Response from Valerie M Fazel

  1. Valerie M Fazel says:

    iShakespeare Workshop reading list:

    Carson, Christie. “eShakespeare and Performance.”
    Flanders, Julia. “The Productive Unease of 21st-century Digital Scholarship.”
    Galey, Alan and Ray Siemans. “Reinventing Shakespeare in the digital humanities.”
    Kirschenbaum. Matthew. “What is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in English Departments?”
    Rowe, Katherine, ed. “Shakespeare and New Media.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61:3 (2010).

    Off list:
    Schreibman, Susan, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen. “Evaluating Digital Scholarship.” Profession 2011. USA: MLA, 2011. 123-151. Print.
    Semenza, Greg C., ed. “After Shakespeare on Film.” Shakespeare Studies 38 (2010).

    Kirschenbaum’s article provides a brief, useful historical overview/genealogy of the term “digital humanities,” and like several similar exploratory articles (i.e. Galey and Siemans, Flanders) outlines some key issues on defining/working with digital humanities. Appropriately, (and perhaps cheekily), Kirschenbaum quotes from Wikipedia.org, but pointedly notes that some of the wiki’s contributors are well-respected digital scholars. I can’t help but feel that by pointing out these details, Kirschenbaum alludes to anxieties (Flander’s “unease”?) about the validity/reliability of crowd-sourced information.

    It is, however, Kirschenbaum’s rather loose description of the field that is most intriguing. He seems to suggest that “digital” signals a recoding of the humanities: “At its core, then, digital humanities is more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” (56). Here Kirschenbaum suggests that digital humanities is not an entity, but a practice. His statement spurs several questions for me: 1) How, then, does this understanding of digital humanities differ from non-digital humanities (there is no specific set of texts or technologies in non-digital humanities)? 2) Why do we digital humanities scholars still spend so much intellectual energy in talking/writing/ publishing about digital humanities? In our Web 2.0 moment, wouldn’t it be more productive to work with an understanding that “digital humanities” (as practice, a term, scholarship) is BETA? In other words, that digital humanities is a “methodological outlook” that will perpetually be (re)tested, (re)defined, (re)evaluated, and (re)valued? Or as Julia Flanders suggests (in her summary of Unsworth’s assertions on “humanities computing”), that “[digital humanities/humanities computing] is rather about modeling . . . knowledge and even in some cases about modeling the modeling process” (para 10)?

    I ask these questions not to denigrate these foundational works; of course we must talk about digital humanities in our efforts to parse out what digital humanities might be, do or how it informs our thinking. Certainly the history of “intensive and fruitful debate about representation and medium” has provoked exhilarating, productive reflection as we scholars grapple, perhaps with “unease,” with digital humanities as a field, as material, and as a concept (Flanders, para 16). As Flanders suggests, the “unease” we digital humanities scholars experience also prompts innovative thinking and “give[s] us an interesting world to play with” (26).

    This is something of an aside: I attended MLA2012 in Seattle last week. I sat in on as many digital humanities panels as possible. While one or two panelists spoke of case studies (for example, Ruben Espinosa of U of Texas, El Paso, presented a fascinating paper on Mexican Identities and YouTube Shakespeare), the majority of the panels talked *about* digital humanities: What it is, how it is has penetrated academic institutions, (the future of, the roles of, the need for) digital humanities scholars, etc. After about the third or forth MLA panel on (about, really) digital humanities, I found myself squirming in my seat. I wanted these same scholars to demonstrate their work, talk about their methodologies, share their findings, creations, pedagogy, and program content, not talk *about* digital humanities. Perhaps I was more disappointed than I should have been due to the fact that not three months before, I attended the Internet Researchers 12 conference in, as luck would have it, Seattle. Participants in each IR12 panel discussed case studies, not wholesale Internet or digital studies; their definitions, methodologies and theories were built into their case studies.

    If, as Kirchenbaum states, these discussions *about* digital humanities have been taking place for longer than a decade, I have to ask, why are we still talking so much about digital humanities? (Of course here I may be revealing my scholarly naiveté.) My point is that if the study of Shakespeare (specifically) is to also include Shakespeare in digital humanities, then it is time we moved away from talking about (defending?) Shakespeare in digital humanities and examine the digital Shakespeares we find, create, teach, etc. A shared view of digital humanities as a shifting practice releases some of the “uneasy” pressure of defending the work by of explaining what digital humanities is.

    What I want to see is more work like Christie Carson’s essay and the other works published in the 2008 special collection of Shakespeare. There should be more publications like Fall 2010’s special forum in Shakespeare Studies (“After Shakespeare on Film”), and Fall 2010’s edition of Shakespeare Quarterly, helmed by Katharine Rowe, where Ayanna Thompson, and Jonathon Hope and Michael Witmore, perform digital humanities case studies. What the essays in these collections demonstrate is that the study/research/publication of subjects that function within the scope of digital humanities can productively demonstrate not just methodological and theoretical approaches, but also what defines digital humanities for that particular study. What makes this SAA workshop so exciting for me is that it seems we participants are on the cusp of doing more than just this. Sheila and Kevin’s skype work is one example, but there are so many other digital approaches to Shakespeare that beg for our direct attention.

    (Apologies for the late submission. ASU’s email and online system was compromised earlier this week after a hacker managed to download all system users’ names, passwords, and other sensitive information. The system has been closed down for the third day, causing chaos and interruption for us all. It’s all rather ironic given our workshop’s focus.)

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