This past week, Professor David Golumbia gave the his lecture “Why Digital Humanities Hates Literary and Cultural Studies” as a part of a series sponsored by the Literary and Cultural Studies program in the English Dept at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Below is a brief abstract:
Why Digital Humanities Hates Literary and Cultural Studies:
The Secret History, and What to Do About It
Digital Humanities (DH) frequently, even obsessively, talks of its intention to transform the Humanities in general, and literary and cultural studies in particular. Its certainty about the need for transformation is absolute enough that it apparently sees little need to specify what it does not want to transform, and so to indicate which parts of the existing disciplines it values at all. Read from the outside, it becomes hard to distinguish talk of transformation from talk of something like destruction.
In fact, other than a surface (but often explicitly and exclusively formal and/or bibliographic) interest in literary texts—and here almost always written texts to the exclusion of other forms of cultural production—there is little of literary and cultural studies as these fields are understood outside DH that appear to meet with DH approval: not their objects of study; not their methods of research and teaching; not their standards for tenure and promotion; not their conceptual orientations toward the world, toward culture, toward literature, or even toward “the digital” as such and the transformations associated with it.
Reflecting on the personal history that drew the speaker into the study of literature, and on the practices of DH as it is found at major research institutions who position themselves as leaders in DH, this talk argues that some of the guiding powers of DH (practitioners as well as funding bodies) see it as something like a tool with which to eliminate the close study of literature and culture, and most especially interpretation, from the work of the humanities. It seeks these goals not just because literary studies is allied with the purportedly far-left commitments of “Theory” and “Cultural Studies” writ large—commitments which DH attempts rhetorically both to claim and to reject—but perhaps even more worryingly, because of an implicit politics of the classroom and the world that the practice of interpretation itself arguably entails. As such, scholars of literary and cultural studies have every reason to ask of DH to which parts of our disciplines it is committed, and to insist that unless it can articulate those commitments, it has no claim to “transform” what we do, but rather must be seen at best as new discipline that must work harder to establish itself separately from literary and cultural studies. More disturbingly, it should at worst be seen as part of a sustained and wide-ranging effort to abolish interpretation from the contemporary University, an effort which scholars of interpretive disciplines have every reason—indeed a real duty—to reject.