Digital Humanities at MLA?

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I thought readers of this blog would be interested in Stanley’s Fish’s recent piece about DH as the next big thing at MLA, but be sure to read Ted Underwood’s response, as well.

Underwood’s post usefully reframes and redirects Fish’s narrative about DH “saving” literary studies, but Underwood patiently explains why DH is not, and should not be, interested in engaging in the kinds of generational/methodological combat that Fish is endorsing:

In literary studies, change has almost always taken place through a normative claim about the proper boundaries of the discipline. Always historicize! Or on second thought no, don’t historicize, but instead revive literary culture by returning to our core competence of close reading!

But in my experience digital humanists are really not interested in regulating disciplinary boundaries — except insofar as they want a seat at the table.

As Laura Rosenthal observed on the Long 18th, Fish insists upon reading DH and its ambitions as an Oedipal narrative about succession and its anxieties.  Underwood, correctly in my view, advocates instead for a more pluralist view of literary studies that could encompass a variety of theoretical and critical projects, including DH.

But I agree with Underwood that these kinds of battles over competing normative claims seem unsuited to DH, and misconceive its relation to literary studies as it is conventionally understood and practiced.  It does not aim to displace literary studies or interpretation, largely because it represents an ensemble of practices too amorphous to be strictly defined, anyway.  Nonetheless, it offers, as Underwood concludes, less a coherent theoretical or polemical project, as much as “the name of an opportunity.”

Technological change has made some of the embodiments of humanistic work — media, archives, institutions, perhaps curricula — a lot more plastic than they used to be. That could turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s neither of those just yet: the meaning of the opportunity is going to depend on what we make of it.

DM

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2 Responses to “Digital Humanities at MLA?”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Dave, for this valuable post. One noteworthy opposition revealed in the dialogue between Fish and Underwood is that between competition and collaboration.

    Fish posits a competitive view of change; Underwood sees opportunities for a more collaborative dynamic. Is either pole an accurate reflection of professional reality? Is the profession subject to pressures that involve both competition (for resources, if not for turf or trend) and collaboration?

    Readers will want to follow the parallel discussions to which Dave refer on both Long18th and The Stone and Shell.

  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Some of the digital panels at MLA are listed below. It would be great to hear more about
    these panels from participants or spectators.

    1. Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates
    Thursday, 5 January, 8:30–11:30 a.m., Willow A, Sheraton

    9. Large Digital Libraries: Beyond Google Books

    Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 611, WSCC

    67. Race and Digital Humanities

    Thursday, 5 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 611, WSCC

    87. Digital Literary Studies: When Will It End?

    Thursday, 5 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 304, WSCC

    125. What’s Still Missing? What Now? What Next? Digital Archives in American Literature

    Thursday, 5 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 608, WSCC

    150. Digital Humanities and Internet Research

    Thursday, 5 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., 613, WSCC

    187. Digital Humanities and Hispanism

    Friday, 6 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Grand A, Sheraton

    215. Digital South, Digital Futures

    Friday, 6 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 606, WSCC

    249. Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom

    Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Grand A, Sheraton

    332. Digital Narratives and Gaming for Teaching Language and Literature

    Friday, 6 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Aspen, Sheraton

    349. Digital Pedagogy

    Friday, 6 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., Grand A, Sheraton

    421. Rhetorical Historiography and the Digital Humanities

    Saturday, 7 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 611, WSCC

    425. Composing New Partnerships in the Digital Humanities

    Saturday, 7 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 606, WSCC

    450. Digital Faulkner: William Faulkner and Digital Humanities

    Saturday, 7 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 615, WSCC

    468. Networks, Maps, and Words: Digital-Humanities Approaches to the Archive of American Slavery

    Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 615, WSCC

    479. Digital Humanities in the Italian Context

    Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Cedar, Sheraton

    487. Context versus Convenience: Teaching Contemporary Business Communication through Digital Media

    Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 306, WSCC

    539. #alt-ac: Alternative Paths, Pitfalls, and Jobs in the Digital Humanities

    Saturday, 7 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 3B, WSCC

    581. Digital Humanities versus New Media

    Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 611, WSCC

    636. Not What We Thought: Representations of the Digital Everyday

    Sunday, 8 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 307, WSCC

    665. Debates in the Digital Humanities

    Sunday, 8 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 615, WSCC

    716. Digital Material

    Sunday, 8 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 613, WSCC

    738. Textual Remediation in the Digital Age

    Sunday, 8 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 307, WSCC

    52. Post-Operaismo, Techne, and the Common

    Thursday, 5 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 304, WSCC

    76. Teaching Theory One Generation Later: What Is the Canon in the Introductory Theory Course Now?

    Thursday, 5 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 612, WSCC

    161. The Webs We Weave: Online Pedagogy in Community Colleges

    Thursday, 5 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., 615, WSCC

    202. The Presidential Forum: Language, Literature, Learning

    Friday, 6 January, 10:15 a.m.–12:00 noon, Metropolitan A, Sheraton

    217. Reconfiguring the Scholarly Editor: Textual Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle

    Friday, 6 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 613, WSCC

    259. Representation in the Shadow of New Media Technologies

    Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 304, WSCC

    343. The Cultural Place of Nineteenth-Century Poetry

    Friday, 6 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 611, WSCC

    378. Old Labor and New Media

    Friday, 6 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 608, WSCC

    513. Principles of Exclusion: The Future of the Nineteenth-Century Archive

    Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 611, WSCC

    532. Reading Writing Interfaces: Electronic Literature’s Past and Present

    Saturday, 7 January, 1:45–3:00 p.m., 613, WSCC

    566. Ending the Edition

    Saturday, 7 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 303, WSCC

    603. Innovative Pedagogy and Research in Technical Communication

    Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 615, WSCC

    691. Gertrude Stein and Music

    Sunday, 8 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Cedar, Sheraton

    444. Preservation Is (Not) Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

    Saturday, 7 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 307, WSCC

    69. The Future of Higher Education

    Thursday, 5 January, 3:30–5:15 p.m., Grand C, Sheraton

    231. MoMLA: From Panel to Gallery

    Friday, 6 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Grand A, Sheraton

    276. Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop

    Friday, 6 January, 1:30–3:30 p.m., 3B, WSCC

    315. The New Dissertation: Thinking outside the (Proto-)Book

    Friday, 6 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., 606, WSCC

    410. Reconfiguring the Literary: Narratives, Methods, Theories

    Saturday, 7 January, 8:30–9:45 a.m., 608, WSCC

    490. Reconfiguring the Scholarly Edition

    Saturday, 7 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 611, WSCC

    595. #alt-ac: The Future of “Alternative Academic” Careers

    Saturday, 7 January, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 3B, WSCC

    619. Performing Wagner: A Creative Conversation

    Saturday, 7 January, 7:00–8:15 p.m., Grand D, Sheraton

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