH, we pave the way for continued innovation, collaboration, and the preservation of our collective intellectual heritage.”

3 responses to “Why Definitions Matter”

  1. Brian Croxall Avatar

    I appreciate you raising the question of why we keep reading pieces that define digital humanities, Elizabeth. That’s definitely something that we will discuss in class today. As you intuit in your post, it’s partly related to in-group and out-group sorting, which is something that Ramsay addresses as well.

  2. Maria Durrans Avatar

    I love hearing your thoughts on why these people might feel an importance in labeling and defining this type of career and study. Labels and identity matter to a lot of people in their own personal ways. Great thoughts!

  3. Traci Bullock Avatar
    Traci Bullock

    I like your point of how important identity is and being a digital humanist is an identity like any other. I forget sometimes that the degrees we get or the fields we study or work in are as important to our identity like our name or where we grew up.

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