Genealogies of the humanities

The controversy in the digital humanities over David Allington’s, Sarah Brouillette’s, and David Golumbia’s recent article, “Neoliberal Tools (And Archives): A Political History of Digital Humanities” led to mostly predictable responses from humanities scholars, digital and otherwise. While the authors of this article offer a somewhat compelling account of the rise of the digital humanities — or at least one take on it — their arguments are not particularly novel nor unexpected. Indeed, anyone who has presented digital humanities work at a non-DH conference has likely witnessed a similar brow furrowing from senior colleagues. Furthermore, this criticism of DH work has a long history: Tom Eyers previously made a similar argument and Stanley Fish famously offered his hermeneutic critique of DH (to name only a few).

The authors’ claim, that Digital Humanities embodies a form of neoliberalism that is transforming the humanities into a skills and deliverables-based training ground for the tech sector, is a relatively unsurprising critique. Similarly, the response of DH scholars to this critique, to demonstrate the manner in which DH challenges hegemonic notions of research, knowledge, historicism, and interpretation are all well-rehearsed. I suggest here that both are right and that we should think of the digital humanities genealogically in order to recognize that yes, the digital humanities is a trojan horse, transforming our departments and our knowledge work from within, but that the content of that work and its implications for broader notions of the humanities and humanism more generally remains open to definition. DH work may in fact be a form of creeping neoliberalism as Allington, Brouillette, and Columbia suggest, but it need not be.

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