The Digital Humanities as THATCamp

THATCamp SF is going on this weekend, and the self-organizing, hands-on event provided quality both of discussion and participant.  Glen Worthey suggested a session on mapping the Digital Humanities which devolved, due in no small part to my own distractive influence, into a discussion of the nature of the Digital Humanities.  Glen’s desire was to map the structure of the movement, with an eye toward non-standard representations that better reflect the confederate nature of the Digital Humanities.  We didn’t manage to get so far as to create an artistic representation of a Digital Humanities archipelago nation, and only developed two sets of anemic Venn Diagrams that managed to not only not overlap but to only include History and Literature.

The diagrams weren’t as bad as that, of course, they were being used to explore whether or not Digital History lived in History and Digital Literature lived in Literature or whether the Digital Humanities was the big circle with Digital History and Digital Literature coming at the overlapping borders between the Digital Humanities and History or Literature.

For my own part, I demonstrated my in-progress network map of the Digital Humanities at Stanford, which is both incomplete and misleading in its explicitness.  The map is meant to agitate, and has done so admirably, but like any seductive visualization it continues to argue its legitimacy despite my own claims that it is only useful as a tool to highlight the notable problems with mapping participation in the community:  First, self-identification favors the loud, and promotes the work of the very vocal and visible above the work of the quiet but brilliant.  Second, metrics–any metrics–runs the risk of undermining the value of the interpretive agent.

But besides the value of THATCamp to spur such discussions, I think THATCamp is the Digital Humanities in microcosm, with all its benefits and drawbacks.  THATCamp is charisma-driven, with sessions created by the vocal and visible, meandering (I’m guilty of consistently dragging a session about information back to the problem of lack of information) and chock full of brilliant people tackling interesting problems both inside the academy and out.

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