Debates in the Digital Humanities

After a snow day last week, we met for the first time yesterday and discussed two articles from the book Debates in the Digital Humanities.

Debates in DH Book Cover
Debates in the Digital Humanities

The articles were “This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities by Lisa Spiro, and Digital Humanities As/Is a Tactical Term by Matthew Kirschenbaum.

The two articles provide quite a contrast: Spiro’s is optimistic and all-embracing, and discusses the usefulness and larger possibilities provided by the process of articulating a values statement for the DH as a field; Kirschenbaum’s article is more pragmatic, and discusses the history of DH and how thinking tactically about the field’s uses, goals, and funding can be not only helpful for getting it implemented, but also for expanding and defining the field.

One criticism the group came up with was that while Spiro’s article does a good job of articulating goals, it is not very ‘digitally’ specific — almost all of her goals and values could be applied to the process of making academia in general, or humanities in general, a friendlier, more inclusive space. And while one attendee pointed out that this may be the goal of DH in the long term (to become the norm for humanities scholarship) in the present, it seems like a little more focus on the digital aspects of DH may be necessary.  Kirschenbaum’s more pragmatic approach seemed to have made our readers slightly more comfortable with his points and his overview of the history of the field provided talking points for discussion about the development of the field.

The variety of viewpoints of our attendees, from those who are relatively new to DH to those who have a more library-centric or more academically-centered focus, made for an excellent discussion. We were only sorry not to see more people there!

We look forward to seeing you at our next meeting:

HTML Resume Workshop
Tuesday February 18th
LL 802 (Lincoln Center) 1:30pm

Learn how to use HTML to make your resume more striking online: in the process you will not only learn how to make your resume look better on sites such as WordPress or other blogging platforms, you will also learn the basics of HTML markup language, which has a wide variety of applications, and is the basis of a number of other markup languages used widely in the digital humanities.

Next Meeting of Fordham Graduate Student DH Group, 10/16

Our next meeting with be a book discussion of Digital_Humanities THIS Wednesday, Oct 16 at 12:30pm in Dealy 115.

Join us (even if you haven’t read the whole book)!

Get a free download of the book from MIT Press here:

This is a short book that covers the basics of digital humanities and a toolkit for undertaking projects. Digital_Humanities is by By Peter Lunenfeld, Anne Burdick, Johanna Drucker, Todd Presner and Jeffrey Schnapp.

FGSDH Summer Reading Group—Jockers’ Macroanalysis

Now that we’ve had some time to wind down from the Spring semester and settle into Summer, I would like to announce formally the selection for the FGSDH Summer Reading Group: Matthew Jockers‘s Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (U. Illinois Press)


At the Digital Classics Association conference in Buffalo this April, I was lucky enough to share a panel on “Literary Criticism and Digital Methods” with Prof. Jockers. My paper was about studying patterns of alliteration in Latin poetry and his about sentiment analysis in Irish-American literature, but both talks discussed the importance of using “distant reading” techniques (to use the term that Franco Moretti coined as a challenge to the literary critical commonplace of “close reading.”) That is, we both dealt, for the most part, with techniques which use algorithmic means of textual analysis, leveraging the power, speed and efficiency of computers to treat vast amounts of literary data.

Dealing with literature on this sort of scale is becoming more and more common and opens up for scholars new research opportunities and interpretative possibilities. As Moretti points out in Graphs, Maps, Trees, a student of 19th-century British novels *cannot* possibly read the 20-30,000 novels (so he guesses) published during this time: “…Close reading won’t help here, a novel a day every day of the year would take a century or so.” (4) *Macroanalysis* offers a challenge to literary criticism’s “disciplinary habit of thinking small” by demonstrating both the technology available for dealing with literature on a previously unimaginable scale as well as examples of what sorts of research questions—and subsequent interpretation—this technology makes possible. When literature can be seen from the macroanalytic perspective, “the very object of analysis shifts from looking at the individual occurrences of a feature in context to looking at the trends and patterns of that feature aggregated over an entire corpus.” (24-25)

In a recent Inside Higher Ed review, Scott McLemee characterized these sorts of algorithmic criticism, i.e. Jockers’ “macroanalysis”— as “either promising or menacing.” Such polarizing potential makes the book a perfect introduction to the technical possibilities and critical issues in the cutting edge of digital literary methods as well as a great follow up to our Spring Reading Group’s selection, Prof. Stephen Ramsay’s Reading Machines

Our Summer Reading Group will be a virtual and distributed—that is to say, we will each read the book on our own. (That said, feel free to get together and discuss the book, comment below, tweet your thoughts, etc.) We will schedule a discussion of the book for our first meeting in the Fall. I am also putting together a practicum for the Fall that will allow each of us to learn and practice some macroanalytic skills. Enjoy the book, enjoy the summer. See you in the Fall for what I’m sure will be a lively discussion of Jockers’ book.