Timothy Brennan:  The Digital Humanities Are a Bust!

Dear Commons Community,

Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, has an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, commenting that the digital humanities (DH), a popular concept among many college faculty, has not accomplished very much and may in fact, be a bust.  DH has a number of proponents including many colleagues here at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Brennan makes some important observations that provide food for thought. Here are two excerpts:

“The dream that algorithmic computation might reveal the secrets of complex social and cultural processes has suffered a very public and embarrassing results crisis. These setbacks have also led to some soul-searching in the university, prompting a closer look at the digital humanities. Roughly a decade’s worth of resources have now been thrown in their direction, including the founding of an Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, unheard-of amounts of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a parade of celebratory anthologies backed by crossover articles in high-profile magazines, and academic job openings in an era of tenure-track scarcity. So, with all their promise, and all this help, what exactly have the digital humanities accomplished?”

Rather than a revolution, the digital humanities is a wedge separating the humanities from its reason to exist — namely, to think against prevailing norms. DH instead brings the humanities over to the outlooks of those administrators and legislators with programs that, on the one hand, put a scientistic gloss on method and, on the other, create a framework for lucrative tech deals in classrooms with the promise of the vast automation of teaching. The “results” of DH, then, are not entirely illusory. They have turned many humanists into establishment curators and made critical thought a form of planned obsolescence.”

The essay is an interesting read.  I would also suggest looking at the comments from readers, many of whom disagree with Brennan.



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