Humanities 2.1: A Follow Up to A Millennial’s Response to the Digital Humanities

Michael Lobocki

October 11th, 2013

ENG 240 – 36394


Humanities 2.1

            In week six’s response paper, I was a cheerleader for the possibilities and potential that the Digital Humanities offers to both the classroom and personal scholarly pursuits. In week seven, that stance has not changed. I still believe that the boom of technological advancements born from the ashes of the “dot com bust” carries the possibility of a true explosion of literary competence and community. However, through this week’s reading, I was presented with various complaints of DH and how/why they are yet to be utilized to their fullest potential.

I’ll begin by saying that as a daily suburban commuter via the Metra train system, I have the opportunity to rub elbows with every walk of life for upwards of three hours per day. Recently, I took note of the fact that roughly approximated, 70 percent of the time I see parents escorting their children to the city for a day at Brookfield Zoo or the Art Museum, they get situated in their seats and then throw a LeapFrog learning pad in the child’s lap and tell them to practice their spelling. The LeapFrog learning pad is a children’s version of the iPad, pre-loaded with numerous apps that are designed to make learning fun and colorful to the child using it. Just recently, I began considering the long term effects of the LeapFrog army. By 2025 at the latest, a sleeper cell that has been reinforced in their minds each time they spell “Pineapple” in the Spongebob Squarepants spelling mini-game will emerge. The young adults will instinctively take to the streets and begin their march on the Capital, monochromatically spelling the slogan of the Party, “R-I-B-B-I-T. RIBBIT. R-I-B-B-…” until they acquire what is rightfully theirs; total and complete control.

The ridiculousness of this story[1] is exactly what I’ve felt while I’ve read through a number of the complaints of the Digital Humanities. A majority of the issues raised used slippery slope fallacies not quite as extreme as this one, but a fallacy nonetheless. Certain complaints of search engine dependence have been made intelligently and backed up with facts and figures, but I’ve also heard a lot of blanket statements about society as a whole, suggesting things along the lines of ‘Google will completely eliminate the practice of rational thought and secondary research.’

Not unlike Major League Baseball, America’s oldest pastime, there are a number of diehard fans in the field that feel that the DH is ruining the game. In terms of baseball, DH stands for “Designated Hitter”, or the player on American League teams whose job is expressly just to bat for the pitcher. The rule was introduced in 1973 to the American League teams. National League teams are “old fashioned” in the sense that their pitchers still bat. The DH is often a power hitter that is a breathing testament to just how many steroids a man can take before his body will give up its skeletal structure and morph into a singular bicep. Arguments can be paralleled between the two fields of discussion, because protesters of the DH rule in baseball argue that it makes the game too easy. It dilutes the strategy of putting (historically speaking) the worst batter on the team on the plate and having them use tricky bunts or sacrifice fly balls to advance the team towards success. This is similar—and in some cases identical—to the argument that technological advancements reduce the effort and time spent on a research-driven piece of work.

In David Greetham’s piece, The Resistance to Digital Humanities, unsettling figures were brought up regarding the use of digital technology to produce monographs as a means of acquiring tenure in doctorate-granting institutions. “40.8% of departments [“ “] report no experience in evaluating refereed articles in electronic format, and 65.7% report no experience in evaluating monographs in electronic format.” In most cases, as it seems, the evaluators prefer to receive monographs in print edition. This is troubling because it stifles the evolution of using digital resources to the fullest of their potential. It makes doctorate-seeking students shy away from the use of electronic formats in fear of spending a great deal of time and effort on something in which the evaluators refuse to see. “When that medium is digital, substance is no longer visible to those who will not see it.” Greetham also cited a suggestion to combat these prejudices by “persuading [tenured and senior scholars] to publish something in a digital form. By taking that step it makes it more respectable for junior people to do.” I think this is a great shift in the right direction, and I hope that the idea is put into practice sooner rather than later.

In Cathy Davidson’s paper, Humanities 2.0: Promise, Perils, Predictions, she writes about Web 1.0 (pre “dot com bust” in 2001) and Web 2.0 (“dot com bust” to present). It seems to me that a number of the complaints of the Digital Humanities are being made from the Web 1.0 mindset. The Internet and its technological advancements, while far from perfected, have made significant strides that seem to be rapidly launching forward at an exponential rate each year. Web 2.0 offers new technology and archiving programming that were sleepless daydreams of the computer programmers of the 1990’s. While these technologies are materializing and beginning to show us their potential, I find it shocking that there are protestors who are acting like the term “Online Archive” affects them the same way that a cat is affected by someone shaking a soup can full of nickels at them when they simply won’t get down from the fridge.

We joked in class about the sudden burst of cons that Davidson sprung on us at the end of her paper. While it is important to be aware of the fact that Google has slowly monetized the mouse clicks of the masses, I feel that it is also important to know that as long as capitalism is prevalent, it will be silently encouraged that companies draw a profit from innovations, both tangible and digital. Amazon’s suggested sell bot is similar in his/her pushiness, as anybody who has bought Uncle Buck on DVD—and subsequently spent the next seventeen months saying “Not Interested” to Planes, Tranes, and Automobiles—can tell you. Certain privacy movements are making strides each day, but unfortunately those strides have either been lateral or met with an immediate equal backpedal whenever they gain forward momentum.

Davidson says it best with a great analogy of the DH: “Humanities 2.0 thus needs a software update, Humanities 2.1, a reminder that there are always glitches and bugs and viruses in transitional eras.” This update is desperately needed, but will surely be met with an ever-continuing opposition, but opposition is good. It creates dynamism to a society. Contempt breeds innovation and those who are already utilizing the presently existing innovations will bask in the usefulness of the new ones. Beta testing for Humanities 2.1 is starting soon whether you welcome it or not, and it would be a shame if the programmers could not rely on us for our suggestions and input for something that benefits everyone.

[1] While I find their political views shortsighted and their use of simultaneous riot spelling as a means to rise to political power naïve and uncompromising, I will enthusiastically follow any and all commandments assigned to me by the webbed hands of our new lilypad overlords.
“Kermit be with you.”
“And also with you.”


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About johnacaseyjr

A PhD graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. My research focuses on how the experiences of veterans shaped American culture in the Gilded Age. Currently I am a Lecturer and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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