Despite all my good intentions, I fell off the blogging wagon yesterday, thanks in large part to my annual early-January flu, which this year has coincided with MLA. Rather than being at yesterday’s panel on “The Dark Side of Digital Humanities,” as I had planned, I followed it via twitter from my hotel room, where I was fighting a fever. William Pannapacker’s Chronicle piece on the panel and Alexis Lothian’s notes both provide helpful summaries of the issues discussed.
One of the things the defenders of DH note in response to the admittedly provocative panel is that DH seems to be conflated in the minds of panelists with MOOCs, but that in actuality, nobody who does DH (and few people in English departments at large) is actually a fan of MOOCs. That may be true, but, as this conversation helpfully points out, that distinction is often not so clear in the eyes of administrators. Pannapacker cites Natalia Cecire’s succinct and accurate tweet: “1. DHers usually don’t see dh as a panacea. 2. Admins often do. 3. DHers often need for admins to have this erroneous belief.”
That’s something that bears continued discussion, because while DH’s emphasis on hacking can be seen as both transformative and subversive in relation to traditional academic practice and hierarchies, hacking can also be doing more with less, and making do with limited resources. While resourcefulness is a virtue, in a time of increased budget cuts and decreased respect for the humanities, the very buzzwords that make DH attractive to administrators–efficiency, productivity, even something as broad as “technology”–often imply a streamlining of resources and personnel that works to further marginalize the position of the humanities in relation to the rest of the university.
As I’ve said, I’m often on the fringes of digital humanities. I try to follow what’s going on (although, in the interest of not being on the internet all the time, not as closely as I might), partly because digital archives are important to the way I work, and partly because I think there’s interesting and important stuff going on over there. But I have to admit, I’ve mostly ignored the calls to make 2012 the year of coding. I read references to Codeacademy and moved on because, well, I’m busy.
And then there was a bit of a kerfluffle over gender and the exhortation that digital humanists learn to code. Miriam Posner said it first and best here. Follow-up is here. Both are right on, and I’m not going to bother linking or recapping to the inevitable back-and-forth on gender and coding that followed because, well, I’m lazy.
But Posner’s discussion of gender and coding, particularly the part about how men are more likely to have been given access to a computer and encouraged to learn to use it at a young age, got me thinking. I think she’s right. That’s certainly been what I observed, both of the people I know, and in my experience as a woman (girl at the time) who did have computer access and tech skills. It’s something I often forget about myself, but I do know how to code. I learned BASIC and C++ at computer camp in high school, Unix for my first job, HTML from years of using the internet, and tiny bits of CSS during the two years I was hosting my own knitting blog (I also know how to knit, spin, quilt, sew, and participate in the overwhelmingly female DIY online communities Posner talks about in her follow-up). My freshman year of high school, I won the state-wide math and science fair with a project on Benford’s law. I wrote some code to test data sets for first- and second-digit distribution, which would be beyond laughable today, but which was a bit more impressive before everyone had access to high-powered computers on their phones. I wrote the code in C++ and it was a pain in the butt, and then a year and a half later I learned Unix scripting and realized how much quicker it would have made the whole thing.